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 MorganMargaret 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. 

5/26 UPDATE 

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. 

More on this:

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

42 comments:

  1. This is just revolting. it's bad taste, cheap and cruel. No idea why people laugh, you don't need to be ideological about advocating for the disabled, it's just not funny, anyone should see that! My family does not have any close friend or relative with ID, yet I showed the video to my two kids and they ask me to stop because they felt bad just watching it. What's wrong with people?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad your kids' "feel bad" compass swing.

      Too often we ignore bad feelings - especially the uncomfortable and disturbing ones which show up in our lives.

      Ideology is a bonus. Advocacy is a set of beliefs and actions and a through line.

      Revolted along with you. This is a laugh that would rip me off/exploit me.

      Delete
  2. That is just stunningly unfunny. Yuck! And as the previous poster said, What is WRONG with people?

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is not okay. Using the r-word is not okay. Making fun of people for a part of them they have no control over is not okay.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't have super strong feelings about this issue, yet this video leaves me feeling depressed. It's comedic bullying: find someone you can get away with trashing and get personal gain from it. I don't know why we revere people for being offensive (because that is his whole schtick.). It's nice that he volunteers, but he must be in it for himself, because he doesn't seem to have learned much.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This "comedian" should listen to the songs I'm Sorry, I'm Sorry and You are a Useless Child.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They really should.

      Those songs are tragic. Quite the scouring pan!

      And they could also watch this Icelandic arthouse film. I would be interested to see when they critique it:

      "Is it comedy or tragedy?" and why they say what RAMS is.

      Delete
  6. Utterly appalling. I have a relative who is a fairly successful comedian. He tells jokes about his aging mother, his wife, and his children. Only half of it is based in reality, but none of it is as derogatory. They are jokes about life situations more than individuals. This guy... This wasn't a slip with poor language. This is horrible. Even if he hadn't used the word retarded, this was terrible. What gets me is he knows it isn't okay. That is why he keeps saying, "its okay. She's my cousin."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like your relative's approach. "None of it is derogatory". What compass do you and he use?

      Jokes about SITUATIONS.

      I have to be very careful about the forms and types of situational humour I use, in fiction and in non-fiction.

      "He knows this is not okay. He keeps saying".

      What if a woman about the cousin's age and other salient characteristics told him to knock it off? That is when I would judge.

      Delete
  7. This literally made my stomach churn. I think the commenter that labeled it "comedic bullying" nailed it! I am so tired of hearing, "But, it's TRUE" Just because something may be true doesn't give anyone the license to bully! What is wrong with people! Not only was this unkind, but it was filthy, crass, and not even funny! Pathetic. Now, I'm going to go an hug my beautiful ID boy and be grateful that he was sent to our family so that we can better learn what unconditional love is, and we know better how to treat others with love and kindness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the world of defamation law, we are taught

      TRUTH IS NOT A DEFENCE

      especially in public.

      We gird our loins in private.

      No, Natalie, that form of liberty is not licence.

      I tend not to find filthiness and crassness funny either - even though that may be classism. [And a lot of classist stereotypes as used in comedy are indeed ableist/based in ableism - especially the "filthy ones" - why do you think Food; Filth; Flowers; Folding?]

      He needs and wants some of these ((((((((((((()))))))))))))))

      Any way to learn unconditional love is welcomed. Yes, it has to be learnt, so we can know better and treat people better than we did yesterday.

      Delete
  8. Disgusting. I usually don't want to watch these things on the grounds that I can make my decision independently of actually watching the offense. But, decided to listen and it made me ill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. zb: I admire and respect your stance. [independent decisions - I am environmentally dependent to a great degree - though inter/intrapersonal effectiveness is probably more like yours where offence is concerned].

      Delete
  9. I'm actually shocked. Without seeing it, I wouldn't have imagined it could have appeared on national television and people would have laughed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good to see your after-reaction zb.

      In the event, we don't think like we did before. And that is the force for change.

      The things which appear on the small screen! We think, because it is such an intimate device, that we are alone. And that we find community.

