Jokes About Disabled People

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Some disabled individuals utilize humor to challenge stereotypes and influence listeners’ attitudes about disability, but joketellers should take care not to create discomfort for their audience.

Drew’s experience demonstrates how his humor about being in a wheelchair and enjoying mosh pit culture could be taken as offensive by some listeners.

1. Renee’s Practical Joke

Although much research has been conducted on disability humor in cartoons and texts, less has been paid to how disabled people use joking behavior in daily life contexts. Such interactions offer unique insight into how disabled people interact with one another, able-bodied people, their environment, as well as how they navigate their identity and independence within that space.

Stories shared by these participants demonstrate how joking can provide disabled individuals an opportunity to position themselves on their terms and challenge dominant ideologies. Renee’s laughter indicates a shift from viewing her disability as tragic to something humorously absurd, while Joshua addresses cultural assumptions about disabled people not being capable of having sexual lives by showing his ability to have it in various situations.

Disabled individuals can also use joking to cause tension and discomfort during interactions with TABs. Reid, Stoughton, and Smith report that when disabled people use “crip humor,” it can create in-group solidarity while making other members of their community uncomfortable or even offended.

One participant, Eric, shared that he uses both forms of humor when discussing his disability to avoid offending others. Nathan noted that disabled people “depend too heavily on disability humor,” thus becoming one-note. To prevent becoming this way himself, Nathan chose not to tell his basketball story to all audiences but only to those who will find humor in it and only consume meat from restaurants that provide unique cuts of meat for him to finish.

2. Eric’s Basketball Story

Eric transforms the basement of his house into a mini gym complete with weights, a field goal kicking net and a basketball hoop. When Eric was younger, TAB hecklers teased him about not having legs; Eric would respond, “I’m legless because I’m not supposed to have legs,” effectively positioning himself as victimized by intolerant social norms while turning disability into an unexpectedly amusing moment for audiences as they consider what life would be like without legs for physical activities. Audience laughter markedly suggests a shift in thinking as they think about what would happen without them being needed for physical activities if their legs weren’t necessary anymore for physical activities; audience laughter signaled a shift in thinking.

Joshua’s story illustrates the effects of crip humor on TAB individuals’ attitudes toward disabled people and how they relate to each other. While Joshua finds great pleasure in making fun of his disability, his story reinforces stereotypes of disabled people as needy and “expecting special benefits.”

Joshua’s joke could make TABs feel awkward and uncertain about how best to react, possibly leading them to continue this form of teasing in future meetings or ask more questions about Joshua’s disabilities. Their responses could cause them to reconsider how physical limitations influence disabled people’s sense of self-worth and vice versa.

Studies of humor among disabled people are plentiful, yet few studies focus on individual interactions between TABs and disabled people. I interviewed disabled individuals who used humor in everyday interactions with TABs to create space for discussion about disability and its effect on relationships between TABs and disabled people. Instead of venting their anger on an intolerant society through verbalizing frustrations through anger-inducing speech or actions, these individuals used joking to control social interactions while shaping the world around them.

3. Drew’s Mosh Pit Story

Drew’s tale highlights the paradoxical relationship between disability and humor. While disabled people are often perceived as helpless or spiteful, their situations do not need to be unnecessarily frustrating or demeaning; disabled people frequently use humor to challenge ableist assumptions and reposition themselves as social actors with agency over their interactions.

Drew responded to an inquiry from a TAB member about his interest in mosh pit culture by calling himself a “punk rock wheelchair slut”. While this interaction might generate sympathetic laughter, it also challenges ableist beliefs, which suggest people in wheelchairs cannot participate fully in punk rock culture.

Joshua’s legroom story highlights the potential for humorous stories to act as social correctives. Though he doesn’t expect TAB children to understand his joke, Joshua hopes that it will prompt them to consider their views about disability and body variation more critically.

Nathan’s basketball story mirrors that of Eric by engaging TAB peers in an amusing moment of shared crip humor. By detailing his missed shot and broken cane, Nathan presents himself as an abled individual who still has agency over playing basketball despite their disability.

Nathan’s joke also suggests that he does not feel embarrassed by a missed shot or broken cane because they do not diminish his self-esteem. Instead, Nathan does not view his disability as something intrinsic to himself but as part of who he is as an individual – this means he does not mind mismatched interactions between TAB friends and himself; in fact, he finds them humorous, seeing their miscommunication as part of the comedy!

4. Nathan’s Meat Story

Nathan Handwerker opened his Coney Island hot dog stand with $300 saved up and an intent to make an impressionful statement about America in 1916. To launch his business, he undercut former employer Feltman’s prices, selling Nathan’s famous frankfurters for five cents instead of ten – but competitors tried driving away business by spreading rumors that Nathan’s cheap meat was inferior quality; as an effective countermeasure, he hired unemployed men dressed up like doctors to eat at his stand and convince others that doctors ate there, so must also be sufficient quality for them too.

Nathan had no clue that China would not be accommodating of him when he signed up for a language immersion program there in 2015. Accessibility issues and cultural attitudes toward disability made his experience abroad far more complex than expected. But the support he received from Chinese teachers, host family, and new friends taught him that it’s not only countries that must change; individuals within them need to embrace an inclusive mindset as well. Nathan hopes to encourage more youth with disabilities to study abroad and use their experiences abroad to change perceptions of disability worldwide. You can access Nathan’s presentation from China as well as resources available here that could assist students with disabilities in studying abroad.

5. Joshua’s Leg Room Story

Joshua is an experienced elevator repairman working in a warehouse. His steadfastness and dedication have won him the respect of his coworkers, including Lyric – a member of a gang with an older brother, Alonzo, an outlaw criminal. When Alonzo and his crew plan a bank robbery attempt in Joshua’s community bank branch, Joshua warns them against crossing him. Lyric later meets up with him at a bar, where she informs him that Alonzo plans on killing both Lyric and anyone close.

At first, Taylor asks Joshua for assistance with eluding her brother; their efforts fail, and they end up fighting, and Joshua accidentally shoots her in the leg. Taylor eventually reads Joshua’s coroner report detailing a murder rather than a natural death and realizes this may have been intentional; other children had previously told her she walked like a monkey and ate like a dog; this has convinced her disability renders her less human than other people.