Derek; m’names Derek: the genius of Ricky Gervais

Everyone has heard of the health benefits of laughter. The average child laughs over 700 times a day, yet the average adult only laughs 7 times a day. With 5 minutes of hearty laughter being worth 20 minutes on a rowing machine, why would you pick the gym over time with friends? So never hold back sharing that funny video at work, it’s exercise!

Comedy isn’t without its controversy though, and Ricky Gervais is a prime example. He is regularly criticised for his work, especially his treatment of good friend Karl Pilkington. But I have always liked Ricky Gervais and I couldn’t understand why until a couple of months ago. I would watch, listen or read his work, feel anxious about his words and wave it off as “not my kind of comedy”. It would then be a day or two later that his point would hit me and I’d go back for more like a drug, insisting that I won’t give up until I understood his intention.

Gervais is a thought-provoking comedian, not a monkey to dance at the beck and call for entertainment and sometimes it does take a couple of run-throughs before you make a sound conclusion. I find him to be a bit like George Carlin but with a nerdy, old man bitterness rather than a gruff, old man bitterness. And being an activist for the fair treatment of animals on top of being funny? Yes, he has been named sexiest man alive quite a number of times!

You listen to Ricky’s work wanting to be made uncomfortable, to shake yourself out of conservatism you may or may not have known you had. And a life-changing and thought-provoking experience such as that is confronting and I’m no exception. He is not shy to speak his thoughts on subjects such as religion, especially on Twitter. Twitter isn’t his only outlet of course; his main claim to fame is credited to the television series The Office, with many more marvels under his belt.

The most recent being Derek.

The writing behind Derek is pure brilliance. I was crying within 60 seconds of the first episode. (Literally, within the first minute!) Yes, there are faults if you care to look, and Gervais’ portrayal of Derek, an autistic man, is not award-winning quality. But he gets the innocence of Derek, the young naivety that the intellectually disabled community possess, as if he has spent personal time with someone who has special needs. The tapping of his favourite ceramic frog and knowing it has to be in a certain spot, a repetitive tic when he is uncomfortable or unsure. While he is an employee at the home and is proud of the sense of purpose it brings, he is also being cared for by the community in and around the aged care facility via his employment. His innocence keeps the reality at bay, but we know he wouldn’t survive on is own.

I immediately understood Derek and carer Hannah simply from my own life experiences, but Gervais caught me out as he always does. He slipped in the drunk and crude character, Kevin. I brushed it off as an attempt to grab a cheap laugh with sex jokes. Of course, I was wrong. Kev practically lives in the aged care facility too, though unofficially. Hannah, who heads the facility, says that she lets Kev stay because if she made him leave he’d end up “dead in a skip in six months”. A person who is unable to function in day-to-day society has very few places to go: the elderly, the mentally, physically and intellectually disabled are all sort of brushed under the carpet. It takes a strong person who is willing to sacrifice everything to care for them.  Kev is a person we can easily dismiss as a drunken lout.

That is the point Gervais is making, and he is successful. Derek leaves you thinking about calling your own left out family members, realising you have forgotten about them for quite some time.

Derek also stars Karl Pilkington as the care-home’s handyman, Doug, who just does “whatever needs doing”. Doug is the battler story, and has a brilliant scene standing up to a Council member who has refused to fund the home. His monologue is so good I actually stood up and applauded when I watched it.

With the current season of six episodes now over, a second season has already been green-lighted. And rightly so! When a television series can make you laugh, cry and ensure you call your Grandma for six weeks in a row? It has to be in line for many awards and accolades. It has more reality than reality TV itself. You should watch it.

And that is why I like Gervais. He never shies from honesty for the sake of sparing a few hearts, allowing you to either face the reality of what you have just heard, or ignore it and never change. You don’t have to agree with him, but he does make you think about why you are on the side of the fence you are on, but doesn’t judge you when you figure it out. Plus, who could not love a face like this?

Okay, point taken.

Are you a fan of Ricky Gervais? Let us know your thoughts on Gervais, Derek or any thing comedy related in the comment section below, on our Facebook page or via Twitter.

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