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> > > Victoria Wright addresses comedian Frankie Boyle

15 April 2010

line drawing of writer

Line drawing of Victoria Wright

Comedian Frankie Boyle has hit the news for making jokes at the expense of learning disabled people during his sell-out tour. Victoria Wright, writer and star of Channel 4s Cast Offs, responds with an open letter.

Dear Frankie

What are you like eh?! It’s come to my attention that you’ve been making fun of people with Down’s syndrome. This is very naughty of you! But why? I hear you mutter. Well, because people who suffer from Down’s syndrome are very sad, tragic victims and therefore, it’s not very nice to make fun of them. Shame on you!

Actually, they’re not sad, tragic victims and they don’t ‘suffer’ from Down’s syndrome. What they do ‘suffer’ from are ignorant people like you who think making jokes about them having crap hair, dressing badly, talking strangely and dying young is funny. It isn’t. It’s cruel, unfunny and frankly, dear Frankie, a bit boring.

I’m so disappointed in you. No longer will you be known in my household as ‘the sometimes funny Scottish bloke whose name I can’t quite remember off that BBC show which isn’t as good as QI’. Henceforth, you shall be known as The Disabled People’s Bernard Manning.

Congratulations. My question to you is: will you take pride in this title and be our Bernie? Or will you repent, resume your career as someone who is genuinely funny and hand back the title to the previous winner Jim ‘I don’t want disabled people in the front row of my shows because they scare me’ Davidson?

Crippen's adds a cartoon to Vicky Wright's open letter to Frankie Boyle

Crippen's boyled cartoon

Oh Frankie, I would hope you would understand and know better! After all, you’re a geeky four eyes that looks like The Proclaimers’ missing triplet.

You and I are not so unalike you know. I also look like I fell down the funny-looking tree, hit every branch on my way down and then climbed back up and built a tree house.

But unlike you, I don’t use my lack of conventional good looks as an excuse to take the piss out of a group of people who don’t have the power to fight back.

Given the recent protests at Channel 4 and Ofcom by people with learning disabilities, complaining about the use of the word ‘retard’ in Celebrity Big Brother, don’t be surprised if you start seeing a few hundred placards being waved at you.

I realise you’re a busy man and don’t have time to attend Disability Equality Training, so permit me to spend a moment teaching you about people with learning disabilities.

A few years ago, I went to a conference where I met a young woman with Down’s syndrome. She was witty, smart as a whip and exceedingly pretty, with long lustrous red hair that wouldn’t look out of place in a Loreal shampoo advert.

She was incredibly passionate and articulate about equal rights for young disabled people. If you and her got in a fight, she’d have you for breakfast and still look stylish.

photo of writer

Photo © Victoria Wright

We’ve moved on from the 1960s, when people with learning disabilities were dressed like little children and left to rot in institutions.

People with learning disabilities can be singers like Lizzie Emeh, award winning actresses like Paula Sage (and she’s Scottish!) and even civil servants like Scott Watkin, co-national director for people with learning disabilities at the Department of Health.

Now, I’m going to admit that I’m slightly biased against you. I know only too well what it’s like to have my disability mocked by famous comedians.

As I recently wrote in The Guardian, five years ago, after I appeared in a BBC television documentary, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington made jokes about my facial disfigurement on their XFM radio show.

They told jokes about ‘midgets’, the elephant man and how it’s hard to remember that people with facial disfigurements are human because they don’t look human. Hilarious eh?

So you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m on the side of the mum who tackled you at your show. Though what she was doing there in the first place is beyond me.

Her money would have been better spent on a ticket to see Laurence Clark’s show ‘Spastic Fantastic’. A disabled comedian taking the piss out of non-disabled people – now that’s what I call groundbreaking hilarious stuff.

You probably think all this rumpus about you is ‘political correctness gone mad’ and that you were ‘only joking’. I’m not an expert, but in my humble opinion, ‘only joking’ is an excuse used by white heterosexual non-disabled male comedians who have never experienced bigotry and think they have a human right to be nasty.

