Ableism in Comedy, Ableism in "Support"

by Shaker Medivh

[Trigger warning for ableism]

Hi Shakers. I'm here writing to you about fucked up comedy and support structures that don't. But first, a little about myself: I'm Medivh. I'm an autistic, diagnosed as having Asperger's Syndrome. I have been living semi-independent, with the help of my partner, since I was about 20. I live in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, which is incidentally the setting for our adventure.

There's an awesome event around Melbourne that happens just before Easter every year—the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It mainly goes off without a hitch, with some really awesome comedians coming from around the world, just to say they'd performed here. It's also the festival that launches many local comedic careers. In general, it's been great publicity for everyone involved.


Denise Scott, a local comedian who co-stars in a locally produced sitcom called "Winners and Losers", performed a set at the festival's Gala event. The MICF Gala is the centrepiece of the festival, and one of the few parts that is televised the whole way through. Denise is in the process of getting international renown. She now has at least state-wide renown for the wrong reason.

From her routine:
I can't stand people who say they are alcoholic or have mild Aspergers or celiac, when the fact is they're just plain old-fashion fucked up people with a few behavioural problems.
After being called out on a "joke" that seems to imply people with alcoholism or Aspergers or celiac disease are "fucked up" (and certainly implies that it's possible—and acceptable—to determine that another person's asserted disability is false), she apologised on Facebook:
Apologies to parents offended by my reference to aspergers. I wasn't saying that people with aspergers are fucked up people with behavioural problems. I wouldn't ever say that because that is not what I think at all. I was saying that people who SAY they are alcoholics & have mild aspergers or are celiac when they are not & use it to excuse their behaviour cause me grief.. Once again for what it's worth my apologies.
You might notice that her apology covers many bases. She missed the most important base, though: autistics. Our parents are apologised to, but we're apparently not worthy of her time. Nor any journalists time either, as no autistic has been interviewed that I can find.

What's worse is that the bases she does cover hint at other problems. Like the fact that no-one seems to care that, if the original sketch said of aspies that we're fucked up people, that the same sketch says that people who are alcoholic or have celiac disease are fucked up people. No-one barring those with celiac or alcoholism seem to care. Which is ridiculous, because the differences between an aspie and a neurotypical are about as controllable by the aspie as the ability to cure one's self of celiac disease or addiction. Given that, it's pretty annoying to find that the reporting on this issue comes down to "find some kids that were insulted, interview one of their parents, job done."

But, sloppy journalism aside, there's one piece of this whole fucked up issue that really gets my goat. The organisation in Victoria that is designed to support autistics is unsurprisingly called Autism Victoria. The CEO of Autism Victoria, Murray Dawson-Smith, had this to say about Denise Scott's comedy:
I think it is disappointing that Denise is taking cheap shots at people who are not able to defend themselves.
This singular sentence is the one part of the whole issue that most insults me. This is an organisation designed to help people like me become more independent over time. It's an organisation that I was hoping to use to help me gain some of the skills that I've not been taught in growing up. But apparently, it's an organisation that thinks that I don't exist. According to its CEO, people with "mild Aspergers" are incapable of defending themselves. People who can defend themselves can't possibly be autistic. Or adult. Or an independent member of society.

It makes me wonder why Murray Dawson-Smith decided to take the role of CEO of Autism Victoria. It certainly doesn't appear to be for the possibility of helping autistics, given his low opinion of us.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus