Punching Down for Cheap Laughs
Trigger warning: Discussion of anorexia and assholes who tell fat jokes.
With the recent death of Joan Rivers, and many discussions around her type of insult comedy arising on the interwebs, I thought it the pertinent time to discuss an encounter with my favorite comedian that left a permanent bad taste in my mouth.
I’ve been a fan Craig Ferguson’s for about five years. I never watched him on “The Drew Carey Show,” but I discovered his late night show and fell for his comedy stylings during a time when I was going through deep trauma in my life. His silly antics, intellectual wit, and biting disregard for the go-to gags and lazy jokes of classic late night and other comedians always made me laugh, without fail. He was a storyteller comedian, weaving comedy into historical and everyday situations that everyone could identify with.
It was rare to find an example of Craig really aiming to insult someone; in fact, he was more likely to show compassion during times of trouble in someone’s life, as can be illustrated in his now-famous monologue about Britney Spears’ mental health breakdown in 2007. Oftentimes, individuals who were on the receiving end of Craig’s digs were those in positions of power, a comedy style reminiscent of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The individuals he poked fun at were the privileged few who leveraged their power to take advantage of those who had less. His is the type of satire that, in my opinion, actually awakens the public consciousness and advances public discourse — a responsible type of comedy.
Over the past few months, however, Craig has been getting lazy, reverting to the type of insult comedy that belittles the most vulnerable in society, the easy targets that are often the butt of jokes and ridicule in everyday life; the people who Joan Rivers made a living out of demonizing.
A few months ago, I first became concerned when Craig brought up a couple of members of the audience. One was a fat woman from America, and another was a thin woman from Canada. This is how he started the show:
The one and only YouTube comment from sweiland75 illustrates exactly the kind of response that Craig was trying to elicit when he thought up this gag: “I guessed that fat one was American.” And with the hysterical laughter from the audience that ensued when the women revealed themselves, and the judgmental glances Craig gives to the audience before they do, it’s clear his goal was to make a statement about weight in America by ridiculing an unassuming audience member on national television. Although he never brings up weight in this clip, his thinly-veiled intentions aren’t lost on the fans who endure disapproving looks and jabs about our weight on a constant basis, nor those who judge others based on weight every day. It was a dick move if I’ve ever seen one.
A few weeks ago, Craig finally made me hit the pause button and reevaluate how I felt about his comedy. During this episode, he dedicates a significant portion of his show ridiculing fat people who dress as superheroes at Comic-Con.
During the monologue, he shows pictures of unassuming people, almost assuredly without their permission, in order to mock them for daring to dress as the same characters and stories as thin people. He breaks out into gut-wrenching laughter and declares that they should play sad music to accompany the photos because it’s somehow incredibly troubling that someone fat would immerse themselves in the activities of Comic-Con. He goes on to further degrade these random individuals he’s decided to parade in front of America during the email segment. It’s absolutely sickening.
After this incident, the Salon article from Caitlin Seida about her cosplay experience happened to be recirculating around the web. Reading it, I realized her situation was exactly what had bothered me about what Craig was doing on his show. Because I was such a big fan of his, I decided to tweet him with a link to the article, with the comment “Also why fat Batman mocking isn’t funny,” hoping that he would read it and think a little more before so cruelly criticizing people on television for their weight. Later, I went to check if there was a reply. This is what I found:
Don’t get me wrong — Craig boasts on his show about how he blocks any and everyone who criticizes him without a second thought, so I knew this might happen. Still, I won’t lie that it was slightly shocking that a grown man who preaches tolerance and “love all the people” is incapable of reacting to the least bit of constructive criticism without acting like a two year old who sticks his fingers in his ears when he hears something he doesn’t like. Craig is also open about how he goes to therapy on a regular basis while encouraging all of his guests to do the same. In light of this information, you’d think a little self-reflection would be possible for a man who has so many opinions on the lives of others.
So while doing research for this post, I was trying to find the clips I had recently seen on YouTube. It turns out these incidents aren’t the first incidents of Craig’s fat-shaming rodeo. Posted in 2008, the following clip shows a video of Craig OUTRAGED that a woman in New Hampshire complains to the Medical Board about her doctor calling her overweight and saying that her weight is bad for her health and her sex life.
He goes on to rant that it’s the doctor’s job to tell her she’s fat and he shouldn’t be investigated for doing his job. Additionally, he had another patient he fat-shamed into losing weight so, obviously he’s just an empathetic doctor thinking of the best interests of his patients. There’s so many problems with Craig’s logic that it’s hard to pick a place to start, but I’ll give it my best shot.
