Tommy under fire

Protests over Down's Syndrom jokes

Tommy Tiernan is facing a storm of protest over a routine about people with Down’s Syndrome.

During his current sell-out show at Dublin’s Vicar Street theatre, the controversial comic jokes that they should be used to courier drugs as no customs officer would dare search them.

But the routine, in which Tiernan mimics the way those with Down’s Syndrome speak, has attracted floods of complaints to national radio phone-ins and internet forums in ireland, castigating the ‘offensive’ material.

However, Tiernan says he is the victim of politically correct warriors who police the media, and maintained that the routine is about tackling the taboo that people with the genetic condition tend to be ignored or treated with pity, rather than integrated into society.

One professional reviewer at the show, Ed Power, said the segment was ‘crude, cruel and, above all, unfunny’, adding: ‘If Tiernan's purpose is to jolt his fan-base out of its Friday night comfort-zone he has certainly succeeded.’

On the Irish Independent website, a contributor called Mary added: ‘He is tedious, ignorant, crude and insensitive, and his so-called wit has all the sophistication of a little boy farting in public. His cheap dig at people with Down Syndrome does not surprise me at all, because there does not seem to be any depth to which he will not sink in his quest for publicity.’

While Deirdre added: ‘Tommy is obviously finding it difficult to come up with new clever material so he targets a group who can't defend themselves or speak up for themselves.’

But others stood up for him, including Mark who wrote: ‘I think what’s evident is that Tommy treats people with Down Syndrome as humans first and therefore can be the subject of a joke.’

And Danny said: ‘He's got every right to make jokes about disabled people. If it's funny, why not? I have a close relative with Down’s Syndrome but it won't stop me from laughing; I can still see the humour intended when someone cracks a joke about the condition. Every single person on this planet has a trait or characteristic that we can poke fun at, and it's human nature to do just that! Lighten up!’

Down Syndrome Ireland’s boss John Lindsay was more pragmatic. He said he was ‘shocked and astonished’ by the material, but added: ‘Some of our members found it offensive, others didn't. But if we want integration, I agree with Tommy: we have to take the flak with the good.

‘[But] If Tommy had no other motive than to poke fun I'd be horrified, I don't think any vulnerable group should be picked on.’

Tiernan has a history of support for those with the condition, and recently ran the Dublin Marathon to raise funds. In a statement to the press, the comic said the routine had been given the seal of approval by his friends with Down’s Syndrome and their families.

He said: ‘What I try to do is imagine a world where people with Down Syndrome are fully integrated into society and my job is to imagine it ridiculously.

‘Some people don't get it and that's OK. They're still welcome to come along and laugh at the bits about Travellers, Romanians, Offaly, and duck sex.’

Published: 29 Nov 2007

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