Derek teasers: give me a minute to decide if I'm morally outraged

Ed Williamson

7th April 2012

Welcome to my moral quandary. Is Ricky Gervais mocking the disabled? And if I decide he is, what do I do when I inevitably laugh at it?

However much he's always been intentionally controversial, I do believe Ricky Gervais to be genuinely well-intentioned for the most part. But it's difficult to watch these teasers for his latest comedy Derek, whose pilot airs on Channel 4 on 12th April, and not feel a little uneasy. The character he's playing seems to be mentally disadvantaged in some way.

At the launch he told The Independent:

I've never thought of him as disabled. He's not that bright but he's cleverer than Baldrick, he's cleverer than Father Dougal ... he hasn't got as big a problem as Mr Bean.
So why the jutting jaw? Tony Robinson and Ardal O'Hanlon didn't need to pull faces to show their characters were stupid: it was all in the dialogue and the delivery.

But it's easy to be oversensitive. Even if you conclude he's playing someone with a disability, doesn't mean he's taking the piss out of him. There's no one more capable of creating pathos in comedy, and he's always been a good enough actor to back it up.

And he made a very good point in his own defence.

When I portray a disabled person I get a disabled person to play them - the woman who was wheelchair-bound in The Office, the guy in Extras with Down's syndrome was a Down's syndrome actor.
Which is true: he's always addressed disability through comedy. When David Brent pulls his colleague's wheelchair out of the way to get to his own seat, we're laughing at the character's - and yes, probably society's, if you like - insensitivity to disability, not at the wheelchair-bound themselves.

So I'm more than happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. Not least because it looks like Karl Pilkington is actually a good actor, which can only benefit mankind.

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