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Adam Hills

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Adam is one of Australia's most talented and widely-respected comedians, whose shows include Happy Feet and Go You Big Red Fire Engine. In the UK, he has appeared on Radio 4's Loose Ends and taken highly successful one-man shows to the Edinburgh Fringe.

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An open letter to Jim Davidson

12th November 2003

Dear Mr Davidson,

It has come to my attention that you recently cancelled a live performance in the UK because the front row was made up of people with disabilities. I know you have received a fair amount of criticism over this, and far from launching an attack on you or your comedy, I thought I might offer a few suggestions on how better to deal with the same situation, should it arise in the future. Please indulge me.
I am often faced with the prospect of disabled people at my shows, in part because I myself have an artificial foot and have performed material about it on stage. In fact, a few years ago I performed a show called Happy Feet, and set about finding the comedy in having one foot. One of the reasons for doing this was to try to lighten the tension that surrounds dealing with disabled people by making fun of the situation.

Jim Davidson
Which brings me to my first point. One of the reasons you gave for cancelling the show was that you always "take the piss" out of people in the front row, but that you felt unable to do that to disabled people. In my experience, disabled people generally love having the piss taken out of them. I'd suggest that you treat them as you would any other audience member - tempering humour with genuine respect for the person's disability.

Sure, it is a little off-putting to gaze out at an audience and see a front row of steel, rubber and calipers, but as comedians isn't it our job to try to find 'the funny' in any situation? Maybe the answer is to spend some time with some 'mutants', chat to them and find out what it is that they find funny about themselves. When I was fourteen years old, I took a beautifully timed swing at a football, only to see my foot break in two and my ankle sail further than the ball. Believe me, 'mutants' do have a sense of humour.

My second thought is this. If you do feel genuinely uncomfortable taking the piss out of disabled people, yet find yourself confronted with an entire front row of them, why not let them know how you feel? In fact, why not ask them if they want you to take the piss? I'll lay money that they'll say yes. Like I said before, disabled people want to be included - that's why they're at the theatre in the first place. If you give them the choice between sitting demurely in the front row or suffering the same fate as any other audience member, a few things will happen.

Number one - it will give them some say in the situation. This will immediatel reduces the tension, because the audience will know they're OK with being picked on. In my experience, it's usually the rest of the audience who feel uneasy in this situation

Number two - once you have their permission, they (and the rest of the crowd) will let you get away with the harshest jokes, because you have the ultimate fall back: "Hey, you wanted me to take the piss."

Number three - you'll probably wind up with an extra ten minutes of jokes out of it.
Jim Davidson
Finally, if all else fails and you feel genuinely uncomfortable talking to a bunch of drooling spastics (my words, not yours) in the front row - why not take the piss out of someone in the second row? If I may be so bold, try saying something like: "You thought you were safe sitting in the second row, but unfortunately for you the entire front row is disabled, and I wouldn't feel right taking the piss out of them. So guess what? You just became the front row!" And away you go.

These are all just my personal opinions, to be taken on board or discarded as you see fit. However, please remember that disabled people generally want to be able to do the same things as anybody else. And that means being able to go to a show, sit in the front row, and be dealt with like any other audience member - with respect, goodwill and genuine humour.

Yours respectfully,
Adam Hills

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