Disability and Comedy: Challenging Stereotypes Onscreen
Keywords:Disability Studies, Humour Studies, Film Studies, comedy, sexuality, Stereotypes
Characters with disabilities or any type of impairment have been present in film productions since the early stages of cinema. However, they seldom become main characters in mainstream media and in particular in comedy films, as their body doesn’t belong to the acceptable norm. Comedy has been known as a tool to challenge the system and yet it seems scarcely used to represent disabilities, drama being the preferred choice for narratives revolving around disabled protagonists. This article focuses on two films in which comedy and drama are combined to tell stories centred, indeed, on people with a disability (Come as You Are and The Peanut Butter Falcon, both released in 2019). Using different humour strategies such as incongruity and superiority, their main characters successfully challenge society, its conventions and its stereotypes—with incongruity mechanisms the films deal with what is considered “normal” and with superiority mechanisms they challenge power relations. The analysis will show how comedy is a genre capable to give its disabled characters the possibility to express themselves for an audience that is also being represented on screen—whether it is disabled viewers who can identify with the protagonists or abled ones who see their behaviours challenged onscreen.
Biling, Michael. 2005. “Comic, Racism and Violence.” In Beyond a Joke: The Limits of Humour, edited by Sharon Lockyer and Michael Pickering, 25–44. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bingham, Shawn Chandler, and Sara E. Green. 2016. Seriously Funny: Disability and the Paradoxical Power of Humor. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Clark, Janine Natalya. 2022. “On disability, humour and rabbit holes: A personal reflection.” Disability & Society 37 (9): 1541–45.
Come as You Are. 2019. Directed by Richard Wong, Chicago Media Angels.
Coogan, Tom. 2013. “Usually I Love the Onion, but This Time You’ve Gone Too Far.” Journal of Literature & Cultural Disabilities Studies 7 (1): 1–17.
Cooper, Freda. 2019 “Interview: Writers/Directors Tyler Nilson & Mike Schwartz On ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon.’” Hollywood News, 19 Oct 2019, https://www.thehollywoodnews.com/2019/10/16/interview-writers-directors-tyler-nilson-mike-schwartz-on-the-peanut-butter-falcon/. Accessed 12 Sept 2022.
Davis, Lennard J. 1995. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body. New York: Verso.
Davis, Lennard J. 1999. “Crips Strike Back: The Rise of Disability Studies.” American Literary History 11 (3): 500–12.
Davis, Helen and Ilott, Sarah. 2018. “Mocking the Weak? Context, Theories, Politics.” In Comedy and Politics of Representation: Mocking the Weak, edited by Helen Davis and Sarah Ilott, 1–24. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Freud, Sigmund. 1963. Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. Translated by James Strachey. New York: Norton
Garland-Thomas, Rosemarie. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia Press.
Jauss, Hans Robert. 2000. “Theory of Genres and Medieval Literature.” In Modern Genre Theory, edited by David Duff, 127–47. London: Routledge.
Lockyer, Sharon and Pickering, Michael. 2005. “The Ambiguities of Comic Impersonation.” In Beyond the Joke: The Limits of Humour, edited by Sharon Lockyer and Michael Pickering, 180–97. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lockyer, Sharon. 2015. “From comedy targets to comedy-makers: Disability and comedy in live performance.” Disability & Society 30 (9): 1397–412.
Mallet, Rebecca. 2010. “Claiming Comedic Immunity Or, What Do You Get When You Cross Contemporary British Comedy with Disability.” Review of Disability Studies 6 (3): n.p.
Morreal, John. 2005. “Humour and the Conduct of Politics.” Beyond the Joke: The Limits of Humour, edited by Sharon Lockyer and Michael Pickering, 63–78. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Myers, Scott. 2020. “Interview with Asta Philpot.” Go into the Story, 14 Feb 2020, https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/interview-asta-philpot-50e23469dad9 accessed 12 September 2022.
The Peanut Butter Falcon. 2019. Directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, Armory Films.
Reid, D. Kim, Stoughton, Eddy Hammond, and Smith, Robin M. 2006. “The humorous construction of disability: ‘stand‐up’ comedians in the United States.” Disability & Society 21 (6): 629–43.
Robillard, Albert B. 1999. “Wild Phenomena and Disability Jokes.” Body & Society 5 (4): 61–65.
Vandaele, Jeroen. 2002. “Humor Mechanisms in Film Comedy: Incongruity and Superiority.” Poetics today 23 (2): 221–49.
Wilde, Alison. 2018. Film, Comedy, And Disability: Understanding Humour and Genre in Cinematic Constructions of Impairment and Disability. New York: Routledge.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2023 Sara Martínez-Guillén
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.