Lighten Up! – One comedian’s view of fat shaming jokes – by Adam Ellis
Terry Jones as the continuously famished Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life; 1983.

There is an unfortunate trend in today’s society to try and censor comedy (not to mention almost everything else), in an attempt to remove anything that might possibly offend anyone.

Whatever form the attempted censorship takes (tweets, reviews, calls for boycotting), it is almost always done in the name of Protecting the Feelings of the Innocent! “How dare you make fun of the left handed!? It’s not their fault they’re freaks!”

What seems to go unnoticed is that, largely, these protestations come from the outside. If the issue becomes large enough to warrant news coverage, the stations always manage to find a member of whatever group is supposedly being targeted to throw in front of the camera, but dollars to doughnuts (Homer: “Umm…doughuts…”)  it isn’t the person that started the outcry.

Fat Shaming in Comedy?

Which brings me to the issue of fat shaming. It’s not hard to find examples of thin people mocking their heavier counterparts, but try finding examples that are funny! The funniest fat jokes come from fat people themselves. And don’t give me that crap about their being fat giving the audience license to laugh, because they ALWAYS have license to laugh if the joke is funny enough!

Largely, these protestations come from the outside…

When Louie Anderson stepped onstage, already mopping his brow with a handkerchief, and said, “Pardon me for sweating, but if I don’t, I’ll explode,” he took the audiences immediate perception of hey, this guy is huge and one-upped them before they had a chance to form their own jokes. When John Pinette did his Chinese Buffet bit, he turned his size into an asset. I saw him a few years before he died, and he’d lost quite a bit of weight, but was still quite large. He quipped, “I’m the only guy I know who could lose a hundred pounds, and people look at me and go, ‘You get a haircut?‘”
Not even Oliver Hardy sailed as smoothly as Jackie Gleason when it came to the perfect balance of fat shame and who gives a fuck.


Fat comics have been mining the rich vein of material that their size gives them a unique perspective as outliers, and have done so since the days of Vaudeville, silent movies, and probably before that. Hell, at one time, the biggest (no pun intended) star in this country was known as Fatty Arbuckle!

The Rib-Eye of the Beholder

There’s a great comic named Bob Zany, who used to be fat. Almost the entirety of his act was fat jokes. Damn good fat jokes at that! “I got pulled over the other day. When the cop got to my door, he asked, ‘You know why I pulled you over?’ I said, ‘Because you’re lonely and you’ve never been with a fat guy?’ He said ‘Bingo!’” Then Bob lost a whole lot of weight, and by consequence, his entire comedy act. He had to reinvent himself as an insult comic, because he knew that those jokes wouldn’t work for him anymore. You can’t tell fat jokes from a third person perspective and slay the audience. If they aren’t about you, they just don’t work. The joke is still the same, but you are no longer in the joke, so it falls flat.

The great Louie Anderson as Mrs. Baskets on the hilarious “Baskets” on FX.

Now, some people (mostly thin) want fat comics to stop telling fat jokes, for fear of offending other fat people. If fat comics stop telling fat jokes, then no one will be telling them, and a large (again, not a pun) part of the population stops being talked about on stage.

If we allow this blatant artistic censorship to happen, how long until it reaches the point where fat actors aren’t even considered for roles anymore, as seeing them on screen might make someone uncomfortable? Maybe it’ll get to the point where someone will take a print of The Maltese Falcon and digitally slim down Sidney Greenstreet, and alter the audio track to remove all references to “the fat man.”

So my advice to all those looking to stop us (yep, I’m one of ’em) from telling fat jokes (and, pointedly, not to those telling them) is the same as this article’s title:  LIGHTEN UP!



Adam Ellis is a Las Vegas based comedian.

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