Jeremy Clarkson think it's fine to make disabled jokes, but at least let us joke back

Yet again, the outspoken presenter and columnist is in trouble. This isn't an equal playing field: disabled people don't get the chance to insult the able bodied.

Share
Related Topics

The BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) has upheld complaints that Jeremy Clarkson’s comments earlier this year about people with facial growths were ‘offensive’.

In an episode of Top Gear, Clarkson had joked ‘You know sometimes you meet somebody who's got a growth on their face and it's actually bigger than their face?’, likened the shape of a Toyota Prius campervan to someone with ‘growths on their face’ and compared it to meeting a person with a facial disfigurement for the first time:  ‘not a car that you could talk to at a party unless you were looking at something else’. The ESC ruled the remarks ‘played on a stereotypically negative reaction to facial disfigurement’ and had broken editorial guidelines on harm and offence.

This is not the first time Clarkson has got into trouble for offensive remarks, but his career continues to flourish, like a well kept rose garden or a case of nits. Clarkson earned more than £3m for his involvement with Top Gear in the last financial year through Bedder 6, the company created by Clarkson and Top Gear executive producer Andy Wilman. He recently sold his stake in the company to BBC Worldwide in a multimillion-pound deal. Clarkson earns and makes mega bucks, which possibly makes him the BBC 2 equivalent of Cbeebies’ money spinner Justin Fletcher (aka Mr Tumble), only grumpier and less shaggable.

I probably should have said at the outset that I have a facial disfigurement. I know, big shock, because you never would have guessed from my profile picture. I also know the charity that made one of the complaints. So unsurprisingly I am biased. Indeed, I couldn’t be more biased against Jeremy Clarkson if I was a Toyota Prius campervan, a bicycle, or an ex-wife.

 

I couldn’t be more biased against Jeremy Clarkson if I was a Toyota Prius campervan, or an ex-wife.


When I saw the ‘facial growths’ episode, I gasped – not just at the jokes but also at the laughter from the audience - and thought of all the people I have met over the years who have facial growths through conditions such as Neurofibromatosis. I hoped they would not have to spend the rest of the week dealing with the stares and comments of over enthusiastic Top Gear viewers.

When it comes to the subject of jokes and disability (and I include severe disfigurement under this term), there are generally two schools of thought.

The first school of thought says: You should never make jokes about disabled people because after children, the elderly, and badgers, they are the most vulnerable of our society and should be protected from everything!

The other school of thought says: It’s free speech and we live in a democracy, so suck it up!

I understand both schools of thought. On the one hand, I’ve experienced verbal abuse and intimidation and all because I have a chin so big, it enters a room five minutes before the rest of me. On the other hand, I’m a humanist and I know that many people with religious beliefs would be offended by some of the comedies I enjoy which gently mock religion. Though as far as I’m aware, no Irish Catholic priests have yet been assaulted because their attacker spent the weekend bingeing on a Father Ted DVD boxset.
 

We’re told as children to repeat that affirmation ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’, but we learn pretty quickly that that’s not true.

 

But being in a funny-looking minority means that I am hypersensitive to jokes about disability. We’re expected to just laugh it off. We’re told as children to repeat that affirmation ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’, but we learn pretty quickly that that’s not true. Because when you look different, having people do nasty things, say nasty things, take the piss or just laugh at you as you walk past can be equally painful experiences. 

The reason why people like Clarkson bring out my inner Mary Whitehouse (who lies dormant within me, like the herpes simplex virus) is because it’s not a fair fight. There’s no balance. We see able-bodied comedians making jokes about disabled people on TV but we don’t see disabled comedians making jokes back at them. Well, we did on Channel 4 during the Paralympics on The Last Leg with Adam Hills, which was funny and irreverent. It even partly rehabilitated guest Jimmy Carr, who had previously made a joke about the Paralympics which hadn’t gone down too well with injured soldiers. (Alas Frankie Boyle is beyond rehabilitation. He could fall in love with Susan Boyle, bring out a charity duet of Especially For You with all the proceeds going to Mencap, and I’d still find him suspicious.)

It was a refreshing change and I hope it won’t be till Rio in 2016 that we see disabled comedians on a high profile programme again. After all, if news programmes can invite disabled comedians like Francesca Martinez to comment on the Paralympics, why can’t panel shows invite them on to be funny?

It’s so rare to see a disabled comedian on TV that ‘token disabled comedian’ slots don’t even exist yet. Perhaps it’s time to consider another school of thought – disabled comedians can be funny too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all