It is largely believed that jokes by standup comedians at public functions are meant to ease tension. Interestingly, however, jokes have become so popular among Nigerian fun lovers that some comedians have decided to employ this tension easing mechanism to stigmatize some unfortunate persons with various ailments and disabilities. This is quite disturbing and unfortunate.
It was not funny for some members of the audience when one comedian recently cracked a joke which the guests did not consider funny at all. The fun poker had said during his joke “you men listening to me had better watch it; the girl beside you may be carrying AIDS. You know there was this man who had been running after this beautiful girl in his neighborhood for a long time. He eventually got a dinner date with her. After spending so much money during the dinner date, the man demanded a quickie, but the girl said “NO”, insisting that she had AIDS. The man said “OK” just give me AID; minus the S. When you meet your sugar daddy, you can add the S and give it to him”.
It is still not certain how sensible this joke is, but many people living with HIV/AIDS or other sensitive persons would agree that this was a grand display of insensitivity and stigmatization of People Living With HIV/AIDS, PLWHA, from a Nigerian stand-up comedian.
It is not right that comedians should be cracking jokes that stigmatize HIV/AIDS patients or other persons with any form of disability. It is on record that when late showbiz impresario and comedian, John Chukwu cracked jokes, he never committed such social blunders.
The young man who cracked the expensive AIDS joke may not have known the implications of the joke or the fact that he could have been hurting the sensibilities of some members of his audience. The picture he successfully painted, however, was that of one of those comedians in the business of making a living at all costs. But clearly, however, he showed no sense of empathy; he appeared pretty insensitive to the plight of people he was making jokes out of their misfortunes and there are several of such comedians now.
Gone are days when most stand up comedians, through their jokes, focus on issues, high light anomalies and correct ills within the social, cultural, economic, political and to some extent religious life of the people, while eliciting laughter that is also therapeutic.
It is quite disturbing to see some comedians exhibiting lack of creativity, insight, maturity and sensitivity when they make jokes especially with people’s disabilities. This is the heart rending situation we find ourselves in today even with a personality like top music- comedian, Julius “de genius” Agwu. He, too, has been running afoul of the stigmatization offence under focus.
There was this particular occasion when he cracked a joke of some Warri boys who abducted an albino, thinking that he was a white man and went about asking for ransom. They called on all oil companies around for negotiations. Each of them according to Agwu maintained that no expatriate on their staff list was missing. After several futile efforts, and realizing that they had made a mistake, the kidnappers released the rattled albino. That joke may have made a few people laugh but it would have come across to discerning persons in the audience as very expensive. This too, they would have shown in their cold reaction to it. It is certain that Agwu would have broken the hearts and lowered the esteem of albinos or their relatives in the audience with that joke which they would certainly have found to be very expensive.
It is high time Agwu and other comedians stopped jokes that stigmatize people who have one form of natural deformity or another all in the name of comedy.
This is the time for comedians who are guilty of this display of insensitivity to start thinking seriously about desisting from further cracking these jokes that bruise terribly the emotions of people with one form of disability or defect or the other, just so that they can smile to the bank at the end of the day.
Those mostly affected are cripples, stammerers, the deaf and the dumb who should be sympathized with, rather than have their misfortunes used to amuse others.
These comedians have forgotten completely that such misfortunes can come upon anybody at any time. Anybody could fall victim of such disabilities. You may see somebody looking physically fit and whole in one moment and the same person could be transformed into a cripple the next moment as a result of an accident.
There is no doubt that those expensive jokes about people with disabilities would always move friends, relatives and colleagues of the unfortunate victims to tears anytime they see them. This is unfair and psychologically distressing to those with these disabilities or their relatives and friends and should be seen as offensive to God and man!
Imagine a joke being told at events about people, who limp as a result of wrongly administered drugs or injections, often by poorly trained nurses or doctors. How the victims feel may not be anybody’s business as long as the comedians have succeeded in making the audience laugh. This is wrong and should not be so.
Comedians should remember always that assessment is an integral part of their business. People react to their jokes positively or negatively. For this reason, they should be more discerning especially to know when their jokes hurt sensibilities or affect peoples’ self esteem negatively.
They should also be more gender sensitive. Jokes are often targeted at women and it is high time comedians realized that the yard stick for determining the man of class, men who are educated, enlightened and discerning is in the way they treat women irrespective of the woman’s status and even state of mind.
Also, comedians often have predictable wisecracks on the idiosyncrasies of the Yoruba man, Hausa or Igbo man.
Like public affairs commentators, comedians should mirror the society effectively so as to mould positive opinions and highlight issues which people are often scared to discuss. It would be real value for money to see people step out of a comedy show to be relieved of their burdens after some laughter, while at the same time pondering over the issues raised in the jokes and how to go about making a positive change.
Show boy comedian, Basket Mouth once did what could be described as a creative critique of former Governor, Bola Tinubu’s health programme, ‘’Jigi Bola’’. After his show, many who were there would have concluded that it was an ace by all definitions.
The joke was simple, creative and entertaining in every ramification. It centered on Basket Mouth’s observation that Lagosians were ungrateful to their then governor; Bola Tinubu who in his own estimation had done much for them.
He then pointed out that their refusal to embrace all he had done forced Tinubu to wonder if Lagosians were really blind or suffering from myopia.
The dread locks wearing comedian then ascribed the distribution of free glasses to people under the ‘’Gigi Bola’’ project (free eye glasses project) would help people to see clearly the wonders that he, Tinubu, had done in Lagos.
This wise crack, however, does not totally exonerate Basket Mouth from the growing penchant for cracking jokes that stigmatize people with one form of disability or the other, which should stop.