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Discussion: Victoria Wright addresses comedian Frankie Boyle - disability arts online
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> > > Victoria Wright addresses comedian Frankie Boyle

15 April 2010

line drawing of writer

Line drawing of Victoria Wright

Comedian Frankie Boyle has hit the news for making jokes at the expense of learning disabled people during his sell-out tour. Victoria Wright, writer and star of Channel 4s Cast Offs, responds with an open letter.

Dear Frankie

What are you like eh?! It’s come to my attention that you’ve been making fun of people with Down’s syndrome. This is very naughty of you! But why? I hear you mutter. Well, because people who suffer from Down’s syndrome are very sad, tragic victims and therefore, it’s not very nice to make fun of them. Shame on you!

Actually, they’re not sad, tragic victims and they don’t ‘suffer’ from Down’s syndrome. What they do ‘suffer’ from are ignorant people like you who think making jokes about them having crap hair, dressing badly, talking strangely and dying young is funny. It isn’t. It’s cruel, unfunny and frankly, dear Frankie, a bit boring.

I’m so disappointed in you. No longer will you be known in my household as ‘the sometimes funny Scottish bloke whose name I can’t quite remember off that BBC show which isn’t as good as QI’. Henceforth, you shall be known as The Disabled People’s Bernard Manning.

Congratulations. My question to you is: will you take pride in this title and be our Bernie? Or will you repent, resume your career as someone who is genuinely funny and hand back the title to the previous winner Jim ‘I don’t want disabled people in the front row of my shows because they scare me’ Davidson?

Crippen's adds a cartoon to Vicky Wright's open letter to Frankie Boyle

Crippen's boyled cartoon

Oh Frankie, I would hope you would understand and know better! After all, you’re a geeky four eyes that looks like The Proclaimers’ missing triplet.

You and I are not so unalike you know. I also look like I fell down the funny-looking tree, hit every branch on my way down and then climbed back up and built a tree house.

But unlike you, I don’t use my lack of conventional good looks as an excuse to take the piss out of a group of people who don’t have the power to fight back.

Given the recent protests at Channel 4 and Ofcom by people with learning disabilities, complaining about the use of the word ‘retard’ in Celebrity Big Brother, don’t be surprised if you start seeing a few hundred placards being waved at you.

I realise you’re a busy man and don’t have time to attend Disability Equality Training, so permit me to spend a moment teaching you about people with learning disabilities.

A few years ago, I went to a conference where I met a young woman with Down’s syndrome. She was witty, smart as a whip and exceedingly pretty, with long lustrous red hair that wouldn’t look out of place in a Loreal shampoo advert.

She was incredibly passionate and articulate about equal rights for young disabled people. If you and her got in a fight, she’d have you for breakfast and still look stylish.

photo of writer

Photo © Victoria Wright

We’ve moved on from the 1960s, when people with learning disabilities were dressed like little children and left to rot in institutions.

People with learning disabilities can be singers like Lizzie Emeh, award winning actresses like Paula Sage (and she’s Scottish!) and even civil servants like Scott Watkin, co-national director for people with learning disabilities at the Department of Health.

Now, I’m going to admit that I’m slightly biased against you. I know only too well what it’s like to have my disability mocked by famous comedians.

As I recently wrote in The Guardian, five years ago, after I appeared in a BBC television documentary, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington made jokes about my facial disfigurement on their XFM radio show.

They told jokes about ‘midgets’, the elephant man and how it’s hard to remember that people with facial disfigurements are human because they don’t look human. Hilarious eh?

So you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m on the side of the mum who tackled you at your show. Though what she was doing there in the first place is beyond me.

Her money would have been better spent on a ticket to see Laurence Clark’s show ‘Spastic Fantastic’. A disabled comedian taking the piss out of non-disabled people – now that’s what I call groundbreaking hilarious stuff.

You probably think all this rumpus about you is ‘political correctness gone mad’ and that you were ‘only joking’. I’m not an expert, but in my humble opinion, ‘only joking’ is an excuse used by white heterosexual non-disabled male comedians who have never experienced bigotry and think they have a human right to be nasty.

But I’m all for free speech, which is why I think comedians do have a right to say what they like if they think it’ll get them a laugh. I also think audiences have the right to boo, hiss, heckle, throw tomatoes, complain to Ofcom, switch off the telly/radio, boycott a show and most of all NOT TO LAUGH if they think a joke has crossed a line.

I recommend each and every one of these tactics and frequently use them myself. Which is why I am possibly the only person in the world that has never watched The Office.

Now Frankie, I’ve been following your work for some time now and I’ve been picking up a distinct theme with your humour. You like to joke about women that you don’t consider attractive enough to fancy, like the swimmer Rebecca Adlington, who you joked looked like a reflection on the back of a spoon. You like to joke about people with learning disabilities, presumably because you don’t consider them attractive enough to fancy (I doubt you’re very high on their potential shag list either).

Have you considered joking about politicians? I hear there’s a General Election campaign on, so it would be quite timely. Plus some politicians are a bit funnylooking, so you’re unlikely to fancy them. Unless you do. Maybe power’s your thing.

Open your eyes and your heart Frankie. You can still be funny without having to be sexist/ racist/ homophobic/ misogynist/ disablist (delete as appropriate). By the way, I hope I’ve not offended you about your appearance. I rather like The Proclaimers. Besides, I was only joking.

(cartoon provided by Crippen - Disabled cartoonist. Click here to visit his blog)