Tag Archives: Mike Ward

The missing nuance of the Mike Ward debate

An unelected quasi-judicial board of PC police with no respect for fundamental freedoms is trying to force a comedian to pay thousands of dollars because someone didn’t like one of his jokes about a public figure.

A bigot who makes a career out of vulgarities and insults is finally being brought to minor justice after bullying a young boy by mocking his disability and expressing a desire for him to be murdered.

Either one of those sentences could describe the much-discussed legal battle between comedian Mike Ward and Jérémy Gabriel, the boy born with Treacher Collins syndrome who made headlines a decade ago when his wish to become a singer led to him singing in front of Céline Dion and the pope.

Just before he began a week of hosting the Nasty Show at Just For Laughs, Ward was ordered by Quebec’s human rights tribunal to pay a total of $42,000 in moral and punitive damages to Gabriel and his mother for comments he made during a one-man comedy show.

If you’re unfamiliar with the case, pat yourself on the back, because it seems like everyone has been talking about it. Even visiting American comedians were asked about the case during JFL.

Since the decision was announced, and even before while we were waiting for it, just about every communications medium that exists has hosted discussions on it. On one side, comedians and free speech absolutists who say this is a slippery slope toward government censorship of comedy. On the other side, social justice warriors who say comedy is no excuse for bullying a disabled child.

I’ve been thinking about the case for the past couple of weeks, trying to decide which side I’m on. I believe in protecting the vulnerable people of society from hate speech and children from bullying, but I also like Ward’s comedy.

And I saw the comedy bit in question, and I laughed. I still do.

So unlike most people who have commented on this case publicly, my position is more nuanced.

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Ethics don’t matter on TV

A couple of disturbing stories have come to light recently about Quebec television broadcasters’ attempts to censor things that might affect their bottom line.

The first was the revelation from La Presse’s Hugo Dumas that producers of dramatic programming for TVA were being asked to not show characters using iPhones. This, apparently, because Quebecor owns both TVA and Videotron and Videotron doesn’t offer the iPhone to wireless customers.

That prompted a reply from Quebecor VP Serge Sasseville that actually admitted Dumas’s story was true, but said that this was simply a case of a sponsor (Videotron) wanting its products depicted in the programming it sponsors. He offers the example of Ford sponsoring Radio-Canada’s series 19-2, and seeing Ford vehicles being driven in the show.

Dumas in turn replied to the reply, saying the argument seemed to suggest that Videotron sponsors all of TVA’s programming, and calling that reasoning preposterous.

Interference from a broadcaster into dramatic programming for business reasons is bad enough. But as Sasseville’s comparison points out, we’re well past that point already.

The second story is the decision of RDS to refuse to show a commercial from comedian Mike Ward that makes fun of the Canadiens. To be precise, they refused to show the ad during Canadiens games.

Their argument, and it’s a really stupid one, is that RDS is the official broadcaster of the Canadiens, and it’s unacceptable that an ad that runs during Canadiens games makes fun of them.

Some have noted that RDS is now owned by Bell, which is a stakeholder in the Canadiens and owns the naming rights to the Bell Centre, among many commercial deals between the telecom giant and the hockey team.

Both of these moves are ridiculous, and both reek of giant media empires abusing their ownership powers to mold programming in one area so it matches the business interests of another.

It’s not that many steps from this to each media giant having its own imaginary universe, each with its own set of maybe-true facts.

It’s all fun and games until a kid goes missing

By now you’ve probably heard about the Mike Ward OMGSCANDAL. Basically he made an off-colour joke about Cédrika Provencher in a bit about Revenu Québec. (There was a video on YouTube, but it’s been pulled because of that minor pesky copyright thing that bloggers think doesn’t apply to videos posted on YouTube.)

Today… (err, yesterday), Ward posted a video on his website responding to the OMGontroversy (via The Domster). There, he lambasts people who haven’t seen his show for suddenly having a problem with it a month later, and talks about how he’s being judged by random people on the street, getting death threats and is too afraid to start his car.

Now’s about a good time to remind people what the limits are on free speech:

  1. Making a tasteless joke about a missing girl is legal and acceptable, no matter how offensive or unfunny it is. Especially at a show made specifically for offensive humour.
  2. Criticizing said joke is legal and acceptable, no matter how unfair or harsh the criticism is, and it’s not censorship to criticize something.
  3. Criticizing something without knowing the context is legal and acceptable, no matter how uninformed that criticism is or how much it hurts someone’s feelings.
  4. Whining on your blog that people are judging you is legal and acceptable, no matter how pathetic it makes you look. It is also not censorship to do this.
  5. Making death threats based on a bad joke is not legal and is unacceptable, no matter how offensive the joke is or how much you care about this little girl you’ve never met and been told by the media to care about. Ditto for stalking a guy outside his house and suggesting that harm should come to him.

Leave Mike Ward alone. Comedians don’t change based on criticism, they change based on people not laughing at their jokes and not paying attention to them.

(P.S. Speaking about criticizing criticisms, Claude Poirier totally goes ape-shit on Bazzo (from Mike Ward’s blog))