A Government minister has demanded Ricky Gervais publicly apologise for a joke branding ME sufferers “lazy”. The Office funnyman was called out in a parliamentary debate and accused of stigmatising the disease.
MP Steve Brine criticised Gervais for an old gag where he allegedly described ME as “the one where…‘I don’t feel like going to work today’.”
The Minister for Primary Care said:
“We recognise that people with ME have encountered significant stigma, in part due to the unfavourable media representations of the condition that not only go back to the 1980s but have continued in recent times.”
Mr Brine used the the offensive joke as an example, telling MPs:
“I have to say that Ricky Gervais is a very talented comic but given that he’s quite active on Twitter, maybe he could just be asked to retract that and apologise to the ME community for that comment today on Twitter.”
The minister was speaking during a three-hour parliamentary debate on the lack of funding for medical research into ME.
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Politicians called for controversial psychotherapy and exercise therapies recommended by the NHS after a ‘flawed' medical trial must stop because it is making patients worse.
They called for an end to stigma and myths surrounding ME.
Westminster Hall was told how people with ME are six times more likely to commit suicide.
ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) affects 250,000 people in the UK, with tens of thousands left bedbound, housebound and unable to work.
Sufferers have had to face barbs of laziness and hysteria after the illness was dubbed ‘Yuppie Flu’ in the 1980s.
Carol Monaghan (SNP, Glasgow North West) told the debate how ME costs the UK £3.3bn per year.
She said: “Despite the number of people affected, and the devastating affect this disease has on suffers and indeed, their families, it is very much a hidden illness.
“Characterised as ‘yuppie flu’, and misunderstood by doctors and politicians alike, it receives little funding, and treatment is often damaging.”
This video begins with the stand-up routine from Ricky Gervais and was on published on YouTube in 2009
A spokesman for the ME Association warned about the dangers of the comedian's remarks:
“Ricky Gervais might think he’s just funny but by peddling outdated stigmas about a disease in which people are taking their own lives is far from a joke.
“It would be fantastic to see Gervais spearhead our call for more funding and research into ME.
“ME is real. It’s devastating. It leaves people, at best, struggling to work. At worst, it leaves them enduring a tortuous existence, a living death, where they are unable to take their place in society.
“More must be done to end the torment of so many missing behind closed curtains.”