COMMENT: In the Interests of Assisting Ricky Gervais...
First published November 3 2009
In the Interests of Assisting Ricky Gervais...
A recent posting by Ricky Gervais on his blog:

Week ninety - October/November 2009

Dear blog readers, do me a favour.

Thousands of people are reading this blog, and I bet many of them run websites and do blogs of their own. Or post messages on iTunes and YouTube and Twitter. Please mention the round-headed one. This is your mission. Get everyone in the world to listen to one of the podcasts or audiobooks. Karl got recognized today and it really stressed him out. More of that please. I'll leave it in your capable hands.

Very well, Ricky. Here's that "classic" "clip" of yourself, Stephen Merchant and the 'round-headed one', (ie Sony-award-winning radio producer Karl Pilkington), from your old XFM show on 9th August 2003, discussing The Elephant Man, 'freaks' and a then-recent BBC TV documentary called What Are You Staring At?...

PILKINGTON, but it's sad though. Did you watch that thing in the week? That 'What You Staring At?' programme?

I didn't, no, I couldn't face it. It... I know what you mean, it was about people who'd had unfortunate deformities and...

Yeah yeah, and it was... it was really sad. I suddenly felt bad about, y'know, some of the stuff we've talked about and what have you, because...

(GIGGLES) Can I just say something, like... that's quite a nice thing to say, "I suddenly felt bad about some of the things we've talked about"... shall we go over what we've discussed today?


What subjects have we brought up today? How can you feel sorry about things like that when we're still doing it!

No, but I'm just saying, you have a laugh and that, but then you see a programme about it and go "Oh..."

What, you realise they're 'real people' you're talking about?


When do you ever forget that? When do you ever forget that when you're reading out these 'Cheeky Freaks of the Week's or when we talk about Rik Waller, that he's... there's not a real person on the other end thinking about it?

Yeah, but sometimes it's hard, 'cos they don't look like real people...


Don't slag off Rik Waller...


(GRINNING AUDIBLY) That girl was on with the big 'ead...


(STILL GRINNING)'s like Bo Selecta!


Ricky Gervais
9th August 2003, XFM


In an fair and just world, the perpetrators of the above 'routine' would have been marked out as an absolute disgrace and condemned from all quarters (and, lest we forget, this was a point in comedy history when the press hardly needed much of an excuse to run an article with Gervais' grinning face at the top - whether the ensuing story directly concerned him or not). Sadly, with Gervais' cash-cow status pretty much protected by The Office, few would ever have dared attempt to rock the boat at that point. As such, coverage of the incident was notably absent.

One person who did cover it however was Victoria Wright (Née Lucas), the object of Pilkington's ridicule, who wrote a remarkably restrained response a few weeks later on the BBC Ouch website:

What Are You Staring At?: Vicky Lucas responds
by Victoria Lucas

28th August 2003

The other week I featured in What Are You Staring At?, a BBC documentary on the subject of facial disfigurement.

I talked about my personal decision not to have plastic surgery and why I felt it was important that we also looked at society's prejudice towards us, rather than just concentrating on trying to 'fix' or 'cure' our faces. To put it simply, my attitude was "Yeah, let's look at the medical options and if people want surgery, that's fine. But let's also look at building up their self-esteem. And wouldn't it be nice if we also worked at making a more tolerant society too?"

Since then, I've had a huge response - some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it so downright nasty that I've spent the past fortnight plotting revenge. So I've written this article. OK, it's not so much 'bloody vengeance' as 'mild rant', but at least I get paid.

I'll start with the TV reviews. The day after the broadcast, I was surprised to discover that it was a picture of my unique face spread across many of the TV review pages. Odd considering the main subject of the programme was actually a plastic surgeon. Why didn't they print pictures of his face? I know mine's more interesting, but it did leave me feeling slightly used. And it was the same horrible photograph every single time! Ouch are probably using it to illustrate this feature (Um, she's right; I'm blushing now - Ed). For the visually impaired amongst you, it shows a chinny bint with dark blonde hair and a look of desperation.

