There’s a new team of reporters on the beat, on MTV, in which correspondents with Down syndrome, Williams Syndrome and other developmental disabilities who travel the country in a restored 1970s Buffalo Top Cruiser bus interviewing celebrities. The show entitled “How’s Your News?” is produced by South Park masterminds Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
“How’s Your News” Origins
How’s Your News? began more than 10 years ago at a summer camp for people with disabilities, long before big box, mainstream media and celebrities took note.
“We kept making videos with other reporters from the camp and at the end of the summer we compiled a VHS video tape of our favorite street interviews and made copies for our friends and family,” reads a website dedicated to the How’s Your News project. “Those tapes got copied and passed around and one ended up in the hands of Matt Stone and Trey Parker…and when Parker and Stone hit it big with South Park, they offered to finance a short documentary staring the best reporters from the summer camp.”
How’s Your News? however, is clearly not a television show program about people with disabilities. More of a magazine format-type presentation of true news, How’s Your News? tackles random topics in a free-form format. To date, the disability media entourage has pointed their microphones at the likes of everyone from John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Miley Cyrus and Ben Affleck.
In the show’s finale, the reporters will board their bus and head to New York to take over the Big Apple with Bam Margera, Amy Sedaris, and Kathy Griffin. The result: a wildly entertaining half hour of television.
Star of How’s Your News
One standout star of the show, Bobby Bird, has Down syndrome, is in his 50s and has a severe speech impairment that results in garbled phrases that not all of his interviewees seem to understand. From the looks of it, Bird has found a way to capitalize his own proprietary language, launching it at the unsuspecting, in a way that puts Bird in the driver’s seat.
Comedians Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel are particularly adept at reacting to Bird. “I don’t like to talk about my sexuality, but …” Kimmel responds to one of Bird’s garbled phrases. At a Rambo premiere, Bird approaches Arnold Schwarzenegger and seems to toss a few garbled inquiries his way. “You are one of the best journalists that I’ve seen,” Schwarzenegger smiles and tells him.
Are They Exploiting People with Disabilities?
Inevitably, when people with disabilities mingle with comedic antics, questions about exploitation, poor taste and offensive materials arise. Throw a South Park connection in the mix and folks really take note. The question of whether people are laughing at or with the “How’s Your News?” team will likely trail behind the project for quite some time.
The producers acknowledge some public concerns but say the show demonstrates how its cast has a sense of humor as well, especially about their own disabilities. Just because people have special needs, doesn’t mean the material always has to be reverently handled, they say.
The “How’s Your News?” website approaches the questions about offensiveness head on, writing:
“We fully understand why people would express concern upon hearing the concept behind How’s Your News?, but we’d hope anyone with such concerns would take a look at the films we’ve made and get to know the background of this project. All of our reporters, and their families, are very proud of this project. The disability community has widely embraced this project, often using our films for training or inspirational purposes. Far from being offensive, they provide a positive, empowering view of life with a disability. That’s our opinion. Please watch our films and let us know what YOU think!”
The “How’s Your News?” crew has sufficiently proved that they do not need us and they are doing just fine,” James Moore writes for The Huffington Post. “More importantly, they have given us a window on their world to show us they laugh and hurt, cry, love, communicate and misunderstand at the same degree of proficiency as those of us without what is described as a disability or handicap.”