Let’s say you’re eating in a restaurant and you notice a male and female dwarf arguing at a nearby table and, suddenly, the male dwarf leans too far back on the rear legs of his chair and he tumbles backward onto the floor, taking the tablecloth and everything on it along with him.
Well, it’s doubtful you’d burst out laughing at such a thing in public, but when such a scene plays out in the HBO comedy series called “Life’s Too Short” — as it does in Sunday night’s new episode (March 18 at 10:30/9:30c) — you’re expected to laugh your head off, in the privacy of your own home, of course.
The question is: Is this wrong or is this comedy?
The answer is: It’s both.
Sure, we’re instructed from childhood not to point and laugh at the shortcomings of others (no pun intended), but we’ve also come to expect comedy and comedians today to challenge all the mores and rules of decorum that society expects us to obey.
Thus, if the occasion warrants it, we’ll even laugh at the humiliation of a dwarf, even if that’s a very uncomfortable thing to do. In fact, the comedy of humiliation and discomfort reaches new heights in “Life’s Too Short,” which springs from the comic minds (some might say “damaged minds”) of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.
They both play themselves in the show, in which they’re aided and abetted by their dwarf star — Warwick Davis, 42, 3’6″, a British actor whose movie credits include several of the “Harry Potter” movies, “Willow” (directed by Ron Howard) and, way back when, “Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi.”
Certainly, Davis’ exuberant participation as the show’s star and central figure goes a long way toward making it alright for you to laugh at his travails since he’s the one who seems so hellbent on making fun of himself. The show is styled as a documentary/reality series in which we’re taken along as Warwick goes about his life — promoting himself, auditioning, navigating a divorce, dating, and almost always ending up with the short end of the stick (so to speak). In fact, much of “Life’s Too Short” is so uncomfortable that you welcome those odd moments when something actually works out right for Warwick, though such moments are far and few between.
In the premiere a few weeks ago, Davis described himself as the British film industry’s “go-to dwarf” and “a dwarf around town who carries himself with dignity – I’m a role model!” he said. “I’m a bit like Martin Luther King because I too have a dream that one day dwarfs will be treated equally and they will walk proud, hand-in-hand with the rest of mankind.”
Like other Gervais/Merchant shows (“Extras,” for example), “Life’s Too Short” has already drawn a handful of A-list guest-stars, including Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp and, naturally, Steve Carell. Neeson and Depp were so hilarious in their scenes with Davis, Merchant and Gervais that the spectacle was just jaw-dropping. Helena Bonham Carter turned up also in a scene with Warwick that was just savage.
And, as the Martin Luther King quote would indicate, no subject is sacred on this show, especially the travails of little people in a big world. In that respect, this show flies in the face of TV’s other “little people” shows such as the uplifting “Little People, Big World” and “The Little Couple” on TLC. On “Life’s Too Short,” uplift is not the goal at all — just laughter, very uncomfortable laughter.
The fifth episode of “Life’s Too Short” airs Sunday night (March 18) at 10:30/9:30c on HBO.