Gervais insists new comedy character Derek is not disabled
The Office creator faces criticism over Derek, but says he is just 'different' and more normal than Mr Bean
RICKY GERVAIS has dismissed the idea that his latest comedy creation, Derek Noakes, makes light of mental disability after trailers for his new show appeared in the UK this week.
Gervais's new character - described by the show's promotional material as "a simple, vulnerable man working in an old people's home" - has been seen by some as having learning difficulties. Talking to disability rights campaigner Nicky Clark, Gervais vehemently denied the suggestion, saying there was "no argument" to be had. "Derek is a fictional character and is defined by his creator," he said. "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."
The 50-year-old creator of The Office and Extras explained that Derek was simply "different".
"He's not the smartest tool in the box," Gervais said, "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, underachievers."
Gervais has been here before. Last October the comedian was the subject of an online storm after being challenged on his use of the word "mong" on Twitter. At the time Nicky Clark called on the comedian to stop using the word, which she and others saw as a reference to people with Down's syndrome. He subsequently agreed not to use the word.
Gervais has also faced criticism in the past from fellow comedian Stewart Lee. Writing about Derek in November 2011 - Gervais invented his character 12 years ago - Lee said the creation appeared to have a "non-specific mental condition, with some superficial similarities to Down's syndrome". He continued: "Watching Gervais's Derek Noakes on YouTube, I imagined feral children trailing real Dereks around supermarkets, chanting 'Derek Derek', as they doubtless would were the series to be made."
The show has now been made and will be piloted on Channel 4 this Thursday at 10pm. Yet Gervais insists his character has no disability. "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," he told Clark. "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."