So I was re-listening to Ricky Gervais’ Desert Island Discs the other day (yes, I get pretty much all my knowledge of the world from Desert Island Discs) and finking about some tings.
At one point Gervais tells a warm and rather touching anecdote about his mother’s funeral. His brother Bob had helped the vicar prepare the eulogy and spotted an opportunity to stitch up their eldest brother Larry who had come down from Scotland for the ceremony. So the old boy was up there doing his thing and he said “Eva leaves behind her 4 loving children Ricky, Bob, Marsha and Barry.” Larry, turns around ruefully to find his siblings all pissing themselves with laughter and quite naturally, the vicar thought they were all a bit mental.
Kirsty Young, being an interviewer of consummate skill and intuition (ably abetted by a disarmingly sexy voice ) can’t pass up the opportunity to probe a bit and says “for me those are very funny stories but for a lot of people there, you’ve strayed into the bounds of absolute tastelessness and disrespect.”
“Definitely not,” replies Gervais immediately. “I wouldn’t do it at someone else’s mum’s funeral. And I think that’s the difference.”
Rather well put, I thought, but a sentiment I find increasingly difficult to reconcile with some of Gervais’ more recent output. Watching shows like An Idiot Abroad, Life’s Too Short and most recently Derek, I can’t help but think that Gervais is sitting front row, centre at someone else’s mum’s funeral laughing like a crazy motherfucker.
For those of you who haven’t seen Derek it is a mockumentary about a helper at an old folks’ home who, to put it mildly, is a bit of a simpleton. Although Gervais has apparently stated that the character’s intellectual shortcomings stop shy of a clinical disability, it’s safe to say he’s a little slow. Also, we know this because Gervais does his “mong face” throughout.
I’ve watched one episode and reckon that’s probably a sufficient basis to proffer my nonsense opinions, right? Except I can’t figure our whether Derek is actually intended to be funny. I’m not sure it knows itself. The episode I saw may have been atypically maudlin but it looked to be trying to deal with some fairly hefty issues – at the end, Derek was reunited with his estranged father. They played that fucking nauseating Coldplay song and everything. Fair enough. But if he’s trying to make a serious point I don’t know why he a) plays the role himself and b) plays it in such a relentlessly gimpy way.
Don’t get me wrong, I happen to think that Gervais is a genuinely talented actor (almost in spite of himself) but he must know that his muppet face, ridiculous enough in the first place, has been compromised by a decade of retarded gurning. Every time you think the show is about to become something more than a cheap shot, Gervais pratfalling face disabuses you. And then he’ll toss in the odd joke about fannies.
I’m not going to jizz on again about how much I love The Office and while I wouldn’t care to venture what it’s “about”, it undoubtedly yields up some powerful insights about the human condition. Also it’s totally Belloc. (Hilaire Belloc). (Hilarious).
Extras is more pointedly about celebrity culture and our society’s inability to tell the difference between popularity and respect. Admittedly, there is something slightly amiss about a program which devotes entire episodes to laughing at queers, midgets and cripples respectively and then culminates in an impassioned rant about how shows like The X Factor “wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multi-millionaires” but I’m willing to give Gervais the benefit of the doubt for that one. He’s still seeking to make a point, regardless of how ham-handedly he does so.
I don’t really know what An Idiot Abroad is “about” though other than laughing at a moron. And I’m not sure what Life’s Too Short is about other than laughing at a midget (though a chance would be a fine thing because it’s about as funny as rape. Unfunny rape). I imagine you see where I’m going with this.
“I don’t think there are any taboos in humour;” Gervais tells KY [pffff], “it’s where the humour comes from. Humour comes from a good or a bad place.”
Couldn’t agree more Rick. Having a giggle at the funeral of a loved one with people who also knew and loved them is absolutely appropriate, not to say rather wonderful. There’s no doubt in my mind that that sort of humour comes from an eminently “good” place.
Where does Derek come from, I wonder?
Also posted on Huffington Post.