Derek and the disability debate discussed

Ricky Gervais

"Comedian"

So, the Sunday Sun newspaper in the north east of England asked me to review Derek – the new show by Ricky Gervais on Channel 4 – last week and see if it was offensive or not. I’m still not sure why? I’m presuming that Stephen Hawking, Tanni Grey Thompson and that bloke playing basketball in his wheelchair on the BBC One idents were busy. It felt good to be the ‘go to’ guy for anything even remotely relating to disability though. I might give myself a new nickname – ‘Token’.

Anyway, I thought I’d share it with you lovely people too…..

Let’s face it, Ricky Gervais has never been afraid of a bit of controversy. Whether it’s insulting people at the Golden Globes or using the word ‘mong’ on Twitter, he has been there and bought the t-shirt.

So when it was announced that a programme called ‘Derek’ would be starting on Channel 4 which was seen as a comedy about someone with learning disabilities, Gervais hit the headlines once again. In fairness, it was good publicity for the show. Am I cynical for thinking it may have been planned?!

Before I go any further, I’ll admit that, in my eyes, the most offensive thing that Gervais has done recently is call himself a comedian. It won’t be a popular opinion but I don’t really find him or his shows funny. The Office was OK, Extras was better and I didn’t really get An Idiot Abroad at all.

That said, as a disabled comedian myself, I like to think that any topic can be laughed at if handled in the right way. If it’s too close to home I may not laugh, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t funny.

So, I was interested to see if all the fuss surrounding Derek was really worth it when it aired on Thursday. The show was a mockumentary which followed Derek as he worked in a care home. Gervais himself has stated that the character isn’t meant to have a disability and is merely a nerd.

We’ll never know for sure, of course. There was traits of someone with mental health issues in the character but these weren’t overtly obvious. To be fair to Gervais, I think he actually played Derek very well without being offensive.

In fact, there were moments in the show where I thought that he had done well to highlight issues faced by disabled people (whether he meant it or not). I’ve always wanted to headbutt someone who was laughing at my disability in public. So it was nice to see it happen on screen at least.

I think that sometimes these issues don’t get talked about because people are scared to address them properly. At least Gervais has got us talking about them.

Far from mocking the disabled, the first episode of Derek was actually quite sensitive to the issues it might or might not be based on. Maybe Gervais did his homework after all.

Like his previous shows, it managed to raise a smile without making me laugh out loud but I think that is Gervais’ style anyway. I certainly won’t be limping along to the Channel 4 studios to protest about it being insensitive and in bad taste though.

Read the Sunday Sun version of my review

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  5 comments for “Derek and the disability debate discussed

  1. Si
    April 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I totally agree mate. Though I did like The Office, I’ve not been that impressed with his other shows. I didn’t think Derek was bad but it certainly wasn’t particularly funny – the jokes could be seen coming a mile away. What kept me entertained was the great acting by Gervais and the emotional journey of the character.

  2. petra jones
    April 16, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    I expect the Sunday Sun expected you to do their work for them by providing “shock horror Gervais must never be on TV again……”etc….
    i like your posts and I enjoy your comedy.

  3. April 16, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Hi Lee,

    just joined your blog and really enjoy reading it. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in this article with your suggestion of adopting the stage-monicker of “Token”. As a comedian, you’re either funny or you’re not. Having seen you on YouTube I think you are immensely talented – good comedy should make you think at the same time as making you laugh. For me, you do both, for Ricky Gervais the jury remains out.

    If you ever do any gigs down in Birmingham and want a bed for the night give us a shout.

    best regards,

    Simon

  4. April 23, 2012 at 5:16 am

    This comment probably isn’t really relevant to the discussion, so apologies in advance. I haven’t even seen Derek (I live in Oman and get British Forces Broadcasting Service which doesn’t carry everything), but its still interesting to see other’s views on the programme, many of have been extremely positive and very sympathetic towards ‘Derek’. This seemed very constructive and as a severely disabled person, it was really heart-warming to feel that maybe there are breakthroughs in the fair treatment of people who don’t fit the ‘norm’, until it occurred to me – in real life, how many people ‘living on the edge of society’, to quote Gervais, are shown the same level of compassion and appreciation as ‘Derek’ is? I suddenly am not that bothered about seeing it.

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