I like comedy. The darker the better. I respect comics who take taboo subjects and mock them. Comedians who push the envelope, expose widely held politically incorrect beliefs and tackle sensitive subjects “too soon”, in my opinion, tend to be the wittiest. They’re not afraid of the backlash and in fact, they’ve come to expect it. Case in point, Louis C.K.’s opening monologue from the SNL season finale last year. In under nine minutes he admits to being a mild racist, tackles the Middle East conflict and even rationalizes pedophilia.
Immediately after this monologue aired, social media erupted with opinions. Predictably, humourless, overly sensitive people found the set to be grossly inappropriate and offensive. Being none of those things, I found the set to be immensely entertaining.
How can people be offended by comedy? This is something I’ve never understood. Comedy is an equal opportunity asshole. It unites people with its merciless derision. Everyone and everything can be made fun of in some capacity. Nobody and no topic is off limits to comedians, thus rendering everyone equally vulnerable. Gender, race, religion, politics, disease, death, rape, necrophilia, bestiality – everything is fair game. In this way, comedy is actually a powerful equalizer.
You may be thinking nothing in Louis C.K.’s act applies to me which is why I found it funny and inoffensive but that simply is not the case. I can appreciate good humour, even at my own expense. In fact, I usually find things to be funnier when they somehow relate to me. That might be why I found C.K.’s monologue to be so funny. After all, I am a fiercely Zionistic Jew who lives off the avails of child molesters*.
But even topics that hit close to home do not offend me. Anthony Jeselnik is one of my favourite comedians. Known as the Dark Prince of Comedy, his style is almost entirely black comedy, skillfully, precisely and succinctly crafted to be unexpectedly disturbing and dark. About.com called him “one of the meanest men in comedy.” Jeselnik himself has been quoted as saying “I try to say the worst thing you could and get away with it…It’s just fun. Once people get that I’m saying awful things for a reason, it takes away that barrier. It gets them to laugh about domestic violence or breast cancer.” Jeselnik jokes about cancer, the Holocaust, mental illness and even dead babies – all issues that concern me personally – yet I can still appreciate the humour in all of them. Jeselnik coined the term “Joke Police” for people who take issue with his style of comedy which by its very construct is designed to purposely shock and awe. Being offended by a Jeselnik joke, or any joke for that matter, says more about the offendee than the offender in my opinion. There are two types of people in this world: funny ones and unfunny ones. Tell a crass joke and you’ll quickly discover which category a person falls into by their reaction.
I would love nothing more than to one day hear Jeselnik or C.K. joke about narcolepsy. Man would that make my day. Narcolepsy is the most upsetting and depressing topic in my life. For my sanity, I need it to be intelligently lampooned. I need to make light of this horrible disorder otherwise it’s nothing but a horrible disorder. Laughing at my own misfortune is therapeutic. I hate when people say “X is no laughing matter”. Everything should be a laughing matter! Frankly, I’d much rather laugh about narcolepsy than cry over it. As C.K. once put it “It’s a positive thing to talk about terrible things and make people laugh about them.”
I know my opinion will likely be an unpopular one amongst the narcolepsy community who I’ve observed to be quite sensitive about narcolepsy related jokes. You’ll often hear narcoleptics say “narcolepsy is no joke” or “would people joke that way about cancer?” Well, if you’re Anthony Jeselnick, Sarah Silverman, Jim Norton, George Carlin, Ricky Gervais, Greg Giraldo, Jeff Ross or Daniel Tosh, the answer is yes. I think the real problem is that narcolepsy is rarely ever intelligently ridiculed. Narcolepsy and cataplexy are such rare disorders and so poorly understood that attempts to mock them usually result in nothing more than lame fallacious stereotypes. While I’ll admit that misconceptions about narcolepsy sometimes frustrate me, jokes about narcolepsy never offend me. Let’s face it, there is something inherently funny about narcolepsy and cataplexy. Don’t get me wrong, I know first hand how debilitating the disorders can be but I can also admit it makes for some amusing anecdotes. I’ve fallen asleep for hours on the toilet. You can’t deny that’s funny. Dylan and I have gotten into screaming matches in our sleep. Also funny. I’ve had to take a nap on a grassy knoll in Marine Land because I was overcome with sleepiness. Picture that and tell me it’s not funny.
