Finding your funny bone

A woman sits in her wheelchair, wearing black trousers and a bright orange vest. She has short hair and is scowling, tied to the security gate in front of her front door. 14 DECEMBER 2014 JU GOSLING AKA ju90 WRITES: In last year’s Blog I wrote about the importance of comedy, and how it can both be used as a weapon against disabled people, and by disabled people ourselves against prejudice and discrimination. I was writing this during our very popular comedy writing workshop with Clare Summerskill at Stratford Circus.

This year, in response to demand from the 2013 participants and others, we ran a ‘sit down’ (since the lead artists are all wheelchair-users) comedy workshop with Robin Surgeoner aka Angry Fish and Karen Shook aka The Wheelchair from Hell, followed by a performance by the artists and participants. This took place at the House Mill in Bow, which has been one of our new pop-up venues for 2014, and which is proving very popular with artists and audience members alike. I was absent from the workshop itself, since we were also running our pop-up shop at the Hub’s holiday fair, but was able to join the artists and participants for a meal before the performance and hear all about it then.

Finding your funny bone with Karen Shook aka The Wheelchair from Hell and Robin Surgeoner aka Angry Fish

Finding your funny bone with Karen Shook aka The Wheelchair from Hell and Robin Surgeoner aka Angry Fish at the House Mill in Bow on Saturday 14 December 2014

I was particularly pleased that, with the support of BSL interpreters Parob Coast and Kris Pryer, the day proved to be accessible to an emerging Deaf artist, Manuel, who is Portugese. We are often told that humour does not translate easily, but it turns out that Disability humour translates better than most. Perhaps disabled comedians use more imagery in their work than others?  We all laughed at the squadron of slugs using the newly installed wheelchair ramp to Robin’s garden to make night raids on his house. Perhaps disabled comedians are less likely to take it for granted within their humour that their experiences are widely shared? For whatever reason, Manuel said he would be waking up giggling all night, and we went home laughing at his BSL jokes.

Away from Disability Arts, disabled comedians such as Don Biswas – who compered for us last year on International Day – Liz Carr and Steve Day are increasingly and deservedly making names for themselves on the ‘mainstream’ comedy circuit. However, they still face considerable barriers, whether these are environmental – such as the lack of wheelchair ramps and hearing aid loops – or attitudinal. Emerging artists such as Manuel, and Sadiquet who also participated and whose speech is affected by CP, currently rely on the Disability Arts sector to create the development and performance opportunities they need in order to progress.

I would urge anyone who is organising a disability related event to consider booking a disabled comedian. Comedians are experienced in taking control of an audience; require no specialist equipment; and inject a badly needed note of humour. Some, including Karen and Robin, are also experienced trainers. In a world of austerity, we all need to find our funny bone.