Channel 10 recently launched a new TV show called Taboo, that they described as “the brutally raw and honest show that gives us permission to laugh at people we shouldn’t be laughing at“. The model is simple: comedian Harley Breen spends time with people from a particular marginalised group, and then devises a stand-up comedy routine to perform for them and their friends.
Upon reading the Channel 10 description of the show I had a pretty predictable response. Anyone who has ever been bullied could tell you that being laughed at is not the same as being laughed with, so talking about a privileged man encouraging the audience to “laugh at” people from marginalised groups, and choosing the material to elicit that response himself, was a red flag straight away.
Having said that, I hadn’t watched the show yet, and it had certainly provoked a lot of discussion from a variety of perspectives.
I’m physically disabled, I live with mental illness, and I’ve been diagnosed with conditions that would substantially reduce my lifespan (now I just live with primary degenerative condition and a constellation of secondary conditions, most of which are “managed” rather than “treated” but are unlikely to substantially reduce my lifespan). I’ve lived through traumatic events like my house burning down, and being stalked.
And, for the record, I am a firm believer in the power of humour when dealing with adversity. The first text I typed as I watched my home burning down was “Hey- just wanted to let you know I’m really sorry but I won’t make it to your housewarming tonight. My house is a little too warm.”
I’ve loved seeing disabled comedians on my screen in the past, sharing many of their own jokes about their own experiences. Adam Hills: The Last Leg features a panel of disabled comedians, and Get Krack!n’s show on disability was co-written by Jess Walton and featured disabled people cracking their own jokes, including Kate Mulvany, Adam Hills, Christie Dawes, Alistair Baldwin, Anna Seymour, Ashleigh Kedge, Emma J Hawkins and The Sisters of Invention.
So I’m left wondering, why didn’t Taboo just do that? It’s obvious that they cast funny people to meet with Harley Breen. In many cases, he’s actually repeating jokes they made themselves, or the show is playing a clip of them sharing the story themselves. Why was it necessary to package these vivacious, diverse guests within the package of a privileged white able-bodied man?
I can’t even begin on why they would choose a white able-bodied man who uses the slur r*tard. I’ve written about how harmful slurs are here.
The show features fantastic people from each of the marginalised groups they’re spotlighting, and I absolutely do not mean to suggest that the show is silencing them. The show itself emphasises the guests much more than suggested by the ads. I’m just left unsure why Breen needed to deliver a stand-up routine at all. Why they couldn’t have run a very similar show where instead of collating material to deliver himself, Breen supported and trained the guests on how to write a stand-up comedy routine to deliver themselves.
I hope Breen and Channel 10 learn from the feedback they’ve received and choose to implement it in the future. And that both of them stop using disability slurs.