It’s okay to laugh at ourselves and it’s okay to make light about sombre subjects. God clearly agrees with me which is why he invented the Shiva. If you’ve ever been to a Shiva, you’ll know it’s supposed to be a group of people mourning the loss of a loved one but somehow it always becomes a group of Jews making shockingly inappropriate jokes. It’s called comic relief for a reason.
Many narcoleptics were recently up in arms over a Honda commercial that poked fun at narcolepsy. You can watch the commercial below. It implies that if you have narcolepsy, you shouldn’t be driving the Honda Fit. I’d like to suggest that even if you don’t suffer from narcolepsy, you shouldn’t be driving the Honda Fit because, well, I am an elitist snob.
I think I’m the only narc in the world that did not find this commercial insulting. I am certain my position on this will be wildly unpopular amongst the narcoleptic community. Julie Flygare, a well known narcolepsy advocate and lawyer, started an online petition to remove this commercial. She was successful. With over 2,500 supporters of the petition, the commercial was never aired on television as planned, it was set to private status on YouTube and Honda issued an apology and even produced a public service announcement about narcolepsy. I understand that this commercial perpetuates a common misconception about narcolepsy but I don’t think Honda’s intention here was to educate. I am fully aware that narcs don’t fall asleep mid-sentence and that most can drive without issue but I am also fully aware this was simply a joke, albeit a not so great one. Stereotypes, which by definition are widely held and oversimplified ideas of a particular type of person or thing, have long served as the foundation for many jokes – rich Jews, unethical lawyers, dumb blondes, elderly Luddites, etc. Narcolepsy is no different and no worse. It may be closer to home for some people but so what? If it’s okay to joke about blondes being dumb then it’s okay to joke about narcs being sleepy. As both a blonde and a narc, I find it much more insulting to imply I’m dumb than to imply I’m not fit to drive. Besides, as a rich Jew, I can always hire a driver to schlep me around town.
Narcolepsy and cataplexy naturally lend themselves to slapstick comedy. I’m not a huge fan of this type of comedy because I generally find it silly rather than witty and too low brow for my elitist tendencies. To me, a clever combination of words perfectly timed and delivered will always trump a tumble. Nonetheless, I can still appreciate this form of comedy and have never found it to be offensive. Deuce Bigalow provides a perfect example.
Once again we see an inaccurate portrayal of narcolepsy. Is it irksome? Yes. Is it offensive? No. I’d much rather have people joking about narcolepsy, even if it’s completely inaccurate, than not at all. For a neurological disorder that rarely gets any attention, even bad publicity is good publicity. We just need to get the word out there. Bad jokes about narcolepsy provide an opportunity to create awareness. Instead of getting up in arms over a narcolepsy misconception let’s use it as platform to educate. Let’s get people talking about it. I don’t particularly care what they’re saying, I just want it to be a topic of conversation. Even if it’s a talk-show host joking about the possibility that her husband may have narcolepsy, I’ll take it. We recently discovered that Homer Simpson suffers from narcolepsy. As expected, it was misrepresented and riddled with misconceptions. But because of that one episode, millions of people now know of narcolepsy. And because of that one episode, CNN ran a fairly detailed story about narcolepsy that otherwise never would have been published. Even if the episode leads people to assume narcolepsy is one big acid trip at least it’s out there being discussed and reported. My favourite part of the episode was when Homer used his narcolepsy diagnosis as an excuse to get out of doing chores. Personally, I would never ever exploit my condition like that just to get out of doing something I don’t want to do. Never, ever.
I am still on the hunt for a great narcolepsy joke. Perhaps if this blog post is shared enough times it will land in Louis C.K. or Anthony Jeselnik’s Twitter feed and inspire a kitsch joke about a somnophilic narcoleptic. I can dream, can’t I? If you have any brilliant narcolepsy jokes I encourage you to share them with me in the comments section below. If like me, you are stumped for a good narcolepsy witticism, in lieu of narc jokes, I’ll accept blonde jokes, Jewish jokes and lawyer jokes. In fact, I’ll take any type of joke, so long as it’s funny and hopefully vulgar. Bonus points if you can offend me.
* For those of you who are unaware, Mr. Bear is a freedom fighter for pedophiles a.k.a a criminal defence lawyer.