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I have been working to support disabled people to live as independently as possible and realising their individual potentials for over 20 years. I am qualified in Health and Social Care Management and Ethics and Social Welfare. All blog entries are my responses to issues I see affecting those I support and indeed myself as I joined the disabled community after surviving a stroke.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Did Frankie Boyle cross the Line from cutting edge humour into disability abuse?

Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle upset the parents of a 5 year old girl with Downs Syndrome at his live show in Reading this week. Now I wasn't at the show so am relying on my knowledge of Frankie Boyle's humour and the reports made by Sharon Smith, the offended mother as she spoke to Victoria Derbyshire on Radio 5Live to examine what caused offence and why.

Frankie Boyle apparently made fun of the parents of children with Downs as being old and out of touch. Surely this a comedic dig at parents rather than the disabled child?

He made fun of the way people with Downs speak. Is this any different from comedians using generic accents to contextualise humour, for instance Michael McIntyre using pigeon English as an interpretation of Robert Mugabe on an episode of Mock The week, the programme that made Frankie Boyle's name?

He made references to people with Downs dying early, which isn't necessarily true but he has made similar jokes about the life expectancy of people from his home city, Glasgow.

He made jokes about people with Downs haircuts. Now over the years I have worked with several people with Downs Syndrome and each and everyone of them has commented on my lack of hair and I have shared a joke with them on their hair in good natured fun. Now the context may be different but my interactions their could be construed as either me mocking them and being abusive, or sharing humour in a two way communication to develop and maintain a therapeutic relationship. The context is different, true, as Mr Boyle is basically performing a monologue but then people aren't paying to watch me on stage talk with a dsabled person.

As a parent myself, I fully understand Mrs Smith's feelings towards his routine that referred to something affecting her child, and I may have felt the same way and felt the need to defend my child, however I have to take issue with a further comment she made in her interview. and I quote;

"We had obviously heard him making fun of other people, but quite often his humour appears to be clever humour or making a point about something.

"OK, he can be cutting, but he will often be using his humour to make a point, whereas the type of jokes he was making about people with Down's syndrome I don't see there was any point being made."

The first paragraph gives me reason to believe she has laughed at his jokes aimed at the Scottish, old people, royalty etc, but its not okay when its something that affects her and her family. In the second paragraph she refers to the nature of Frankie Boyle's performances and his cutting humour making a point or being clever. I have to say I thought it was funny but not particularly clever or thought provoking when he made a joke (again on Mock The Week) about the Queen being so old her vagina is haunted. Taking her own words into account I find it difficult to accept her taking the moral high ground.

It was unfortunate that Frankie Boyle picked up on Mr and Mrs Smith's discomfort about the routine when he thought they were talking and texting during his performance, and followed it up and putting himself and Mr and Mrs Smith in an embarrassing situation. Mrs Smith continued;

"He then went on to say that it was the most excruciating moment of his career but then tried to claw the humour back by saying we had paid to come and see him and what should we expect?"

This would indicate to me that he acknowledged that he had put himself and members of his audience in an embarrassing position, and of course he tried to pull the humour back, he is a professional comedian its what he is paid to do.

While I appreciate that Mrs Smith tried not to draw attention to herself during the performance, the fact that she has since seen fit to go to the press about it for what I see as an unfortunate incident again doesn't really sit right with me.

I will sign off with one more comment regarding this incident. All of us working with disabled people work tirelessly for an equal society, Frankie Boyle pokes fun at everybody in society, if he pokes fun at everybody but disabled people, is he treating them equally?

1 comment:

  1. I have worked one on one with two different DS kids.

    One was a boy called D. It was at a church kids group and he would sit next to me during stories and things like that and would stroke my fingernails - he loved how long they were and how they had different colours each week. We had our little way of communicating that made sense to us but not to anyone else lol.

    Now I regularly look after/hang out with a girl called N. She's 9 and has DS. She gets so excited about stuff at church it's really sweet, she doesn't like loud noises and so during the music we sit in the front row and just chat or I put my hands over her ears if it's too loud (usually because she's already got her hands over her ears). Her parents are certainly not "old and out of touch". N also likes my hair when I wear it down or in a pony tail because then she can play with it - she loves Disney Princesses and loves fashion (she always points out when she's wearing a new outfit).

    Both N and D are amazing in their own way. D used to go to mainstream school (I don't know if he does now) N was in mainstream but was struggling so has been put in a special school. She's special because she is unique not because she's slow or stupid. She is neither of them and she's my little princess. Anyone who insults or makes jokes about DS kids or their parents needs to get a life