‘The Office’ producer says Ricky Gervais’ disability jokes made him “uncomfortable”

"Those jokes didn’t bother me at the time, but they would if they happened now"

The Office producer Ash Atalla has said that Ricky Gervais’ jokes about his disability made him “a little bit uncomfortable”.

Atalla, who has also worked as a producer on The IT Crowd and People Just Do Nothing, has used a wheelchair since contracting polio as a child.

Gervais pointed out Atalla’s disability while accepting an award for The Office at the British Comedy Awards, calling him “my little wheelchair friend” and saying he was “just the same as Stephen Hawking, but without all the clever stuff”.

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Reflecting on the event, Atalla told The Times: “I felt a little bit uncomfortable. There was a period of late Nineties comedy with the likes of Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle where the game was – see what you could get away with and then reverse intellectualise it.”

He went on: “Those jokes didn’t bother me at the time, but they would if they happened now. I wouldn’t allow so many jokes to be made about my wheelchair, I wouldn’t want to be defined by that.”

Gervais’ representatives have not yet responded for comment. This story will be updated accordingly.

Atalla went on to comment on the importance of disabled actors playing disabled roles, nodding to recent films in which that had not been the case.

“It shocks me that Bryan Cranston played a quadriplegic in The Upside in 2017,” he said. “Eddie Redmayne playing Stephen Hawking was just about forgivable as the film had Hawking pre-wheelchair but it was still iffy.”

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Last month, Gervais said he believed The Office “would be cancelled” if it aired today. 

“I’m looking forward to when they pick out one thing and try to cancel it,” Gervais commented recently. “Someone said they might try to cancel it one day, and I say, ‘Good let them cancel it. I’ve been paid!’”

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