The Arc’s Letter to Showtime on Offensive Comedy Special

May 6, 2016

Mr. David Nevins
President and Chief Executive Officer
Showtime Networks Inc.

Dear Mr. Nevins,

I am writing in regard to Gary Owen’s Showtime Special “I Agree with Myself” and its flagrant mockery of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). As the nation’s largest organization serving and advocating on behalf of people with I/DD, with a network of more than 650 chapters across the country, we’ve received many outraged complaints about the content of this program. Having watched the offensive clip myself, I felt compelled to contact you to voice our concerns.

The segment I am referring to includes Gary Owen using the word “retarded” to describe his cousin with intellectual disabilities. This term is outdated, hurtful, and people with I/DD have soundly rejected it and, for decades, have been advocating for people to respect them as fellow human beings and cease using that term to describe them.

In addition to the use of this slur, the content of his act and tone he took are even more upsetting. His bit is demoralizing and attacks individuals with I/DD on multiple levels, from their speech to their sexuality. He dehumanizes them for laughs, not taking into account the dark history individuals with disabilities have faced in our nation. Individuals with disabilities have suffered through decades of discrimination and humiliation including forced sterilization, abuse, and institutionalization. The use of the r-word has been rejected by the disability community because it is a reminder of the discrimination our community has endured.

It seems that the media is more frequently picking and choosing when to invoke the First Amendment. I hope you can see that this goes beyond an issue of an artist’s freedom of speech – this is hate speech. The fact of the matter is that Owen’s special contains callous verbal violence against a minority group. I can’t help but wonder if Owen targeted a specific race or gender, would swifter action be taken?

I know that earlier this week you spoke with Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International, about this matter. The Arc stands with Special Olympics, as well as dozens of other disability organizations, and thousands of other advocates across the country who are united in our outrage that Gary Owen and Showtime have failed to pull this program from On Demand or edit out the offensive segment.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with you or Mr. Owen. On behalf of millions of people with I/DD and their families, I urge Showtime to take appropriate action.

Sincerely,

Peter V. Berns

CEO, The Arc