Life’s Too Short to be polite: Exploiting impoliteness and rudeness in Gervais And Merchant’s humour about physical difference
What follows is a qualitative analysis of the use of impoliteness for comic
effect in the British comedy series Life’s Too Short written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen
Merchant. Because each episode centres on Warwick Davis, an actor with restricted
growth, or dwarfism, there is a considerable risk of superiority or disparagement-type
comedy about a taboo subject like physical difference, stigmatized in current British
culture. In this analysis I set out to show that the authors’ use of impoliteness plays an
important role in allowing them to write comedy centred on this sensitive issue.
The starting-point of the analysis is Culpeper’s proposal that impoliteness can be
entertaining, which in this case is applied to scripted comedy rather than impromptu
or semi-spontaneous examples of impoliteness for purposes of entertainment.
Referring to aspects of impoliteness applied to entertainment, and with reference to
the concept of face, and to superiority, incongruity, and relief humour theories, the
paper suggests there are at least six techniques by which the authors use impoliteness
to reprise physical difference for a contemporary comedy series.