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Why Jimmy Carr's 'Jokes' About Dwarfism Aren't Funny

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According to the well-known tax dodging British comedian Jimmy Carr, I am “an abortion that made it.” Jimmy Carr is known for his dark and near the knuckle “humor,” but it is hard to find a joke like this funny when it influences your standing in society.

As part of his recent “Terribly Funny” stand-up show, Carr made a joke claiming that dwarfs are abortions that made it. According to him I’m not a human, but an undeveloped, deformed fetus that is unwanted and has no rights in society. He may have not meant it seriously, but this is how many disabled people are viewed.

Abortion is a controversial topic in the disability community. Many disabled people have been told by non-disabled people that they would rather be dead than like them. Disabled people are made out to be a burden on their families and an economic burden on the state. In his book “Little People,” Dan Kennedy remarked that when he and his wife were told of their daughter’s dwarfism diagnosis, the doctor said if they had known about the diagnosis when his wife was pregnant, they could have offered a termination. Then there is the case of the Australian woman who had an abortion at 38 weeks when it was found the fetus had dwarfism.

Too many people in society believe my life is not worth living. I feel like all I am good for is fodder for crass comedians. If I object, like I am now, I am told it’s “just a joke” and I need to “get a thick skin.” But that’s all dwarfism seems to be viewed as by society, a joke. It’s a joke that has worn too thin for most people with dwarfism, who have to endure the same jokes day in day out. People with dwarfism attract unwanted attention when out in public, including verbal abuse. Much of the harassment directed towards people with dwarfism is related to negative representations of dwarfs in mass media.

You can argue that I can ignore Carr’s jokes by not watching him, but that will not stop his jokes from affecting me. I would like to shrug his joke off, but how can I when I cannot prevent the social repercussions it will have? It’s easy for a non-disabled person to dismiss Carr’s comment as a harmless joke, but they are not the ones who have to dread the abuse they may face every time they decide to step out their front door. In a report about the lives of people with dwarfism in the U.K., it was found that 63 percent felt unsafe when out in public. Many people with dwarfism have told me they have had children laugh and throw stones at them, been on the receiving end of sexual harassment, and even been physically picked up by strangers. It’s all just for a laugh, apparently.

Another study found that while jokes towards racial minorities have decreased, those against disabled people are seen as fair game and have increased. Either today’s comedians actually find racism distasteful themselves or are just scared of being reprimanded for their jokes. However, jokes in poor taste about dwarfism have not been subject to the same level of outrage, and comedians do not have to fear any backlash for making them. They may also be supported by a dwarf entertainer, a person whose career involves being the butt of the joke, a person who is always laughed at but never with. They are the submissive entertainers who adhere to ableist stereotypes and attitudes about dwarfism.

You can argue that if dwarfs actually allow themselves to be hired out, what is the problem? Despite only about 1 percent of people with dwarfism being in the entertainment industry, they influence how the rest of us are perceived and treated in society. Those who are part of or complicit in stereotyped portrayals and derogatory jokes have agency over the rest of us, those of us who are expected to keep quiet and just get on with being laughed at, stared at, called names and even photographed by strangers who find our presence in society amusing. We are expected to take a joke because to most people we are a joke, which renders us inferior in society.

Originally published: July 17, 2019
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