Imagine my surprise on my way home from work, idly checking Twitter when I saw this exchange of emails between Ricky Gervais and Nicky Clark (the disability campaigner who was interviewed on this BBC show yesterday)
I received a couple of messages from followers who had a mush more cynical outlook than myself, seeing it as “pathetic, now he’s got the publicity for his TV programme to pretend he didn’t realise for days and days.” I may well be naive. And to be honest, this discussion between Gervais and Mrs Clark is all very well, but will his behaviour change. After all, actions do speak louder than words.
I was prepared to see this as a genuine apology and move on, but always keeping an eye on his next move. (I know it sounds a bit school maam-ish!)
Francesa Martinez had a little more to say on the matter. She said to Mrs Clark “I’m so glad Ricky Gervais understood your point”. I asked pointed out on Twitter that I was less gleeful and getting more cynical, but that Francesca was happy with the apology to which she replied “It’s better than none!”. Is that damning with faint praise? I don’t know.
The best response to today’s kerfuffle was from Robin Ince who is a very intelligent and well-read comedian who back in the day was Ricky’s proto-Karl, having supported Ricky on two tours and being the butt of many of Ricky’s jokes. You can read this blog here in full (I recommend you do). Robin had not said anything about this issue up until now and had obviously thought long and hard before wading in. Even Ricky promoted this in his Twitter stream. In it, Robin explains that the more famous and rich someone gets, the less empathy they can have. Yes, Ricky has the right to say whatever he likes, but questions why he feels the need to. According to Robin, Ricky truly did not know that “mong” was still actively used against disabled people and thought he was just making a silly playground taunt. Ricky Gervais is the man that says shocking things. He was living up to his reputation.
Robin did then decide he was going to rewrite his blog as it had given some people the impression that he thought that Ricky was not aware that “mong” had been used as a Downs Syndrome slur.
After Ricky’s meeting (with his publicist perhaps?) the conversation continued:
He’s certainly “different”. But when does a bit weird become an official disability? it’s ambiguous and he’s certainly an outsider. He’s based on some of the strange people that collect autographs or train spot (Oh dear now I’m really in trouble) but not in a sneery way. I love Derek. He’s funny, happy, empowered and absolutely charming. I guess I’ve crossed a nerd with a child.
i think in the present climate people will assume this has to be cruel because he’s not the “smartest tool in the box” but it’s not at all. We could go back and question many comedy characters. What’s Mr Bean for christ sake? DP Gumby? Everyone in The League of Gentleman? They’re “weird” sure but “weird” people can’t help who they are any more than any one with any form of learning disabilities.
Here is Ricky performing as Derek Noakes:
All in all I would like to remain is cynicism free as possible about this and will take it at face value for now. There were a couple of questions Ricky disappointingly didn’t answer, and it would have been good if Ricky explicitly told his followers that their conduct was equally as unacceptable. (Even as I write this, looking at the @rickygervais column, it is still populated with “mong” tweets)
An honourable mention should go to Richard Herring: the only “famous” comedian to make a stand about this a number of days ago. Richard has however pointed out that his SCOPE fundraising site has received many more donations. We have found out this week that language is very powerful, but this shows that the power is not always negative, and a lot of good can come of it.