Comedian, father of a child with autism blasts the term ‘photo wrecker’ and lazy comedy

By | July 18, 2013 at 9:11 am | 14 comments | Features, News | Tags: ,

Unlike anyone else I know, I live in a world of very conflicting points of view.

The comedian side of me knows how hard it is to make an audience laugh. If you want to kill the humor, try to make comedians behave like politicians–- going over every word they say to the point where nothing ever feels off-the-cuff. My stand-up idols were always the most shocking, in-your-face comics– George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks and Sam Kinison.

The father-of-a-child-with-special-needs side of me, on the other hand, knows how hurtful words can be. Yeah, I know that some of you think they’re just words and people need to get past them, but it just doesn’t work that way for many of us. So what is a person like me, who lives in both of these worlds, supposed to do? It took me awhile, but here’s where I came down on the subject.

My style is not to tell someone not to say something I might not like. Go ahead, I’m not the comedy police. What I am going to do is be as in-your-face and irreverent as I’ve always been, but sell my viewpoints while I’m doing it. Most people in the special needs community have to be careful about how they go about pushing their agenda, as they could lose their jobs in the politically correct world in which they work. I’m a comedian. You know, the last place (supposedly) where true freedom of speech lives. It’s a bit of a tightrope, but I want to bring both of these worlds together in all the creative endeavors I attempt.

Ok, enough with the context, let’s get into why I offered all this up today. It saddens me how many phrases are out there that are demeaning to people with special needs. The newest one I’ve heard over the past year is “Photo Wrecker.” The idea behind this gem is that a person with some type of disability would ruin your family photo. Hilarious, right?

To me this is people at their most superficial: “Let’s make a joke at the one group that can’t defend itself.” I started doing the Happy Monday videos with Maddie so people who have little to no contact with someone like my daughter could feel some of the charm that emanates from her. I wanted people to realize that, sure, she carries herself differently than most, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t experience all the same emotions that you do. It’s not an easy life for her, but on a few levels she surpasses most of us typically-developed people.

What inspired me to write this piece today was something I read in USA Today. In the article by Liz Szabo, this was the part that most blew me away.

Nearly 99 percent of people with Down syndrome say they’re happy with their lives, and 96 percent they like how they look, the survey found. Just think about that.

In that same survey, 88 percent of siblings say their brother or sister has made them better people.

I’m guessing those reading this are not at that same level of satisfaction with their lives and their personal appearance. I know I don’t feel even close to that level. It does my heart a lot of good to read the stats about how siblings feel. I can share that Madeline has made me a better person– by a 100 percent. And while these stats are great to read, I’m not going to pretend for a minute that life with a child with special needs isn’t incredibly difficult. It’s such a huge rollercoaster of a life.

So here I sit as a comedian.

maddie 350I will defend your right to say what you want onstage, as much as I don’t like it. And so I hope you will defend my right to say what I want onstage as well– like how it’s lazy and weak to make fun of people with developmental disabilities. I hope you’ll defend my right to tell you to your face, ‘Don’t you feel like a big adult, making fun of people who can’t defend themselves?’ I hope you’ll defend my right to tell you I lose respect for you every time I hear these type of words come out of your mouth.

I think the world stand-up means more than just being upright. It means standing up to people in society that need to be taken down a notch– like the celebrities and politicians who don’t deserve the money and power they inhabit. I guess I don’t believe making jokes about people that can’t defend themselves fits that same criteria. But if you are someone who’s unable to work a little harder to find a more challenging topic, go ahead and hit the easy target. You know, the target that isn’t capable of coming back at you. I know you think you’re being edgy, but the real truth is it’s the safest comedy possible, as there’s little danger anyone is going to put you on the spot. Well, almost no one. If I happen to be there, I just ask for you not to flinch when I call you out for your laziness and lack of heart.

I’m not telling you my daughter needs to be beautiful to you. Beauty is subjective. But if you think for a minute she has ever wrecked a photo in my eyes, you are totally out of your mind.

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About the Author

Scott Long

Scott’s been a nationally touring comedian for the past 20 years. Been briefly seen on NBC and Fox TV and heard on 100′s of radio shows including the Bob and Tom Show, ESPN, Fox Sports, and the XM comedy channel. Since 2002 I’ve been a writer of the Frank’s Pick sketches (for Frank Caliendo), on the NFL pregame show on Fox. Besides being a touring standup comedian and TV writer, Scott has also written a book of comedic essays entitled Dysfunctional Thoughts of a 21st Century Man, plus released a comedy CD and 2 comedy DVD’s. For 5 years, Scott wrote a sports/pop culture comedy blog titled The Juice Blog at the Baseball Toaster site, which was cited by Newsweek and Time magazine.

  • Katie

    Good for you! Maddie is lucky to have you

    • scott

      Thanks Katie.

