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I TALK TO Tim Renkow

BBC Three's latest sitcom Jerk is co-written by and stars US comedian Tim Renkow as Tim, a man who's wrongly judged and a bit of an asshole.

"Disabled people can be flawed in the exact same way that average people are flawed."

US comedian Tim Renkow was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of six months and moved to London when he was 22 to study creative writing and pursue a career in stand-up comedy.

If you cast your minds back to 2016, you may remember a BBC Three pilot called A Brief History of Tim which starred Tim as a character with cerebral palsy (also called Tim) who is a bit of an asshole and loves to make people around him feel uncomfortable.

Fast-forward a couple of years and that pilot is now a four-part series called Jerk starring Lorraine Bracco, Sharon Rooney and Rob Madin. Throughout the four episodes, Tim takes aim at life's easier targets when he should be chasing a job, a girl and that all important visa.

I recently caught up with Tim to discuss the genesis of the sitcom, his favourite moments from the series and the "problem with representation" in the television industry. Here's what he had to say...

Where did the idea come from to write a sitcom?

My co-writer was applying for a job and part of the job interview was a mock treatment for a TV so he just wrote one based on me. He did not get the job but he called me up and said "Do you actually want to write this TV show?" and I said yeah, why not?! And it all went from there.

What was the reaction like to the pilot?

The reaction was pretty good and it was so exciting. I never thought I would have anything I‘ve written out there for people to watch. I thought that was going to be highlight and I was more than happy with that.

Everything that happened I'd be like "Oh that's nice" and when we were offered the series I wasn't expecting it so it was very exciting.

Why has the title changed from A Brief History of Tim to Jerk?

I think it's because it's too long. A Brief History of Tim is a great title for an episode but when you're recommending a show, you don't want to recommend one with more than a couple of syllables.

How would you best describe Jerk?

Jerk is about Tim, an entitled slob, a lazy slob, who has cerebral palsy and is trying to stay in the country. He makes every wrong decision possible and people judge him, often wrongly. He's also a bit of an asshole.

How similar are you and Tim?

The way I'd describe it is that he is what I could have been if I'd decided to be lazy. He's basically everything I don't want to be... with a little bit of who I am! Personality wise, he's fine but he makes some rather unquestionable decisions in life.

Talk to me about the supporting cast...

Lorraine Bracco is a very nice lady with a mean sense of humour and she plays my mum. For her character I just took some of my mum's sense of humour and just expanded it. Lorraine's character is loving but she doesn't take shit from anybody, including Tim.

Sharon Rooney is wonderful and plays Tim's only real friend Ruth, who's his carer but acts more like his friend. She cares for Tim but she does the absolute minimum. I love Sharon, I think she’s really talented.

Do you have any favourite moments from the series?

I love the scenes where there's confrontation. There's a brilliant moment in the second episode where I get kicked over which is my favourite scene. There are also some really lovely moments with me Sharon and Rob, who plays Idris, in the café. Some of those are really nice.

Where do you stand on disability representation on television?

I do think it's overlooked and I think it might be because acting a physically demanding job so it's hard for disabled people to do. But I would say that there is a problem with representation on TV.

Everyone focusses on the actors which is great, but I think the real solution seems to be that we need to get more disabled people and people from minority backgrounds behind the camera. I think it's really important that that happens and we need to talk about it more so that it does.

Do you think the industry is getting slightly better in front of the camera with the likes of yourself, Rosie Jones and Lost Voice Guy?

The comedy industry in particular is full of oddballs, so everyone's connected on a level of wanting to say something. It's a really welcoming community and television should be the same.

Lost Voice Guy is actually in an episode this series and he's great. But people like him and Rosie Jones are really great and what else is great is that their styles aren't the same. Even though they both have cerebral palsy, their point of views are very different. Which I think is the most important thing.

It's not about the amount of disabled people you see, they're all human and it's about the different stories they can tell and their different interpretations on how they see the world.

What would you like people to take away from Jerk?

I'd like them to take away that disabled people can be flawed in the exact same way that average people are flawed. Which I feel like you don't see when you see disabled people on telly. I just haven't ever seen a disabled person on TV where I've thought "Oh that's just a normal guy" that just happens to be disabled.

Would you like to do another series? And what else are you working on?

Oh yeah! I would love a second series. There's a lot more that I want to do with the character. I'm doing the Soho Theatre in London in April and that's all I can talk about right now! But that's the most important one and tickets are still available.

Jerk launches Sunday 24th February from 10am as a box set on BBC Three and Monday 4th March at 11pm on BBC One


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