Comedian Ricky Gervais has sparked a storm of protest from disabled people and other campaigners after repeatedly using an offensive and disablist word in messages on the social media network Twitter.
Gervais sent a string of “tweets” that used the word “mong” – a term of abuse used to refer to people with Down’s syndrome.
He claimed he would never use the word about people with Down’s syndrome, and that because its meaning had changed it was OK to use it as a generalised term of abuse.
But Andrew Lee, director of People First Self Advocacy, an organisation run by people with learning difficulties, said he knew people with learning difficulties who had been called “mong”.
He described the word as “an offensive disability term” and said Gervais and other comedians who used disablist terms of abuse were probably “oblivious to the actual spite”.
He said: “If people actually think that that statement is cool, then it most definitely is not cool.
“He has lost an awful lot of street cred and if the people who watch him at the moment want any kind of street cred they would desert him in their droves.”
He said people should stop watching Gervais’s programmes and buying his DVDs.
Lee added: “Individuals like him only sit up and take notice when their pocket is actually hurt.”
He said Gervais’s excuses were “pathetic”, and added: “He probably knows he has done something wrong but doesn’t want to admit it. I don’t think he has any kind of morals. Maybe he hasn’t had to fight for anything in his life.”
Alice Maynard, a leading disabled campaigner and director of the consultancy Future Inclusion, said Gervais’s use of the word was “unacceptable”.
She said she was most shocked that Gervais had used the word last year to insult the singer Susan Boyle, who has a learning difficulty, telling fans at a live show that she “looks like a mong”.
Gervais then went on to joke about how easy it was to say the word “mong”, and added: “Even mongs can say it. That’s part of the beauty of the word.”
Maynard said: “If he applied the term to Susan Boyle it doesn’t suggest to me that he is using it in a completely abstract sense, because Susan Boyle has a learning difficulty.”
But she added: “We should question and challenge in a constructive way rather than going, ‘no, you may not say this or that.’”
Comedian Richard Herring, a long-time supporter of the disability charity Scope, used Twitter to criticise Gervais, and questioned why he would use a word which “demeans and offends” disabled people.
Herring spent much of the week replying to critical Tweets from fans of Gervais and trying to explain why the word was offensive, telling his followers he was “trying to explain [the] impact of disablist language on disabled people”.
20 October 2011