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Believe it or not, there are some ground rules for comedy. I know it doesn't seem like it these days, especially if you read Facebook or Twitter, but I like to believe that most people in the professional world of making people laugh know and understand that there are certain things you do not do if you are trying to engage an audience, to make them laugh and to make them think.

I've dealt directly with comedy a goodly amount, both in my experience in working with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College and in my days of attempting a stand-up career, so I'm not exactly a novice when it comes to this.

This thinkpost came down from "comedienne" Nicole Arbour, another YouTuber trying to get views and looking for ways that will be controversial enough to grab enough viewers for her to get paid for her content. She posted a video titled "Dear Fat People," (I'm not linking it) and let me just say, the pleasantries ended at the letter "r" of "Dear." She went on to be as raw and as cruel as anyone on the topic, specifically targeting people in the "Morbidly Obese" category, as if she were appointed to hand over "tough love" to "help" them out of their "circumstance," with quick cuts and jokes about how she could outwalk them at a reasonable pace, as one of the milder things she stated during her over six minute rant.

The video was deleted from YouTube and her account there was temporarily suspended, but eventually her channel reopened, sans the above commentary. Facebook, meanwhile, left the video in place, where it got thousands of views and comments.

One of the rules that is a standard of comedy is: "if you are it, you can make fun of it." If you're a woman, if you're black, if you're gay, you can do jokes about those groups because it relates back to yourself, and that's something an audience will accept.

I have problems with a comic from the 1960s named Allan Sherman, best known for his enduring parody of the classical work Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours," and titled "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh (A Letter From Camp)." Those problems specifically relate to times when he broke the above rule. But as someone who would have been described as "portly" in his era, his song "Overweight People," (a parody of "The Wizard of Oz" Oscar winning song "Over the Rainbow") was appropriate, since he, himself was of that group.

This "if you are it, you can make fun of it" is an inherently understood rule in comedy, especially stand up, where you are engaging an audience and trying to give some observations about life. If you are what you're talking about, you are coming from a knowledgeable place: you know of what you speak. And perhaps more importantly to certain members of the audience, you aren't insulting THEM when you make comments. If some white supremacist started mocking minorities in an "observational" style, a lot of folks would be uncomfortable, and some would be angry. And the truth is, it probably wouldn't be very funny. Or, you know, like what Michael Richards did that time a few years ago, when he didn't know he was getting filmed.

That is what we get with Ms. Arbour's intentional video tirade: a joyless, laughless, abusive clinic in comedy (as in how not to do it) and in helping others (as in how never to do it). And the comments back to the slim and trim Nicole reflected that mindset. It's just so easy to be righteous about people's body types when you fall into the standard of what is "acceptable" in our mixed up society.

And it's society that needs to be addressed. Even though some people have success with losing weight, others do not, and not everyone has the time, money and energy required to make the changes in their lives to be able to succeed with that effort. As an example, people who appeared on the NBC television series "The Biggest Loser," and who had all of the help from a program like that, and experts like those, could not maintain their weight loss. It isn't an easy thing to do, because you aren't doing just one thing.

There's much more going on than people just eating. And it's within those other elements, the "rest" of the story, that we must begin looking before we proclaim ourselves "fat shamers," and think we're "doing a favor" to people who don't fit the extremely skewed Hollywood or Runway Fashion version of "attractive."

To me, people who are heavier than the "societal standard" are kind of the final "allowed" target for insults and derision, and I basically stated that seven and a half years ago, when I interviewed onceupon (now known across social media as TheRotund) for my then active blog talk_show. While she didn't agree with me on that point (transphobes, homophobes and the ever present racist jokes still are being repeated), it seems that nothing has changed at all on this weighty topic.

Perhaps the most important element in our discussion back in March 2008, was the point that it's really a lifestyle change that needs to happen for someone to change their body in that way, and keep it that way, and that is affected by a lot of other forces, like peers and family, who may not want that change to happen, like the restaurants, that makes money from your fast food dollars and make you think food is a "reward," and from the self, who can alternate between happiness and punishment when it comes to a relationship with what and how nourishment is consumed.

Also, the discussion of "health" and how people who are "morbidly obese" (a standard that was created when doctors started measuring "BMI," Body Mass Index, rather than just height and weight), is an important one, as that's the go-to argument for all the "fat shamers" to justify their horrific commentary.

There is a standard line I like to use when it comes to comedy: if you have to explain that what you said was a joke, it wasn't funny. And all too often, when it comes to social media, you have people saying just that: "It was a joke!" No, it wasn't. It was your failed attempt at a joke. Nicole Arbour needs to go back to Ha-Ha School because as a comedian she got a Red Letter F.

The jury is out on why people's body types are what they are, and the elements that cause these circumstances are not as straight-forward as some people want to believe. And the fact is media has skewed our vision of what is "standard" because that is how they make profits, so we're seeing the world through a fun house mirror of distorted images.

But what is very clear is the hatred and harmful words that people spew because they can attack someone and label it "helping." The fact is, you can be healthy or unhealthy at any weight. When you think in those terms, Arbour and others who do this provide nothing but personal attacks on people they don't know because they don't like how those other fellow human beings look, and there is nothing uglier than that.

Suggested reading for Nicole Arbour and her followers:




heck, just scroll through the entirety of the big fat science blog on tumblr:


And read mariannekirby.com when she reopens it. I'm sure it'll be soon!


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 8th, 2015 01:11 am (UTC)
Thank you for this post. My mom's side of the family is all in the category of morbidly obese, so it enrages me when people make cruel "jokes" about weight. I don't understand fatphobia. Why do people care about another person's weight?
Sep. 8th, 2015 01:44 am (UTC)
I'm guessing, and it is a guess since there's no real poll results for this, people have a lot of misplaced rage. They don't like their job, or their living situation, or their relationship, or the amount of sleep they get. Here's someone we can make fun of without repercussions, and feel better about ourselves.

Now that people can't make those racist or sexist jokes without appearing abnormal, targets are becoming less easy to find. So if it's stated this is supposed to "help," you can be as horrible as you want and it's all in the name of supporting health.

But the clear and underlying truth is that what we think of as "normal" weight isn't normal at all and to judge others by a standard that is as badly skewed as ours is doubly unfair.

My dad also would fall into the "morbidly obese" category, and I know he tries hard to do all the right things and eat better. It's not easy, and it's not fair for that kind of judgment to be hurled, especially by someone who has never had to deal with it.

Thanks for reading.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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