It’s a Matter of Timing and Mic Technique
In the U.K., stand-up comedy is currently dead. Like Python’s parrot, it “wouldn’t move if you put 4,000 volts through it!”
That’s not strictly true. Our government has just stumped up 1.57 billion pounds ($1.97 billion) to support the arts that were slammed shut by the crisis. Comedy is never thought of as an art form and stands (the irony) little chance of getting any help. Scores of clubs across the country may completely close for good. No laughs in that!
Comics, unlike ballerinas, opera singers, and actors, were consistently being pestered to do charity gigs. A half-billion-pound industry grew out of one club that started the whole shebang in London in 1979: The Comedy Store.
OK, how do I parley this into a column about MS?
Yup, that’s a toughie. How about this:
I’ve been involved at the coal face (hey, some jokes are filthy!) of live comedy for the entire 40 years of my working life, the last 10 years as someone with MS.
It’s undoubtedly true that many industries see themselves as inclusive, but mine truly was. The Comedy Store did everything to adapt to my increasing disability. In the end, the doormen pushed me around everywhere, and the venue even found a way to get me into the sound booth in a wheelchair. I got to crash the lights to a blackout (sparingly, mind you). It’s amazing what laughs you can engender by a touch of the old theater!
In comedy, everyone is a target, at least backstage. It’s inclusive. We all tease each other about our various races, creeds, sexuality, and disabilities — and the many combinations of all of these. Possess all four and you get a grant!
This wasn’t so true of the TV industry where I worked as a casting director. In those days, I was an able-bodied white dude, so what did I have to be worried about? But I’d learned radicalism as something holistic by starting out as a journalist at the cooperative London magazine City Limits in the yuppie 1980s. Everyone else was making “loads of money.” We weren’t, but there was a lot of fun to be had warming our hands on the embers of the ’60s!
I made a point of suggesting disabled actors for roles where disability wasn’t mentioned. Not that I was trying to be woke, but because I knew some very funny disabled actors. It never went down well. I once was even admonished by a writer/director for casting a blind actor in a blind part! He lived abroad, and the producer left it to me. Tee-hee.
Thankfully, today inclusivity in casting is central. All sessions have to be accessible. Toward the end of my time, I struggled with stairs and getting out of my seat to shake hands with actors. MS was new, and it took me a while to come out.
In fact, I realized I couldn’t handle the workload and endless trips to theaters. But I continued the weekly trip to the one theater I cared about. Every Tuesday, I was at The Comedy Store for my resident topical/satire show “The Edge.” Last week would have been our 30th birthday, so I wrangled a spot on our podcast, “The Edge – Backstage Pass.”
Unfortunately, especially when working with comedians, my mic decided to be attacked by gremlins. Hey, it’s a good excuse for not surviving a lot of the edit when chatting with pros!
I brought along an old friend and former member of the show, Jo Brand, who now is a U.K. comedy star.
Me: “You were the first person I ever asked to do the show!”
Jo: “I thought you were asking me for sex, John!”
As a writer with one week to think about it, a rejoinder is easy!
Me: “I did — you turned me down twice!”
Comics work in the moment. I’ve always loved them for it.
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