Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The disability-bashing comedian who won't back down

This is a post on the Facebook page of so-called comedian Gary Owen. As you may have read here and elsewhere, Owen's Showtime special, I Agree With Myself, contains a skit in which he mocks and degrades people with intellectual disability. Owen is profusely unapologetic.


Owen has made it seem like his right to use the word "retarded" is a freedom of speech thing, hoping to invoke sympathy and support from his audience. Thing is, he takes offensive way beyond tossing around a slur, as should be completely clear to anyone who watches this video.

As if this isn't bad enough, Owen has essentially threatened to make fun of people who rail against him in his act—in the above Facebook post, where he notes "....if you protest, trust I'm going to talk about you at my show" and in a Twitter post.

Meanwhile, Owen continues to promote that he is in the right because he doesn't believe in censorship. Actor/comedian Tom Arnold had this to say: 

It's already pitiful that Owen can think of no funnier material than people with disability, but the fact that he's bullying people to back off by warning that he'll use them in his act is cowardly. It's also offensive to his audience; he's expecting them to pay good money to hear him joke about people protesting him for being cruel? Again, is there no other comedic fodder he can come up with?  

Oh, but wait for it: Owen has mentioned, in a radio show, that HE felt bullied when people in Baltimore picketed his show and when people have tweeted at him. Because, of course, he is the victim here. Poor, poor Gary Owen. The guy who mimics Special Olympic athletes running and people with disability having sex. 

The situation continues to gain attention, thanks to a petition launched by the Special Olympics and a social media campaign. People can tag @garyowencomedy and @Showtime telling them to take down the material, and take up our cause, and to use the hashtag #WeAreNotAPunchline. Disability self-advocates are speaking up for themselves. An excerpt from a letter being sent to Owen:

Your five minute segment on Showtime took away our humanity. It was offensive and discriminatory. It is not ok to make fun of us. You have tried to defend yourself by saying we're upset that you used the slur retarded.  You didn’t just say a word you mocked us. You have targeted the disability community with a level of hatred, not seen on television in recent time, or ever.  You have agreed to meet us, and then change your mind at the last minute.... I read a tweet on Twitter that says "a joke that needs a scapegoat is not a joke, its cruelty that counts on my silence." You have crossed the line Gary, and we will not be silent.

Owen has already cancelled one meeting with advocates to discuss the situation, and word is he recently cancelled a subsequent meeting with self-advocates. Showtime refuses to remove the segment from the show, which is available On Demand, citing freedom of expression. Yet as Attorney Laurence H. Tribe recently noted in his powerful Huffington Post piece, "This is not a matter of 'political correctness....' When words and images become the bullets that rip through the psychic and emotional flesh of the most vulnerable and often helpless among us, it is time for people of principle to stand up and say: 'Enough!'"

It pains me to see this guy demeaning people with intellectual disability, as a mom and as a human being. But it's downright infuriating that both Owen and Showtime refuse to back down. There is no standing on principle here. Freedom of speech is beside the point—this is hate speech we're talking about. Since when is that acceptable, let alone funny?  

My name is Ellen Seidman. I am the mother of a child with intellectual disability. If you make fun of me and others for standing up for our loved ones' dignity, Gary Owen—if you consider that the best comedy material you can give your devoted audience—then you are possibly the most pathetic comedian ever. 

Here's one for ya: Did you hear the one about the comedian who made people with disability the butt of his jokes? No? That's because people realized his act was just plain sad. 



On June 7th, Showtime edited the I Agree With Myself special and removed the offensive content. On that day, four self-advocates met with Gary Owen on neutral territory in Washington, D.C. Here is a statement they released:

Today, Julie Petty (Bentonville, Arkansas), Loretta Claiborne (York, Pennsylvania), Ricardo Thornton (Washington, D.C.) and Frank Stephens (Fairfax, Virginia), representing a broad coalition of disability advocates, met with Gary Owen, a comedian and entertainer.  The meeting was arranged for both sides to listen and hear one another's perspectives about a segment on Mr. Owen’s comedy special on Showtime.  

Prior to the meeting, Mr. Owen decided to remove the segment in his Showtime special in which he depicts people with intellectual disabilities.  Effective immediately, the special will still be available On Demand but will not include this portion.  

