Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Heard the one about the comedian who won't stop ridiculing people with Down syndrome?

Heard the one about the comedian who makes fun of people with Down syndrome? Not funny, right? But Tom Segura thinks it is. And he's been refusing to remove the offensive, hurtful bit from his Netflix comedy special, Disgraceful. This despite the fact that people with Down syndrome, their families and other advocates have pressed him to do it for seven months straight now.

Disgraceful aired in January. There was this bit:

Followed by this scenario, in which he pretends to react to a friend's bad idea without being able to use the r-word:

Now you can't say that, you've gotta be like, "That's not smart. Your idea has an extra 21st chromosome, if you ask me." 

His point: Ijust doesn't have the same impact without the r-word.

Immediately, there was an outcry. Special Olympics, Best Buddies and a group of advocates appealed to Segura and Netflix. A Take It Down, Netflix change.org petition went up. After numerous email exchanges, there was a meeting in June with Segura; attendees included Special Olympic athletes and Global Messengers Dustin Plunkett and Rachel Osterbach, along with Nancy Gianni of Gigi's Playhouse and her daughter Isabell. Word is that Segura referenced removing the material, but later declined, as did Netflix. This weekend, an Op-Ed ran in the L.A. Times by a writer with two brothers who've participated in the Special Olympics denouncing him and Netflix, too.

When I've spoken out about the r-word over the years, some people have responded that other disparaging words will crop up to take their place. That's for sure. Now we have this so-called comedian who's actually made that part of his routine, and Netflix sees nothing wrong with it.

In his riff, Segura noted that the r-word typically isn't used these days to describe a person with Down syndrome—it typically describes a stupid idea or situation. He implied that caring about the usage of the word is ridiculous.

I'll tell you what's ridiculous:

Believing that this is the best comedic material you can come up with, and clinging to it. Because that's what you put into a routine, right? Your best material. This is the best this guy has.

I'll tell you what's ignorant:

Not understanding why the word is painful, even if it's not used to describe someone who has Down syndrome or intellectual disability. Using that word as a synonym for stupid or loser or annoying or whatever negative thing only reinforces old stereotypes, making life that much harder for people with intellectual disability like my son.

I'll tell you what's despicable and cruel:

While there are plenty of advocates with intellectual disability who can and do speak up for themselves, not all can—let alone children. Demeaning and debasing people who are defenseless, and roping others into laughing at them, is about as low as you can go.

I'll tell you what's extra sad and pathetic:

Blatantly ignoring the efforts of people who are often mistreated to gain respect for themselves. I just don't get how it's possible sit in a room with self-advocates who have Down syndrome—the very people you've degraded; hear their reasoning; then turn them down.

We've been down this road before. A couple of years ago, another comedian had a special—this one on Showtime—in which he demeaned a supposed cousin of his with Down syndrome. After considerable protest, Showtime removed the program from its lineup. The comedian took the material out of his skit.

Really, there's only one inarguable point here: People with Down syndrome and intellectual disability are not laughable human beings. My son is not a laughable human being. Make fun of human foibles all you want, as comedians often do—but quit seeing disabilities as defects. We certainly don't see it that way. My son is all-around awesome. Also: He's got way higher emotional intelligence than Tom Segura.


You can sign the petition asking Netflix to remove the material from the show here


  1. I absolutely see your side to this and I hope this does not come across as disrespectful, because I understand your position. But it's also part of a larger issue about free speech as well and that's where it gets very complex and murky. When we start telling people "you can't say this," it opens a huge can of worms, especially today when it seems like EVERYONE is offended by some word, topic, television show, political view, etc. Just as this comedian has the choice to say what he wants, we have the choice to not watch his show. And if enough people choose not to watch, a company like Netflix may think twice next time they consider offering him a special.

  2. Anonymous, no one is saying he has commited a crime by using an offensive word. THAT would be a threat to free speech. Just as this comedian is free to use a word, other people are free to respond to that word. People often think freedom of speech means freedom from criticism and that os not at all what it means. It just means that legally you can say what you want, baring limited circumstances that create an immediate danger. All the people who are speaking against language they find offensive are also using their right of free speech but you are saying they should be quiet.

  3. I don’t understand people sometimes. This is not a free speech issue- it’s a common decency issue. It’s about respect and tolerance and kindness. When did these stop being important values? Trump talks about grabbing women by the P-words and openly mocks a disabled reporter and half the country is horrified while the (slightly less than) other half votes for him to be leader of the free world. What happened to morality in this country? How does a human being hear that they have offended multiple children and not care at all? And how does a company like Netflix hear that without flinching? Who at Netflix made that decision???? There are some people who are just missing a chip.....


Thanks for sharing!

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