Sunday, August 4, 2013

Here we go again... the r-word

Last Thursday night, I sat in the comedy room of a local club with friends watching what I had anticipated to be a really great show of live comedy.  Instead about 10 minutes into the headlining act I was writing this blog in my mind.

As I was writing in my mind, I had decided to keep the comedian's name out of the blog out of respect and hope for change.  That changed today when this article was brought to my attention.  Clearly if you are willing to show people your ignorance in a forum as public as People magazine or what I say won't phase you a bit.  My hope is that my words will get someone else to stop, think, be respectful and make a change in the words they use.

Backing up to last Thursday... It was an extremely busy day at work was followed by 5th grade orientation with my daughter, to say I was ready for an evening out to clear my mind is an understatement.  As I often do on the drive to the comedy club, I let my mind drift off to think about all of the "what if's" that I would like to see happen in case I would end up having a conversation with the comedian after the show.  In my mind, it played out very realistically - the show would be fantastic, I would meet Chris, in our casual talking I would mention my children have Fragile X Syndrome, he would curiously ask, I would explain, he would be surprised as he's never heard of it, I would mention how much it would help if we would have someone famous to help get the word out, he would jump at that opportunity, I would talk about how we do a fund raising weekend at the comedy club each fall and he would offer to donate his time, bring friends and help raise money and awareness for Fragile X.  I would blog about how awesome he was. He would help raise awareness, money, there would be a cure and we would be life long friends. The end.  That is what played out in my mind on the ride over. It seemed do-able.  I was ready to make this happen.
The show started off wonderfully with 2 very talented local comedians, who had the sold out crowd of 200+ laughing and ready for the headliner... Chris Kattan.  When he first took the stage, he looked a bit unsure and I began to wonder if he could pull off stand up comedy.  It's not an easy profession or simple thing to do.  However after a few awkward minutes of checking out the crowd he seemed to find his place, everyone was laughing and he looked much more at ease and continued to pick up the pace from there.  And then it happened, I could tell from the direction his story was going what was coming next and the words I was praying I would not hear were said, "the retarded kid".  The crowd burst out in laughter.  My date squeezed my hand as I'm sure he felt the disappointment and tension flow from my body.  Sigh.   The last several years of the work done by myself and many others just took a step back as he just made the r-word an acceptable thing to laugh at.  I've blogged about it here... and here... and here - this is part of who I am, helping to spread the word to end the word.  I was now on the defensive.  I still wanted to like his show. I wanted to enjoy my night out but, in reality, I am a very smart girl. I knew it would happen again and I needed to figure out if I would sit through the entire show and approach him after or just leave.

Within a few minutes he was talking about his Saturday Night Live days and the women he drooled over, mainly Cameron Diaz. He stated in many words and actions she was a "Perfect 10" that was until she laughed.  Apparently Cameron's laugh is less than perfect, not cute, adorable or how the laugh of someone who is a perfect 10 should sound.  "Her laugh sounded like she was retarded. Dropping her from a perfect 10 to a 4."  Did you catch that?  Her laugh, which reminded him and his co-stars of how a laugh of someone with an intellectual disability would sound made her less than perfect.  And not just less but from a perfect 10 to a 4.  The retarded laugh made her unattractive. The crowd erupted with laughs, minus the 4 of us and possibly others who were not with me.  No matter how shielded I felt from the arm that wrapped around me I was done and the writing in my mind of this blog started.

Damn it. This was my night out.  I paid for this. This was my turn to relax and have fun and enjoy comedy.  Let me just say for anyone who is about to tell me "that's what you get from a comedy club" No it isn't.  I have been to more comedy shows than the average person. I have met hundreds of comedians and we partner with a fantastic comedy club to do a fundraiser for Fragile X every year with top notch comedians. I have seen comedians at every stage of their career from amateurs learning the ropes seasoned veterans who have done world tours. There is a difference between comedy and grade school name calling humor.  If you have to resort to calling names like "retarded" you are not at a talented comedian, you are a bully who lacks the talent of making people laugh based on real humor, timing and skill.  Real comedians don't need to resort to this type of name calling to make an audience laugh and they won't.  The first hour of the show had 2 great comedians who had the crowd laughing and enjoying themselves and never felt the need to use that word in any form.  Yes, that is what you get from real comedians.

