Dear Readers, I need you tonight, to vent my frustrations to. I am just back from the Ricky Gervais stand up show where he has a routine that suggests having ME is a work-shy indulgence as opposed to a serious illness. We will come to that shortly. First I shall say that I had read a preview of the show (briefly mentioning ME as one of his controversial topics) and I was in a two day long dilemma as to whether to go or not. In that time I wrote Ricky Gervais a letter telling of the severities of ME. Nice Man also wrote and thought we should sell the tickets. However, some of my family members and pals said it was hard to judge from a review and I might as well go and then defend or criticise. I considered it might be defeatist to avoid going. I reasoned I should face the supposed attack and then be in a position to give a report or opinion. So report I shall...
Firstly can I say that Gervais chose to be risky about illness and disability in general. There is a sketch about taking a neighbour's autistic kid to the casino instead of the zoo (a la Rain Man). Controversial, yes, but we all know that autism is 100% real and can be life-wrecking. Next Gervais was making gags about how he believed all obesity was self inflicted and not an illness. Then - my stomach tightened - he said how he'd seen someone collecting for ME recently. Quote -ME? Not MS - not the crippling wasting disease. No, the thing that makes you say 'I dont wanna go to work today' (here he adopted a self-pitying tone and mock lethargy). The audience guffawed and broke into spontaneous applause. He said that Africans wouldn't get ME because they have more serious concerns like getting food and water. Cue his sketch about one African asking another weakling ME African to go and get water from the well. More huge laughter. At one point Gervais did conceed that it was a 'cheap gag' but that a person with ME couldn't run after him and fight him.
I usually pride myself on being able to take a joke in any circumstances, but the horribleness of this is that Gervais is perpetuating the myth that ME is a choice. This man has sold five million DVDs worldwide. He will do this routine to thousands of people every night. He may sell another million of the follow-up DVD. I call on the ME charities to do something drastic, something effective. This disbelief has been going on for decades. There is hard scientific evidence out there that ME can be every bit as severe as MS. Where is the missing link? How can Ricky Gervais get an audience to support him in implying we're molly-coddled fakes?
I came out feeling like I'd been bullied in the playground. I loved The Office but I don't feel I can ever warm to Gervais again. Maybe Nice Man was right and we shouldn't have gone. Maybe it is important I was there to highlight how misinformed and harmful to the cause the routine was. I welcome anyone who wishes to write to Gervais c/o his company. I don't think there is any point in writing viscious and critical letters - just a short letter telling how your life has been affected by ME would do. If you were the African with ME and couldn't walk to get water from the well, you'd die, let's face it. Oh what a cheery night of comedy!
PS. Permission to repost this anywhere.