|Photo : rickygervais.com|
|Photo : rickygervais.com|
In anticipation of the pilot of “Derek” being screened on C4 in April 2012, I asked Ricky Gervais a few more questions.
1) You’ve often spoken about how offence is “taken and not given” but does criticism or controversy ever cause you to question artistic decisions?
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.
We can't go round not saying what we want to say in case it offends someone somewhere. It will. Some people are offended by equality. Mixed marriage. Being gay. So you're offended? So fucking what?
Recently The New York City Dept of Education banned 50 terms from being used in tests administered to students for fear that they could offend. One of these words was "dinosaurs".
2) Derek Noakes as a character, first surfaced in 2001, irrespective of your assertions that he isn’t learning disabled, why do you feel this belief still persists?
Well firstly there is no argument. Derek is a fictional character and is defined by his creator. Me. If I say I don't mean him to be disabled then that’s it. A fictional doctor can't come along and prove me wrong.
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.
If he had any specific and defined disability I would either get an actor with that disability to play the role or I would make sure I was an expert in that disability and the best person for the job. There are of course times when it is necessary for an able bodied actor to play a disabled role. Born on the 4th of July for example needed an actor to play both a disabled character and an able bodied character. It was naturally easier for Tom Cruise to sit in a wheelchair for half the movie than for a paraplegic to run around for half the movie. But I think it's a good rule of thumb (no offence if you don't have thumbs) to use actors with the disability of the character they are portraying.
3) Derek is gentle and compassionate and the way you present his world is too. How important is compassion towards difference, in your worldview and in your writing?
I think compassion in creating fiction is important on two levels. Firstly, as an actor it's important to have compassion for the characters you are portraying because at some level comedy and drama relies on empathy. Secondly, and on a more personal level I like to consider the members of society that portrayal affects. But I actually think in some ways that equality is even more important than compassion towards difference.
Some people were offended by Life's Too Short because a character with dwarfism was an asshole. He was an asshole. But he was an asshole because of all the things he did and said. Not because of his height. Being an asshole is a staple of comedy. Are disabled performers banned from having a meaty villain role because they should always shown to be perfect? No.
Him being an asshole was nothing to do with his disability. Some people are assholes. Some assholes are disabled. David Brent was an able bodied asshole. (Fat, with crooked teeth is not a disability.)
Derek is not an asshole. He's better than me. He's better than most people. He's kind, loving, funny, sweet, honest, open minded, hard working and most of all resilient to everything a harsh selfish brutal world can throw at him.
4) You’re often described as controversial and seemingly have a love/hate relationship with the press, which seems to inform the pre-publicity of some of your projects. Is this a price worth paying creatively speaking?
It doesn't affect me really. As long as they don't influence the creative process I don't really care that much. Luckily, people make up their own minds about things. As you get more and more successful you get more and more people with an opinion about you. The less anodyne and homogenized your work is, the greater the connection and reaction. I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm flattered that people care enough to either rush out and buy a ticket or a DVD, or sit at home angrily blogging about how many idiots rushed out and bought a ticket or a DVD. Vive la difference.
5) As you know I campaign against disability hate crime. Studies have shown hate crime always begins with verbal abuse, which has risen by 70% on the streets of the UK in the last 12 months. What are your feelings on the comedy of cruelty and do you feel it can be linked?
In comedy, particularly satire, the problem comes when people mistake the subject of a joke with the actual target. This happens to me all the time, as I tend to explore contentious and taboo subjects. Everyone has their own particular taboo, of course, and as I've already said, there is no real consensus on what is acceptable. Personally, I think no harm can come from exploring taboos, and fear of them is their very propagation. I often deal with these subjects because I like to take the audience to places it hasn't gone before. Comedy is about surprise, and I think the job of a comedian is not just to make people laugh but also to make them think. I don't like gratuitous cruelty because it fails on a comedic level. I don't like racist jokes, not because they offend me but because they are based on a falsehood. Comedy is an intellectual pursuit, not an emotional one. As soon as you stray away from truth you veer into rallying and it's harder to find that funny. I'm not sure that you can ever hold "jokes" responsible for bullying. It's like holding weapons responsible for killing. As we've already discussed, some people are just assholes.
6) Karl Pilkington gives an amazing performance as Dougie in Derek. He is famously interested in “freaks” which has led to criticism of him mocking people with facial disfigurement and impairments. How would you answer these comments?
I can't speak for Karl obviously, but I can tell you that he hasn't got a malicious bone in his body. I have never heard him "mock" people with disfigurement, facial or otherwise, but I have heard him talk about them in a fascinated and naive way. He is rather like a 5 year old child in a supermarket who points and says "Mummy why has that man got a weird shaped head" The mother is often mortified but she knows the child wasn't being nasty. Just inquisitive.
Karl is fascinated by difference. But he will get on with anyone. He has no pretensions and no filter. He says what he thinks and this can sometimes come across as harsh if you don't know him. He treats everyone equally and gives everyone the respect they give him. You have to remember, this is a man who thought that Anne Frank was just avoiding paying rent. He believes that Dinosaurs coexisted with cave men, and that a seal is a cross between a fish and a dog.