Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Guide to Disability Humour

I was mucking around on facebook the other day, and saw I'd been invited to an event that I could tell was going to be far too physically demanding for me (it had the word "Jazzercise" in the title.) I clicked decline, and when it asked for a reason I wrote: "I'm a tad too disabled for this, but I hope it goes well" or something to that effect - can't remember the exact wording. A bit later I was thinking about it, and realised that could probably come across as flippant and insensitive if people reading don't know me. Disability humour can walk a thin line between being funny or offensive, and so much of it depends on context. In this example, people knowing that I am actually disabled and not just being a dick is some pretty big context.

I'm normally pretty happy to laugh at myself and my health problems, and in a lot of cases I'm happy for other people to join in too. But there are some boundaries within that, so here's my Guide to Disability Humour.

It has to be funny
One of the things that can be irritating when it comes to disability humour, is the assumption that if you don't laugh, it's because you're being "over-sensitive" or "too PC". The reality is, your joke may not be offensive, but that doesn't necessarily make it funny either. If the "joke" is basically that you're saying something controversial, it's probably not particularly clever or funny, and the best you're ever going to get is a few nervous laughs.

It has to actually make sense
This should be obvious, but jokes that don't make sense are just stupid. For example, a stranger on the street once stopped me and asked me where my parrot was. I stared at him blankly, trying to work out if he'd mistaken me for some other parrot-owning-person, until he muttered something along the lines of "it was just a joke". I eventually worked out that he was referencing Molly Stick, and I guess suggesting if you walk with a stick you're a pirate? I don't know. It wasn't offensive, but it didn't really make sense either, and I was just left confused rather than amused.

There are things I can say that you can't
This is one that really confuses people. I get why this is hard, I really do. People see me joking and laughing about my health problems, and they think "Hey, this is cool, we can make jokes about it too." And mostly that's true, but sometimes it isn't. 
  • There are some things that are okay for anyone to joke about. 
  • There are things that I find funny when other people with disabilities say them, but would be really offensive if an able-bodied person were to say them. 
  • There are things that I can say about myself, that would make me feel really awful if anyone else - disability or not - said them. 
  • Even more confusing, there are things that I might be okay with joking about that someone else with a disability may not be and vice versa. For example, I know some people are okay with calling themselves and/or others "cripples" in a joking manner, but after that word was yelled at me as an insult a couple of time, it makes me really uncomfortable whatever the context.
Figuring out where these lines are can be a difficult process, but I think one of the important things to remember is that if you accidentally cross one of them, it's really better to just back off and remember it for next time. Insisting that you weren't being offensive, or that you "should" be able to say something because someone else did will just make the situation more uncomfortable.

The disability may not be the offensive part
Basically, just because someone's given the okay for disability humour, it doesn't mean you get a free pass on being generally offensive. For example, a racist or sexist disability joke is still racist or sexist. I don't think I really need to explain why that's not okay!

Timing is everything
Like any kind of humour, there is a time and a place. I sometimes say to people if I fall down or anything like that, they're welcome to laugh and I'll probably join them, but only AFTER they've helped me up. As I'm writing this, a similar conversation just came up on the radio, and New Hot Guy from ZM's advice was: "If someone falls down, you have to wait for their reaction. Because if you laugh and they're really hurt, then you're an a**hole." Pretty much sums it up! I think as a general rule, it's fair to say that if someone is in need of assistance, or if they are in some kind of physical or mental distress, it's probably not the best time for jokes.

This is by no means a definitive guide, and I'm sure other people may have boundaries in different places. If there are any others you think should be on the list, feel free to add them in the comments.

Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune

No comments:

Post a Comment