Sunday 30 April 2017

'I never meant to upset anyone' - Comedian responds to criticism from deaf community over 'offensive' Taoiseach prank video

Ross Browne fake interpreting Enda Kenny's speech
Photo: Ross Browne Facebook
Ross Browne fake interpreting Enda Kenny's speech Photo: Ross Browne Facebook
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

A comedian who posted a controversial video of him "fake interpreting" a speech by Taoiseach Enda Kenny has responded to claims that his actions were "disheartening" and "offensive".

The Council of Irish Sign Language Interpreters (CISLI) hit out at comedian Ross Browne in a statement, claiming his actions "undermined" the deaf community.

Browne carried out a skit in front of more than 300 people at the Clayton Silver Springs in Cork where a Fine Gael conference about Brexit was being held.

In the video, he can be seen mimicking sign language, and at one point, giving the Taoiseach the middle finger.

However, speaking to Independent.ie, Mr Browne says he contacted the CISLI and outlined how he "never meant to upset anyone."

"My intention was never to upset people, it was to have a laugh and joke," he said.

"To apologise would be to acknowledge that what I did was wrong and imply there was offence intended, but there wasn't - comedy is subjective, after all.

"However, I didn't realise that there was such issues regarding the lack of regulation in the sign language profession. I mentioned to CISLI about doing a sketch to highlight the difficulties deaf people face."

The Cork man also stated he intends to have an interpreter at his next show.

CISLI responded to Mr Browne by thanking him for his "willingness to engage with CISLI."

"It is encouraging to see your interest in the status of ISL and the difficulties Deaf people face as a result of its non-recognition," their statement read.

In an earlier statement, they were heavily critical of Browne's actions, claiming that they poked fun at sign language and caused serious offence to both professional interpreters and deaf people.

"CISLI gets the joke, but this does not remove the offence felt by both professional interpreters and deaf people," the statement read.

Meanwhile, the Cork Deaf Association refuted claims by Mr Browne that he had consulted with them ahead of his performance.

Mr Browne allegedly contacted CDA about borrowing a hearing aid or fundraising bib for a comedy sketch he was working on.

"He spoke only to our receptionist. Our receptionist had no idea of his intention to intrude upon Enda Kenny's talk by posing as an interpreter," a spokesperson said.

"Attitudes toward Irish Sign Language in Ireland are no laughing matter. As hard as it is to believe, Irish Sign Language is still not recognised as an official language of the Irish State."

While the Taoiseach appeared to be bemused by the interruption, the comedian received abuse from the crowd.

He was escorted out of the venue and shouted "I'm not paying for my water anyway."

A man who was in attendance at the event said he thought it was a "disgrace" and an "utter insult to deaf people."

"I am somebody that was paralysed by polio and I know what it is to have a disability. And for someone to come up here and mimic that… it’s an insult to anybody who has a disability of any kind," Cork man John O'Sullivan told the Evening Echo.

The Irish Deaf Society also condemned the actions of the comedian, urging people to focus instead on the "disenfranchisement that arises from the lack of recognition of Irish Sign Language on a daily basis."

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