Spending time with some Funny People
Comedy collective Abnormally Funny People are delighted to be changing perceptions but are more interested in simply making people laugh, as Nigel Powlson discovered.
THE problem with the comedy scene is simple for wheelchair user Liz Carr. "There isn't a lot of comedy about disability that's done by disabled people," she says. "So there was a real need for that – not in a niche way and just for a disabled audience, but for something really accessible."
Which is why the group Abnormally Funny People, comprised of a wide range of comedy talent, was brought together by producers and co-founders Simon Minty and Steve Best.
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Liz is delighted to be part of this well-received collective.
She says: "It's a real mixed bag – wheelchair users, blind people, deaf people – which varies from show to show. Plus a token non-disabled comedian, who we get to do all the menial stuff, like move the microphones. We like to give them a chance – an equal opportunity."
Liz co-devised, wrote and performed with the disabled women's comedy group Nasty Girls and is now a regular on the comedy circuit and has been seen in Abnormally Funny People's shows for the last eight years.
"It started from an acknowledgement that there's a great deal of humour in disability," says Liz.
"I got involved in 2005 when we received some sponsorship from Sky TV, who followed us to Edinburgh. As well as Steve and Simon, there was people like Tanyalee Davis who had already been performing for 12 or so years, and Steve Day, who describes himself as Britain's only deaf comedian – 'if there are others I haven't heard' is his big line. And there was me, who had done a little bit of sketch comedy but not stand up at all.
"The first time I had a go I was awful. I hadn't got the tone right and people thought I was this mean, bitter and twisted cripple and didn't laugh at all. We were heading for Edinburgh in less than two weeks and the other guys gave me a lot of help. But by the time we got there, we had a show and we all stayed on the stage together while everyone went up to the front and did their five minutes.
"We were the hit of Edinburgh 2005 and haven't looked back really."
Liz hopes Abnormally Funny People will help change perceptions but that's not the main focus.
She says: "If you get a frail wheelchair user like me being rude, that is quite challenging. But that's a side effect not the intention – it's got to be about being really funny and entertaining. That's the core, putting on a good show.
"Steve and Simon are really passionate about giving a voice to disabled comedians. It's hard to find accessible venues when you are starting out. The accessible ones are the big ones and you have to be a certain standard to perform at them, so it is a bit chicken and egg."
Since 2005, they have given a platform to a whole range of comedians.
"There aren't a huge number of disabled people out there on the circuit or in the media," she says.
"But the more that you see people like you doing something you love, it gives you encouragement and impetus."
Abnormally Funny People are now looking forward to being part of Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival
Liz says: "It's always brilliant to be part of festivals and mainstream comedy events. What you really don't want is 'ah bless this is a special needs group for comedy and isn't that nice'. It's great to be part of the main programme."
Liz particularly loves the banter between members of the group.
"We all perform individually, so it's nice to get back on stage together and be funny about each other. A lot of people say 'Oh my God I can't believe they can be so cruel to each other'. We play with who we are and aren't afraid to do that. That's one of things that makes us so funny."
Abnormally Funny People: @ Embrace Arts, Lancaster Road, Leicester, February 9 at 8pm. Tickets £12 (£8 concessions). Go to: www.embracearts.co.uk