Humour and disability; some may say they don't ever go together. I say that disability and humour are as connected as...well...two connected things with a very good reason to be connected. The fact is that living with a disability has led to some hilarious, LOL-worthy moments in my life and I wouldn't be nearly as funny as I'm told I am without it.
I know that I'm not alone in this belief. TV star Zach Anner, Last Comic Standing winner Josh Blue and comedian Gord Painter are just a few examples if those who have leveraged their disabilities for the noble purposes of comedy. And yet it strikes me that some people out there find laughing, at least openly, at disability-generated funny times difficult or awkward. My message is simple; it's okay to laugh.
I'm going to assume that my readers are intelligent enough to know that I am speaking in the context of humour, rather than a blanket 'laugh at us' rule. Much like any other brand of comedy, disability-based jokes are grounded in real life. I'm sure when the Richard Pryors and Eddie Murphys of the world first started to hook audiences with comedy founded in racial experiences, there were more than a few awkward titters. Similarly, Russell Peters' culturally motivated stand-up act no doubt brought up a fair amount of hesitation when it debuted on the stage. But the bottom line is that the humour was funny. The material made people laugh, and the potential tension was overridden by the quality of the joke. The same holds true for disability.
There's no two ways about it, cerebral palsy has given me a wealth of comedy gold in my 30 years. Whether it be the looks on faces when I roll thru a drive thru, or the hilarious and wonderfully unexpected moments when my spasticity turns a drink into a spectacle. It’s funny, and it disarms the awkwardness that surrounds disability better than any training course I’ve seen. One of the biggest problems with the perception of disability in our society is that it seems to be attributed to fragility? As if accidentally offending disability will land you in a very special hell. The best way to combat that fragility, in my mind, is with humour. Don’t penalize people for their perceptions, make them laugh.
In the process of writing this blog, I was posed a question. What about non-disabled comedians using disability-based humour? My answer is simple; it depends on the intent. Much like any identity-based humour, if the joke is structured well and the content is worth a laugh, I’ll laugh. Some may disagree with me here, but to me, I don’t necessarily care who the teller is as long as the joke holds up in a court of funny. In other words, disability jokes are the same as all other jokes, and treating them differently is not cool. The sooner we get to grips with this, the sooner we will live in a disability positive world.
And, as I’ve always said, if I can’t laugh with my disability…I’ll be a miserable bugger in 20 years! No thanks!