Friday, March 20, 2015
Using The "R" Word
In comedy, some specifically set out to shock or offend. I'm not making judgements on how others navigate the various roads to stages. Personally it's never my INTENT to offend people, but I find it does happen.
Whether it be my explicit sexual content jokes or jabs at myself for gaining weight, at times? Feelings get hurt. People take things personally. There is an inability to separate "self" from "General Humor". The battle cry of "I'M OFFENDED!" is sounded with great volume! "YOU. HAVE. OFFENDED. ME!"
The worst of this, for me as a comedian, comes when I opt to tell the jokes about my birth defects. Specifically? The hole in my skull. I was born without the top portion of my skull. Like I said, shit happens. Weird shit happens. I like to joke about it. I've found through comical observations of my own weirdness, people can feel better about themselves. Comedy doesn't have to come with a lesson or moral, but it can. My GOAL when telling these stories is that people feel better about themselves when I'm finished with my show.
Sometimes it does, indeed, backfire.
It wasn't uncommon for people to see me, as a child, in my protective helmet, to say, "There's a retard" or "That kid is retarded". It happened a lot. Assumptions were made, seeing a child in a helmet, in the 1970's. Kids didn't wear helmets back then for every. single. move. they. made. Kids who wore helmets back then often had something "wrong" with them. They were a medical necessity, not a fashion accessory, for the over-protective parent to saddle their children with.
When I tell this part of my history on stage, I really can't be honest UNLESS I use the word "Retarded".
And oh HOLY LORD, do I at times get SHIT FOR IT.
I can often see people in the audience SHUT DOWN -- anything I have left to say is lost on them. I said the "R" word, and the context doesn't even matter. I get approached post-shows with a shaking finger in my face, "You shouldn't USE THAT WORD!" Again, CONTEXT be damned.
If people would loosen their over-tight PC assholes, they would hear that I am, for all intent and purpose, lashing out at those who would EVER insult a child with said word. If they'd hear my story and follow along, they'd realize I'm kind of an advocate against the shaming of those who are different per the restraints of society's idea of "Normal".
If they would relax enough to hear me, and let go of their own experience for a HOT MINUTE, they'd see I'm trying to open the eyes of the one or two douchebags in the audience who think the word itself is still funny, and possibly shame those fuckers into not using it any more.
I can not accurately re-tell this portion of my life WITHOUT using the word. I refuse to re-write MY history because someone else has an issue with a WORD. It was used against me in ignorance in my childhood, and I will re-use it with power to say what I have to say.
For every child picked on who can't speak out or talk back? I'm the grown-up with the mic who remembers all too well those who talked about me like I couldn't understand their cruelty. I'm the kid, all grown up, who remembers what it was like to have people speak over me like I wasn't even there.
Yes, when I was little, the words hurt. I only wore that helmet until I was five, but I CLEARLY remember the ignorance of other people stinging me like little bees to my heart. I remember wanting to cry, and my Mom telling me, "Not everyone's going to like you. That's okay." I remember my Mom telling me to stand up for myself and lash back if I so wanted to.
I couldn't lash back too much in my childhood, but I can now. And I will.
And to do so? I might have to use words some people aren't comfortable hearing. And I'll do it without shame. It's MY story. I'll tell it as it happened, and hopefully release some tension for others dealing with things far more difficult than a kid wearing a helmet because part of their skull is missing.
My first born son, Spencer, was born with the same birth defect I have. It was through his diagnosis we learned of the term "Adams-Oliver Syndrome". Unfortunately, his first doctor was a bit of a quack, and didn't give us a helmet for Spencer until Spencer was of an age to refuse wearing it.
I do clearly remember an incident in the grocery store when Spencer was almost two.
I had my son seated in the grocery cart, and a woman kept following us through the store, eyeballing my kid.
Spencer had had his first reconstructive surgery at 3 months old, leaving a scar on the top of his head that went from one ear across the top of his head to the other ear. That woman just kept eyeballing Spencer's scar.
She finally had the nerve to approach me, asking in an accusatory tone, "WHAAAT did you DOOOOO to that Baby!?"
Everything about the rudeness of others when I was a child flooded back, along with the fevered need to punch this woman in her face. She didn't ask out of concern or curiosity. She had made up her mind some horrific fate had already befallen my beautiful infant son.
"Well," I said to her, hand on my hip, other hand on my son's head, "His father is SUCH an idiot. Really stupid, that man. So we participated in the first ever brain transplant, just to give the kid a leg up, genetically speaking."
I walked away with her mouth hanging open.
If you have questions about something you don't understand? Ask. Nicely. Most parents are willing to tell you why their child looks different. Name calling, STUPID questions stemming from fear and ignorance, aren't really the way to go. It's hurtful, and will make you look like a flaming assfuck EVERY TIME.
Kids often asked, "Why do you wear a helmet?" or "Are you a Martian?"
Kids never gave a shit much that I had to wear that helmet.
Adults, however, were mostly vile. Stares. Mumbling "Retard" when I walked by. Dirty looks to my Mother. One woman approached us, when I was a child, at the Mall, and knocked my helmet clean off my head, screaming at my Mother that she was horrible for putting such an ugly "hat" on such a beautiful child. It's my understanding that one of my Aunts power-jacked THAT woman against the wall explaining how she could've killed me with that move. I didn't see that part of the events that afternoon.
There's a campaign right now to stop the use of the "R" word. I understand the root of it, but I can't get on board with it. I will use the word "Retarded" when telling my jokes. I feel I've earned it. I DO cringe when people use it as a synonym for "Stupid". One of my Aunts devoted her life teaching with the MRDD board in Cleveland. If you used the word "Retarded" in any form in front of her she would smack you upside your head.
The point I'm making in my long winded rambling is that words CAN hurt, but banning any one word for the comfort of others can be dangerous. I have stories to tell. It's rare I even do that portion of my comedy set any more, but when I do? I'm often on guard for the ones who get upset before hearing me out.
It's my story.
I'm going to tell it without rewriting it.
Hopefully? Between the laughs, people might learn something. It's a risk I'm willing to take.