Did Frankie go too far this time?

Backlash over Down's syndrome gags

Frankie Boyle has had an on-stage run-in with a mother of a child with Down’s syndrome, which he called the ‘most excruciating moment of my career’.

Sharon Smith took the former Mock The Week panellist to task after he made fun of the voices, haircuts and clothes of people with Down’s syndrome during his live show at Reading.

In a calm but emotional blog post, the mother of five-year-old Tanzie described how she was challenged by Boyle in her front-row seat after he spotted her discomfort about the routine, and how she plucked up the courage to tell him what she thought.

But she said she was made to feel small for taking offence, even though she was a fan of stand-up in general and – until now – Boyle in particular, and knew what to expect of the show.

She wrote ‘Frankie Boyle spent a good few minutes making joke after joke about people with DS. And they weren’t even clever or funny jokes either... I expected dry, nasty, crude humour, yes, but unimaginative humour poking fun at the stereotype of people with Down syndrome was not something that I expected.

‘The more jokes he made, the harder I found it to stay unemotional and detached. My husband noticed and asked if I was OK. At which point Frankie noticed him talking to me and came over (oh how I wish I had not booked front row seats). He asked why we were talking during his show. I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I have never felt so small, so stupid, so emotional and to be honest so pathetic. How can a stranger make me feel like that?

‘So I told him that my five-year-old daughter has Down syndrome and that I was simply upset at some of his jokes. He tried to laugh it off, “Ahh, but its all true isn’t it?” to which I replied no, it wasn’t.

‘He then went on to say that it was the most excruciating moment of his career but then tried to claw the humour (?) back by saying we had paid to come and see him and what should we expect. To which I replied that I understood that and that it was my personal problem/upset. He then said it was the last tour ever and that he didn’t give a fuck.

‘He was obviously unsettled by the episode, but nothing like the way I felt. I truly have never felt so small.. I don’t feel that I did my daughter any justice at all.

‘I wish that I had managed to explain to them all why I was upset, to tell them how wrong the stereotypes about Down syndrome are. I wanted to show them how proud I am of my daughter, to tell them about how well she is doing at mainstream school. To show them the hundreds of pictures I have of her, so that they can see how pretty she is, that she wears pretty clothes and that she does not have bad hair (well apart from when she has put toothpaste or Marmite in it anyway).

‘I wanted to break through their prejudices and to show how wrong the stereotypes are. But instead all I did was make people think I was someone who couldn’t appreciate live stand-up comedy. Which isn’t the case at all.’

Mrs Smith has, however, been inundated with message of support since making her blog post. Although she said it was intended only for friends and didn’t intend to cause a scene, the story has been picked up by the Guardian and the Telegraph.

Among the messages was one from Gavin & Stacey star Mathew Horne, who described Boyle's targeting of Down’s syndrome as ‘rubbish’ and reassured her: 'The effect of your speaking up to FB on him, will be greater than you think, I promise.'

Published: 9 Apr 2010

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