      Delete
  10. Ellen....
    Let me get this straight. Gary Owen--who I have never even heard of until now--refuses to use the "n-word" in his work.... But he still says the "r-word"? And worse. This "comedian" has a cousin with intellectual disability who he uses to make fun of in his work?! Shame, shame, shame, shame!! Now I am anything but perfect, so far be it from me to sound all self-righteous. But I have a brother who has Down syndrome. Ever since he entered our Lives, ever since he joined our family? "Retarded" and "retard" have not been part of my vocabulary.... Especially when it comes to calling people that!! You know what? Come to think of it.... I do not think that "retard" or "retarded" was ever part of my vocabulary at all.... ;)
    "Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive", Raelyn

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, Raelyn, not part of my active vocabulary. Not now.

      And it is certainly not a word I would have chosen to pick up, if people in authority and among my peer group did not use it without censure and strong reaction.

      Love your brother, Raelyn.

      If cousins made fun of each other ... that does have me sink down and feel humiliated.

      It is harder sometimes for cousins to be equal or "first among equals".

      Delete
    2. Adelaide....
      "Love your brother, Raelyn." Oh, I do!! Me and my brother? We are very close, closer relationship-wise than I am with our other two siblings.... He is my best friend.... We can literally read each other's thoughts {like we're twins} as opposed to there actually being nine years between us!! We even "mind meld" with each other!! For example. The other day, during a family breakfast, our daredevil two year old niece, "Opal", rolled off her chair. As resulted, she hilariously said: "Whoa!!" and laughed, completely uninjured!! Well.... Me and my brother have watched two concert DVDs of Bruce Springsteen performing--one from 1975, the other from 1980--when he rolled off the stage into a crack. It is entertaining and hilarious!! After "Opal" rolled off her chair, I looked at my brother and he looked at me. In one spit second, we were thinking the exact same thing!! "She just pulled a Bruce!!" But nobody at our table knew that my brother and I were telepathically communicating to each other.... Nobody but us!! ;)
      "Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive", Raelyn

      Delete
  11. He's a tasteless comedian using vulgar language and you have the option of paying him no mind -- not watching his show, not subscribing to the network that produces it.

    The railing against the rword, the rword as a hill to die on simply baffles me. If Ellen didn't have a kid with special needs, I seriously doubt she'd be fighting this particular fight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Missy Manny....
      Ah, but Ellen does have a kid with special needs {his name is Max and he's Beautifully Unique!!} so she has made it her mission in Life, her quest in Life, to not only discourage people's usage of the "r-word", but also create an incredibly loving, accepting world for those who have intellectual disability!! Why is that such a negative concept?! Ellen stands up for guys like my brother, who has Down syndrome. Kids like Max. Ellen stands up for people like me.... Who has premature short-term memory loss, Attention Deficit Disorder and learning disabilities. Why is that such a negative concept?! ;)
      "Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive", Raelyn

      Delete
  12. I don't love anyone with an intellectual disability and can't imagine letting the word go by. And, honestly, I can't even remember anyone using it in front of me.

    But, this "comedy" bit is way more than that the word. It's ugly and offensive, and it's a perfectly reasonable thing for all of us to point that out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. zb: Had you ever heard it in passing/crosstalk? This is where I seem to experience it the most.

      Yes, ugliness and offensiveness should be pointed out.

      Delete
  13. This is horrid!!! Using the R-word is rude, hurtful and just plain wrong. And to mock someone because of their disability for comedy that's offensive and revolting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meredith:

      I know, someone else said it was "revolting".

      Because it leaves us vulnerable and we have no defence. And GO is punching down. It is not a fair fight!

      Delete
  14. That's messed up. That jerk. He is so messed up. Why is he such a jerk? And why were all those people laughing? It's not funny at all, on any level! It's disgusting, it's sad, it's scary, and it's angering. It's not funny. It's bullying. It's mean. It's bigotry. Ableism isn't funny, so don't laugh when someone's being ableist.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I won't.

      I will keep a stone face and my counsel.

      Delete
    2. Sometimes people laugh not because they find it funny, but because they are cringing with embarrassment.

      Delete
    3. Very very true, Jackie.

      Nervousness does me in so many times.

      A lot of people laugh in response to embarrassment and kindred attitudes/emotions more and more openly than I do.

      It's important for this response to be understood.

