I was spying anonymously in a Facebook fan group for a well-known comedy podcast when I saw a post alleging that a popular feminist comedian was making really offensive fat jokes as part of her show. It was a warning to others, advising them not to go and see the show. The author also asked the group if anyone could recommend comedians who don’t do “fat jokes”.
I started thinking: who would I recommend? (Apart from myself, of course, but if I recommend myself too many times in that group, they’ll start to realize that it’s me behind the fake name.)
A “fat joke” is a joke about fat people where the fat people are the punchline. It’s when a thin actor dresses up in a fatsuit, to mock fat people – such as in Friends, when we see a young Monica, AKA Fat Monica. It’s the comedian who said that the only competitive sport fat people should ever participate in is a pie-eating contest. I once heard a comedian joke that fat people can only ever get laid after meeting someone in a nightclub if it’s past 3am, because, you know, then maybe people would be drunk enough to have sex with them. I had slept with this very comedian six months before, both of us very sober.
As with all jokes that rely on boring stereotypes, there are no new ideas or angles: we eat too much; we don’t exercise; we are unintelligent, desperate and lazy.
Coming up with fat jokes is the easiest thing in the world – I know, because that was all I did when I first started out in comedy. My jokes were exclusively about how much I ate, how I never did exercise, how wobbly my stomach was. What I was really saying was: “Don’t worry, I know it’s not OK that I look like this. I’m not here to challenge the status quo.” Then we could all relax.
When I educated myself on body positivity and the fat acceptance movement, I started seeing myself as worthy of being alive – and when I stopped seeing fatness as an inherently bad thing, I stopped doing those jokes. I did not, and still do not, wish to harm people with my material.
I also realized that comedians who do make fat jokes never actually address the fat people in the audience. We will happily say: “the women in the audience …” or: “Is anyone from Ireland?”, to acknowledge the presence of the group we are about to mock. But, never when it’s about fat people. It’s they. Those fat people, they are like this and they are like that. Fat people are never expected to be in the room.
It’s one thing hearing a person with a microphone making a joke that dehumanises you, but it’s another thing to hear 400 people around you laugh at it.
So I have been trying to come up with the name of a single comedian I would fully trust not to make fat jokes. There are plenty I would trust to not do it intentionally, and there are those I am 95% certain wouldn’t do it. But I never watch a comedy show without expecting something fatphobic to come up. The comedian might not even mock fat people directly, but they might announce that they have lost weight and the audience cheers: good on you for not being as fat.
I love (most) comedians and I respect anyone who attempts standup as a career, as it’s an incredibly weird job that can get really lonely; we need each other. Which is why it sucks that even some of my heroes have internalized fatphobia. It makes it hard not to feel very, very tired and unwelcome.
I am proud when fat people say they feel safe in my audience. Would I also like to be told that I am the funniest comedian in the whole world? The sexiest and smartest and prettiest? Sure, but I have to assume that’s implicit. For now, I’m happy just to see myself recommended in Facebook groups, where they don’t know I’m watching, as the comedian whose show it is safe to go to as a fat person.
Sofie Hagen is a writer and comedian. She performs at Monkey Barrel Comedy, Edinburgh, from 4 to 28 August, then tours. sofiehagen.com
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