But I’m all for free speech, which is why I think comedians do have a right to say what they like if they think it’ll get them a laugh. I also think audiences have the right to boo, hiss, heckle, throw tomatoes, complain to Ofcom, switch off the telly/radio, boycott a show and most of all NOT TO LAUGH if they think a joke has crossed a line.

I recommend each and every one of these tactics and frequently use them myself. Which is why I am possibly the only person in the world that has never watched The Office.

Now Frankie, I’ve been following your work for some time now and I’ve been picking up a distinct theme with your humour. You like to joke about women that you don’t consider attractive enough to fancy, like the swimmer Rebecca Adlington, who you joked looked like a reflection on the back of a spoon. You like to joke about people with learning disabilities, presumably because you don’t consider them attractive enough to fancy (I doubt you’re very high on their potential shag list either).

Have you considered joking about politicians? I hear there’s a General Election campaign on, so it would be quite timely. Plus some politicians are a bit funnylooking, so you’re unlikely to fancy them. Unless you do. Maybe power’s your thing.

Open your eyes and your heart Frankie. You can still be funny without having to be sexist/ racist/ homophobic/ misogynist/ disablist (delete as appropriate). By the way, I hope I’ve not offended you about your appearance. I rather like The Proclaimers. Besides, I was only joking.

(cartoon provided by Crippen - Disabled cartoonist. Click here to visit his blog)




16 September 2012

I used to think Frankie Boyle was funny. I am Glaswegian and we tend to feel an immediate sense of pride for one of our own... But after reading his book 'My Shit Life So Far' and watching an episode of his toe-curlingly awful sketch show 'Tramadol Nights' I realised he's just an over-grown school boy with really not that much to say.

That is why he and Ricky Gervais rely on this type of humour. They are basically middle-class, not very intelligent geeky white boys who've had nothing particularly interesting happen to them in their lives so they pick on people who have lived through hardships.

It's actually a strange inverse envy/jealousy complex.

You should pity them, they have no where else to go, must get quite boring being them all the time ;)

Ed T

26 August 2011

'Making a living' is certainly an insufficient defence. And the 'sticks and stones' argument is also weak - words can be terribly potent. If someone pays me to scream foul discriminatory abuse in the streets, then neither of these arguments would be a satisfactory defence. This is an extreme example, but the same logic applies.

This article is a rounded exploration of the fine (or not so fine) line between edgy and offensive humour. It seems as if there is greater societal tolerance of comedians such as Boyle and Gervais as they are apparently liberal, intelligent comedians. Perhaps they are sometimes trying to poke fun at prejudice itself, but the examples above demonstrate that this can manifest itself as crass, offensive nonsense. We could perhaps charitably surmise that Gervais breaches the edgy/offensive line when he gets it wrong, whereas a comedian like Bernard Manning crossed the line when he got it "right". And I personally think Boyle's offensiveness is so stark because he isn't funny.

Colin Hambrook

21 July 2011

What is so okay about making a living at the expense of others? What is so clever about choosing easy targets such as disabled people for cheap gags? Why does humour have to kowtow to the lowest common denominator to be so popular and so unintelligent.

Jim Davies

21 July 2011

Terrible response to someone who is making a living. According to you lot we should living in a boring world of humdrum and when vicky wright stops throwing her toys out of the pram over a few words the world will be a better place. Sticks and stones Vicky.

Fred Jacks

31 December 2010

We have moved away from the notion that racist jokes are acceptable - at least within tv and the mainstream - but not so with disability. It is still, sadly considered acceptable for every Tom, Dick and Frankie to lay into us without reprisal!

Mark Golding

31 December 2010

The use of humour as a double edged sword and its regulation is problematical. Its really very difficult for law makers to define at what point words become stones.

