Complaints upheld over Jack Whitehall 'dwarf' joke

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Comedian Jack Whitehall presents on stage during The BRIT Awards 2020 at The O2 Arena on February 18, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Jim Dyson/Redferns)
Comedian Jack Whitehall presents on stage during The BRIT Awards 2020. (Photo by Jim Dyson/Redferns)

The BBC has upheld two complaints about a joke that comedian Jack Whitehall made about a dwarf.

The comedian made the joke – about being at a pop concert with a dwarf, who was one of his university friends – in an episode of Live At The Apollo 11 years ago.

The stand-up show was repeated on BBC Two in September and two viewers complained.

An investigation by the corporation's Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) has now said the material had gone "beyond the expectations of audiences".

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Explaining its findings in a statement shared online, the BBC’s board of content said that while stereotypes could be exaggerated for “comic effect” when it was within audience expectations, it was not acceptable “to take a stereotypical view of dwarfism itself”.

Jack Whitehall on stage at the Brit Awards 2020 at the O2 Arena, London.
Jack Whitehall on stage (PA)

However, it also noted that fans of the Fresh Meat star would have understood that the routine was “intended primarily to show up his own inadequacies and failings”.

The statement said: “The guidelines on portrayal say, ‘When it is within audience expectations, we may feature a portrayal or stereotype that has been exaggerated for comic effect, but we must be aware that audiences may find casual or purposeless stereotypes to be offensive.’

“The ECU considered that viewers familiar with Jack Whitehall’s self-deprecating style of comedy would have understood the routine as intended primarily to show up his own inadequacies and failings, and to that extent if fell within audience expectations for stand-up comedy in a late evening slot.

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“The ECU accepted, however, that there were occasions when it seemed a stereotypical view of dwarfism itself, rather than Jack Whitehall’s own ineptitude, was the source of the humour, which took the routine beyond the expectations of audiences in relation to material of this kind.”

The board said the material would not be broadcast again.

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