The zeitgeist pleads for full disclosure and the Soho theatre delivers a disabled woman waxing lyrical about the joy of sex to the sound of her friend’s double bass. It won’t be for some, but Abnormally Funny People couldn’t care less. Storming the painfully prescriptive values of mass-media, the less-than-able-bodied bunch will be performing four dates over the coming months and after seeing the results, we can’t recommend it enough. Speaking to the show’s director Simon Minty along with co-founder and co-producer Steve Best, we unearth the perils of putting on a disabled comedy night and discuss the show’s increasing popularity.
Each of our shows include a token non-disabled person. That’s an old joke, which I suppose is about disabled people making comedy
Dazed Digital: So who are Abnormally Funny People?
Simon Minty: We are twelve disabled and twelve non-disabled comedians. Until June we will be rotating five stand-ups to put on a monthly show.
DD Is the disability aspect a subject of the comedy or just the common denominator that brings you all together?
Steve Best: Each of our shows include a token non-disabled person. That’s an old joke, which I suppose is about disabled people making comedy. But our only objective is to be funny. Our performers can either talk about their disability or not. There will be interplay - Mat Fraser has very small arms, for instance, so he’ll leave the mic in and just say, “I don’t give a shit”.
Simon Minty: But another of our comedians is completely blind and rarely mentions it. When we started, it was definitely about finding good comedians. Our touring show later this year, which will be devised and collaborative, will probably take disability as more of theme.
DD: It’s a conflict facing almost all comedians: to use or not to use social stereotyping for comic affect? Should women comedians talk about being women? Should black comedians talk about being black? Is it damaging to the wider community if a disabled comedian laughs at his disability?
Simon Minty: As a comedian, I would never tell people what they should or shouldn’t do but I am determined to keep the quality high because I want to exceed people’s low expectations. We get a lot of: “disabled people doing comedy? Aww, that’s nice”. We have to strive to be as good as we can be.
But yes, getting the balance right can be tricky. A few of the acts use language that might seem offensive. Tanyalee Davis uses the word “midget” for instance and I told her that she shouldn’t. I mean, obviously she can, but I do worry that she’s giving licence to other people. That’s the only time censorship has ever come into it.
DD: Do you think that the general attitude towards disabled people is improving? What would true equality and acceptance look like?
Simon Minty: Well obviously there are ways around it that don’t involve asking, “what’s wrong with you?” But I’d like to get to a stage where it wasn’t important. Ignoring disability isn’t the answer, but confronting it without sensitivity isn’t either. It’s like someone asking about the last time you had sex. It’s personal. It’s the kind of thing you’d tell someone after you’ve got to know them, but certainly wouldn’t talk about straight away. I think people should apply a similar principle to disability.
DD: What would you say to people who argue that bringing a group of comedian’s together on account of their disability actually does the opposite to achieving acceptance?
Simon Minty: I would say that they are half right. But then I would also say that on that basis we shouldn’t have all-female comedy shows, for example. My dream is for our comedians to achieve mainstream success, but at this stage we’re giving them a launch-pad, a safety net from which to grow and achieve recognition. I mean it is risky and a few people haven’t wanted to get involved because they’ve said that it’s a freak show. But that’s just not the case.
DD: It’s no different to any comedy group that is inevitably formed out of some shared experience, then?
Simon Minty: Exactly. But I want to stress that this isn’t a form of refuge, an exercise in feeling a part of something. We’re not a crappy little arts club thing; we’re now performing in a great venue and if I didn’t think that this was going somewhere then I would bail out now.
The other great thing is that our audiences are becoming increasingly mixed. Our last show was 80% able-bodied. We still want disabled people in the audience of course, but our aim is to get as wide an audience as possible.