One of the perks of smaller comedy clubs is you get to meet the comedian after the show. I knew this would happen and I waited, patiently at the end of the line - as I needed time to prepare my thoughts and request.  When it came time for my turn, we posed for our picture and then I made my request for what would be said with his autograph...

"I'm sorry I said 'retarded'." Chis Kattan

I politely told him as he wrote out what I requested why I made such a request. I told him of my son, Parker who has intellectual impairment and how offensive the words were he used.  His reply "Well, it's a comedy show" My response "Exactly my point".  I came for comedy.  I didn't come to be insulted. I didn't come to hear other people be put down. I came to laugh.  That's what comedy is about making people laugh.  He replied, "Well, it's out there and I'm sorry."  I simply said, "Thank you" with the hope that what I said might actually matter.

I don't know what was said over the next 2 nights of 4 shows. I don't know if the same word was still used. I don't know if he made fun of the woman who asked him not to use it.  While I hope my words made a difference there is a bigger picture in front of me.  A picture of the work we still need to do.  A reminder that our work to make a change in this world, creating a safer, less hateful place for our children is a long way away.  A sinking feeling that we just took a giant leap back from the progress we have made.

I guess I could have stood up and interrupted the show. I could have pointed out that not all people with intellectual disabilities have the same laugh. I have videos of my son and many of his special needs friends laughing on my phone that could prove that.  I could have given a wonderful message about why using the r-word is wrong.  But, that is not me.  I won't be able to reach every person who was in the crowd that night - but - I have the potential to reach thousands more with this blog.

It's not a compliment when you use the r-word.  You aren't being positive or friendly or encouraging or nice.  You're being negative.  You are making fun of someone - or yourself.  It's a downgrade. It's demeaning. 

You never know who is listening.  You don't know what challenges they face in life, what challenges a loved one faces.  You don't know.  There are a hundred other words you can use that do not reflect a specific group of individuals.  If you must say something negative - if you must make fun of yourself - choose a word that isn't specific to actual people.  Really, it's NOT that hard.  Choose a different word.

Not everyone with intellectual disabilities are born that way. Everyone has the potential of being one accident away from being disabled. Most of us grow older, some of us will live with dementia. You never know when you or a loved one  might become disabled or... intellectually impaired.  Yes, "retarded"  Believe me, it's a lot more personal and a lot less funny then.

The r-word is specific.  I am willing to bet every single person who reads this knows of at least one person who is technically, medically speaking "retarded", intellectually impaired. The lives of individuals who are intellectual impaired are hard enough without being made fun of, without comparing people to them as a put down.  That person and every single person who loves and cares for them is going to be affected by the words you choose.  Our world is filled with enough hate, enough fighting, enough negativity. 

My son, has the most amazing laugh.  His laugh, like his speech, is something I don't take for granted.  His life is hard. It's not easy being Parker.  It's not easy living with Fragile X.  Yet, he goes through each day with a smile.  He laughs often despite the challenges, frustration and overwhelming sensory issues - he still finds a way to smile and laugh - and I encourage it.  Laughter helps him through the most difficult time.  He loves nothing more than to make others laugh.  He's not mean or degrading or a bully.  He is compassionate and helpful and full of life.  He too, would find Cameron Diaz to be a perfect 10.  The difference is, he would never judge her for her laugh.  He wouldn't find it irritating or annoying if it didn't sound how he thought it should, if anything he would see it as a uniqueness and reason to laugh together.  And, if by chance, her laugh sounds anything like my son's - it's not downgrade to a 4 - but the most beautiful sound to bring a smile to everyone's face this world will ever hear truly making her a perfect 10.

My children, who both live with Fragile X Syndrome - are without a doubt perfect 10's.  Significantly more perfect than Mr. Kattan could ever dream of being.

Even when they have the flu - they are perfect!

I wonder if Cameron Diaz has heard of Fragile X...

                     Please.  Spread the word to end the word.

             Take the pledge today to stop the use of the r-word.


  1. Thank you for your blog, and the photos of your "angels among us". I'm one of the warriors supporting you.

  2. Love your words and your passion -- and your energy to put them out there. Beautifully said. OXOX