Disability In Comedy Essay

1779 words - 8 pages

The Large Presence Of Comedy In American Culture
Comedy is an integral category of the entertainment business. From 1995 to 2013 comedy films had a total box office revenue of $54.88 million in North America (Movie 2014). That is a whopping $12.55 million more than the next highest grossing genre; adventure films (Movie 2014). People are clearly willing to spend money for the chance of a good laugh. If such a large portion of the population is watching comedy the genre must be relatable to a large portion of the populations’ everyday lives, however that is not the case for one of America’s most marginalized groups. As recorded in the 2010 census, 56.7 million people living in the United ...view middle of the document...

An example of a disabled character in a comedy “overcoming” their disability would be Gary Sinise’s portrayal of Lieutenant Dan Taylor, in the award winning film Forrest Gump. During the film Lieutenant Dan loses both of his legs in a war scene. The Lieutenant is then found later in the movie, a depressed alcoholic who uses a wheelchair, and blames the low quality of his life on the loss of his legs. It isn’t until the end of the film that Lieutenant Dan is revealed to have turned his life around, but there is a catch, his new found success and happiness come along with the loss of his wheelchair, and the addition of prosthetic legs. The comedic film leaves the audience to believe that Lieutenant Dan found happiness only after ridding himself of the wheelchair. This representation follows the expectation that those with disabilities can overcome, an expectation many war veterans meet by having “relied on their own ingenuity to manage an inaccessible environment rather than demand that the community change to include them” (Linton 2010). The film exploits Lieutenant Dan’s disability by relying on his condition to create physical humor. Lieutenant Dan overcoming his disability is a misrepresentation of the challenges people with disabilities face. This misrepresentation is created as the film highlights physical challenges yet hides social challenges those with disabilities encounter. Social challenges are hidden by having Lieutenant Dan’s happiness drastically improve after he gains the use of prosthetic technology that can help him “beat” his disability by becoming more like someone who is abled. Forrest Gump explores physical disability as a result of war, but it does not represent any mental disability or disability present at birth. The medical model of disability being represented in comedic television makes it easier to ignore the inequitable treatment of those with disabilities.
Disability Diversity In Comedy
In exploring the representation of disability in comedy it becomes clear very quickly that this representation has limited diversity. On screen comedies often portray only those characters with disabilities that are white. Perhaps this is due to the presence of white privilege. One aspect of white privilege is that “whites can usually assume that national heroes, success models, and other figures held up for general admiration will be of their race” (Johnson 2006). White privilege may cause fictional comedic entertainment to exclude other races from its portrayal of disability, however the diversity of live comedy is much greater. There is a group of people with disabilities who preform in a group known as The Comedians with Disabilities Act. The group is made up of three men and one woman, who all have different disabilities yet share the same passion for stand up comedy. The hilarious members are Michael O’Connell, the group founder, who uses a wheelchair, Steve Danner who has dwarfism, Eric Mee who is blind, and Nina G who has a...

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