Monday, April 25, 2016
A Showtime comedy mocks disability: One seriously offensive video
Comedians being politically incorrect about ethnic groups, their families and people with intellectual disability (ID) is nothing new. Over the years, Tracy Morgan, Margaret Cho and others have joked about "retards." Now another comedian's doing the same, and taking offensive to a whole new low.
I got an email over the weekend from Family Member, a group I'm part of that seeks to help people with ID get fair representation in the media. It seems like a comedian most of us had never heard of has a show—Gary Owen: I Agree With Myself—that's airing on Showtime tomorrow. The channel touts him as a "fearless" and "happy-go-lucky" comedian who "flips every accepted politically correct approach to family, race, gender and politics." His comedy special is "hilarious."
Check out this clip and tell me if you find it "hilarious"—or repulsive and just plain wrong.
Why is it "hilarious" to refer to someone with intellectual disability as "retarded"—a word that demeans an entire population of people?
Why is it "hilarious" to mimic people with intellectual disability?
Why is it "hilarious" to make fun of athletes in the Special Olympics?
Why is it "hilarious" to use people with ID as comedy material, period?
People might argue that Owen is equal-opportunity offensive. Thing is, he's not equal-opportunity offensive. He may freely toss around the word "retarded"—a word that's considered a slur—but he knows better than to say "nigger" (black people comprise a large part of his fan base, according to this Vibe article, and he is married to a black woman). That same piece noted that he once turned down an online gig because the character repeatedly said the N-word. Meanwhile, Owen has included his cousin with ID (assuming she actually exists) in his routine for years.
Owen seems to not consider his cousin much of a person; his preferred name for her is "retarded," although he is obviously degrading to people with ID on a whole lot of levels. As I've said before, this isn't about censorship. This is about the way people discuss—and treat—those with intellectual disability. There are approximately eleventy billion other things to joke about in a comedy skit that do not involve mocking people with intellectual disability.
As disturbing as it is to watch this clip, it's also unnerving to see the audience laugh at Owen. I cringed when the cameras panned to people cracking up. Clearly, we have a long ways to go in terms of getting people to treat those with intellectual disability like equal human beings. Skits like this spread the most loathsome ideas about people with ID.
If you love someone with ID, as I do, then you take this all of this personally. If you don't have family or friends with ID, I hope you still care about making the world more welcoming toward people with intellectual disability, and encouraging your children to do the same. Help them understand that everyone has a variety of abilities, and that people walk, talk and behave in many ways and there is no one "right" way. If your kid ever uses the word "retard," use it as a a jumping-off point for a conversation about respect.
Meanwhile, feel free to tweet at @Showtime and include parent company @CBS, or leave a message on Showtime's Facebook page. Let them know that people with intellectual disability don't deserve to be the butt of anyone's joke, and ask them and Gary Owen to apologize to our community.
Special Olympics has put up a change.org petition asking Showtime to cut this segment of the so-called "comedy" special. Sign it here.
5/26 UPDATE #2
This afternoon, Showtime removed the program from the evening lineup. Kudos for that to the channel—although the segment is still available on Showtime online.
After repeatedly refusing to back down, Owens finally agreed to have the skit removed from the special.
Would you call my child a retard?
Do you get why this word hurts so much?
If you ask people not to use the word retard
So, what do you say when someone uses the word "retard"?
20 reasons to respect my child with special needs
Image: Screen grab/I Agree With Myself