Pop Goes The News — Canadian comedian Mike Ward didn’t shy away Monday night from joking about a disabled teenager who’s seeking compensation for being the butt of his jokes.
Opening for Tom Green at the Salle André-Mathieu in Laval, Ward wasted little time addressing the controversy.
“I got sued for $80,000 over this joke that I had never done in English,” he told the audience. “But I’m going to do it tonight.
“If this joke is going to cost me 80 grand, I’m going to do it forever. I’m going to start doing it in English. I’m going to learn Spanish. I’m going to travel the world and do it.”
Ward’s comments came a little more than a week after closing arguments were heard by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal. The family of Jérémy Gabriel filed a complaint in 2012 over jokes Ward made about the boy, who was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a condition that causes facial deformities and loss of hearing.
Gabriel, now 19, earned public attention for singing in front of Pope Benedict XVI and Celine Dion and at a Montreal Canadiens game.
During his s’eXpose tour, Ward said Gabriel’s singing was tolerable only because he thought the boy’s condition was fatal. “But five years later, he still hasn’t died!,” Ward exclaimed in his act.
On Monday, Ward recalled getting a phone call from the tribunal.
“I pick up and this woman is like, ‘Mr. Ward, we’re calling you about one of your jokes. We think you know the one.’ I’m like, ‘Fuck, lady, all I do is mean jokes. If I try to guess what joke it is, I’m just going to get in more trouble, so just tell me what joke it is.’ And she told me the joke.”
Though he didn’t mention Gabriel by name on Monday, Ward described him as “kind of a Make-a-Wish Foundation type kid.”
He recalled: “He sang for the Pope and he’s deaf. And he was horrible. Of course he’s going to be horrible. If you’re deaf you shouldn’t sing ‘cuz you’re not going to know what you sound like so you’re not going to be able to improve.
“So the joke I made was that this kid sang for the Pope and everyone was like, ‘fuck he’s horrible, but he’s a little kid’ and then five years later he’s not fucking dead yet. He won’t fucking die. That was the joke.”
Ward added: “That joke could cost me $80,000, which is fucking crazy.”
Indeed, the case pits Ward’s freedom of expression against Gabriel’s right under the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms to “the safeguard of his dignity, honour and reputation.”
Last September, Gabriel told the tribunal that being the target of Ward’s bit “put the idea into my head that my life wasn’t worth much.” He testified that offers to perform stopped coming his way.
Late last month, Ward’s lawyer Julius Grey told the tribunal the comic was poking fun at the boy’s appearance and singing ability, not his disability.
A ruling is not expected for several months.
On Monday night, Ward suggested he’s been victimized. “The thing that hurt the most — well, it didn’t hurt but the thing that kind of pissed me off — is when I saw in the media people were like, ‘Mike Ward has no respect for the disabled.’ And fuck you, I respect the disabled,” he said.
“I respect the fuck out of deaf people. Like seriously, if I ever have a kid [and] he’s deaf, I’m going to love him almost as much as my other kids. Even though he’s broken, I don’t care. I’m going to keep him for the parts.”
BELOW: Watch Mike Ward’s bit about Jérémy Gabriel (in French).