Please sir, may I laugh at your disability?

What’s so funny? I have to admit that I think disability is pretty funny. I don’t think that I mean this in any disrespectful way (but I guess some people might take it that way). It seems to me that it is almost inherently funny, because it is so much a universal part of the human condition and yet people struggle so much coming to terms with it. Most of us would agree that there are some bad aspects to laughing about disabilities. Sometimes, it can be a another way of trying to use an us-them dichotomy to try to distance and protect ourselves from our own fears of impairment. Sometimes, it reveals an underlying hatred, contempt, or ambivalence.

But humor can also be an important way to explore our feelings and understandings of disability. John Callahan’s cartoons provide some good examples. Callahan’s cartoons give us a chance to explore a lot of our thoughts and assumptions. Callahan’s work addresses a lot more than disability, it is about the human condition and social construction. On first glance, his  “Squawtism” joke may seem to be just bad pun, but it says a lot more about the social construction of disability. Of course, Callahan may only get away with his disability humor because he is quadriplegic. Do you think people would as feel comfortable laughing if he wasn’t a card-carrying disabled person.

One of the best current sources of disability humour as well as other disability culture these days is OUCH!, BBC’s outstanding disability culture podcast. Ouch! is not just about being funny, but most of it is served up with a health helping of humor, such as it’s regular Vegetable, Vegetable, or Vegetable? game, where the hosts attempt to guess a caller’s disability by asking 20 questions over the telephone. Ouch is podcasts are available on i-tunes and the BBC Website, and some bits and pieces can be found on youtube. This Ouch! podcast is one that questions politically correct disability euphemisms.



3 thoughts on “Please sir, may I laugh at your disability?

  1. I think you are right in the way that people think about Callahan and others, but I also think it is interesting. I have no doubt that people with disabilities typically have more insight and better attitudes about disability, but I also think most people with disabilities share in some of the same bad attitudes that we all share as members of society. So may be, Callahan’s disability allows us to laugh at something that we would be too uptight about otherwise.

  2. Dick Sobsey wrote: “On first glance, his ”Squawtism” joke may seem to be just bad pun,…”

    Actually, I didn’t find it to be just a bad pun; I found it to be quite racist.

  3. Hi Stremain,
    Thanks for the feedback. I hadn’t seen that side of it at all, but now that you point it out you may be right. I saw it as making fun of both racism/ethnocentrism and disability focused prejudices. Now, I’m not so sure. I would lobe to know what others think about this.

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