Ricky Gervais As Derek (Netflix)
Ricky Gervais has built up so much good will from his irreverent comedy that his appearance on Charlie Rose promoting “Derek” (Netflix) evoked real interest.
The premise of a mentally challenged “kind” man caretaking old people is rife with pitfalls, all of which Gervais seems to have fallen into. Its condescending mugging is the worst sort of caricature. The stereotype of the old would be called bigotry if any other group were so targeted. Gervais needs to meet Freeman Dyson to get a sense of the spectrum of what “old” might mean — someone a mite smarter and more alive, engaged and deeply contrarian than the Ricky.
Maybe Gervais thinks all the old are marginalized, but actually, they are the ones running the country — depending on the cut-off for “old”, which itself is a moving target. Age means about as much as race or gender or religion in judging other people.
Although Gervais says his comedy usually has a veil of irony, in “Derek,” he thinks it is just loving. If loving means treacly. Gervais loves himself for feeling supercilious “sympathy”. Where have we seen this before.
Comedy is cruelty. It’s a release. That’s its premise and its expression. We laugh at, not with. So really talented performers like Gervais devise personas that can allow the audience to laugh at. Steve Martin and Martin Short have both said they developed characters as youngsters, performing for their friends, which later became part of their performance. Andy Kaufman said the same thing.
Gervais says that his Derek character had long been part of his pantheon of comedic personas. On a private, therapeutic level, Derek may be reassuring to Gervais as a self-affirmation. But in a public arena, it just makes you uncomfortable.