Comedian Jim Jefferies on his Autism Diagnosis and Vaccines
In his latest standup special, FreeDumb, which was released by Netflix last month, comedian Jim Jefferies recounts the humorous story of how he found out he was autistic. The topic of autism is discussed for a significant portion of his 90 minute comedy show. By addressing autism in his standup special, Jefferies brings up issues that are important to me as an autistic person.
He begins by talking about his wife not wanting to get their son Hank vaccinated and how he did it anyway, which required forging her signature on multiple documents. After Hank received the vaccinations, he behaved oddly. In response, Jefferies freaked out at the doctor’s office and was rocking, stimming with his fingers, and repeating the same phrase over and over: “my son is autistic, my son is autistic.” The doctor told him “you know that you have a tendency to overreact because you’re on the spectrum,” to which Jefferies responded with astonishment. This routine is hilarious, but Jim Jefferies is one of the least politically correct comedians and some of the things he says could potentially offend those who are overly sensitive.
However, he does stress the dangers of parents not vaccinating their children and pointed out the ridiculousness of getting medical advice from people like Jenny McCarthy. That is certainly a positive message in this day and age, where parents are endangering the lives of others by refusing to vaccinate their children and multiple presidential candidates have made erroneous statements linking vaccines to autism. Jefferies also should be commended for bringing awareness to the fact that you can be a successful adult and still be diagnosed with autism.
As I mentioned, Jefferies is not politically correct and he did make some comments that are controversial. In response to his being diagnosed, Jefferies says, “I don’t even know if I believe it because the spectrum is very broad, like one percent to Ben Carsons or something. . . I think a lot of times, people just diagnose personalities. Like I’m just a bit of a dick.” This is certainly not an accurate statement because autism is in fact underdiagnosed and saying that “people just diagnose personalities” somewhat undermines the real struggles faced by those of us on the spectrum. However, I think Jefferies doesn’t entirely believe this opinion because he said it in a tongue-in-cheek manner for the purposes of humor. He is a comedian, after all.
Despite joking about being skeptical of the diagnosis, Jefferies later makes it clear that he does actually believe that he is autistic. He goes on to explain how “it’s weird when you find out that you’re autistic at 36, because [it was] big news for me.” He describes how he called up everyone he knew to share the news but “no one was surprised.” After leaving a message on his mom’s voicemail saying “I have the biggest news ever,” she called back thinking he was getting married to which he responded “No! I’m autistic!” She said “Oh, everyone knows you’re autistic. It’s not that bad, when I was a child I had polio.”
Jefferies has a history of creating entertainment related to individuals with disabilities. He produced and starred in the show Legit on FX which centered around a fictionalized version of himself and his wheelchair-bound friend with muscular dystrophy, Billy, played by DJ Qualls. While the fact that Billy was not played by a disabled actor was criticized by some disability rights activists, the show included other minor characters with disabilities such as Down syndrome and the production did cast actors with disabilities to play those roles. The series was widely praised for portraying disabled characters as real people, not caricatures or plot points, which is something that is unfortunately uncommon in Hollywood.
Jim Jefferies is a comedian first and foremost, so his main goal is to make people laugh. That hasn’t stopped him from tackling political issues in the past and it hasn’t stopped others from using his routines to back up their political arguments. In an earlier standup special, Bare, he commented on the absurdity of Americans’ arguments against gun control. The clips went viral, were shown on the news, and were used by gun control advocates to point out the hypocrisy of right-wing gun rights advocates.
Similarly, the things Jefferies says about autism have the potential to raise autism awareness, promote acceptance, and point out the importance of vaccinating children. I hope in the future that more autistic entertainers will follow suit and tackle the issue of autism in an informed way because autism affects millions of Americans and I do believe there’s truth to the cliché “laughter is the best medicine.”