News: Rosie Jones Headlines Online South Bank Show: Page 2 of 2

News: Rosie Jones Headlins Online South Bank Show

Simon Minty on Abnormally Funny People

I have funny bones in reality, as I have a disability that is muscular skeletal, I have differently shaped bones. I also have “funny bones” in that I am pretty good at making people laugh. I enjoy it. I like being with people who make people laugh.  

I’m going to try answer this question - Is it a better world because we have professional disabled comedians or are the disabled comedians going well because the world is more confident about disability? 

One of the comedians I work with is Lost Voice Guy. He has cerebral palsy and uses a speech machine, well, an iPad. At the end of his set says ‘Thank you for laughing at a disabled man’ which makes most of the audience laugh.

He also says “People have always laughed at me. As a comedian at least there’s a set time and place.” This is sharp gag. Makes you laugh, makes a point. This is a comedian who is at the top of his game. He has his own voice.  

I produce comedy shows called Abnormally Funny People made up of disabled comedians. We have a show on at the Southbank, although virtual, on Sunday 17th January, 2021 at 7.30pm.

When Abnormally Funny People started in 2005 we were ground breaking. There was always been individual comedians who were disabled but not as an ensemble. At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe where we started out, we created quite a buzz. Ten years later we went back to festival. Times had changed. I got to know what is was like for any regular comedian. No more special treatment. It was devastating. I mean if I can’t manipulate the press by playing the disability card, well, that says this equality and inclusion has gone too far!

I think disability and comedy is still difficult, more so for the audience. In one show I sat with the audience as they came in, to talk with them to get a feel for the room. I spoke to a young couple as they sat down.   

I said, ‘Great that you’re seeing disabled comedians’ The guy yelped ‘What? All the acts are disabled? We didn’t know that! No one told us that!’  The lights went down, it was too late to leave. I watched him relax and then he laughed. A lot. After the show finished, he told me this was his favourite show.

Now he wouldn’t have come if he’d been told the acts have a disability. By the end, he said it was his favourite show! What did you think when you first heard about the make up of the comedians? For us, it would be lovely if we were promoting something that people actually wanted.  

One huge sign of the comedians progressing, is that most of the disabled comedians I work with, and many I don’t work with, perform mainstream gigs. They do their own shows as part of a comedy club. Maybe Abnormally Funny People ensemble is not needed so much now but when we come together we a lot of fun. On stage as well as behind the scenes. It’s a safe place where people just get each other.  

I’m proud that young comedians ask to performs with us. I’m proud that some of our comedians are successful in their own right, and yet they’ll still do a Abnormally Funny People gig as it’s a special time. Progress says to me, we’re allowed to do both mainstream and disability gigs. 

When we started I used to worry, doing comedy might undermine the stand- ing of disabled people in society. What if we just looked silly or no one laughed? Would we loose years of hard earned respect. We needed to be empowered, be funny and self-deprecating BUT not lower ourselves, sell out for a cheap laugh? I felt we were on a tightrope and we could fall at any moment.   

Today feels very different. We as comedians are more experienced, stronger. We are more matured and confident and enjoy looking silly or even incompetent. Everyone else does!

There used to be an avoidance of disability and comedy, or maybe there were some non-disabled comedians making bad taste jokes about disability. Then some funny comedians who were disabled came along.

With these new comedians, the audiences came to the shows, admittedly not always intentionally. Audiences began to relax, to enjoy the comedy. They judged it on its merit not not anything else. 

It’s not perfect. We know from comedy studies that jokes sometimes have a victim, sometimes have a target, sometimes can be used to ridicule. What makes us laugh is subjective. There is an inherent risk and not everyone is comfortable.  

But as a progressive movement, disability has to be mature enough to be able to allow laughter in. For it to be part of our lives and our interactions. 

As comedians we need to push boundaries, point out absurdity, hypocrisy and sometimes say things that others avoid. I know comedians aren’t seen as the same way as a professor or an expert. However I’d argue some have the finest of minds and a better grasp of reality and a better way of explanation than many intellectuals

I am proud that we have comedy as part of the disability rights landscape. I’m proud that audiences enjoy comedy from disabled performers. 

To move away, to be humourless would be a huge step backwards. It would show a lack of confidence and a lack of pride in ourselves. 

Earlier I said the comedy can be like us walking a tightrope. Over the years, others disabled comedians have arrived on their own tightropes. Now these many tightropes have intertwined and we now have a swing bridge. Not 100% secure but much stronger. 

So join us on the swing bridge I’ll go first as I want to play the disability card one more time whilst I still can. Attend our virtual show and enjoy it as much as we do performing it. Don’t worry, I won’t be in the audience asking you what you think as you sit down. It’ll be just you and you can laugh as loud as you like with us. That’s the point.

 

 

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