Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Dyslexia Blog - Cut the jokes guys, they're just not funny

For those of you who haven't read my dyslexia blogs before, here is a little preamble and introduction, so you know who I am and what I do and why I write this stuff. For those of you who know the story, skip to the end of the paragraph for todays installment. Let me give you a bit of Background so you know who I am and what I do. I was born in 1962. I didn't start talking until I was 4 years old (at all, not a single word). My parents thought I was deaf. My reading age at eleven was 5. When I was fifteen I started a rock and roll band called the False Dots, the band is still going strong. When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 31, a friend suggested I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion. In 2013, I have set one of my objectives to use this blog to let dyslexics know they are not alone, to suggest that people who think they may be dyslexic to get an assessment and toget people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.

I have yet to meet anyone who has dyslexia who has found it to be a joyous, life enriching experience. For me personally it cast a long shadow over my early years. Peope say that your childhood is the best time of your life. I've found the opposite to be true and I put that down to being dyslexic. At schools in the 60's and 70's the teachers didn't recognise dyslexia. The common term teachers used for dyslexics was "thicko" or "moron".  As a dyslexic, I had innumerable experiences of teachers ridiculing me for my grammar and spelling. They would read out passages of work I'd produced or get me to write spellings on the blackboard in front of my classmates. I'd invariably get them wrong and be completely humiliated. In our class we had charts on the wall for success in spelling tests. At the end of the year, I was the only child with zero stars. The teachers used me as a foil for all their gags. The only common theme was that I was an idiot in all the jollity.

Over the years I've developed a thick skin. The insults don't bother me anymore, I'm not six and I don't feel the need to cry in  the corner when someone is takes the micky. Over the years I've heard all manner of dyslexic jokes. I typed Dyslexic Jokes into google and here's the top five.

1.Dyslexics of the world, untie!3.69
2.If life gives you melons then you're probably dyslexic!3.59
3.Have you heard about the dyslexic prostitute? Apparently she cooks sock.3.45
4.Ten out of two people have numerical dyslexia.3.28
5.Have you heard about the dyslexic devil worshipper? He sold his soul to Santa!3.28

Arnt't they absolutely hilarious! Erm, no actually, not least because a truly funny joke gives a degree of insight into the condition. I have a chuckle over what my dyslexic brain misinterprets words to spell every day. Walking past newspaper headlines on billboards is often the funniest thing. Filling in forms is another source of myrth. When I registered for a new doctor several years ago, I ticked the box for "Female". There wasn't a box on the sheet for dyslexic. On my recent holiday I ticked the "Gluten Free diet" menu box, rather than the "No Dairy" box. I was mystified by the food I was given until we sorted out why. I sniger about such situations, but the jokes - come on guys.

When I was a young teenager and had no empathy for anyone, I used to laugh at all manner of sexist, racist, homophobic and other jokes. TV comedy shows were full of them and comedians such as Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson stock in trade were jokes poking fun at such groups. I then started to hang around with a more diverse crowd, I realised that the jokes weren't funny, they were obnoxious. When I left school I worked in the building trade for a while. One builder I worked for told me he never employed black people because they were "lazy, stupid and had no sense of humour".  Working with him was to be subjected to a barrage of racist jokes. At the same time I was playing in a band with a black Lead singer, who was a good friend. One day he made a sick joke about Black women and I told him that his joke was not funny. His response was that I "had no sense of humour" I responded by telling a joke making fun of his sexual prowess with his wife. Everyone else laughed, but he was furious and sacked me on the spot. I said "Who hasn't got a sense of humour now". His response "Yeah but you were out of order, there are some things you shouldn't take the p*** out of". What he meant was that it was OK for him to upset everyone else, but it was not OK for anyone to upset him.

Over the years the incident was one I turned over time and time again in my head. It cost me a lot of money as I lost a whole stream of well paid work. The other side of it was that I felt I couldn't let this guy simply say obnoxious things about my friends. I realised that any joke which belittles someone else is actually not funny at all. Although I'd been right to say something to my former boss, I'd been wrong to pick on something he was sensitive about. Two wrongs do not make a right. I doubt he learned anything.

To me dyslexia is a personal journey and one which trite, duff jokes don't help.  Jokes I find funny are ones which have some sort unexpected twist and make you snigger whilst making you think. If the key part of a joke is that they assume someone in a particular section of society is a moron, it probably isn't really that funny. As I said, dyslexic jokes don't bother me, but they don't make me laugh. If anything they simply make me want to explain the condition and how it works. So consider it like this. My former boss upset me by making a crude racist joke in relation to the singer in my band. I then upset him by making a joke of his lack of sexual prowess with his wife. If we'd both shut the F*** up in the first place we'd both have been a lot happier. It really is as simple as that.

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