Friday, 21 October 2011

Ricky Gervais: An apology?

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)

Nicky Clark

Ricky Gervais: A very public thank you for your kind, rational and understanding words in private.

Nicky Clark: Thank you for getting in touch. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of things? Nik
RG: Ask away
NC: I now understand that you didn't and wouldn't intentionally hurt anyone. Do you understand why people got upset by it ?
RG: I do now. Never dreamed that idiots still use that word aimed at people with Down's Syndrome. Still find it hard to believe
NC: How has the response to your use of it online and in the press made you feel ?
RG: A mixture of confusion, anger, terror and disappointment. But mostly naive. Never meant the word like that and never word.
NC: Some of your followers have attacked people like me for criticising you over this do you condone this behaviour?
RG: Definitely not - reason I contacted you to be honest. The hate mail I had was psychotic and wouldn't wish that on anyone.
RG: What do you think of how the press have portrayed me, out of interest?
NC: I think that had I not spoken to you,I would have believed that you were a bully.The tweets seemed out of step with your work.
RG: Cheers. Understandable Using that word to mean DS WOULD be bullying. I'm glad people now realise I'm an idiot instead. Ha ha
NC: many people have been confused by your tweets to anyone who has been hurt by them what would you say?
RG: Well all I can do is apologise and hope they don't confuse those people's views with mine. ( meeting now back in an hour)
NC: okey dokey.
NC: Thank you for that. It's certainly not how I expected today to turn out.
RG: This is better than Frost and Nixon by the way. Speak later

I actually felt a little tinge of emotion, a slight teariness (but I held it back) and I tweeted excited screen shots of this as well as a message of kudos to Ricky for seeing sense, however couldn't believe the self-absorption of the man as he asks what Nicky thinks about how he has been portrayed in the press!

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!)

Francesca Martinez
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.

Robin Ince
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:

Ricky Gervais: And we're back. (Sweaty, but raring to go)
Nicky Clark: hello again.Aside from the words you were using you also posted photo's pulling faces.Was that supposed to be someone disabled
RG: No. The point is to look as hideous as possible without the use of props. Not a great art form I'll admit. Ha ha
RG: Interestingly chat shows and newspapers have shown them many times. but comedy is about timing I guess. Whoops.
NC: You have adopted a new word in place of your old one people might worry that it's similar to mongol.How do you respond?
RG: Yes it seems even a brand new made up word with no history can cause offence. I wanted to show that a word needs intent.
NC: I've seen the youtube clips of your character Derek Noakes. Is he supposed to be a man with a learning disability?
RG: Hello sorry. Long bath watching "Pointless" Can I answer this question on email then you can post it? I don't know how. Ha
RG: Can't do it in 140 characters. Writing now
NC: Thats great thank you. I'll DM my email shall I? I'll put it on my blog. Very best wishes Nik x
RG: I don't know what that means. Ha ha Useless
NC: I realised as soon as I sent that.
RG: I put my lack of social networking skills down to me being a genius. You should have my answer now by the way.
NC: I have and thank you. best Nik x

Ricky's email arrived which Nicky published on Twitter

RG I've never thought of Derek as disabled per se. Definitely nothing specific. Not Down's Syndrome, Autistic or someone with mental health problems.
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.

I imagine it's also Ricky's lack of social networking skills that means he doesn't realise why "twong" can still be seen as offensive. Twitter has a long and silly tradition of making portmanteau words starting with the letters "tw". So "Goodnight people" and sometimes be seen as "Goodnight tweeple", and "Let's have a tweetup" etc etc.

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)

Richard Herring
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.

Donate to Richard's SCOPE fundraising page here


  1. Very interesting! Not a fan of Gervais but it seems to me that many comedians are resorting to school bully tactics these days and making jokes about disabled people. There's a lot more misogyny (hilarious jokes about domestic violence on prime time tv) around these days, too - why is it now acceptable to spout this crap?? Are comedians just reflecting a world that seems to be less compassionate?

  2. I don't see it as "many" comedians. I think the comedy "community" do seem to be pretty good at pulling others up when the occasional Frankie Boyle or Ricky Gervais punches down instead of up. Kudos to Richard Herring and Robin Ince amongst others.

  3. That's good to hear. You obviously know more of the 'scene' than I do - I've just been aware of a few dodgy comedians on tv and perhaps these folk get more publicity than they deserve.

    By the way, I'm an old Mouthfull fan. Saw you many times. Ah, those days etc...

  4. Obviously an owl of excellent taste ! They were indeed "the days" ! (Loads of foottage good and otherwise on the MouthfullUK youtube channel by the way)