Ricky Gervais on Derek and offending an audience

10 Apr

Ricky Gervais’ new comedy pilot, Derek, airs on Channel 4 this Thursday, but the vultures are already circling…

Disability rights campaigner, Nicky Clark, interviewed the award-winning comedian about Derek, as the title-character is being criticised before the show is even broadcast! Their main issue is, apparently, that the titular character is disabled; however, Gervais denies this:

“He’s different. But then so are a lot of people. He’s not the smartest tool in the box but he’s cleverer than Father Dougal, and not as different as Mr. Bean. He’s based on those people you meet who are on the margins of society. Nerds, loners, under achievers.”

These criticisers seem to have more of an issue with Gervais himself, in fact; he certainly has previous with offending people, though. He seems to have become synonymous with the word ‘mong’ now, as many were offended by its use on Twitter – despite the fact he’s been using it on-air for many years previously (particularly when near his mate, Karl Pilkington).

Mrs. Clark, though, maintains that Derek is actually “the story of a socially isolated, gentle vulnerable man surrounded by other people who society wants to forget, but told with humour, heart and real warmth. It’s a comedy in my opinion, which shows the reality of a life of otherness.”

I’ve talked about how political correctness is definitely an issue for writers when Jeremy Clarkson said that all strikers should be shot, and Gervais explores this more here:

“I see offence as the collateral damage of free speech. I hate the thought of a person’s ideas being modified or even hushed up because someone somewhere might not like to hear them.

Outside actually breaking the law or causing someone physical harm “hurting someone’s feelings” is almost impossible to objectively quantify.

What some people might find offensive, others will not. Such is life. Offence is rarely about right and wrong but rather about feelings. Feelings are personal. Trying to have a consensus about what is objectively offensive is rather like arranging books in a library in order of merit. We’d all have a completely different order in mind.”

And I definitely agree. Somebody will always take offense. It’s interesting how times have changed, and how this can be portrayed onscreen.

In Doctor Who: Human Nature/ The Family of Blood, the year is 1913 and the Doctor’s companion, Martha, is accused of lying by Nurse Redfern because “women can’t be doctors.” Martha proves her wrong, of course, but then look at Gene Hunt in Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, someone who wears his beliefs proudly. Sure, Sam Tyler and Alex Drake consider him ignorant, but he’s a lovable character, who the audience rooted for every week.

But once again, I’m sure many took offence.

The real question here is: is it more important to tell a strong, determined story than be confined by worries that people will be offended? Yes, it depends on the writer, but we all really know the answer to this, don’t we?

Don’t forget to watch Derek on Thursday; I’m sure it’ll be hilarious and heart-warming. Plus, it stars Karl Pilkington!

It’s just a shame it looks as if Channel 4 won’t be commissioning a full series.


Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Unpublished work


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4 responses to “Ricky Gervais on Derek and offending an audience

  1. danielcreeber

    April 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    I went a private screening of Derek at BAFTA and I really enjoyed your article.
    Gervais attracts the criticism even before people have seen his work!
    During his Q&A he said that Mr Bean clearly had a mental health issue but no one mentioned it!
    You’ll really enjoy Derek, it is funny and sad,
    It was made as a one off show they had no intention of taking it to a series but it is looking like they may do if the response is good.


    • prbates

      April 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Dan; glad you liked the article.

      And lucky you, going to the screening! I’m hoping Derek does become a series, but I think I heard somewhere – maybe Digital Spy? – that Channel 4 decided just to keep it as a one-off. Mind you, it seems to be popular even before its broadcast, so finger’s crossed.

      • danielcreeber

        April 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm

        I would be surprised if Channel 4 finally got a Gervais sitcom and didn’t take it but I’ve heard stranger things.
        I was lucky with the tickets! I got the last two!

        I think that Channel 4 aren’t making the it clear in the advertisements that it is a one off! “The new comedy/drama from Ricky Gervais” implies that it is a series!

  2. jacobsjapes

    April 13, 2012 at 1:21 am

    A really good article, obviously well researched, and I agree with Dan in the comments – adverts are peculiarly misleading – the website’s no help on that front eithe. -shameless plug- but I wrote a review of the show just after it aired – sheds a little more light on Derek being disabled or “a mong” as well – it’s over at – might be of interest if anyone wishes to do a little further reading. Thanks and great post. Great blog in its entirity, in fact.


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