My immediate response to your article compels me to think of ways to prescribe against the type of language used by Boyle and to have Disabilitism coined as a publicly recognised label for anti-social behaviour.

You can handle confrontation in different ways. Christ went for the jugular and didn't mince his words when it comes to talking about nastiness.

But may I suggest the following.

Get in touch with Boyle's agent and arrange a spotlight interview with him in front of the camera in a TV studio. Punt around the TV channels for a programmer willing to host the interview.

Prepare a frame of mind in which you can find in Boyle the sensitive humanity that exists in all of us and draw out of his conscience a willingness to recognise sometimes an apology makes more friends than enemies. An apology on stage will change his career and hopefully, his heart also.


David Cooke

16 December 2010

I agree with most of what you say Victoria, but I would like to correct you on one important thing.

I am an able-bodied, white, heterosexual, English male. It is actually LEGAL to discriminate against me and there is nothing I can do about it. Not complaining though, as my life is ok and there are many worse off than me.

To suggest that someone of my 'demographic status' has no idea of what it is like to be on the reciveing end of bigotry is plain wrong.

By the way, I am also from Liverpool - the only racial minority it is LEGAL to besmirch in the media without recrimination. :)


1 October 2010

so you find racist jokes funny, well i was brought up with those thrown in my face everyday at school by people making my life a misery...whats so funny about bullying and oppression then,doubt whether you've experienced that ever...yeah right we are just the happy laughing sambos, racist jokes are nasty shit and the people who laugh at them get no respect from me.grow up.and we hear these jokes whether we want to listen or not


1 October 2010

yeah this nasty attitude to what he calls 'inferior' people is prevailent in society,it starts at school,jokes turn into bullying and that carrys on in the workplace and at home. I don't dig this kind of humour,or any of the crap about women who are supposedly ugly or old,ie not supermodels,to me its just outdated,immature and comes from insecurity,you've got to put someone else down to feel better about who you are and you are the NORMAL one,its all about conventionality and the narrow parameters of normality, well a lot of people are outside of those thankfully, these are stubborn dinasaur attitude I see all the time in tabloids and these supposidly funny comedians who really have very little experience of true life, some of them even get cult status which is sickening and annoying.paid to be nasty and they think they are 'alternative' when really they are just exposing an extremly conservative,western hegonomist viewpoint in other words..the same old shit dressed in new clothes.

Any way excellent article,I hope to see more:)


17 June 2010

"If you don't like it, don't listen..."

So if someone makes a nasty disablist joke, then we just shouldn't have listened to it in the first place by being at the gig? It's out fault for listening to the joke in the first place? I agree with you to some extent that Boyle is well known for his type of humour, so if you don't like disablist jokes, you shouldn't necessarily go to his gigs BUT at the same time, I think everyone has the right to say 'that's out of order' when a joke or a comment crosses the line for what we each individually regard as moral etc. Surely the right to protest is also free speech?

"I don't want laws coming in stopping people saying what they want in a comedy club."

Neither do I but I also think that if non-disabled comedians/people are gonna mock us, then we have the right to mock them. And if I went to one of your gigs (which I hope to soon) and you made a funny joke about non-disabled people, I'd laugh. And if you made a racist joke about black people, I'd boo you. I, as your paying audience, have the right to react to your performance in whatever way I choose.

Regarding your point about increasing Boyle's notoriety, what annoyed me about the press coverage was that it was from non-disabled people's perspective. I think I'm the only disabled person that wrote about it from a disability perspective. I don't want to add to his notoriety - I just want to get the mainstream press to listen to our views for a change. (Not that I claim to speak for all disabled people, I don't, but I just want to add some balance to the argument).


14 June 2010

Whoa, whoa. He's a comedian just making a few jokes. Like you haven't made a few jokes in your life.

It's like... I find racist jokes funny, but I'm not racist. You just gotta have a sense of humour. If you don't like it, don't listen...

