Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has ruled a joke about disability by Jimmy Carr out of order. But for student Chloe Smith, from her perspective as a young person, such jokes do more than just offend good taste.
On The One Show in November last year, comedian Jimmy Carr made two jokes at the expense of people with dwarfism. He said: “I tried to write the shortest joke possible, so I wrote a two-word joke which was: ‘Dwarf shortage’.” He then followed this joke with “If you’re a dwarf and you’re offended by that, grow up.”
After an investigation into the jokes following 11 complaints, Ofcom deemed that the jokes told by Carr on The One Show broke broadcasting rules. As a disabled person, I am really pleased at this decision.
Even though Carr is known for his outlandish and brash style of comedy – with there being other instances of him making headlines due to particular jokes. I did expect better from the comic, given the TV show he was appearing on. The One Show should be the last place you would expect to hear offensive and ableist jokes, but I suppose you have the option to change the channel when you hear yet another joke where people are laughing at you, or others in your community no matter where it’s being aired.
“Comedy is subjective” is a phrase that I hear often, as if that takes away the hurtful part of people turning part of me or people like me into a joke. It’s said as if it makes it all okay – that while you might not find this funny, others do, so the jokes are obviously fine.
Comedy may be subjective, but when that comedy is at the expense of a minority I think new material is needed, because that particular brand of comedy is more problematic than anything else. A few people may be laughing, but other than just offending a group of people, jokes at the expense of disabled people also risk spreading very harmful attitudes towards disability.
Jokes like Carr’s can do a lot of damage. They also very openly spread the message that it’s okay to ridicule disabled people – because famous comics do it on telly. It tells people that it’s okay to openly laugh at, and make jokes about, disabled people – an attitude which could lead to bullying or hate crimes in extreme cases.
Obviously Carr’s jokes didn’t tell people to go and bully disabled people or commit a hate crime, but they added fuel to the fire. The more that famous comics in a position of power contribute to the harmful attitude of making disabled people the punchline of their jokes, then the more this attitude – of joking about disabled people – is encouraged. That, other than their offensive nature, is one of my main problems with the jokes that Carr told in November 2015.
Such jokes have the potential to tell young people and children watching that telling them is okay. That it’s okay to laugh at disabled people because people on the TV do. How is encouraging something akin to bullying right at such an early age when young people and children are so susceptible to being influenced by what they see in the media?
I’ve often been told that not finding jokes about disabled people funny is just overreacting. That I just don’t have a sense of humour. That it’s political correctness gone mad. But when you’ve had a part of yourself ridiculed for as long as you can remember, surely it’s completely rational to try to make sure that fewer and fewer disabled people go through the same horrible experience of being laughed at by able-bodied people.
Isn’t the whole point of comedy to reach and include the biggest audience possible and at the very least make them smile? Jokes are only funny if everyone laughs, and if we’re the punchline, then you can bet we’re more shocked and angry then doubled over.