Make Room For The Stuttering

Comedy And Stuttering

Posted on: March 15, 2016

I recently had the opportunity to attend a comedy show, headlined by Drew Lynch, a person who stutters. Drew was featured on last season’s reality TV show, “America’s Got Talent” (AGT.) Drew did stand-up comedy on the TV show and wound up finishing the talent competition in second place.

Drew did not grow up as a stutterer. He claims he began stuttering a few years ago, after being injured in an accident. He was hit in the throat by a softball and began stuttering. He had aspirations to be an actor and decided to try his hand at stand-up comedy when fate intervened and he was injured.

I remember last year when Drew was on AGT. A lot of people in the stuttering community did not find him funny and did not think it was cool to make fun of stuttering. Audiences laughed at his stuttering jokes and the way he made fun of himself. He almost always laughed himself after telling a joke.

I found him to be funny and his humor appropriate, but was only seeing him in 3 minute segments.

When I heard he was coming to my hometown to headline a comedy show, I was very interested in seeing him perform. I wondered how he would handle performing for a longer stretch. And I wondered how my hometown audience would react to a comedian that stutters.

My sister had asked me to go with her to the show, which was a surprise, as I didn’t think she would be interested in seeing someone who stutters. She and I don’t talk about stuttering. It’s always been a taboo topic in my family and continues to be so, even though I am very open and public about my stuttering.

So we went to the show and had a great time. There were two opening acts, one which was very funny and the other was just OK. Neither of them stuttered! 🙂

When Drew came out to perform, he immediately started with a joke about stuttering. He laughed and the audience laughed. Drew went on to perform for almost an hour, which I marveled at, given that it’s a long time and a lot of material to remember for the performance.

His material was not all stuttering related. He had funny jokes about every day life which the audience enjoyed. About half of his material was related to stuttering, and making fun of his own stuttering. I think his willingness to poke fun at himself and laugh at his own jokes and funny stories gave the audience permission to laugh. And laugh they did. It appeared everyone in the packed room was having a great time.

I posted something about having attended this comedy show on Facebook. Several people commented that it is not good to laugh at stuttering, because it opens the door for anybody to laugh at stuttering.

I say that most people can appreciate the context and will not laugh at someone stuttering just because they happened to laugh at a stuttering comedian.

After the show, Drew stayed around to meet and greet fans and signed autographs and took pictures. The line was so long, which was a great sign that the audience had enjoyed Drew’s performance. I did not stay to talk to him, although I really wanted to let him know that I stutter too.

Turns out, after my sister drove me back to my car, she went back and stood in the line to get an autograph and a photo. Guess she really enjoyed the performance.

So, what do you think? Is it OK to laugh at someone who stutters when they are telling jokes and making fun of their own stuttering?

5 Responses to "Comedy And Stuttering"

Personally, I believe context is everything. Or almost everything. Great mental health helps, too.

Case in point.

At a recent Toastmasters meeting, I was given a beautiful gift from the VPEd. I had covered her position for about 8 weeks while she was away in Vietnam. After the meeting, many people asked to see the gift up close so I just let people pass it around while I helped pack up the room. One woman was very taken with the piece and had joked earlier that she thought I should give it to her. As people were trickling out of the room, she suddenly pipes up, “Hey Jenn, someone just ran in here and tried to steal your artwork! But I ran after him, tackled him, and brought it back. I think you should give it to me as a reward!”. I immediately quipped, “yeah, that sound you DIDN’T hear was me shouting after you!” Then we both cracked up laughing our arses off. The remaining Toasmasters looked at us slightly perplexed…should they laugh or not? Some did, and I was relieved. It was an intensely hilarious moment. (Maybe you had to be there…)

Here’s why.

Shelli had a stroke about 7 years ago and has precarious balance and a pronounced limp; I, of course, stutter like a fiend and couldn’t even get my quip out in a timely manner. We have a mutual understanding that it’s ok to laugh at ourselves but others in the room had no idea if they were permitted to join in. My mental health is great. So is Shelli’s, as far as I know. I mean, she has a great sense of humour, so it’s a good start. We were intentionally being funny about ourselves in a world that does not generally know what to do when people with disabilities crack jokes about themselves in a very real and honest way. It was a moment where it was both an inside joke and one intended for an audience.

I love to laugh. If someone is intentionally trying to make me laugh and I genuinely find it funny, I bloody well laugh.

I have been watching this guy rather cautiously, but I’ve only seen him on YouTube. While I don’t have a problem with someone like Nina G making jokes about stuttering, she has had the experience of growing up as a stutterer. Mr. Lynch started stuttering as an adult and got to miss out on all the teasing and name calling we get as kids and teens. In my opinion he should be very careful when making jokes about the stuttering experience.

Hi Elizabeth – thanks for your input. I agree, that he might be on a slippery slope. He does not have the history that life-long stutterers do and he needs to be mindful of the emotions that can be stirred up by laughing at stuttering, as many of us have unhappy memories of being laughed at. Your point supports the mixed reaction I have seen in the stuttering community about Drew’s comedy.

I think it is absolutely fine to laugh in that situation. Context is everything here. If the same comedian was in a professional situation and stuttered, I think it is not appropriate to laugh–even if he jokes about it after, say, a noticeable block.
I see inconsistency in people’s position on this as well. The same people who laugh, for example, at ethnic jokes made by someone of that ethnicity are offended when “their” thing is laughed at. This is too bad, because laughing at the thing that hurts you detracts from its power.
That said, I understand the counterpoint. We’ve endured years of shameful and embarrassing moments, and laughter even in this context can stir up such emotions.
As always, great food for thought. Thanks for your continued work.

Hi Dan – thanks for the feedback. I totally agree that it’s all about context. Even in the right context, laughter can stir up unwanted, shameful emotions for us. That’s probably why my mother said to my sister, “are you sure she should go to this thing? She might not think it’s cool to laugh at stuttering.” I’m glad you weighed in. – Pam

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