Disablism. Handicaphobia. Smuggery. The English language has no good word for the prejudice that is comedian Ricky Gervais’s stock-in-trade. It goes deeper than sneering, and it’s more dangerous than plain bullying. It’s akin to racism, or homophobia, but it isn’t either of those. There’s no word for it. So he gets away with it.
Gervais mocks the easiest of targets, people with mental disabilities, those without the intellectual capacity to defend themselves. Gervais even has a favourite word for them: mongs. The trademark Gervais cackle is laughter at the expense of those who already face the toughest of challenges. To laugh at people because they don’t know the joke is on them, and to mock even harder when they struggle to be included in the laughter – that’s hateful.
. . . Gervais doesn’t just want to make audiences laugh at people like my son – he wants to be admired for doing so. When praise doesn’t come fast enough, he delivers it himself: ‘I like getting close to real emotions,’ he boasted earlier this month. ‘I’ve never been scared of that.’ So here’s some real emotion: Derek, Gervais’s new ‘comedy-drama’, which aired on Channel 4 last Thursday night, was the most vile, cynical, dishonest piece of television I’ve ever seen.
. . . His performance in Derek was that of a schoolboy bully, showing off to his friends by pretending to be a ‘spazz’, combing his hair forward and sticking his lower jaw out. He broke character every few minutes to leer at the camera, as if to say: ‘Look at me! I’m so funny!’ That is Ricky Gervais’s true level. His comedy seeks to mock and injure the most vulnerable in society.
What rankles most, though, is Gervais’s belief that he can somehow get away with it. He sniggers on Twitter about ‘mongs’ and then pretends that Derek is a sensitive, enlightened look at disability and prejudice. Anyone who challenges him is treated to a dose of verbal nonsense worthy of Lewis Carroll at his most ridiculous.
. . . To me, those sound like weasel words – a devious, self-serving and cowardly defence. It’s about as believable as his insistence that ‘mong’ isn’t derived from ‘mongoloid’, the appalling word once applied to people with Down’s syndrome, because (some said) their typically slanting eyes made them appear Asian or ‘mongol’. Can Gervais really claim that ‘mong’ is anything other than a hate-filled term of contempt?
. . . What else was this programme doing, except mocking people like Derek? Gervais has announced that he intends writing a full series of the show. By encouraging him to parade this two-faced excuse for a sitcom, the channel directors are handing a licence to bigots and bullies. Comedy as appalling and anachronistic as this is like bear-baiting, or animals in circuses: too heartless ever to be allowed.