Magazine article The Spectator

Ritual Humiliation

Magazine article The Spectator

Ritual Humiliation

Article excerpt

Ricky Gervais's latest sitcom, Life's Too Short (BBC2, Thursday), is really a series of sketches on his favourite themes - failure, rejection, self-delusion and humiliation. I gather from friends of friends that at UCL he was often teased, not always pleasantly, for not fitting in with the right gang. Exclusion of one kind or another and the desperate need to fit in is another constant topic.

You may remember the scene in Extras in which he and his friends are turfed out of the VIP area in a club to make way for David Bowie, who then makes things more horrible by improvising a song about what a pathetic and useless person Gervais's character is.

There is usually a happy ending, but only for the people at the bottom of the heap, such as Tim and Dawn in The Office, whose coming together matches the destruction of the most odious characters, Dawn's arrogant boyfriend Lee - and the loathsome Finchy, David Brent's best friend, whose frequent arrival in the office of The Office is a measure of Brent's own delusional failure. Tim and Dawn are the only characters we don't despise for one reason or another, and we even have our doubts about them; aren't they both just a bit too soppy, too pliant?

The new series is, sort of, built around Warwick Davis, a real dwarf actor who appeared, as he constantly reminds us, in Star Wars. And he had a role in Willow, 'which cost 40 million to make, and has made a lot of that back'. Davis delivers the line without irony, but we know what it means - even George Lucas can fail, and we're allowed to relish that.

Davis runs a casting agency for dwarves - 'I'm the UK's go-to dwarf' - but his clients are 15th rate, including one who blacks up. Is there a phrase along the lines of 'that unticks so many boxes'? Davis, like so many Gervais characters, hovers wildly between ludicrous overconfidence and bathetic terror. 'I want people to see a sophisticated dwarf about town, ' he muses. 'I'm a bit like Martin Luther King: one day, dwarves will walk proud. Or maybe not, but have you ever seen a black man fired out of a cannon?'

His marriage to a normal-sized woman (everything is fiction, except his name, so you're never entirely sure what is true and what isn't) is in deep trouble, but he doesn't realise, right up to when she changes the locks. …

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