Recognised as part of the BAFTA Breakthrough group, writer and comedian Tim Renkow spoke to Lorne Gillies about the importance of awareness and challenging perceptions of disability one joke at a time.
“It’s a huge honour, it feels great. It feels like I have a flashlight now instead of just stumbling around in the dark,” enthuses Tim Renkow during our chat.
Finding himself in the world of entertainment almost by accident, it was during a chance stint at a stand-up comedy competition during Tim’s time in university that opened the gates to Tim’s potential to make others laugh.
And in Tim’s BBC Three show, Jerk, laughs is exactly what you can expect. With a touch of hilarious and myth busting encounters, it is Tim’s penchant for the awkward that is making Jerk the success it is.
THE JOY OF AWKWARD
Tim explains: “Some people feel awkward and uncomfortable around me and that’s just because of the disability.
“There are two ways you can go with that, you can either try really hard to make people comfortable, or you can go the complete opposite way and just lean into the uncomfortableness.
“I find after doing that it becomes absurd and people will begin to understand how ridiculous it is to be uncomfortable. With Jerk, it is just a slightly cartoonish version of what I already do; it’s all dialled up to the tenth degree.”
Citing Jerk as the best thing he’s ever done, it’s no surprise the dark comedy is reaching such heights as getting recognition from BAFTA. Jerk follows character Tim who “is an extremely lazy man who makes his life much harder than it needs to be.”
Finding himself skipping queues for food to help refugees or spilling water on his crotch after seeing a non-disabled person using the disabled toilet – when it comes to Jerk, you’re guaranteed to see Tim calling out disability misconceptions and challenging how people think, with an undertone of humour.
“Just because someone is disabled doesn’t mean they’re not a jerk,” laughs Tim. “Because I am a comedian I look at everything through a comedic lens – I’m not saying that is the only way to look at something.
“But, as a comedian I feel that showing people you have a sense of what humour is, for me, has been the most efficient way to show people I am just as able to communicate as anyone else.”
Within the show, Tim is an art school dropout and needs a visa to stay in the UK. However, Tim uses his cerebral palsy to get away with everything – including trying to get a job to stay in the UK.
Jerk is set to return to BBC Three for a second season
However, Tim’s on-screen mother, played by The Soprano’s star Lorraine Bracco, and Tim’s carer, played by My Mad Fat Diary star Sharon Rooney, continually challenge him and make sure that Tim doesn’t play on his disability for sympathy.
Bracco’s character is incredibly scathing at times, but this was all deliberate. Tim explains: “We wanted a character that showed it’s okay to call the disabled person out if they’re being a jerk.
“Just because we’re disabled doesn’t mean we’re not schmucks. [Lorraine Bracco’s character of my mother] and Sharon’s (Rooney) character both throw it back a lot.”
It is for Jerk that Tim is getting the recognition that is so well deserved. As part of the BAFTA Breakthrough group, Tim’s work is not only being celebrated but he is paving the way for future comedians, writers, actors and creatives with cerebral palsy to follow their dreams, too.
“I just assumed I would never be on television,” emphasises Tim. “If you assume something then you’re probably right; there is no point in not trying because it is possible, it is very difficult but it is possible. You’ve got nothing to lose.”
Currently working on a comic book, Tim has a lot of exciting prospects ahead of him. Oozing wit, intelligence and a unique take on disability it seems the media has been crying out for.
“It’s super flattering to be a BAFTA Breakthrough – it’s validating because I always feel as though my route into the industry was really weird so it’s nice to have people say they appreciate what you’ve done,” continues Tim. “What I’m really excited about is meeting new creatives to work with.”
The full list of BAFTA Breakthrough participants in 2020 is:
- Abigail Dankwa, Multi Camera Director (Love Song)
- Aleem Khan, Director / Writer (After Love)
- Ali Tocher, Game Audio Designer (Surgeon Simulator 2)
- Amir El-Masry, Performer (Limbo)
- Ben Sharrock & Irune Gurtubai, Director / Writer & Producer (Limbo)
- Bethany Swan, Hair and Makeup up Designer (I May Destroy You)
- Bim Ajadi, Director (Here Not Here)
- Bukky Bakray, Performer (Rocks)
- Catherine Unger, Artist/Co-Writer (Tangle Tower)
- Chella Ramanan, Narrative Designer/Writer (Before I Forget)
- Claire Bromley, External Game Producer (Sackboy: A Big Adventure)
- Jordan Hogg, Director (Ackley Bridge)
- Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor, Producer (Blue Story)
- Lea Schönfelder, Lead Game Designer (Assemble With Care)
- Linn Waite & Kate Byers, Producers (Bait)
- Rina Yang, Cinematographer (Sitting in Limbo)
- Rubika Shah, Director/Writer (White Riot)
- Ruka Johnson, Costume Designer (Blue Story)
- Tamara Lawrance, Performer (The Long Song)
- Tim Renkow, Writer/Performer (Jerk)
- Youssef Kerkour, Performer (Home)
- Aadip Desai, Writer (The Goldbergs)
- Arnaldo Licea, Game Designer (The Last of Us Part II)
- Edson Oda, Director / Writer (Nine Days)
- Ekwa Msangi, Director / Writer (Farewell Amor)
- Fernando Reyes Medina, Multiplayer Designer (Halo Infinite)
- Gene Back, Composer (Cowboys)
- Jim LeBrecht, Co-Director (Crip Camp)
- Lauren Ridloff, Performer (Eternals, The Walking Dead)
- Mary Kenney, Game Writer (Spider-Man: Miles Morales)
- Nicole Newnham, Co-Director (Crip Camp)
- Shannon DeVido, Performer (Insatiable, Difficult People)