Being disabled hasn't prevented a number of Fringe comedians from striving towards the top
Lee Ridley has never experienced a heckle. 'But I do have comebacks stored just in case. I'm dying to use them one day.' The recently-crowned Britain's Got Talent winner, better known as Lost Voice Guy, speaks with a synthesiser on a tablet after cerebral palsy robbed him of speech as a child. He's used to being afforded 'special' treatment but with Inspiration Porn, the Geordie rejects the label of a triumph-against-the-odds role model. 'I've gotten used to it and it's not particularly something I've asked to be,' he says. 'But it comes with the territory. I take the piss out of it in my show but I'm also getting comfortable with it. If it helps other people, then it's a good thing.'
Jamie MacDonald has never faced audience abuse either. But he's in no rush. 'That sounds like a call to arms,' the blind comic laughs. A self-described 'blinky', he argues that most disabled people have developed a pretty robust sense of humour anyway. 'There's stuff that we find quite amusing amongst ourselves. But say it to a roomful of "normos" and they think it's outrageously funny because it's so naughty and taboo,' the Glaswegian observes. 'But that's only because of their arbitrary constructions. We're happy to call each other "blinkies" and "wheelies".'
Becoming a stand-up was partly about 'owning' his sight loss. 'People treat you funny,' he says. 'Rightly or wrongly, assumptions are made and that fucks you up a little bit sometimes. When I talk about it on stage, people get to see who you really are, as opposed to assuming.'
That's certainly one of the primary motivations for Laurence Clark's latest hour, An Irresponsible Father's Guide to Parenting, in which the CP-suffering comic confronts the online trolls who saw his BBC One documentary, We Won't Drop the Baby, and thought they ought to tell him why he and his wife weren't fit to raise children. 'It's so personal and did get to me a little bit,' Clark admits. 'Going through life, we don't really think about how we're perceived by the general public. But that gave me a little insight. And a whole load of misconceptions that I could build my show around.'
Routines about children (with that don't-they-say-the-funniest-things cliché) invariably risk cynicism. But Clark's kids were desperate to feature in his hour. 'I struggled for ages to find a way to involve them that didn't feel exploitative or just added on,' he explains. 'So I've picked out some of the social media comments and got the kids to read them out loud on video, saying whether they think they reflect our day-to-day lives.'
Parenting with a disability also features in his fellow Scouser Chris McCausland's multi-faceted show, Speaky Blinder. It's a relatable topic for many, but with an oblique angle. 'I loved Eddie Izzard's scattergun comedy growing up,' he recalls. 'And I really liked the way he talked about transvestitism. He kept it to the bare minimum, left them time to be interested rather than hammering them over the head with it and boring them, becoming predictable. So that's the approach I've chosen, keeping the blind jokes to a minimum so they're still surprising.' Like all of those interviewed (who unite in describing Edinburgh as an accessibility nightmare for those with mobility and sobriety issues, thanks to ancient architecture, cobbles and endless hills, and the disgraceful reluctance of some taxis to pick up wheelchair users), McCausland would love to be able to perform an hour without referencing his disability. Yet even after appearing on Live at the Apollo, he realises there's still some way to go. 'When I get shown up to the microphone, I have to break that ice, and some are still thinking "fucking hell, what have we got here"?'
Rosie Jones / credit: Aemen Sukkar
Rosie Jones agrees that 'we're not there yet. We have to address the disabled elephant in the room, as I say in one of my jokes, because people see and hear me and can't help but feel a little awkward. My aim is to get over that awkwardness and say I'm not disabled. I'm just Rosie.'
Even so, for her first full-length hour, Jones is imagining the alternative life she might have led if complications at birth hadn't led to her developing CP. 'Would I be in comedy if I were able-bodied?' she wonders. 'Possibly not. I do love to think about where she is. Although I think about her a lot, it doesn't feel like her's was ever meant to be my life. There have been times where I've wanted to be able-bodied. But my disability made me stronger. And right now, I'm happy and a better person for it. We're all evolving and coming to terms with who we are. By next year I might be a much worse person.'
Granted licence to 'say things fellow comedians could never dare, it's fun to see if I can shock. But I don't take it for granted,' she clarifies. 'Disability needs to be laughed at to make it more approachable.' She feels nagging pressure to 'represent and to pave the way for younger, disabled comics. That shouldn't keep me awake at night but it does.'
Just appearing on stage becomes a campaigning, if not a political act, Clark suggests, 'because you're giving audiences perspectives they might not have heard before'. Amidst more general material, MacDonald is criticising the disability allowance directly 'not in the sense that I feel like a crusader or voicepiece, but because it really fucked me off that I had to go in and compete in what was essentially a disability gameshow, being asked questions to get points. OK, so being registered blind is the bonus ball but the whole thing was pretty sketchy. People with autism are absolutely shafted. Audiences have been coming up afterwards and explaining to me the trouble they or their family have been through. It's really bad.'
Similarly, Ridley finds himself growing more political by accident. 'The government seems to want to help me write my jokes. I had a point to prove when I began stand-up comedy. But now I feel I have a responsibility and platform too.'
McCausland admits that he's pushed back, if only psychologically. 'I realised I could write loads of really funny things about being blind. But I wanted to make people forget about it. All I've ever wanted is to compete in the mainstream, be as good as the comics I'm working with. Nothing to do with ticking boxes.'
Chris McCausland: Speaky Blinder, Underbelly, Bristo Square, 0131 510 0395, 4–26 Aug (not 13), 6.35pm, £10–£12 (£8–£10). Previews 1–3 Aug, £6.50. Jamie MacDonald: Blinkered, Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0131 623 3030, 4–26 Aug (not 11), 8.25pm, £10.50–£11.50 (£8.50–£9.50). Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £7. Laurence Clark: An Irresponsible Father's Guide to Parenting, Assembly George Square Theatre, George Square, 0131 623 3030, 4–26 Aug (not 14), 5.40pm, £10–£12 (£9–£11). Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £6. Lost Voice Guy: Inspiration Porn, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Bristo Square, 0131 622 6552, 4–26 Aug (not 13), 4pm, £9–£10 (£8–£9). Previews 1–3 Aug, £6. Rosie Jones: Fifteen Minutes, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 4–26 Aug (not 13), 8.30pm, £7.50–£10 (£6.50–£9). Previews 1–3 Aug, £6.
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