In what universe is it funny to push a woman in a wheelchair off a stage?

“Now that the Britannia Awards are televised, viewers can see Sacha Baron Cohen knock an 87-year-old woman out of her wheelchair”.

Comedy depends on surprise; that’s not a problem.

Crossing the line.

Making fun of people in wheelchairs is a disturbing continuation of making fun of people who are in any way different.

It is acceptable for a comic to make fun of himself, or a comedienne to use her personal life as a basis of her act. But it comes from the right place: this is me, and I can poke gentle fun at myself, and it’s okay for you to laugh. WITH me. I give you permission before you grab it.

The instant the laughter turns to making fun of something that, if the commenter but had to live with it, would not be in the least bit funny, and encouraging other people to laugh at the same, it has crossed the line.

The audience’s reaction

The people who watched the ‘stunt’ – in which the actor pretended to knock a woman in a wheelchair off the stage and kill her in the fall – and were somehow reassured enough to find it funny and laugh when they realized no one had actually died, may be reacting from nerves. That goes with the surprise, a nervous reaction as a way to release stress.

I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as funny if anyone in the audience’s mother is in a wheelchair, or one of their children have a similar disability.

The point is that it was a stunt intended to shock – and it got its desired effect. But it also showed an unparalleled level of mean-spiritedness. These things are tragedies. They are not funny.

True comedy is funny

A true comedian walks a fine line. Jerry Lewis was not funny when he patronized people with CP on his fundraiser. Chevy Chase WAS funny when he hurt only himself in his pratfalls; I only hope he didn’t actually hurt himself by trying to entertain the rest of us.

A comedienne who happens to be fat can make fat jokes – if she wishes. Maybe she is being pre-emptive – comedy often comes from personal pain. Some of the laughter that comes from fellow fat people is of the ‘laugh at yourself before other people can laugh at you’ variety – defensive humor, as it were. The laughter that comes from people who don’t have a weight problem is… meanspirited. Again. But it’s not really funny. I rather see her make jokes about driving. Or the state of the economy. Or the lack of dates who will pay for their share. Or something else.

What you find funny shows who you are

Humor is descriptive of the person who laughs, and tells a lot about that person. I would seriously recommend people dating go out and see live comedy and ‘funny’ movies together: listen carefully to what your date finds funny, and you will see who your date is. Then follow up with whether you would want to spend your life with a person who feels that way.

It is way too easy to make fun of other people’s disabilities – and anything else that makes them different. And it’s not really funny. Pick foibles instead – those are under some degree of control by their owners; pick observations about human nature in general, people who make you shake your head at their choices. And unless you have spent your entire life on a diet, unsuccessfully, skip the fat jokes.

I have mobility issues. I may end up in a wheelchair sooner than I like – walking is a continuing battle. The story appalled me.

4 thoughts on “In what universe is it funny to push a woman in a wheelchair off a stage?

  1. Circe

    That joke may be funny in the Denver Broncos locker room, but I don’t even find concussions amusing, so I am not Cohen’s target audience.
    To be honest, I am desperately trying to put myself together again, pretend I can still do things I used to be able to do, and hope that with enough determination and diligence, I will be out on a ski slope this winter. I’m not the world’s most diligent woman except pisdibly when it comes to trying to stay mobile, even athletic–that’s who I am!–or is it who I was? The wheelchair scenario–your wheelchair scenario, not Cohen’s–really touched me. I had never allowed myself to think that far ahead. You are always a trailblazer, and we have Cat Stevens “Moonshadow,” as well as the kindness of friends and strangers on which to depend. In a normal situation, my guess is that every single member of that audience would help a stranger, young or old, in a wheelchair. Keep the faith in humanity, too.



    1. Circe

      Forever entering text on my smartphone certainly doesn’t make me look very smart! Is it possible to edit comments one has made i response to another’s post, or can the kind blogger herself correct typos? I apologize to any and all perfectionists! Even to those of average standards. I have been at a keyboard too long today, and slept to little. C


      1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

        I only see one typo – possibly – I think only I can correct it, but you could try your WordPress comments to see if it will let you.

        Otherwise, I can correct whatever you want.

        Trailblazer? Not so much – I am being pushed by life where I have no wish to go. I think of trailblazers as those who CHOOSE their trail to blaze.

        The other? Most of the time it’s that I’m too tired to spend the extra time on the illness – not knowing what would help, and having no help from the medicos, at least nothing easy or guaranteed. I ignore it as much as possible.


    2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I think I’ll try the bunny hill if husband wants to try skiing. We used to ski – I’m just going to have to lower the expectations – there are no Olympic medals in my future. It doesn’t matter – getting outside for a 10 minute bike ride is a lot better than not.

      Just go out there and try – enjoy the snow. Most things can be done at lots of levels.



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