Offend who you like, just don't mention religion
On the stand-up circuit disabled people are fair game. Yet mocking God can get you banned, says Christina Martin
I have been deemed offensive on a number of occasions, only as a comic mind. As a person I am typically adjudged as being quite nice. No, really.
It’s my religious material that is sometimes unpopular. It has occasionally kept me from performing at certain venues and to some extent from progressing into broadcasting. I wasn’t particularly bothered by any of this until I found myself standing backstage at a gig hearing jokes such as the following being made, sadly to the sound of applause and uproarious laughter:
A downs syndrome goes into a bar
The barman says “why the mong face”…
That, to me, is far more offensive than suggesting that organised religions might not be 100 per cent right about everything, and moreover doing so by utilising a detailed set of well thought out reasons.
But audience reactions seem to prove me wrong on this one. From what I’ve seen the questioning of religion splits the room every time, while the ridiculing of disabled people causes hysterics across the board.
Maybe it’s nervousness, ignorance or embarrassment? I know from the reaction my disabled brother gets in public that some people find it hard to deal with disability. But is that an excuse?
Or even the real reason? Sadly I think I may be giving people too much credit.
I’ve heard the words spastic, mong and retard thrown casually into set-ups and punch lines without a single person in the audience looking mildly hesitant. Quite the opposite – childish glee is the usual reaction.
And because of this disabled jokes are on the rise. Audiences inexplicably love them, and as such a fair few comics have taken to telling them. And why not? They get a good response and they’re incredibly easy to write, seeing as how they are such cheap shots and all.
I tend to hear an average of three or four per gig, which is a lot when you consider that disabled people hurt nobody, suffer more than most, and arguably deserve empathy and respect rather than abject mockery.
And that is merely what these jokes constitute – mockery.
Of course the first line of defence given in the face of such an accusation is that comedy is subjective, that comedy should be challenging, that by laughing at disabled people we are including them, and that no joke is off limits – it’s about context you see.
Well that’s all fine, but the only problem is I have never heard a single funny, relevant, poignant, purposeful, interesting, or challenging joke about disabled people. Ever. And I have yet to hear one that has been presented in this so-called “context” that people keep mentioning. I don’t imagine I ever will. It’s hard to picture a context where disability suddenly becomes hilarious.
Of course some people don’t even bother with the context argument – they go straight for “freedom of speech”. Well, yes, that’s fine too, but I could just as easily argue that because you have the freedom to say something, it doesn’t mean you should. Freedom of speech is principally there to maintain healthy debate not needless, base ridicule.
It’s not only the proliferation of these jokes, but their increasing acceptance that worries me. Especially when you consider that nearly nine out of ten people with learning difficulties experience bullying and harassment on a regular basis, with several instances this year of disabled people being singled out for torture and murder, all of which I only learned about thanks to the MENCAP newsletter. It seems that the death of a disabled person is generally not considered newsworthy. From what I can tell, it sells more papers if you run with photogenic victims.
For me the issue of disability jokes, their acceptance and this spate of bullying all go hand in hand. By laughing at these jokes we create an uncaring society that in turn breeds bullies.
And if you want proof of how life reflects (so-called) art, I recall sitting in the audience at The Comedy Store last year, amid a sea of cackling drunks, watching a top name comedian doing a cruel and long-winded impersonation of someone with cerebral palsy. Sad, I thought, that I was witnessing such a thing at a premier comedy venue, sadder still that the last time I had seen such a thing acted out was when bullies were aiming it at my disabled brother in the street.
For me it is the icing on the uncaring and frankly stupid cake that the same people who preclude me from appearing at their gig, or on their TV show, continue to heap work upon these comics, to the point where disability jokes are almost mainstream now.
In failing to censor this type of thing they fail to protect the people who arguably need it most. In censoring me they halt a relevant debate in order to protect a super being and his fan club.
Who would have thought that the all-powerful God and his millions of followers needed more protection than disabled people?