The British are renowned for their self-depreciating humour, and it’s a quality which has been seized upon by the new wave of 21st century British sitcoms. Stand out examples include ‘Peep Show’, where the awkward antics of Mark Corrigan play off against the shamelessly stupid Jez. Or ‘The Inbetweeners’, a show about a group of social outcasts who find themselves in numerous cringe-worthy situations; normally involving the opposite sex.
Yet as good as these sitcoms (and their respective writers) are at creating cringe, no one is yet to challenge arguably Britain’s finest in the art of the awkward moment; Steve Merchant and Ricky Gervais.
With numerous accolades to their name, including BAFTAs, Emmys and Golden Globe awards, Gervais and Merchant are no doubt a comedic force to be reckoned with. Together, they co-wrote ‘The Office’, a sitcom which set the standard for the decade of British comedy which followed it.
They backed this up with more sofa cringing excellence in ‘Extras’, which twisted celebrities into parodied (and normally psychotic/pathetic/bizarre) incarnations of themselves. Anyone who has seen Les Dennis sitting naked in that dressing room, will know just how close to the mark Merchant and Gervais are prepared to go.
And so the third sitcom from this comedy duo is set to hit our screens, presenting possibly the hardest challenge yet for the pair: whether they are able to walk the line between humorous awkwardness and downright offensiveness when the subject matter is… a showbiz dwarf. “Life’s Too Short” is set to hit our screens on BBC Two in November, starring well known dwarf actor Warwick Davies. The show is shot in a ‘mockumentary’ fashion, and will see many A-listers, including the show’s creators, playing alternate realities of themselves.
The idea of a sitcom following a ‘real’ individual is nothing knew – Curb Your Enthusiasm starring Larry David has been doing that trick for years – however the question is whether Merchant and Gervais are able to direct the laughs not at Davis, but at those who misunderstand him. The idea of the show is to poke fun at the ignorant, and to laugh at our society which believes that Davis is ‘different’ to the rest of us.
The difficulty will be in toeing that line, so that offensiveness is not caused to a large segment of society. There are many people who are rightly sensitive to the depiction of minorities, as Gervais has found recently over his continued use of the word ‘mong’ on twitter. Gervais, of course, defends his actions as meaning no offence, as he argues that the word has changed its meaning over time.
All we can hope is that Gervais is able to avoid controversy of this kind in his new sitcom. Instead, the comedy duo are hoping to debunk some of the myths and social awkwardness surrounding the dwarf community – a big ask, but there couldn’t be two more capable men at the helm.