Liam O\'Carroll

14 June 2010

Someone commented saying it was good to have the debate, but we aren't: you are all agreeing with each other. Where is the debate? You're only helping him by adding to his notoriety. As a disabled person I hate this example of humour but that's also because I am very sensitive, but it's tough luck: I don't want laws coming in stopping people saying what they want in a comedy club. It should be up to the audeience to judge by their reactions and sometimes we'll get offended - it's part of being human.

Liam O\'Carroll

14 June 2010

Sorry, I don't understand. Frankie Boyle? Who the blazes is Frankie Boyle?

marie france

11 May 2010

pouvez vous prendre contact avec moi car ma fille souffre de la meme maladie que la votre

merci cordialement

Marisha Bonar

6 May 2010

Thank you Vicky for such a Brillant piece of writing......hope to read more from you.

Have All a Nice Day,


greg ogden

3 May 2010

great article.What I don't understand is why the the 'shock' tactic is still funny to so many people when these kind of jokes are passed around so readily on text messages - you'd think that most people would be bored with it let alone offended.I work in a factory where the latest 'sick' joke is passed around daily and frankly it's pathetic and depressing.'The best to you each morning' - not.

Andrew Kneeshaw

29 April 2010

He's not half as funny as he thinks he is, actually you could half that again and again and again. Now, that's about how funny he is. To be honest there isn't any "funny" these days just stupid jokes by stupid blokes. Mmy fellow country man Dara O Brian, Englands Eddie Izzard and Bill Bailey, being possible exceptions. It's all shock value and poor quality jokes at others expense. Shame it used to be great entertainment.


25 April 2010

You must write more articles for the National Press. The uk, "nay " the whole worls needs people like you to keep us all informed of things like the issue that is in your article

Victoria Wright

19 April 2010

I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who has left comments. I'm going to be interviewed on Radio 4's Word of Mouth programme tomorrow and will be talking about language issues to do with disability, including issues to do with humour. The programme will be broadcast on Tuesday 27 April. I will certainly be bringing up many of your helpful and interesting points.

Colin Hambrook

18 April 2010

Thanks Vicky - your letter has a brilliant go at turning the tables on a subject that gets tied up in arguments about 'political correctness.' I am grateful this debate has turned up on dao.

Thanks Alison for your honest and revealing commentary. I don't watch much TV - have never watched Mock the Week - and don't know Frank Boyle's 'comedy'. Most television 'humour' is about people making themselves feel 'superior' by taking the piss out of people the comedian and the audience consider 'inferior.' It is a power play played out in your living room - meant to tell you who it is or isn't acceptable to feel better than. It used to be black and ethnic minorities who were the targets for television comedic derision before making racist jokes became a legal matter.

Human beings, generally, struggle to think any intelligent thoughts or have any intelligent feelings. Feeling superior is a symptom of inane comedy. Education doesn't necessarily have anything to do with it. It makes you feel intelligent to be given licence to laugh at those you are told you have a right to feel better than.

If it isn't us - the disabled - who else can television turn to, to deride and disempower? Equally when political forces begin to dictate what you are and are not allowed to say, or think, another kind of oppression comes into force. My guess is that comedians like Frank Boyle are reactions against the kind of oppression the nanny state is culpable of.

There are no easy answers - but having a debate it is better than not. It is bound to bring up feelings of fear that come with disempowerment. It is part of 'having a voice.'

Peter Street via FaceBook

18 April 2010

The thing about the Boyle issue is that what we say will not make a scrap of difference to his act. It may even give him more credit in some eyes.

What i don't understand is how he and others like him get away with it legally? Also, the theaters and such like know what their material is all about; yet they let it continue - surely this must be wrong?

Also, i don't understand why any one wants to go an watch/ listen to other groups - besides the disabled - being abused. I have to ask: are we somehow going back to the days of public executions and the ladies knitting while someone is placed under Madame Guillotine?