  • Tommy James

    Loved this entry and just wanted to say that your daughter is so very beautiful and, more importantly, she’s lucky to have a dad such as yourself. See you next Monday, Scott & Maddie.

    • scott

      Thanks Tommy. I really appreciate it.

  • scott

    Anyone who wants to read more can find my website, itsanautismthing.com

  • Lenny S

    Have to admit I have never heard the term “photo wrecker” used as a slur against the disabled. I have walked the autism and media beat for near 20 years. I have heard much worse though. The thing about the autism community is that there are just too many more pressing issues to spend much time freaking over than political correctness or lack of it. Disabilities make people nervous and nervousness can cause people to make stupid jokes to cope. That is just not worth suffering wounds over, thin skin notwithstanding.

    • dylan

      i think “photo wrecker” here is just a starting-off-point symbol of the greater social problems disabled people endure. i don’t think scott’s saying the term is the most pressing problem.

  • Ash

    Cutest kid evar. And you sound like a great dad, too. :)

  • Alexia Conrad

    Thank you. One lucky little girl to have a daddy like you. I can’t wait to check out the videos.

  • krymarh

    I remember long ago the outrage when one comedian said that the children with disabilities are like little cute puppies and don’t learn much. Most of the people were furious about the comparison to dogs. I would love if someone treated my son like a cute little puppies. I was outraged by statement that they do not learn much. That what was really dangerous, but most of the people seemed to ignore that part.

    There is another question: to share or not to share when you child with disability does something funny, but that funny thing is tainted by disability. Is it demeaning or is it a way of presenting human picture of your child? I decided to share. http://krymarh.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/intermezzo-on-pain-logic-and-laughter/
    Maria Hrabowski

  • Jo

    I’m autistic and have never heard that term, but it does not surprise me. Thanks for writing this. From a 30 something autistic woman and parent of an autistic child. Just wanted to add, that adults on the spectrum can defend themselves, and often do. It’s just that not a lot of people listen to us! Your daughter is lucky to have a passionate advocate and father. We in the autistic community need allies like that, because like I said, people don’t listen to us nearly enough.

  • Tom Brady

    This is really great Scott. Thanks for posting it.

  • Omar Carrillo

    My sister and brother both have sever mental issues.. i started sobbing on my keyboard. Photo Wrecker you fucking pieces of shit. my brother is very handomse has bipolar and schizophrenia. and my sister has autism and recently i ahve questioned my own mind (i think i have aspergers) and i am very handsome. if i ever hear you call me or my siblings a photo wrecker. your face will be wrecked . by a good looking happier person than u

  • Rowena Beatty

    Thank you for having the courage to write this. It must not have been. Respecting people with a disability and refraining from crudely inappropriate remarks is an idea whose time has finally come – see the R-Word Campaign etc…. I recently wrote the following to the Borgota Casino in Atlantic City, NJ to increase their awareness of the slurs against people with disabilities that Comedians were making in their comedy club.
    My husband and I attended a comedy show at The Borgota Casino on12/26/13. It had been a while since we have been at a show, because we have a lovely 31 year old daughter with Autism/Intellectual Disability who has been a wage earner, community volunteer and part of a comedy troupe, We will not take her to comedy shows where she is ridiculed. 7 times in the past several years, comedians made extremely offensive remarks about persons w/disabilities. Our response is to get up in the middle of the performance and leave.
    On 12/26/2013 Comedian, JJ …Ramirez insulted people with physical disabilities as well as referring to people that use ADA parking as traveling in yellow buses and being like zombies. The last “Comedian” we went to see said “Retards” will never amount to anything, will not have friends, will never hold a job, get married or have their own houses.

    The Borgota Casino event booking staff must do better at selecting comedians that don’t insult 15% of the population with disabilities that may not be able to defend themselves. In addition, some of the Borgota patrons are over 60 and have mobility issues. Being ridiculed as cripples in a show is insensitive, and I’m thinking, not too good for business.
    Talented comedians create material that doesn’t rely on insulting the disabled. As part of advocating for persons with a disability I am posting this on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google.com and the Facebook page of Mr. Ramirez’s booking agent R. Paul Inc. Comedians can do better at creating material.
    To their credit, The Borgota Casino called the comedians talent agent and manager about the incident. I am communicating with them to raise their awareness about the disability community.
    I am asking them be progressive and hire comedians that bring their very best material and skip the easy to make jokes about persons with disability. We will see if they have the courage to do this.

    The bottom line in this besides the moral issue is money right?
    Up to 15% of the population of the U.S. has a disability. Arguably 1 in 150 kids may have a disability of Autism. 27% of men over 60 and 25% of women over 60 in the State of New Jersey where the casino is, have a disability. Some of these people or their families are customers or are potential customers of the Borgota Casino. In these tough economic times, it makes no econmic sense to hire comedians that offend their customers and causes them to go to another casino.
    Thank you for being another voice about respect for person’s who deserve it.