The Problem With Ricky Gervais and ‘Derek’


Photo by Amie Slater

After the smashing success of ‘Life’s Too Short’, a comedy which enlightened the viewer to the unpleasant treatment towards midgets through scenes in which a midget suffers treatment so unpleasant that it was totally unrealistic, Ricky Gervais and the ‘edgy’ Channel Four have given us the pilot episode of ‘Derek’, a ‘sensitive’ ‘comedy-drama’ in which a mentally handicapped man suffers unpleasant treatment.

Both types of positive response to this show must have led anybody with half a brain cell anywhere in their body to stuff cotton wool in their ears in an attempt to block it all out. Tweets on Twitter with the #Derek hashtag have told us one thing; half of Ricky Gervais’ fawning, idiotic fanbase saw ‘Derek’ and thought; “HAHA LOOK AT THE FUNNY MONG #Derek”, the other thought; “Crying at #Derek. So heart warming.”

It is interesting to note that responses of the latter type were the ones championed by Gervais, to justify himself. But really, the only thing ‘sensitive’ about this show was the soft piano incidental music and the cute lines uttered by the eponymous character, used to deflect from the fact that the star was effectively employing his mong face (as he himself describes it) for comic effect. When you peel back the thin layer of empathy, all that ‘Derek’ entailed was a mentally handicapped man having awful things happen to him; the ‘sensitivity’ of this comedy-drama is cancelled out by the fact that the ‘comedy’ arose from people’s disdain towards Derek.

It wouldn’t be so repugnant and insincere if an actor superior to Gervais, who can only play extended versions of himself, were involved. Gervais has a history of showing what little empathy he has with those who aren’t as bright as he is – he either refused or was unable to see the folly in using the word ‘mong’ as an insult on Twitter, responding to vast intellectual criticisms with a poorly realised etymological defence. Many are also not aware of the fact that Gervais debuted this character almost 11 years ago in a short film produced for the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, where Derek is an aspiring stand-up comedian who lives with his grandmother. The funniest moment in this sweet, sugary short was definitely the bit where the titular character tells us of his experiences with a neighbour who pretended to be his grandfather, oblivious to the sexual abuse he was being subjected to. How heart warming.

However much Ricky Gervais tries to deny that his creation is mentally retarded, and that the show is about ‘ordinary lives’, there is no ignoring the hallmark stereotypical elements that he has imbued the character with to make up for his lack of acting talent; the big green mac, the jutted out jaw, the greasy hair, the simpleton nature and the naive understandings all point to same interpretation. He may as well have played the part from a wheelchair.

This show will almost certainly be made into a TV series, in keeping with Channel Four’s dedication to edginess (we can all look forward to the upcoming ‘I’m Spazticus’, a prank show where disabled people play pranks on members of the public. I’m not kidding). When this pilot gets its series and its exposure, there is no doubt in my mind that Derek Noakes will become the Joey Deacon of this generation.

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