Sunday, 3 July 2011

Stand Up not Punch Down

Humour is vital to me. My life can be challenging and the thing that stops me sinking into a sea of self-pitying nonsense is maintaining a sense of humour.

But maintaining my own sense of humour isn’t enough. Indeed sitting alone in a room laughing could precipitate a completely different chain of events.
I’m referring to the comedy produced by others.

The stresses we have can’t be changed, but the worries we live with can be lifted by laughter. I honestly feel that humour is lifeline for me. To sit and laugh like a child, allows me to temporarily return to a time when I lived responsibility free.

There is a bargain of trust that an audience enters into with stand up. You want to like them because you want to laugh. So to immerse yourself in that relaxation only to be slapped out of it by a joke, which targets disability or disabled people, makes it much, much more hurtful.

“Not funny? Find it offensive to you? Turn it off, or don’t go”. Very wise words but what if nothing prepares you for the hurt. What if that comic or stand up speaks out against homophobia or racism or the disenfranchising of other people? Couldn’t it be reasonable to assume therefore that their correct stance on discrimination extends to disability? No sadly not. According to some, mocking disabled people isn’t the same.

So this blog is a love letter really.

To those beautiful talented fearless comics who make life better. To the writers who give us books and TV shows and films- which take us from the pain to the punchline  with wit and wisdom and joy; who use their gift wisely and well by punching up not down-thank you.

As part of my People Not Punchlines Campaign I contacted comedians and asked them for their thoughts about comedy and disability. I wanted to canvass the opinions of the people who know humour well.This is what they said-

Simon Donald-Comedian, writer, creator of Viz:
'Good comedy about difficult subjects can be the cleverest and funniest work. I'm proud that I work in a field where there are no limits, but good comedy must be in context. For example no-one  thinks that Mel Brookes liked the Nazis, but he made us all laugh when he touched the subject so well. To simply make fun of a person because of a disability, like making fun of their colour or race, is just abuse, and should be seen as nothing more.'

Catie Wilkins-Comedian, Writer
I like the idea that comedy is about taking down the bullies. Traditionally in a carnivalesque way, the lowly, marginalized people would get to have their say and ridicule those with power: The fool is King for a day. In general this principal has followed onto the exciting and vibrant, modern comedy scene. But I think the whole thing falls apart when comedians kick down, and attack the most vulnerable members of society. It's lazy and hack to use derogatory slurs instead of punch-lines, and not in the original spirit of comedy.

Christina Martin-Writer,former stand up comic:
“It is perfectly possible to address disability through comedy. South Park’s Jimmy and Timmy being the perfect examples. 
However, it’s one thing to use comedy to address disability and the issues surrounding it, and quite another to just make the disabled the butt of every joke. Particularly by just using derogatory slurs such as mong, retard and spastic - which seem to be used with impunity by stand-up comics who lack sufficient writing skills and wit -merely to get the easy laughs they crave. 
A society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members; the disabled are amongst the most vulnerable members of our society. By not challenging the casual bullying of the disabled and learning disabled, we demean ourselves as well as them..

If you want to be a part of this please contact me through Twitter @mrsnickyclark #standupnotpunchdown or and we can add your name to the Stand Up Not Punch Down list of supporters.