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Ricky Gervais And Stephen Merchant Gave One Of The Most Controversial Acceptance Speeches

Cameron Frew

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Ricky Gervais And Stephen Merchant Gave One Of The Most Controversial Acceptance Speeches

Back in the heyday of The Office, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant delivered a very controversial acceptance speech at the BAFTAs. Watch for yourself below:

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Few TV shows are as culturally groundbreaking as The Office. It took the most unassuming of things with office culture, and mined it for resonant, painfully funny comedy, all while introducing the world to Gervais' infuriating David Brent.

It earned critical acclaim, a loyal viewership and a slew of awards. Gervais rarely takes to the stage without leaving a mark, and years before his infamous Golden Globes opener, one speech generated a fair bit of controversy.

At the 2003 British Academy Television Awards, the mockumentary sitcom took home the awards for Situation Comedy and Best Comedy Performance for Gervais.

The Office won several awards across its short run. Credit: Alamy
The Office won several awards across its short run. Credit: Alamy

As Gervais and Merchant stood at the podium, they got off to a flying start.

"Tom Stoppard and Noel Gallagher together at last," he said as the Oasis singer stood behind him.

"We don't have to thank anyone," he continued, to which Merchant said: "No, we should maybe thank Jon Plowman... maybe the BBC."

Merchant continued: "Maybe we should thank the producers for all their input," to which Gervais laughed.

Gervais then honed in on The Office's producer Ash Atalla, who contracted polio as a child and uses a wheelchair.

He said: "When Stephen Hawking came up he had his little nose bent out of joint.

"Which, to be honest, is the least of his problems. Usually, he's the best one in the room. Don't worry, you're just the same as Stephen Hawking... without all the clever stuff."

Producer Ash Atalla said he wouldn't accept so many wheelchair jokes now. Credit: Alamy
Producer Ash Atalla said he wouldn't accept so many wheelchair jokes now. Credit: Alamy

More than 15 years later, Atalla reflected on Gervais' jokes, telling the Edinburgh Television Festival (per The Times): "I was complicit in him making fun of the wheelchair.

"But I don’t really look back at it with an enormous amount of pride.

"I feel a little bit uncomfortable about some of the stuff we did together."

In a later interview with The Times, he reiterated how the jokes made him feel slightly uncomfortable, discussing how comedians used to tell jokes and 'reverse-intellectualise' them if they got a laugh.

He said: "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."

Speaking to The Guardian, Gervais responded to Atalla's comments, saying: "Well if he’d said to me at the time he was uncomfortable with it, I wouldn’t have done it. But he didn’t."

Featured Image Credit: BBC

Topics: Ricky Gervais, TV and Film

Cameron Frew
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