Tim Renkow on creating a disabled character with comedic flaws in Jerk

You can get away with almost anything if you’ve got cerebral palsy – or so acclaimed stand-up Tim Renkow reckons.

Tim Renkow as Timfrom the new TV series Jerk. Picture: PA Photo/BBC/Roughcut TV/Adam Lawrence

Using his personal experience with disability as creative inspiration, the US comedian’s hit BBC Three comedy Jerk is returning for a second series.

Playing a heightened version of himself, also called Tim (alongside co-writing the show), Renkow’s dark humour transforms his character into a kind of anti-hero, channeling and exploiting the idea that cerebral palsy makes other people far more uncomfortable than it does the person who has it.

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It’s something Renkow is acutely aware of – and regularly exacerbates. Part of his schtick in Jerk is turning other people’s uneasiness into pure, unadulterated awkwardness.

Raffie Julien as Esther, Tim Renkow as Tim and Sharon Rooney as Ruth. Picture : PA Photo/BBC/Roughcut TV/Adam Lawrence

From tearing open payslips – resulting in an office revolt – to claiming a free meal from a charity offering food to refugees, Renkow created a palpable sense of anarchy across the first series that delighted and enticed viewers in equal measure.

Now though, the comedian is back, describing series two as “a little crazier” than the first – if that’s possible.

The show’s inspiration

Citing his source of inspiration as his “endless travels through the universe as a cosmic wanderer”, Renkow says he searches the stars “looking for that elusive mistress – meaning”.

There’s no need to adjust your glasses, you read that correctly.

“I wanted to create a disabled character who had comedic flaws, because I hadn’t seen that before,” says Renkow.

Looking upon his character Tim as “a goodwill vampire”, the comedian says “he doesn’t destroy your life unless you invite him in, but once you do, he takes all your good intentions and uses them to make your life miserable.”

The pandemic’s impact

Series two pre-production started as the pandemic hit, and there was a “really frustrating” year’s delay, but the show did give Renkow something to work towards.

“It was good to have something to look forward to because I’m a stand-up comic and we didn’t know [if the live comedy circuit] would ever get back to the way it was,” he recalls. “For me, at least I had something that I knew was going to happen.”

Returning characters

Describing his character as something of a “stagnant mess” this time around, it appears not an awful lot has changed where Tim is concerned.

Scottish actress Sharon Rooney – best known for her role as Rae Earl in My Mad Fat Diary – returns as Tim’s carer Ruth, alongside musician and comedian Rob Madin, who returns as Idris, a man that can only be described as Tim’s irritating friend.

“As a writer, you put a little of yourself into every character, so there are some similarities,” remarks Renkow on parallels between Idris, Ruth and Tim.

“Ruth is Tim’s ‘carer’,” notes Rooney. “I say ‘carer’ because she’s not great at the caring part, but excellent at the friendship part.”

Describing her character as “very loyal”, Rooney says Ruth “cares for him but just not in a very conventional way.”

“I like to think I’m a bit more naturally caring than she is, but deep down, she looks out for her friends and cares about them. I think I just show it more.”

As for Idris, Madin says he is a “hell of a lot cooler” than his on-screen counterpart. Describing Idris’ journey from a Job Centre employee in the first series “where he tried (and failed) to find Tim a suitable career” to a now unemployed friend, Madin says he continues to “hang around like a bad (but, again, kind-hearted) smell.”

“There’s a fairly trippy dream sequence in one of the episodes, which Idris features heavily in,” says Madin.

“That was a highlight. To be honest, I think Tim just added it in to try and make up for the more humiliating scenes they made me endure this series.”

Series Two and beyond

Explaining that the forthcoming series is “unlike any you’ve seen before,” – that includes a duel with the Devil – Renkow says he hopes shows like Jerk are a step towards greater representation on screen.

Despite noting that things are “getting better”, he says there is “still so much to be done” where diversity and inclusivity are concerned.

“We are still not at a point where there can be a disabled person on screen without their disability being mentioned. Once that happens, we will be on the right path.”

Jerk launches on BBC One on Monday, August 2, as well as being available to stream as a boxset on BBC Three from Sunday, August 1.

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