Saturday, 26 February 2011

Comedians and Disablist Jokes

At the gig I went to tonight the headline comedian (Milton Jones) made a joke about people faking disabilities to get benefits. Which as you might imagine ruined my enjoyable of the rest of the show. I'm not going to share the joke here because I don't want to give it "air time". However I've since found an e-mail address for him and have let him know my thoughts on the matter. As it's a subject which I don't think gets the attention it should (Ricky Gervais, Frankie Boyle and Jim Davidson all being well known for doing the same but still popular) I thought I would share the e-mail here.

I was at your show in [place] tonight. I am a full time wheelchair user as I have a lifelong disability. I was very very disgusted by your joke about crutches and benefits. Completely unnecessary and you clearly haven't researched it - DWP figures show that less than 1% of all claims for Disability Living Allowance are fraudulent. In fact, more people who apply are turned down but then appeal and receive it then receive it first time.

People such as yourself have an influence over the way people are treated. Last week a friend was the victim of a disability related hate crime by someone who assumed she was faking her disability (you can read this on her blog we live in different areas of the country and yet less than 24 hours later I also had abuse screamed at me in the street (details on my blog

It might just be a cheap way to get a laugh and make some money to you but to people like me perpetuating that stereotype is causing a lot of hurt and making us feel unsafe to go out in the areas around our own homes.

Living on benefits I don't have much money and a night out like that is an occasional special treat. It's upsetting to hear something so hurtful to people like me used for laughs. I won't come to one of your shows again, there are other comedians out there who manage to be just as funny without using disabled people as a subject for ridicule.

I'm sure you won't read this and even if you do you won't listen but can I please ask you to think long and hard about the power and influence you wield when speaking to large audiences. And consider whether your jokes are appropriate and in good taste before going ahead.


Latentexistence said...

I saw Milton at Greenbelt festival talking about himself and his comedy. He is actually a very nice guy, and I am sure his joke about disability was out of ignorance not malice. I would love to know what his reply is.

Heather said...

Good letter Emma. What a shame your evening was spoiled like that!

green_knight said...

@Latentexistence: It takes a special kind of 'ignorance' to make 'jokes' like that. And even if you don't _mean_ to be malicious; that's little consolation to the people at the receiving end of insults. In my opinion someone who uses words for a living has a duty to examine what they are saying; and public figures have a greater duty of care because they *know* that they will influence public opinion to a greater degree.

Indigo Jo said...

I don't believe ignorance is an excuse for this kind of behaviour - jokes at the expense of the weak in our society, particularly those who are vilified by the gutter press (the same one their audience most likely reads) is no better than playground bullying, except that playground bullies don't do it for money. It's also very lazy - people don't want to think, they want an easy laugh at the end of the day, so jokes at the expense of politicians and the powerful are out.

Hannah Ensor said...

Good letter. Let us know the response! I personally think there is a lot of milage in 'ablist' jokes- the things able bodied people do to try and 'help' wheelies - pushing us where we don't want to go, raising their voice so we can hear them - even though loss of leg use has never officially affected hearing etc. etc. - much funnier, and would provide a much better message and influence!


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