One TV review even ended with the classic line:

"... it was a documentary you spent an awful lot of time not actually watching. And more time thinking 'There but for the grace of God ...'"

Yep, drag God into it, why dontcha!?

I was already feeling pretty annoyed, and then I discovered some rather dodgy stuff about me on the internet. After typing my name into Google (come on, we've all done it), I discovered a website messageboard debating whether I looked more like the funny-looking bloke from The Goonies (or was it The Goodies?) or Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars. Personally, I think I bare more resemblance to Buzz Lightyear. I can even do a nifty "To infinity and beyond!" But even so, it hardly makes a girl feel good about herself.

So you can imagine the state I was in when I later heard about the remarks made about my face by the producer of a show presented by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant on London indie radio station XFM.

I did consider whether it was ethical - and legal - to write about what they said. Should I really criticise them in such a public way? After all, I don't know what these men are like in real life. They could be quite nice actually! But then I remembered that they'd made fun of me live on air for thousands of people to hear ... so I thought, sod the lot of 'em!

What happened was this. After jokes about the Elephant Man, Pop Idol's Rik Waller and 'little midget fellas', the conversation turned to the documentary. To paraphrase, the show's producer, Karl Pilkington, said, "I saw that documentary ... it made me go 'aaah' ... it makes you realise that when you talk about people on the radio, they are real people who hear what you say."

One of the presenters said, "When do you ever forget they are real people that we talk about?"

To which Karl Pilkington replied, "Sometimes it's hard 'cos they don't look like real people ... that girl was on with the big head ... like Bo Selecta!" This was followed by much laughter from the presenters.

Bo Selecta, for those who don't know, is a Channel 4 comedy show featuring large caricature masks of celebrities. The masks often have bulging eyes and large chins, hence the delightful comparison to me.

Not since I appeared on ITV's This Morning two years ago and had Richard Madeley ask me live on telly if I go on dates, have I been so thoroughly insulted!

Unlike Rik Waller, I'm not a celebrity with a management company to protect me. And unlike the Elephant Man, I'm not dead! I'm a living, breathing human being who hurts, and the Bo Selecta remark hurt like hell. As for the big head jibe, I'll let that one go because I'm the first to admit that not only did I fall out of the funny tree and hit every branch on the way down, but I also climbed back up and built a treehouse.

What also makes me angry is the 'joke' that those of us who look different from the norm are not 'real' people. Well, I'm very real. And if I don't get a grovelling apology pretty soon, I will personally go down to the XFM headquarters and ... well, I'll leave that up to your imaginations.

So that's the response I've had. Like I said, there's been good stuff too. But the bad stuff stinks. Does it put me off being interviewed on the telly again? No. I still think TV has the potential to help challenge society's crappy attitudes about disability.

Neither has it changed my mind about not wanting plastic surgery. I might look like Jabba the Hutt, I may even look like the bloke from Bo Selecta, but I'm afraid, Mr Pilkington, that the chin is very much here to stay ...

Wright did in fact receive an apology - from XFM rather than Gervais, Merchant and Pilkington - and this may or may not have had something to do with a later decision not to include that particular show for download on the otherwise pretty extensive Gervais XFM audio archive. However, an off-air of the show eventually did the rounds amidst collections shared by the Pilkington internet community (which grew as the subsequent podcasts of the Gervais/Merchant/Pilkington set-up increased in popularity).

In January 2009, a Gervais fan uploaded the offending section to YouTube here. At the time of writing, the clip has had 3,108 views. [07/02/13 update: now at 19,875]

The comments under the clip include a small smattering of Gervais fans attempting to 'justify' the remarks. Depressing reading in itself, but not nearly as depressing as the two comments which have been marked as 'spam'. Clicking on 'Show all comments' reveals these two posts to be from one 'VictoriaMWright'. Sadly, she appears to have closed her own account - but her contributions to the 'debate' are still viewable via the source code of the page:

VictoriaMWright (7 months ago)
I'm the woman referred to in this clip. I would appreciate it if you removed it, as it's causing me and my family a great deal of distress, as did the original broadcast. Please understand that while it may seem just a joke to you, what Gervais and Pikington did meant that I've had to deal with an increase in verbal abuse and threats of violence, and uploading the clip to Youtube will only encourage more of this.

