Thursday 12 December 2019

Comedy not the place to address Oscars diversity row - Doc Brown

Ricky Gervais as David Brent and Doc Brown as rapper Dom Johnson performed the Comic Relief song Equality Street
Ricky Gervais as David Brent and Doc Brown as rapper Dom Johnson performed the Comic Relief song Equality Street

Ricky Gervais's Equality Street song co-star Doc Brown said comedy is "not the battlefield" to address issues of racial diversity.

The 37-year-old, whose real name is Ben Bailey Smith, joined Gervais's alter-ego David Brent as rapper Dom Johnson on the political reggae song for Comic Relief in 2013, a role he will revive in their feature film Life On The Road later this year.

Following the Oscars diversity controversy, Gervais jokingly tweeted Smith: "You realise we won't get nominated for an Oscar with you in the movie, don't you? I've been a fool."

But Smith, the son of a Jamaican immigrant mother and English father, disagreed that comedy is the way to tackle the situation.

He said: "It's not the battlefield. You're preaching to the converted. I don't think it's all stand-ups but if they really want to do something you've got to get off the stage and do something about it. A joke is not the way forward."

Comedian Sir Lenny Henry blasted Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling for saying the row was racist to white people.

But Smith said: "Casting is the true villain, the unspoken shadowy antagonist behind this Charlotte Rampling argument about the Oscars.

"Everybody's banging on about black people not getting an Oscar and Charlotte Rampling rightly said 'Well, they weren't in any Oscar-winning movies so how could they?' Which is fair comment."

He said the real issue is casting: "It's about people of colour having the opportunity to challenge the best actors to be in the best movies. If that opportunity isn't there then it can never happen and nothing will ever change."

Smith takes up a prominent role in new ITV drama Brief Encounters shortly, about the birth of the Ann Summers sex parties.

But now the brother of award-winning White Teeth novelist Zadie Smith is publishing his first book, I Am Bear.

The children's tale of a prankster bear saw Smith and his illustrating partner Sav Akyuz in a four-way bidding war, eventually won by Walker Books.

There is no competition with his sister, he said.

"I think if I were a novelist too it would be direct competition. I don't want that, Zadie doesn't want that. Crucially I know I couldn't do it anyway. I don't have anything like the patience and intelligence to do what she does."

In the book, the mischievous bear steals doughnuts from the police, amazes other forest inhabitants with his magic tricks and, controversially for a book aimed at three to seven-year-olds, eats his squirrel pal for lunch.

It has all the hallmarks of a future children's classic, with bold illustration from Akyuz, who storyboarded John Lewis's famous Bear and the Hare Christmas advert, and catchy half-rap, half-rhyme read-aloud lyrics, that are complemented by a Smith-performed music video.

PA Media

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