An Open Letter To Wayne Brady: People With Down Syndrome Aren’t Punchlines

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Update: A few days after this letter was written Wayne Brady issued an apology for the Trig Palin “joke” he made during Comedy Central’s roast of Roseanne Barr. Check it out and let us know what you think.

wayne brady trig palin down syndrome boo comedy central

For those of you who aren’t aware, Wayne Brady was a part of Comedy Central’s roast of Roseanne Barr this past Sunday. At one point in his routine he directed the following statement to Jeff Ross, another comedian taking part in the roast.

“Now the thing is Jeff, these are all jokes, and I really like you. I really, really like you. But a lot of people hate you, especially Sarah Palin because you remind her of what Trig is going to look like when he’s 40.”

Wayne Brady’s comments infer that Sarah Palin’s son, Trig, would grow up to be an ugly 40-year-old because he was born with Down syndrome. In other words, Mr. Brady used a 4-year-old-boy with Down syndrome (and an entire population of people living with Down syndrome, a group which my son is a part of) as the punchline of a cruel and hurtful joke.

What follows is an open letter to Mr. Wayne Brady regarding the comments he made during the Comedy Central program.

***

Dear Mr. Brady,

Your remarks about Trig Palin during Comedy Central’s roast of Roseanne Barr were out of line, hurtful, and disrespectful not simply to the Palin family, but to thousands of individuals living with Down syndrome today, their families, friends, and all of us who place a high value on all human life.

I’m a father of a 19 month old boy (whom I love deeply) who was born with Down syndrome. Some people (wrongly) assume that he is ‘suffering’ with Down syndrome. But they are incorrect. It isn’t Down syndrome that people like my son suffer from, Mr. Brady, rather his suffering comes from having to endure hurtful comments like the one you made toward Trig Palin (which also applies to my son as well since your underlying premise was that people with Down syndrome grow up to become ugly.)

The truth of the matter is, I do worry about the hurtful comments people will say to my son as he gets older. Comments on the playground, around his school, when we are on vacation. It breaks my heart that someone could say things to purposely hurt my little boy. Perhaps what hurts the most is that while I’m expecting these sorts of comments from children too immature to understand the gravity of their words, I don’t expect them from adults. From other parents who know the love a parent has for their child. How do you think Trig’s mom and dad felt when they heard you say what you said? How would you have felt if someone on national television used your son as a punch line of a cruel joke? Think about it. Would you be angry? Hurt? Disappointed?

Mr. Brady, you’ve been on Sesame Street a number of times, a show my son and many other children with Down syndrome watch as well. Were you aware that Sesame Street features children with Down syndrome on their show from time to time? I’m curious if you have ever met any children with Down syndrome while on their set? I wonder if you’d be able to look one of their fathers or mothers in the eyes if you were to meet one after this past weekend. Would you apologize to them? I have to be honest, if I see you on an episode of Sesame Street after these comments, I would turn the channel. I would not want to watch you on that show pretending to be a person who loves and cares for all children. Someone who makes hurtful comments like you made is not a person that loves and cares for all people, but rather a person who treats people as a punchline.

Here’s a video clip of one of your many appearances on Sesame Street. This seems to be a different person than the one that made the comments above.

Trig Palin, my son, and the thousands of other people living with Down syndrome aren’t punchlines. They are human beings. They are daughters. Sons. Grandchildren. Most of all, they arepeople.

Mr. Brady, your comment implied that people over 40 with Down syndrome are ugly. I’m curious how many people you personally know with Down syndrome, of any age. We have a Facebook page where thousands of families have children with Down syndrome of a variety of ages. I’d encourage you to check it out sometime. I think you’d be surprised to learn what people with Down syndrome are like. I assure you, they aren’t ugly.

Mr. Brady, you are a public figure. You have a choice to use that platform for good or bad. To build people up, or tear them down. Unfortunately, on Sunday you chose to tear them down.

I’m one of the many people who are passionate about helping the world understand more about Down syndrome. To not see Down syndrome as a curse word, or to think that people like Trig, or my son Noah, are suffering. Instead, I hope to help people exchange inaccurate and hurtful stereotypes for accurate, respectful, and dignifying views. I (along with thousands of other parents across the world) work hard at this every day, and although we may be making one step forward, comments like yours take us two steps back. Comments like yours continue to dehumanize, degrade, and insult people born with Down syndrome. And it has to stop.

