Ricky Gervais says his new “mockumentary” sitcom, Life’s Too Short, is a “naturalist observational comedy, dealing with everyday problems, human foibles and social faux pas… but with a dwarf.”
Warwick Davis plays the central character, an out of work actor whose glory days are long gone, as a pompous ass version of himself. He now runs the “Dwarves for Hire” talent agency, and frequents Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s office, pleading for work.
Gervais and Merchant’s previous works, the Office and Extras, drew their humour from embarrassing, awkward situations.
They poked fun at pompous and pathetic characters with a deluded faith in their own talent. The Office won deserved praise by making obnoxious boss David Brent the butt of the jokes—for example in his toe-curlingly awful treatment of Brenda, a wheelchair user.
That sitcom’s success was largely due to the often cruel and uncomfortable humour being balanced by an underlying humanity. On occasions this would even lead us into feeling sorry for Brent himself.
Davis’s character tells us in the first episode of Life’s Too Short that, instead of the usual stereotypes, we’ll be shown the life of “a sophisticated dwarf about town, carrying himself with dignity”.
We then see him stumbling as he gets out of his snazzy big car because it’s too high off the ground for him.
As with the earlier sitcoms, we quickly discover that he’s seriously deluded. Does the comedy work this time round? Well, no, it doesn’t.
Gervais’ brand of humour has always walked a tightrope between laughing at offensive behaviour and actually being offensive.
The problem with Life’s Too Short is there in the title—the jokes are tired and obvious, many poking fun at disability rather than prejudice itself.
As with Extras, lots of people will probably watch it to see the cameos from Hollywood stars sending themselves up.
But if the first episode (of seven) is anything to go by, this time there’s not many laughs at all.
The recent row over Gervais’s use of the word “mong” should have rung the alarm bells.
He initially attacked “the humourless PC brigade”, but then apologised. He claimed that he had no idea the word was still a term of abuse for people with Down’s Syndrome.
Those inclined to believe him should look at the old Extras episode where Stephen Merchant’s character challenges TV presenter Richard Madeley to spot a “mongoloid” from behind.
Then there’s the follow-up to his “apology”—his use of a new word combining “tweet” and “mongols” to make “twongols”.
My guess is it was a cynical provocation designed to whip up publicity for his new series. For this reason alone, I hope the show tanks.
The sad truth is that Gervais has taken a path well-trodden by comedians whose once edgy and original humour has dried up.
He’s replaced it with lazy stereotyping and downright bullying of minorities—and then sold it to us as “irony”.