APRIL 2024 | Volume 238


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Fat Joke
by Cheyenne Rouleau
Neworld Theatre in assoc w/ Rubmle Theatre
The Cultch Vancity Culture Lab
April 25-May 5
$30/$15 or 604-251-1363

Through no particular effort of my own, I’ve always been a relatively thin person. Cheyenne Rouleau’s solo show makes it pretty clear that my thinness privileges me in much the same way as my heterosexual middle-class white maleness.

Fat Joke comes off as a combination of stand-up, Ted Talk, PowerPoint lecture, and autobiographical confession. Rouleau is a talented comic with excellent timing, and a smart writer. Her script for Sunrise Betties made for the best play of the year so far. I found much of Fat Joke entertaining, educational, and sometimes fascinating.

With the aid of four funky video screens on Jennifer Stewart’s set, Rouleau exposes the audience to the aggressions and humiliations of fatphobia. A series of fat jokes appears on onescreen during the show, illustrating how easy and familiar a target large bodies (especially large-bodied women) are in our society, and how thoughtlessly most of us accept the implications of such jokes. Rouleau’s comments display an underlying tone of bitterness that is almost always immediately relieved by a comic bit: for instance, her elaborate flow charts that explain whether you can laugh at a problematic fat joke.

She explains some of the terminology around contemporary movements to alleviate fatphobia or re-appropriate fatness: body neutrality, the fat acceptance movement, fat liberation. But mostly she uses her own life experience to illustrate the challenges a fat woman faces, even someone like her who is at the relatively small end of the fatness spectrum. I found her anecdotes about trying to be an actor especially resonant. The kinds of comments she has had to endure from teachers, casting directors, even an agent are pretty appalling. A lesser person would be crushed under such extraordinary insensitivity.

A high point in her narrative comes with her discovery of a fat-identifying group of baseball players and their team that she joins: the Heavy Hitters.

Under Chelsea Haberlin’s direction Fat Joke maintains a good pace and nice rhythm. Andie Lloyd’s projections and Mary Jane Coomber’s sound help bounce up Rouleau’s narrative. Only one segment of the show struck me as terribly wrong-headed: Rouleau’s torturous logic and highly dubious historical argument tying fatphobia’s origins to slavery, implying an equivalence between the demonization of the Black body and the fat body. No need to overstate the case when she can conjure so much other damning evidence of the damage fatphobia has done.






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