Comics, treat disabled people normally – but only when it suits them

Ross Noble

Ross Noble

Today I read a story regarding comedian Ross Noble who has being criticised for taking the piss out of a disabled audience member’s laugh. The disabled person, Luke Roberts, then went to the newspapers with his family to complain about it. I honestly do not even know how to start to explain how stupid this whole thing is! In fact, I’m not sure why it’s even news!?

First things first, I’ll hold my hands up and admit I’m a huge Ross Noble fan so I’m not very likely to criticise him. At the same time, I’d like to think that I would apply my thinking to any comic – Frankie Boyle comes to mind.

The fist thing that pisses me off about this story is the fact that Noble was making a joke about someone’s laugh and not their disability. Anyone who has seen him perform knows that this is part of what he does. In fact, he once referred to my laugh as being ‘like an alien’ when I laughed during a show. Not because I’m disabled but because I do actually have a stupid laugh like an alien! Unlike someone like Boyle, Noble hasn’t got a hint of malice in his stage persona. He involves the crowd a lot but he treats them as friends rather than subjects to be picked on.

If anything, he was treating the disabled person just like anyone else in the audience. Something I’m sure Luke and his family have wanted to happen all their lives. This is a positive thing. So for his family to then complain in such a public manner is embarrassing. If that was my family, I really would be mortified that they’d chosen that course of action. Why didn’t they just ignore it? Why didn’t they speak to Noble after the gig and ask for an apology? They would have got one for sure.

I’m pretty sure they would have laughed when Noble had joked about other people during the gig. In fact, his mother (Leslie Roberts) was quoted as saying:

“We certainly aren’t the sort of people who don’t laugh at ourselves. Ross Noble was already making lots of jokes about disabled people and Luke was laughing along.”

Why is it then that suddenly it’s unacceptable when it’s a bit too close to home. It’s double standards and something that I hate. Anyone who goes to a comedy show and complains shouldn’t be there in the first place.

A case in point was when that woman went to see Frankie Boyle, SAT IN THE FRONT ROW, and then complained when the jokes started to get too close to home. You know what to expect when you go and see Boyle – especially if you have front row seats – so how can you then complain about him?! I’ve been to see him before and I didn’t find his jokes about disability funny at all as they were a bit close to the bone. I’d laughed my head off at his cancer jokes earlier though, so I just decided to grin and bear it. I would have been a hypocrite otherwise.

I strongly believe that any subject can be funny if handled correctly. Just because it’s about your situation, it doesn’t mean it’s not funny. I’m not saying you have to laugh or even like it, just don’t expect everyone else to feel the same way.

I’m really annoyed that anyone with a disabled family member would choose to go running to the newspapers instead of taking it in good humour and moving on. No wonder people are afraid of these “disabled people” and what they can and can’t say in front of them. They want it both ways. Plus it just encourages the ‘awww bless him’ brigade to come out and be patronising more often. Look at the photograph that accompanies the Noble story, you couldn’t get any more ‘awwwwwww factor’ if you tried!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sorry Luke got upset and didn’t enjoy his night. I just think it’s been handled totally wrong.

When Noble took the piss out of my laugh, I loved it. It meant that I was part of his show. Every fan would love that.

Let’s just hope that Luke and his family never get Frankie Boyle tickets for Christmas……..or come to see me!

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  3 comments for “Comics, treat disabled people normally – but only when it suits them

  1. Anonymous
    April 21, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Whilst as a severely disabled person, I appreciate and agree completely with what you say about the Roberts, I think there is little comparison between Noble and Boyle. Noble’s observations are acute, perceptive and hilarious. Boyle’s are no more than malicious and often against those that are too vulnerable to hit back, and that’s the major difference.

  2. Debbie
    April 21, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Very well written Lee!

    My husband has MS and is a wheelchair user, and, usually by necessity, if we go to any theatre show, we must use the front row.

    We are big comedy fans and go to gigs on a regular basis – we’ve seen Ross on a number of occasions and were hugely flattered the first time we saw him and he took the piss out of hubby for most of the second half of the show. Laughing with him – not at him, in a playful way, and that is Ross’ skill.
    No-one had ever interacted with hubby in this way before – and dare I say, the only comedian up to that point that we’d seen who had been brave enough to do so.
    I use the word “brave” because I can’t think of another appropriate one, but in fact we should all see past a person’s disability as Ross does and treat them the same as anyone else – bravery shouldn’t come in to it as it ought to be the standard.

    We now feel a little offended if we go to a gig and the act ignores us and DOESN’T acknowledge us in the same way as the rest of the audience – because it doesn’t feel inclusive.

    However, this little incident reported in the Australian press does indicate that the poor comedian just can’t win and they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    I have to say that this is the only time I have seen a complaint like this from the subject as it were – as it is very often the (over) reaction of the rest of the audience who take on offence on behalf of others.

    We went to one of Ross’ warm-up gigs at a tiny venue last year. In the audience were 4 wheelchair users – whose modes of transport graduated in ascending order of complexity from manual to the most all-singing and dancing power chair we had ever seen! There was quite a bit of wheelchair envy that night I can tell you!
    This particular wheelchair user was also quite late to arrive, but Ross had a field day with this and really took the piss (as you would do with any late-comer) out of him – to which the user’s reply was “Fuck-off Ross”!!!
    Up until then, you could feel the atmosphere in the room from the rest of the audience and the tension was almost palpable!

    I think there is a way and a skill to being inclusive, and for us it’s not what you do, it’s HOW you do it – and we have chatted to Ross after a couple of his shows about this very subject.

    Frankie Boyle could learn from this as he is just too cruel with his jibes and they are often delivered with a perceived malice – something that Ross never does.

    Keep taking the piss Ross – and best of luck with your career Lee!

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