      Delete
  15. I couldn't even get through a whole minute of this video without wanting to throw up and just cry for the blatant lack of respect for people in general. I'm a special education teacher and I do NOT let anyone use the r-word around me or in reference to my students or anyone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Best practice, Ms Dennis!

      And practise respect consistently and well and I think your students might too.

      Delete
  16. Ellen:

    Appreciating your work again and that of Family Member.

    I told my Papa not to use any intelligence-based insults in public or in private [eg: the S-word]. My specific call out was he shouldn't use it them when the person involved had made an intelligent and informed choice to protect their safety.

    Today he had the opportunity, though he refrained. Now that is solid Family Member work, as well as working on yourself. It is 35 years of work and I am confident he can do it.

    [I did say he should circle the word a hundred times or whatever number it takes him to change the habit. He should also be aware of contextual nuances].

    I would find the clip funnier if it had audio descriptions [especially where actions/physical comedy are concerned] and closed captions. Access and inclusion are two vital keys to successful humour.

    Who are the comedians who come to ID events, who are welcomed by the people and the population [who were asked to come and who honour it]? They could do some peer work. The Night of Too Many Stars - for all its faults and missteps - is a great example of what could be done. [See - intersectionality at work!]

    Certainly each community can and should share each other's humour. Each developmental disability has a microculture, so we can laugh with and at each other. This is the same or similar for psychosocial and emotional wellbeing.

    Depression and anxiety seem relatively well understood in the comedy world.

    "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. "

    This second remark goes for anyone who cares about you and who you care about. The kid will initiate and maintain and terminate the conversation and show respect in all phases, including repair. [That last sentence seemed like an IEP goal].

    ReplyDelete
  17. Guy should be shot stabbed and disembowled. No I'm sorry I got to promote violence because it seems EVERYTHING ELSE doesn't work! It's not a joke

    ReplyDelete
  18. This is repulsive. It's hateful and mean and disgusting and I just can't believe that anyone would think this is funny or entertaining. I signed the petition. I can't believe they would ever air something this awful and offensive. It's really shocking!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I turned it off after barely a minute in because I wanted to reach through the screen and punch this guy! If this guy and his family are really this way toward his cousin it's Tina I feel sorry for because obviously her family doesn't respect her, and I feel sorry for this guy and his family for being so ignorant, misinformed, and downright rude. I will never watch anything this guy has on TV!

    ReplyDelete
  20. First I am disabled,I think it's very wrong of showtime to air this. As a disabled woman 4o yrs I know comics,people won't stop the jokes and that's what comic do. My issue is showtime finding it fine to air this in people's homes. Someone with a cognitive disability watching and being hurt. In a comedy club you know what your in for free if you've chose to pay and see this

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Showtime also shows softcore porn and plenty of R rated movies

      Delete
  21. I honestly don't care what comes out of people's mouth. Trying to control what people say is a useless way to spend your time. Plenty of people enjoyed it and he honestly most likely cares what you or I think. What I find funny is that you wrote the n-word uncensored in the name of your cause. I find you to be a hypocrite, as most people are who try to control the thoughts and words of others. The fact that you used the word lets me know that you are woefully ignorant as well and I know there are things that I am ignorant about too. Hence why I don't feel the need to control the words, thoughts, and actions of others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Worse things have been said in standup routines but people only get offended when it pertains to them.

      Delete
  22. He brings up an ugly not at all talked about issue some people with intellectual disability (thats the first time i've used that term and its because of this article)go through, sexual exploitation. What if the person his cousin Tina had sex with was not disabled but a healthy adult? Then we are talking about predators who prey on people with I.D. What if she was raped and convinced not to tell anyone. If I had a cousin like his and I found out she got an STD, i would make it my mission to find out who the guy or girl was and make sure my cousin was not taken advantage of because very bad things would ensue if that did happen. People who prey on people with disabilities are on par with pedophiles and should be cleansed off the face of the Earth.

    ReplyDelete
  23. this guy should be shot dead

    ReplyDelete
  24. What an awful and horrible routine. Makes me sick.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I'm glad Showtime pulled it. I find the term "special needs" almost as offensive as the "R-word."

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for sharing!



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