The meeting was educational, positive and productive.   The outcomes from the meeting were significant.  Mr. Owen made positive commitments regarding use of the “R word” in his comedy routine.

The coalition has agreed to end its advocacy efforts in this situation.  The coalition, through the voices of self advocates Julie Petty, Loretta Claiborne, Ricardo Thornton and Frank Stephens, express our appreciation to Mr. Owen for listening and acting positively to further understanding and healing.


  1. "He's an idiot. Comes from upbringing. His parents are probably idiots, too." - Sam Baines (from "Back to the Future circa 1985). I couldn't of said it better myself...

    1. When I said that about someone (it might have been one of our former presidents,), my mom told me not to blame his mom. And think she was right.

      This guy is awful and we have to 1) tell everyone not to watch him and 2) not watch showtime. The second might be easier for me than others, but I will resist finding anything worth watching.

    2. And write to the comedy venues, zb?

      GO is doing this until December - it's a full year of comedy and work for him.

      So we would have our notes a few months ahead.

      And bills to put on the seats of the people watching. Or to slip in the programme. People do notice sheets like this. I asked, for instance, "who is the new concert master?"

      Good that you focused on the controllables.

  2. "I'm going to talk about you at my show".

    Okay, GO, if that's the way it's going to be, it's one minute less than you would normally spend talking about yourself and your comedic view. [Did you break your windscreen wipers the last 6 weeks? Did they get attacked with avian excretment?]*

    * and yes, windshield/windscreen wipers is a particularly derogatory term as shown on the Ouch! [British Broadcasting Corporation] website. It applies at least equally to the comedy buses which take people to Gary Owen shows. I did use it as a metaphor for perspective.

    Because we have usually had many more years of being talked about in that way and talked smack about than you have had hot dinners.

    ZB: you of course are right. "Sins of the fathers" would stretch into the beginning of humanity. The humanity which GO seems to manifestly lack or pay lip service to, particularly as and when it disagrees with him.

    And maternal solidarity for the win!

    The five minute segment letter was fantastic. It would probably have fewer "You"s if I were writing it. [especially to start the sentence - a barrage of "Youyouyouses" tends to create a feeling of being attacked/persecuted].

    Speaking of being prosecuted:

    Yet as Attorney Laurence H. Tribe recently noted in his powerful Huffington Post piece, "This is not a matter of 'political correctness....' When words and images become the bullets that rip through the psychic and emotional flesh of the most vulnerable and often helpless among us, it is time for people of principle to stand up and say: 'Enough!'"

    I don't see the "standing on principle" either, Ellen.

    "Here's one for ya: Did you hear the one about the comedian who made people with disability the butt of his jokes? No? That's because people realized his act was just plain sad. "

    And they told other people this so they felt sad and the sadness was not plain. Then it covered the earth.

  3. Any "comedian" who cannot make a funny joke without hurting other people is not funny.

  4. I'm concerned that sharing the spiteful hate speech of Gary Owens plays into his hideous hands by furthering the reach of these nauseating clips. I refuse to watch them and will certainly not share them.

  5. I never heard of this guy until today, but he states on his twitter page that he hasn't used that part of his routine in over two years. Anyone know if that's accurate, or if he's still using the word "retard" in his other routines? I'm just wondering if we're yelling at someone for doing something that he no longer does...

    Link here -

    1. Whether or not he still does this segment is irrelevant to the present situation (although definitely a great thing if he truly has stoppped doing it). This segment is in a Showtime special that is available On Demand, and Owen stands by it and sees nothing wrong with it. Plus Showtime has refused to cut it.

  6. And yet he's so bright that he's obviously incapable of using apostrophes when typing contractions (e.g. "dont").

    I can't believe more attention has not been paid to this issue. If it were another offended group like the LGBT community, we'd never hear the end of it.

    1. Exactly. This is a comedian who has gone on record saying that he won't use the n-word—because he knows it's wrong—but he has no problem degrading an entire population of people. Oh, and if you think his punctuation is bad, you should see the punctuation/grammar/spelling of some of his fans in the comments on his Facebook page!


Thanks for sharing!

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