On Saturday Mum and I went to a Jack Whitehall gig in Oxford. He definitely wasn’t the best comedian I’ve ever seen but most of the time he was pretty funny. Once or twice he pretended to have forgotten his script and at least once he really did forget his script which was a bit frustrating.
Unfortunately however he also made several jokes that I thought were right on the line of what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to disability. I can take that. I think I’m a lot more flexible than some people are on the sort of comments I find acceptable and I thought a couple of times “ooooh that’s a bit ableist but it’s just about ok.”
And then he came back from the interval used the R Word (r*t*rd) once and did one joke that went way over the line of ableism. Which is very definitely unacceptable.
So I wasn’t overly impressed and I very definitely stuck him in my “comedians I don’t want to see again” box.
And then Wednesday night Omid Djalili was performing in our very small theatre here as a warm up gig. He was also here Thursday but Mum and I went on Wednesday.
I’m watching him and I’m sort of enjoying it but I’m also thinking that if you took away Jack Whitehall’s ableism he was probably a bit funnier. They were very very different shows however and I don’t think it’s really comparable.
I did think Omid Djalili was probably pushing the boundaries of acceptable race jokes but I wasn’t really sure about that because of the whole thing where specific groups of people joking about themselves make things acceptable that might not otherwise be. I’ve fallen foul a lot of that and joking about my disability so it’s not appropriate for me to comment on that issue.
Then he was talking about an encounter he’d had with someone in the car park outside. He used the R word to describe them and made several very very ableist comments.
And then it was the interval and the show continued.
Right at the end he made the most inappropriate disability related joke I’ve ever heard (which I’m not going to share). It wasn’t designed to be funny. It was designed to make us laugh at a stereotype of disability. And it was horrific.
He made it pretty clear he thought there weren’t any wheelchair users in the room (I was sat at the back) and that was why he made the joke then went on to joke about how he doesn’t chose venues that have wheelchair access.
I was so angry I was practically shaking. I gathered up my stuff to leave but didn’t actually leave because by the time I had it together he was finishing his act.
I’ve been going to live comedy for years – I went to the comedy club at my uni nearly every week for three of the four years I was there. I must have seen hundreds of different comedians.
Some joke about disability and get it right. Some don’t joke about disability, maybe they’d prefer we didn’t exist or maybe it’s just a case of they don’t know how to appropach it. Some comedians joke about disability and it falls flat because it’s just a shit joke (one guy at the comedy club at uni made a massive deal about coming to me before the show started and letting me know that he had a joke about disability and it was just one joke and he hoped I would be ok with that and not offended. It wasn’t in the least offensive. Unfortunately however it also wasn’t funny).
And sadly some comedians prefer to get cheap laughs by throwing around hate speech like the R word and similar and mocking disabled people.
And this was the first time a comedian made me that angry. Ever. I made a complaint to the venue.
I’m pretty upset that it came to that. But a small part of me is surprised that in over 12 years of semi regular live comedy this is the first time it’s been necessary. I doubt it’ll be the last.
I hope, one day, comedians will realise that ableism isn’t big and it isn’t funny. In the mean time I’m just glad that the next show I’m going to is a musical. Because that should be a lot safer.
(edit: I have posted a follow up blog here)