It was a joke that backfired.

Comedian Denise Scott sparked controversy when she implied, in a comedy routine, that some people with certain disorders were ‘faking it’. Ouch. For those that missed the uproar, here’s how the Herald Sun reported it:

Funny or offensive?

“COMEDIAN Denise Scott is under fire for making fun of autism during a routine at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala.

Scott’s act, which screened on Channel 10, took aim at people with autism spectrum disorder as well as alcoholism and celiac disease.

“I can’t stand people who say they are alcoholic or have mild Aspergers or celiac, when the fact is they’re just plain old-fashion f***ed up people with a few behavioural problems,” Scott said.”

Now the debate has started with vigour: when is it just not funny anymore? Or are people just being precious when it comes to humour? Comedian Meshel Laurie searches for the edge of the envelope in the wake of the Denise Scott, Asperger’s affair. She writes:

“Denise Scott was one of many acts on the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Gala for Oxfam which aired earlier this week.  During her performance she said, “I can’t stand people who say they are alcoholic or have mild Asperger’s or are celiac, when the fact is they’re just plain old-fashion f***ed up people with a few behavioural problems.”

It never occurred to me as I laughed at the joke that people living their lives in the shadow of the Autism Spectrum would think that Denise was making fun of them.  Maybe it’s because I’ve known her for nearly 20 years.  Maybe I understand what she meant because I’m a comedian.  Maybe I’m insensitive.  Is it possible Denise’s critics are oversensitive?


I just read a very angry comment on a news website informing Denise that Celiac’s Disease is not a behavioural disorder.  Ummmm, do you think that might have been the joke?  Are we really in a place where referencing an intolerance to gluten in a comic context is considered unreasonable?  Of course I realise the greatest outcry is related to the Asperger’s reference about which I have to say I’m equally incredulous.  Simply saying the word “Asperger’s” in any context cannot be assumed to be a sleight on sufferers, can it?

The comedian’s fault?

I loved the spot because I believed that Denise was railing against people blaming their anti-social behaviour on very real conditions that THEY DO NOT HAVE. Conditions that create real challenges for people who really have them.

I often make jokes about the “Celebrity Bi-Polar Club” because I believe many athletes and actors who disclose their “mental illnesses” when they’ve been sprung misbehaving  are lying about it to avoid the consequences of their actions.  That’s just my opinion, of course but I am standing by it.

The faking of mental illness really makes me mad because these people seem to enjoy so much more sympathy and understanding within the community than commoners with real mental illnesses. It really gets my goat. As a child I realised that making other people laugh made them listen to me longer, hence, as an adult I generally try to make serious points through humour in order to have them heard, therefore I joke about the “Celebrity Bi-Polar Club.”  That’s how I communicate.

“Many a true word is said in jest,” goes the old saying and performers from around the world are using the platform of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival to tell their truth in jest as we speak. They are using sarcasm, irony, exageration and hyperbole to do it. They are pretending to be sexist to highlight it’s silliness. They are faking racism to reflect it’s idiocy.  They are playing with politics to  broaden perspectives. That is where we are in the evolution of the art form.

I do hope that contemporary Australia is not a place where people are afraid to laugh “near” controversial or troubling topics, which is very different to laughing “at” them.  I’d hate for feelings to be hurt because malicious intent is assumed and actual context is ignored. I couldn’t stand it if you thought less of Denise because of a misunderstood gag.

Wise words to leave you with, not mine I’m afraid but very handy I find in all sorts of scenarios.  “Read the lines before they read between them.

Did we stop ‘getting’ the jokes or are we making legitimate complaints about offensive material? What is offensive, these days?

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