Could comedy change societal perceptions of disability?

Comedy is a fantastic way to bring people together, educate on serious matters with an entertaining twist, and break down barriers. But, more still needs to be done for disabled comedians and disability to break through into the mainstream.  

New research revealed by disability equality charity Scope at the end of 2019 highlighted the wide variety of opinions are disabled comedians telling jokes on disability.

After Lost Voice Guy won Britain’s Got Talent in 2018 – with disabled comedian Robert White also coming runner-up – both had moments where they made jokes about their own disabilities. And questions were raised on if this was the right thing to do.

DISABILITY IN COMEDY

Findings, from a national representative survey of 2,005 UK adults, showed that a quarter (25 per cent) of respondents said it was great to hear jokes from a different perspective; the same number said they enjoyed being able to laugh with the comedian; but, one in six (18 per cent) said joking about disability made them feel awkward, and one in ten (10 per cent) said they felt guilty.

Ben Elton, Patron of Scope, says: “As a Scope Patron, I know too well that negative attitudes towards disabled people are no laughing matter, but I believe that comedy can play a key role in challenging misconceptions and tackling negative attitudes.

“We all need to see more disabled people on the stage, on our screens and in the media, and this exceptional event puts disabled people firmly centre stage.”

Further figures revealed that one in eight – or 12 per cent – of people thoughts that jokes by disabled people about disability were inspiring. And as we celebrate the start of a new decade, it’s time to get more disabled people into the mainstream to change perceptions and breakdown any lingering barriers on discrimination. 

REPRESENTATION

“Scope research shows we’ve still got work to do to feel familiar and comfortable with disabled comedians and entertainers on stage and screen,” adds Warren Kirwan, head of communications at Scope.

“But that’s a first step to breaking down the awkwardness we still feel around disability. 

“Lots of progress is being made by TV and the creative industries, but there’s a way to go yet. Comedy is a great way to challenge attitudes and break down barriers. Scope urges the entertainment industry to go even further in 2020 to make sure their talent on stage and on screen is more reflective of the country we live in.”

How do you think comedy can change perceptions? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram.

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