VictoriaMWright (7 months ago)
Later that series, Stephen refers to me as being bigger than Karl 'at least headwise' because I didn't make an official complaint (actually I did and got a letter of apology from the managing director promising they would make no further mention of me!) and Ricky asks Karl where I come in that years list of Freak of the Year. They are cowards who use humour to take the piss out of disabled people like me - and get away with it because people think they're being clever and ironic. They're not.

Well, clearly the account-holder didn't consider Wright's claims of 'verbal abuse' and 'threats of violence' a worthy-enough reason to delete the clip. By way of a half-arsed 'disclaimer' he includes a link to her BBC Ouch article in the 'info' section - but then fucks it up completely by repeating Stephen Merchant's scummy "at least headwise" gag at the end.

'Clever and ironic' isn't the only reasoning used to excuse the more reactionary excesses of Gervais' comedy world. In the case of the promotion of Karl Pilkington as an 'idiot savant', there's also a clear deferral of responsibility for scummy bikeshed-schoolboy nastiness and blaming a 'third party'. Less a case of them being (as one YouTube defender claimed) 'far too clever and PC-concious' and more about using the supposedly ignorant and politically-confused Pilkington as a conduit for the material. "It's funny 'cos that's what he genuinely thinks!" is the war-cry, even today.

Past attempts by members of this parish to open people's eyes to the possibility that this may just be utter bollocks have often proved less than successful...

Posted by alan strang on: August 24, 2006, 05:06:19 pm

Quote from: "Entropy Balsmalch"
Sorry - but I can't believe how circular this whole argument has become.

Nah, 'circular arguments' are great - the less-intelligent participants get to learn something new each time!

Quote from: "Ballad of Ballard Berkley"
These men are putting together a COMEDY show, for God's sake. They're trying to make people laugh, mainly through the use of the Karl 'character'. Whether people want tobelieve he's real or not is up to them.Ultimately, it doesn't really matter as long as what he comes out with is entertaining. If you don't think so, then fine, otherwise I don't really see why you care.

Why I care can be summed up by something said earlier by thewomb:

Quote from: "thewomb"
but it was the fact that you could tell that was genuinely how Karl viewed evolution that made it so funny.

This is how a lot of people react to the Pilkington stuff - 'it's funny because it's real'. Unfortunately the whole argument falls down completely if you consider the possibility that Pilkington isn't 'for real'.

Theoretically it also illustrates why Pilkington is being sold as 'genuine' rather than as the hammed-up comic character he plainly is. The stuff he comes out with isn't nearly funny enough as 'comedy' in its own right, but, coupled with the whole set-up of a belittled idiot-savant apparently thrust into the limelight and having no control of the consequences, it appeals to a rather blinkered audience of people who get off on the notion of laughing at 'reality' rather than comedy. In other words, the sort of people who enjoy sniggering at the foibles of Boris Johnson or pouring scorn on the latest bunch of 'losers' on Big Brother. The attraction lies in the fact that it's purportedly not a 'performance' - you're laughing at them. And, as with Big Brother, there's a certain 'ownership' factor involved - the audience allowing itself to gather itself into groups and dictate the rules of enjoyment for themselves. To use an old Aboriginal golfing analogy, the object of derision is effectively pwned!!11

Such an audience mindset really wouldn't be interested in the idea of 'Karl Pilkington the comedy character', even if he was coming out with exactly the same material - he has to be 'real' to allow a cult of fascination to grow around him like so many internet wankers swapping Star Wars Kid mpegs. And despite the gallant face-saving revisionism at play it's quite dispiriting looking around the net and noting just how many people still genuinely believe that Pilkington's persona isn't put on. Look at the debates on the Wiki page. Look at the descriptions on YouTube. Look at the fan-sites. 'Yes, he's really like that!' is still the prevailing view. Take that away from them and they'd have nothing to work with. They can't 'own' Karl Pilkington in the same way.

Now, there may well be a portion of the audience who just enjoy 'playing along' (and I daresay there'll be a lot more of them when the more blinkered members of the fanbase finally see through the bollocks) but in the main the way he's presented in that 'stupid bloke being bullied' context - with Gervais and Merchant basically spoonfeeding a set of instructions on how he's supposed to be viewed with each and every 'You are men'al!' screech - is the initial attraction.

This is also why Gervais and Merchant constantly deny that Pilkington is put on. That newsfeed interview from earlier features a relevant observation on this:

Ricky Gervais: I remember we'd written The Office and we were filming it, and I saw a TV program, it was the first Big Brother. And there were things in there that depressed me because I said to Steve I said, "We can't compete with this. This is funnier; real life if funnier and more excruciating and more dramatic than we could ever write." And it's true, it's just true. There is nothing as fascinating or as funny or as tragic as just real people.

That's the whole Pilkington set-up explained right there. When's the next Celebrity Big Brother? Got to be the next stage hasn't it?

To return to the blog-post quoted at the top of this article, note that Gervais is still using that same formula, claiming that Karl Pilkington is 'distressed' by the fame he's had foisted on him and that we should all amass, mob-like, and do what is necessary to contribute to that distress (which in this case of course means, 'buy our product'!).

In 2006, when the full off-air of the show surfaced, a discussion about the offensive routine and the subsequent BBC Ouch article erupted on the Pilkipedia site. Rampant Gervais defenders can be hateful creatures at the best of times, but some of the comments and attitudes aired during that discussion are enough to make the skin crawl...

Post by SCB on Thu 13 Jul, 2006 8:34 pm
I hate it when these 'freaks' are offended like they don't know themselves they will be talked about :roll:

Post by chinchilla on Mon 17 Sep, 2007 6:57 pm
but the bo selecta comparison was soooo beautiful ..... maybe he thought she wernt right in the head, so she wouldnt understand, well, she aint right in the head, it was f*cking huge, but..oh you know what i mean

Post by Matt G on Tue 18 Sep, 2007 3:27 am
You mean Vicky Lucas? What a horrible bitch she is. She made an angry article about poor innocent Karl because of a joke he made. What a desperate grab for attention. She puts herself in the public eye saying she refuses to conform and fix her massive head, but complains when someone makes a joke? So which is it, is she comfortable with who she is, or is she touchy about her gigantic head that she gets on tv as much as she can?

Everyone knows Karl doesn't know what he's saying, and I'm sure she could tell he was making an innocent joke, but felt it necessary to whine and play the victim which I'm sure she's been doing all her life instead of just learning to accept that she looks like Bo Selecta.

She's an ugly person. Outside and in. Karl didn't step over the line at all.

Post by chinchilla on Tue 18 Sep, 2007 4:34 pm
has she looked in a mirror!!?....i don't think FACTS can be offensive, she's straight outta it.....she even speaks like it..(that's a lie)

Post by Matt G on Wed 19 Sep, 2007 2:30 am
I'm not being ironic, I think she's a horrible person for picking on Karl. She must seek that shit out. What was she doing listening to XFM. If she's so easily offended, don't listen to the radio. George Bush doesn't write angry articles about people calling him an idiot. He chose to be president so he knows it comes with the job. Vicky Lucas must realise that appearing on national TV by choice is opening yourself up to comparisons with puppets and cartoons.

Post by jaykay on Wed 19 Sep, 2007 8:14 am
haha HOLY CRUD. she DOES look like bo selecta.

Well there it is. Devise a scenario which deliberately sets out to incite a mob mentality to ridicule and bully a comedy-sponsored 'loser' and it's perhaps inevitable that such delightful members of society will display their true moral colours right across the board.

Victoria Wright will shortly be starring in Cast Offs, a satirical C4 show about disability. There's a microsite here, and a Facebook page with some amazing photos here.

Ricky Gervais will shortly be making yet more gags about the disabled for cunts to laugh at.