Incapacity Want Not be a Punchline: Illustration of Incapacity in British Comedy – By Bethany Dawson and Tobias Soar


British tv and British humour are two worlds that go hand in hand.  British comedy tv accommodates many representations of varied teams, however incapacity typically meets comedy at an intersection the place disabled individuals sit on the butt of low-cost jokes: from the severely sight impaired Mr Magoo to using psychological well being issues for comedic achieve in Peep Present.

Nonetheless, carried out appropriately, comedy can problem prejudice and improve higher understanding of illustration in society. Because of this it’s time for comedy commissioners and creators of comedy tv to be daring, and to jot down disabled characters that exist past their incapacity, with lives as advanced as able-bodied characters have had for many years. Writers can, and may, go a step additional and write dislikeable, morally flawed disabled characters.

With 1000’s of Brits tuning in to their favorite programmes each week, the mass attain of tv has concurrently change into the best ally and enemy to disabled individuals — a single disabled character in a mainstream comedy present can vastly affect audiences’ preconceptions of individuals with disabilities, for higher or worse. Oftentimes, poor selections lead representations to lean in the direction of the more severe. 

This isn’t two individuals moaning about extra Political Correctness in comedy. That is how we truly make British comedy match for goal for the 21st Century.


In comedy exhibits, notably sketch-based programmes, many characters are written round one instantly recognisable gimmick. In some ways  Monty Python’s Flying Circus, set the template for sketches primarily based round a repeating joke, as they do with the Spanish Inquisitors, whose whole  shtick is asserting their arrival as a result of they’re the Spanish Inquisition, in any case. However the place Monty Python laid the inspiration, others have adopted; from the Quick Present’s character who thinks all the pieces is “Wonderful” or the Chuckle Brothers’ ever-recognisable “to me to you” gag.

This simplistic strategy to comedy writing could be efficient in creating humour, nevertheless, it has trickled down into wider types of comedic tv, with numerous tv programmes writing in disabled characters whose whole existence and evolution revolve round their incapacity for the sake of amusing.


To permit for disabled characters in comedy to exist on the identical stage as their non-disabled counterparts, they will need to have the identical stage of complexity and depth audiences count on from any given on-screen character.

Netflix’s hit comedy drama collection Intercourse Schooling presents an array of characters, and launched Isaac into the solid within the second collection. The introduction of a humorous, mischievous, and emotive character who makes use of a wheelchair sees the present depicting disabled individuals as they need to: as advanced people who exist past their incapacity. 

Isaac’s character exhibits a number of roadbumps of youngster life; nervousness round unrequited love, the inaccessibility of aesthetically pleasing cottages that are coincidentally the one social gathering vacation spot throughout the village, and the power to delete an answerphone message so heartbreaking and pinnacle to the present, that Twitter collectively flip towards you behind the fourth wall. With these widespread, relatable challenges, Isaac is humanised, as he’s greater than only a “token disabled character”.


Classically talking, disabled individuals are vastly infantilised. With ableist stereotypes depicting disabled individuals as weak, unintelligent, and wholly incapable, loads of disabled individuals are  seen as candy and helpless kids. To fight this, not solely do disabled individuals want multidimensional illustration inside tv and movie: a few of them have to be unlikeable. 

An ideal instance of this unfavourable character is throughout the short-lived look of Alistair Scott in The Inbetweeners. Casting our minds again to the episode the place Alistair appeared in 2010, he was depicted as wrongfully in style amongst everybody while he revealed his true unlikable character to the protagonists of the group. The trope that Alistair ought to be universally favored and seen as an inspirational individual is highlighted for comedic impact throughout the episode, as Alisdair is in the end revealed to be deeply unlikeable to solely Will — the primary character — and the viewers. 

Right here we are able to see the butt of the joke not be the disabled individual themself, or, extra crucially, their incapacity, however the stereotypes which might be attributed to incapacity kind the punchline. Not solely does this make for higher and extra multidimensional characterisation of a disabled individual, however it highlights the nonsense that kinds the inspiration of ableist stereotypes, permitting the viewers to recognise their incoherence and thus unravel their very own participation in stated stereotypes. 


Stand-up comedian Rosie Jones additionally makes use of this device inside her personal work. As a girl with cerebral palsy, she makes use of brash and dry humour to juxtapose the expectation that she’ll be an introverted, shy, and weak lady. Her outwardly sexual and oftentimes impolite comedy permit her to create hilarious units which permit individuals to always query their preconceived understanding of disabled individuals; the preconception of disabled individuals as childlike is at excessive odds with Jones’ outgoing and surprising persona.

For too lengthy disabled individuals have been represented in an entirely reductionist mild. Their disabilities are punch strains and their multidimensional lives inside ableist programs will not be addressed except stated experiences could be ridiculed. Comedy writers have a duty to jot down characters that minimise the misrepresentation of the group they belong to, whether or not they’re a second-generation immigrant, a complicated individual from London, or a paraplegic schoolboy.


Illustration on display is vastly vital for a lot of viewers, as some respect seeing somebody that appears like them on telly whereas others can find out about individuals who seem like totally different to them. But the floor stage gimmicks are inadequate, these characters must develop and work together with others past the restrictions of their most noticeable trait. Within the case of disabled individuals, they want to have the ability to exist past their incapacity — they’re individuals that may be likeable or unlikeable, crafty or candy, and lots of different issues whereas taking place to be disabled.

The illustration of disabled individuals in comedy must be correct. There must be humorous individuals, annoying individuals, people who find themselves loveable and in love. Disabled individuals have to be proven as individuals, all while highlighting the multidimensional and intersectional realities of disabled life. Writers ought to take dangers and shouldn’t be afraid of writing unlikeable and morally flawed disabled characters — they’re human, in any case.

Bethany Dawson is a contract journalist writing with a speciality in incapacity and gender. She’s mentioned incapacity variety tasks on many nationwide platforms, and has mentioned her lived expertise of incapacity in a 2018 TEDx Speak with over 11,000 views. 

Tobias Soar is a movie critic and freelance author with an educational background in Politics and Worldwide Relations. His areas of experience are in style geopolitics and illustration in movie and tv.