Content/trigger warning: descriptions of ableism, cursing
No. Actually, I’m not. I’m fucking furious.
Or maybe I am triggered, as in the symptoms of my illness have been exacerbated by an external stimulus, because unchecked rage is a rare symptom of PTSD, but oh do I have that symptom.
It’s time to talk about ableism in comedy.
I’m typing this because I was just watching SNL (not deliberately; it’s disgustingly saneist, but it was on in the background) and a skit came on that was a fake advertisement mocking people who are aware of social issues and work to improve them. The skit involved clumsily shouting social justice buzzwords, including “I’m triggered!” in response to…oh, I don’t fucking know, some question about the fake product being advertised. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that ableism is rampant in comedy, and that fucking terrifies me.
I’ve been meaning to do this entry for a while because I keep seeing this. A little while back, I was watching America’s Got Talent, and I saw a comedian who described a physically Disabled woman not disclosing her disability prior to a Tinder date as being “catfished”. Then he mockingly mimicked her gait. The crowd, of course, was laughing hysterically. Because insulting Disabled people is fucking hilarious, right? And of course, scads of comedy YouTubers use ableist language like it’s going out of style. I even saw a rock music reviewer use the phrase “trigger warning: I don’t like Twenty-One Pilots all that much”. Dude…really?
Comedy seems to condone or even expect not just ableism, but all forms of bigotry. I used to do open mic nights. I didn’t do stand-up—I sang—but I did prepare a single stand-up routine for a day when my usual open mic night fell on April Fools’ Day. I wasn’t able to attend that open mic due to homework, so I decided to try my hand at a comedy open mic night with that one routine. I got a really good response, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how much bigotry, especially homomisia and ableism, I saw that night. One comedian, who I had seen before at my usual open mic and who I had shouted at for a homomisic joke, had edited his joke to be…almost exactly the same, except he said “homosexual” instead of “gay”. I also couldn’t help but shout at a female comedian who used the r-slur. (At least she apologized afterward, but way to make me feel hated.) The worst part was the conversation after the open mic had closed; several comedians agreed that no topic was off-limits and that “racist” or “homophobic” jokes were actually totally acceptable. Another comic, who perhaps misinterpreted the look of horror on my face, came over to me and told me, “You have the gift”.
I never went back. I don’t go where I’m not safe if I can help it.
Some cockwaffles people argue that comedy is supposed to be “subversive” and that it’s totally fine to joke about horrible things in order to deal with them. As someone who jokes about being a living dead girl in order to deal with the fact that my trauma effectively destroyed my personality and left behind an empty husk, I understand this impulse. But this argument doesn’t hold water when the point of the comedy is just upholding the idea that Disabled people are worth mistreating or mocking us or, worse, that mistreating and mocking us is funny. The idea that reinforcing ableism is totally fine and dandy is because “it’s just a joke” both befuddles and infuriates me. I don’t understand why finding bigotry funny makes it acceptable. It isn’t subversive; it’s the opposite. All it does is reinforce negative stereotypes and bigoted attitudes.
I don’t have much else to say about this topic besides that it needs to fucking stop. Comedy should not be—and I hate to use this phrase—a safe space for bigotry because bigots like to laugh while indulging their shittiness. And I beg of you, if you’re reading this, don’t let bigoted jokes fly, even if it’s just ableist language in a joke. Challenge the shittiness. Challenge the idea that jokes get a free pass from bigotry even though they are capable of reinforcing bigotry.
“But Mara,” you might say, “why would you focus on such a comparatively small issue when there are people out there armchair diagnosing the Las Vegas shooter?” Well, one, because I already did an entry on neurodivergence and gun violence, and two, because it is possible to care about multiple issues at once. All manifestations of ableism need to go, even the smaller ones.
Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “Sometimes you can only find heaven by slowly backing away from hell.”