What’s Funny to Me

Today I will begin by telling you a story. Once upon a time, I met a new friend and was invited into her home. I went gladly to join a group celebration of something or other. There I learned about the step up between living room and kitchen, the height of the raised door jam and all the other little things that help me function independently. Because of my obsessive level of vast water consumption, I soon needed the restroom and was directed there.

Ninety seconds into my sequestration behind the closed door, two of my friends in the kitchen called, “Jen, there’s no sink in there.”

When I went into the kitchen to wash my hands, the two friends were giggling. One of them said, “We were going to just let you hunt for the sink, but thought it might be cruel.”

I joined in the laughter because it would have actually been extremely funny.

Have you missed the humor in this? Well, you are by no means alone. As is my habit, I have tried to understand it. Here’s my theory.

Like with many things, it’s all in the eye of the beholder or rather the mind in this case. I view my various disabilities as facts of life. They have plusses and minuses, but in the end are more or less neutral. Many others see them in more negative terms – suffering, complications, things I cannot do, and burdensome. To these people, witticisms based on disability are the equivalent of poking fun at a suffering person. Social taboos make humor based on other’s miseries verboten.

Emily Salers of the Indigo Girls once said, “You have to laugh at yourself cuz you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.” Finding the humor in life is definitely better than settling into the sorrow. I know whenever possible I choose mirth over tears. Some might say that with issues of disability I am opting for the positive spin. I believe the cause is deeper than a conscious or even subconscious choice.

Years ago, I laughed about my disabilities far less. I also had lower self-esteem for a variety of reasons, some based on my disability and some on other things. There was definitely an element of depression in the mix. Back then I don’t think I possessed the ability to see the humor, perhaps unable to laugh at my own misery.

I have to confess I sometimes find what TABs do to be hysterical. In January, I attended a party to celebrate Obama’s inauguration. I can’t remember how I wound up talking with this woman, but she was fixated on my disabilities. Utterly fixated. When a friend came by, I latched onto her and was rescued. I explained that my conversational partner was obsessed. My friend counseled that she was just being nice and I was overreacting.

An hour later my friend was back at my side saying, “Oh my God! You were right!”

“About?” I asked.

“That woman cornered me. She asked me a bunch of questions about you. She kept going on about how you weren’t getting what you needed and who took care of you.”

“Yeah,” I sighed.

My friend finished with, “She thinks I’m a saint for helping you. Now my halo is really shiny.”

With this my amusement comes from the over the top nature of the situation. Such stories are the fodder for disabled comedians not real life. While I occasionally suspect somebody is sanctifying my friends while seeing me as helpless, rarely do they actually act on it to this degree.

One more story before I go, this one only funny because of its “That never happens in real life” nature. I was at an open mic and this comedian was bombing. He knew it and desperately reached for the overdone “why women don’t date me and I’m so pathetic” shtick. Then, suddenly, he asked, “Hey, blind girl in the back of the room, what’s your name?”

He had to mean me, so I answered, “Jennifer.”

“Hey, Jennifer,” he asks, “Want to go on a date with me?”

“Um, I might like having a real conversation with you first.”

He didn’t even wait for my full answer before stating, “See, I’m so pathetic even the blind girl won’t date me.”

Yes, completely ablist and offensive. Funny only because in my wildest dreams I never thought somebody would do that. To me. In public.

I think I have inadvertently made yet another convincing argument as to why TABs should stop viewing disability as misery and start seeing it as simply a fact – they will laugh more. And if that last sentence hasn’t at least made you smile, then….

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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