Is this what we have become - it's alright, anything goes as long as it's happening to someone else?

Alison Wilde

17 April 2010

I am glad that you have opened this debate and. like you. would like FB to reflect on why he separates disabled people off in such a dismissive, nasty manner.

However, I think this is also an opportunity for us to consider the paradoxes of representation.The closer to equality in representation the more complicated these questions get and humour will always be the hardest to disentangle. It wasn't long ago, for example that was a furore about the TNT programme for some 'difficult' comedy and not everyone likes or gets the humour of Cast offs or the ouch podcast.

For me Boyle's humour is nasty to everyone ( and I think this is how comedians such as him would defend themselves), but alongside these disablist jokes and some dodgy attitudes to women, he often uses it to expose terrible injustices in ways that are outragously funny and sometimes, incredibly compassionate- demonstrating a knowledge of disadvantage that few cultural commentators possess. Which makes the comments about disabled people even worse as they are never funny, usually inaccurate and sometimes vicious.

Strangely, I find Gervais's humour more insidious; when he exposes disabling prejudices it APPEARS that he is doing so when really we end up identifying with the sad guy (eg. David Brent) who is expressing them- leaving the identification with non-disabled people firmly in its place. When Frankie Boyle mocks us I have a feeling that his prejudice is clear, and obviously easier to challenge. He has been saying things like this about disabled people for some time and yes, it is suprising that this mother was at his show. Having said that, loving the rest of FBS humour I have faced a similar decision- do I go see someone who makes my head ache with laughter when I know he is going to make me angry with these disabling comments.

I'll stick to enjoying his humour for free- watching MTW and getting his book from the library.

Your strategy of referring to FB's looks is interesting and raises a number of other questions about laughing at people's physical appearances (despite the fact that red haired geeks are at the top of my shag list). Why did I , for example, find myself laughting at his rant on Andrew Lloyd Weber's? Feeling that I should know better, all I can come up with is that I identified with his contempt of ALW and that I was laughing at the rant itself, i.e. Frankie Boyle was the primary target of his own joke.But should ALW be seen as a reasonable target because he has considerable poewer?

I think we do have the power to fight back and this is a provocative start.

I hope he answers soon...


17 April 2010

Way to go! What a wonderful response to a tasteless twerp. And so true. I have memorised that response to his "political correctness gone mad" bit. There are a number of politicians, bigots and right wingers here in New Zealand who really need to have that said to them.

Lorenna Cleary

17 April 2010

U r inspiring and have beautiful cats eyes. Would like to paint and do photography and write more. But my fears of getting out there again r trying 2 take over and I have 2 get it together for my children. Thank You for standing up against that jerk. I'm trying 2 stand up against a whole State right now in America. And it's making my illnesses worse. I wish I had ur strenght, u gave a little 2 me in that article. Thank You:)

sarah p

16 April 2010

Go girl - what a brilliant riposte to that tosser, more please.


16 April 2010

Oh Vicky - reading your article made me screech with laughter. Go Girl ! And when are you going to get a regular column in a national paper ?

Sorry to miss you, last time you were down our way..had to eat an extra portion and drink an extra wine on your behalf.hope to C U soon, Big hugs xx dawn xx

Arty Farty

16 April 2010

Just suggested on his blog that you and Mr C create more stuff together ... your writing talent and his cartoons are a formidable display of disabled people hitting back. More power to you both!


16 April 2010

Got to disagree with you there Vicky. Reckon you fell out of the extremely talented tree, climbed right back up and built a pent house ... x

Janet E Davis

16 April 2010

Excellent article!

I have been switching off/away from programmes that include Frankie Boyle because I do not consider his nasty comments about everyone who is not himself as amusing.

I try to feel sorry for him. He must have huge problems to be so acidic about others, but it is difficult to feel compassion for him when he is getting paid not only to express his many prejudices but also to encourage others into similar bullying behaviour.

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