Mr. Brady, shortly after the Comedy Central Roast of Roseanne Barr, where you made the hurtful comments meant to degrad people with Down syndrome, you broadcasted this message on your twitter feed:

wayne brady trig palin comedy central roast down syndrome

Your comments certainly did open people’s eyes to a few things, Mr. Brady. It opened their eyes to how insensitive people can be towards people with Down syndrome. It opened their eyes to how easily an actor can transform from one role (sesame street) to another (The Comedy Central Roast.) And to be honest, I’m not sure which role more accurately reflects your true opinions. I’m also not sure what you were referring to in your tweet about how the Roast opened people’s eyes, but if anything it helped to open my eyes to the fact that there is still a lot of work left to do in order to see that people like Trig, and my son, are treated with dignity and respect. I hope this letter helps open your eyes to how insensitive and hurtful your comments were.

First and foremost, I think you owe an apology to the Palin family. I also think you owe an apology to the entire community of people born with Down syndrome and their families. Third, I would encourage you to get involved with a local Down syndrome organization in your community. In fact, the Down syndrome Buddy Walk is coming up in October, and I would encourage you to attend one. There, you will meet people with Down syndrome of all ages. Perhaps that will help you understand that people with Down syndrome aren’t ugly, rather they are people just like you. People who deserve the same amount of respect and courtesy as you do.

Mr. Brady, as my son gets older, the biggest fear I have for him is having to suffer through the ignorant and hurtful comments of others who do not value all people. People who value the laughs of their schoolyard friends above the feelings of others. People who are careless with their words at the expense of another. I worry about him coming home from school one day and asking me to explain something he overheard on the playground (where he was the punchline.) As I said, I could expect this from children, but not from the man who reads stories to Elmo on Sesame Street.

Mr. Brady, I want you to know that I, of all people, understand that sometimes we say things we don’t mean. Sometimes we get caught in a moment. Sometimes we say things without fully understanding the consequences. I’ve said lots of things in my life I wish I could take back. But once we say something it can never be taken back. However, we can say we’re sorry. We messed up. We made a mistake. We were wrong. And thankfully grace can find us in our mistake and help us to begin to right the wrong we made. So I hope you know I’m not trying to throw stones at you, I’m simply trying to help you understand how your joke crossed the line, and extend the same grace to you that is often extended to me. The grace to do the right thing.

I hope moving forward, you’ll use your platform to help people, not hurt them. I hope you’ll apologize to the Palin family, and the thousands of people born with Down syndrome. And most of all I hope you will take time to get involved and get to know some people with Down syndrome. I think you will find that they, like all people, are beautiful.

By the way, here is a picture of my son Noah. I love him with all of my heart.

wayne brady comedy central down syndrome joke

He’s a person, not a punchline.

Sincerely,

Noah’s Dad

To those of you reading this post, what are your thoughts regarding Wayne Brady’s comments? Do you think Sesame Street should continue to allow Mr. Brady to appear on their program until he apologizes for the remarks he made? Please share your comments below and let your voice be heard. 

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About Rick Smith

Hi, I'm Noah's Dad and I'm passionate about giving the world a window into our life as we raise our son who was born with Down syndrome. I also enjoy connecting with other families, so let's stay connected.

Comments

  1. Caroline Linakakei Bricker says:

    Well said Rick, I for one agree with you 100%, but they need to go a lot further & “FIRE WAYNE” take him off of Television for good; and never let him be a stand up comic ever again!! That is uncalled for; his rude & crude comments against everyone in the world that has a loved one with a down syndrome!!

  2. Actually they aren’t people a species is determined by the amount of cromosones they have “people” with downs are not human they are a different species
    Learn your facts please

    • “a species is determined by the amount of [chromosomes] they have?” LOL. Ok.

      • To “That Guy Say”,
        Maybe we are the mistake and people with an extra 21st chromosome are the true form of humanity. By the way what dictionary did you look the word people up in as I have noticed the use of the word collectively or in general. Nothing is mentioned about chromosomal count. Yes, I am the mother of a nine year little person of the female persuasion who happens to have a condition known as Downs syndrome. Have you any conditions? Should we dismiss you from the “people” population if you do?

    • That’s a bit strong!

  3. Gloria Holcombe says:

    I do think he needs to apologize as well as not be allowed back on Sesame Street. A person with Downs should have the same respect as any other person. He/she has a soul and a personality that is unique and should be honored.

  4. Pamela Dahl says:

    I agree that Wayne Brady needs to apologize for his comment! If he doesn’t, how can we let PBS know that this is important?

    Pam

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