Make Room For The Stuttering

When Funny Isn’t Funny

Posted on: March 14, 2014

I went to the theater last night. We have a vibrant arts culture in my community and I often go to see live performances. There is nothing like live theater.

The show was “Figaro” and was billed as a comedy, which it was.

There was a character of a judge, who I’ve always visualized as serious and smart, someone we respect.

The play had the judge character stuttering – loudly, pronouncedly and spitting on others while stuttering. He particularly stuttered on “p” sounds and the other characters finished the words for the judge. Most of the time, the other character guessed the word right, one time it was wrong. The audience laughed at these moments.

This stuttering, spitting male judge character was ridiculous. He was portrayed as stupid, and disgusting for spitting on those close to him, who reacted in disgust.

My friend who was with me stutters too. Both of us were uncomfortable. We didn’t expect to see stuttering made fun of like this in this day and age, on a live stage.

After the show, as we were leaving, my friend and I talked about how uncomfortable it made us. Stuttering isn’t funny in this exaggerated context, yet audience members laughed and laughed at the stuttering, spitting, weird character.

We left, and talked about it again in the parking lot. We had met at the theater, and therefore had separate cars.

When I got home, I had a message on my voice mail from my friend.

He had went back in to the theater and told the owner how uncomfortable  we felt. He spoke up and told him stuttering doesn’t get made fun of anymore and the portrayal of stupidity is offensive. J went on to tell the owner how accomplished we both are and how he might consider not making fun of stuttering publicly.

J said the theater owner said the director and the actor made the decision to portray the judging as bumbling and stuttering, for comedic effect.

I was proud of my friend for going back in and having the courage to have that conversation. I hope the director considers taking that portrayal out of the play.

I might write to the director and send her some info on stuttering for their future reference.

Thoughts? What would you have done?

4 Responses to "When Funny Isn’t Funny"

Your friend did the right thing. If no one tells the director that it’s a harmful stereotype, then she’ll continue to use it. It’s too late to change it for this run, but hopefully they’ll make better decisions for next run.

I wonder how the character is normally portrayed.

Hopefully, they can find a compromise for the next run. I hate eviscerating the classics so they won’t offend anyone. They’re an important part of our history, and Figaro is a good first “real grown-up show”. That style, in that era, had a formula, which included a comic character. (Or maybe Mozart started the formula. Either way, it’s an important part of music history.) Hopefully, they can find a way to keep the comedy, without the harm.

Growing up, I was laughed at and that made me feel stupid and inadequate. I guess some people apparently did not get the memo that it is no longer noble to make fun of stutterers. I hope this director will be mindful the next time he/she is forced to employ stereotype in a production for the sake of comedy.

Hi Pam, its been a while.

I’m pretty sure I had to read the play you’re talking about in AP French Lit my senior year of high school. It was an incredibly awkward experience, especially because everyone in the class (including the teacher) knew I stuttered AND the way the class was set up, we always had to read the character parts aloud. No one acknowledged how bizarre the whole thing was. It was kind of like: “let’s not go there.” I’m glad your friend said something.

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