Ricky Gervais' new show is not mocking the mentally disabled, Ricky Gervais says
Ricky Gervais recently set out to prove he was laughing with the dwarfism community by sticking Warwick Davis in a toilet, but much as Life’s Too Short drew criticism from those who didn’t see it that way, Gervais’ forthcoming comedy Derek has already been accused of being potentially insensitive towards those with mental disabilities. Gervais plays the titular character, whom he describes as a “tender, innocent man,” but whom some—like comedian Stewart Lee—have recognized as having “some superficial similarities to Down’s syndrome.” To co-opt an appropriately British phrase, it’s a sticky wicket and/or big plate of bangers ’n’ offensiveness for Gervais, who’s repeatedly taken flak for his use of the derogatory word “mong”—most notably from disability rights advocate Nicky Clark, who spoke to Gervais ahead of the show’s U.K. premiere, giving him the chance to address the preemptive criticisms that Derek continues that mocking attitude.
For his part, Gervais says that his Derek character is admittedly “different,” but not intended to have any sort of specific disability: “"If I say I don't mean him to be disabled then that's it,” Gervais says. “A fictional doctor can't come along and prove me wrong.” He also argues that were Derek meant to have “any specific and defined disability, I would either get an actor with that disability to play the role, or I would make sure I was an expert in that disability and the best person for the job.” (He also compares his taking on the role himself to Tom Cruise playing a paraplegic in Born On The Fourth Of July—a comparison that’s probably just a tad overreaching.)
And while some may balk at Gervais’ intentionally vague definition of “different” as a form of obfuscation, and look to his many “mong” incidents—or perhaps even his continued gleeful derision of Karl Pilkington, who co-stars in Derek as one of Gervais’ "gimp" pals—as evidence that Gervais takes pleasure in making fun of the mentally challenged, Clark, at least, is on board: “Instead of it being a mocking disintegration of a learning-disabled man paraded for the amusement of comfortable unaffected people, it's the story that really needs to be told at the moment,” she wrote on her website, saying that she didn’t see any “cruelty” to Derek (which would certainly be a first for a Ricky Gervais show). U.K. audiences will be able to decide for themselves beginning this week, though the show doesn’t yet have a U.S. release date. In the meantime, you can form your own preemptive opinions from the clips below. [via BBC]