Life's Too Short, Comedy And Controversy
Stephen Merchant, Warwick Davis and Ricky Gervais
Another "cruel" and "controversial" comedy from Ricky Gervais.
Yes, just a couple of the words some people are using to describe a show they haven't seen yet.
In the many interviews I have done over the past few weeks to promote Life's Too Short, the same few questions always seem to come up.
The first one is, not surprisingly, "What's it about?"
Life's Too Short is a fake documentary about a showbiz dwarf who has agreed to let the cameras into his life to turn his fortunes around.
Warwick Davis plays a twisted version of himself. He has a massive tax bill, he is going through a messy divorce and the phone has stopped ringing with job offers.
It's not a sitcom about being short at all. It's a sitcom about a man with a small man complex. He is angry, arrogant, manipulative, selfish, and above all, fame hungry.
It was a thrill for me returning to the fake doc format because I find realism quite addictive. But if The Office reflected those quaint docu-soaps of the 1990s that followed ordinary people in ordinary jobs getting their 15 minutes in the limelight, Life's Too Short reflects the docs of today. Desperate, ruthless monsters living their lives like an open wound in search of another 15 minutes at any cost to dignity and decency.
After I've answered this first question they've usually only digested the fact that it's "about dwarves." The second question is usually, "Are you worried that people will be offended?"
I don't know why anyone would ask that question? Is it because the central character is a dwarf? Or is it because they buy into this myth that I am a shock comedian?
Anyway, I'll answer the question.
I always expect some people to be offended. I know I ruffle feathers but some people's feathers need a little ruffling. And remember: just because someone is offended doesn't mean they're in the right. Some people are offended by multi-culturalism, homosexuality, abortion, atheism... what should we do? Ban all those things?
You have the right to be offended, and I have the right to offend you. But no one has the right to never be offended.
I never actively try to offend though. That's churlish, pointless and frankly too easy. But I believe you should say what you mean. Be honest. No one should ever be offended by truth. As a comedian I think my job isn't just to make people laugh but also make them think.
As a famous comedian I also want a strict door policy on my club. Not everyone will like what I say or find it funny. And I wouldn't have it any other way. There are enough comedians who try to please everyone as it is. Good luck to them, but that's not my game I'm afraid.
This is not a democracy. No art form is. I love the creative process and I love being a complete dictator when it comes to my work. It's my way or no way at all.
I'm quite Darwinian about it. I do my thing and I survive or I don't.
The next question is nearly always, "So where do you draw the line in your comedy?"
I'm not one of those people who think that comedy is your conscience taking a day off. My conscience never takes a day off and I can justify everything I do.
There's no line to be drawn in comedy in the sense that there are things you should never joke about. There's nothing that you should never joke about but it depends what that joke is.
Comedy comes from a good or a bad place. The subject of a joke isn't necessarily the target of the joke. You can make jokes about race without any race being the butt of the joke. Racism itself can be the butt for example. When dealing with a so-called taboo subject the angst and discomfort of the audience is what's under the microscope. Our own preconceptions and prejudices are often what are being challenged.
It comes back to honesty again. I don't like racist jokes. Not because they are offensive. I don't like them because they're not funny. And they're not funny because they're not true.
They are almost always based on a falsehood somewhere along the way, which ruins the gag for me. Comedy is an intellectual pursuit. Not a platform.
Usually when someone says I crossed the line, they mean the line they drew, not me.
Ricky Gervais wrote and directed Life's Too Short, alongside Stephen Merchant.
Life's Too Short begins on Thursday 10 November at 9.30pm on BBC Two.
- Read what Warwick has to say about Life's Too Short on the TV Blog.
- Go behind-the-scenes with Ricky Gervais in The Making Of Life's Too Short.
- Watch clips from Life's Too Short here.
- The Office homepage
- Extras homepage