First and foremost, Craig is not a fat woman. In a patriarchal society that values thinness over all else, to have a man tell you you’re fat and that your sex life is going to suffer from it is incredibly demoralizing, especially since fat women are the overwhelming victims of fat discrimination in society, particularly in the medical community. To illustrate bias in the medical field, one can look at a survey from the 1980s which found that doctors associated negative stereotypes toward their obese patients. They described them as “unintelligent, unsuccessful, inactive, and weak-willed … 400 doctors … associated obesity with poor hygiene and adherence … dishonesty and hostility … A study of nutritional professionals found that most respondents attributed obesity to emotional problems (70%) and believed that obesity was a form of compensation for lack of love or attention (88%).”
Moreover, fat people are more likely to be given unsolicited “advice” about their weight from medical professionals during routine visits for issues that do not have any relation to a patient’s weight or actual health status, and this practice, along with many others, may be what makes many fat people opt out of receiving medical care in the first place, or sticking with one medical provider who can help them navigate health care issues over a long period of time. It’s really fucking annoying to go in for a sore throat or ingrown toenail and get told that if you lost weight you’d be magically healed.
Next, being fat does not mean being unhealthy any more than being thin means being healthy. Being fat does not mean someone has developed any of the conditions so often pointed to as “risk factors” any more than being a man means one has developed prostate cancer or being a woman means you’ve developed migraines or had a stroke, both health risk factors that are much more common in women. Everyone faces increased risk due to all sorts of things; you can’t brand them unhealthy just because the potential for them to become unhealthy is there. It makes no fucking sense.
Finally, there is no correlation to a healthy sex life and fatness. Fat people have just as healthy of sex lives as thin people and, as women often have their sexual lives dictated by and commented on by men in power who have no expertise on what they’re advising (e.g., pro-choice rights, birth control access, health care coverage), it’s borderline malpractice that this doctor would tell this woman something so blatantly offensive and untrue, as this 2010 study reveals. I, too, would demand an apologize for that bullshit.
Interestingly, on August 8, 2014, Craig had Cathy Ladman, a comedian who struggled with anorexia, visit the show. She did a set about her disorder and then talked to Craig after to discuss her comedy. During the segment, Ladman says that the disorder and some of her resulting behaviors are nuts. Craig states “”It’s nuts, but at least you’ve turned it into something marketable that you can use on television. And I know how you feel!” It’s incredible to me that Craig is so disconnected from reality and the ways in which he treats fat people when discussing this anorexia with Cathy; how he immediately states “I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know” (no shit) when asking her about how to classify what she terms an eating addiction; and how sympathetic he looks while listening to her story. He then says “I think perfectionism is a manifestation of self-hate.” So I’m wondering, as Craig used to be a fat man, is his willingness to mock other fat people a manifestation of his own self-hatred? I mean, I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know. But it makes you wonder.
I’ll leave you with one final clip of Craig giving a faux mea culpa to Kate Winslet after she refused to come on his show when he called her fat. He excuses his behavior by saying that he was not calling her fat in the offensive way, just the joking, completely unoffensive way. You know, the way that women shouldn’t get offended by because it’s not like they face pressure to be thin or judgement about their appearance from every person in society, everyday, everywhere.
Our bodies become commodities, products to be commented on, and objects to be molded and changed to fit the wants and needs of another. I mean, you can’t even read a magazine without being told you’re fat or, as too many of us are familiar, go to the doctor to receive medical care without being ridiculed about your weight. Not to mention that we can’t participate in a celebration of pop culture without being laughed at, let alone visit your favorite comedian’s TV show without being mocked.
Additionally, as men don’t have to deal with these issues to the extent that women do (although fat men are not immune, as Craig so crudely pointed out), the complete and utter disregard for the cruelty of his actions makes it obvious that Craig is offensively unaware of how damaging the bits he does is to women in society. I’m now even more of a fan of Kate Winslet since she stood up for women everywhere by refusing to be a party to Craig’s insulting and lazy comedy.
For myself, I’ve completely given up on supporting Craig. I am so angry and disappointed in the way he’s decided to use his platform to devalue fat people and defend fat hatred. I’m more upset by his complete unwillingness to engage in a discussion with a huge fan who has a genuine reason to be upset with the way he’s encouraging discrimination against fat people. I’ve done as much as I can by tweeting CBS, his show, and Craig. I’ve also written to his show and am now spreading the word to you lovely folks. If you’d like to join me in showing your disappointment with Craig’s actions, you can tweet him and CBS at @, @, @, @, @. You can also write to his show here.
Although I don’t think that Craig is going to change, especially since his show is ending and it’s blatantly obvious that he doesn’t care about the content he’s creating, I’m still hopeful that someday he will be more cognizant of the material he puts out into the world. Only time will tell.