Life as a disabled comedian
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London Trailblazer, Romina Puma is a stand-up comedian and disability campaigner. She has been performing for over eight years and has done shows nationally and performed internationally, including in Italy, Germany, Lanzarote, Manchester, Edinburgh, Brighton and London. She is currently an ambassador for the young disabled campaign group Trailblazers and has done numerous TV and radio interviews, particularly on the topic of sex and disability.
There is a proverb that states “laughter is the best medicine”. However, it seems disabled people have not taken up this advice with so few disabled comedians taking to the UK stage! I do know a few and I am one myself.
When I started comedy I had not yet been diagnosed with a disability. I have Facioscapularhumeral muscular dystrophy, or ‘FSH’, for connoisseurs of the condition. I was diagnosed ten years ago when I was twenty-nine. My life changed from that moment. People might think it changed for the worse, but sorry to disappoint you, it got better! Obviously it has not been easy, but hey who has got an easy life?
When I first started, I didn’t use my condition in any of my material, probably because I was still processing the diagnosis and couldn’t see the funny side. Now talking about it on the stage for me is my therapy. Comedy is one of the best ways to talk about serious stuff in a humorous way. I love making the audience understand something through laughter.
The kind of comedy I do is very personal: I like to challenge the audience and say what a lot of people think, but do not have the guts to say. I’m not very politically correct. Because of this I get lots of different reactions. Some absolutely love it for talking about difficult topics but some are not so keen. That’s fine because as the British saying goes: “I cannot be everyone’s cup of tea!”
Disability in the comedy scene
From what I’ve seen the best way to succeed is to do competitions with mainstream material. I’ve done a few but never made it to the final. Maybe I am just not funny enough! But I have noticed that most of the time the people who go through are young, male Brits with samey material. As I’m female, Italian and disabled I don’t even tick one box!
There are so many mainstream comedians that I think we need more non-mainstream ones. How boring would it be if all the topics were about online dating, women/men, social media and so on? Don’t get me wrong, I love those topics, but it’s interesting to hear a different view, not part of standard everyday life. Disabled people are a big part of society. It’s time for us to become part of the mainstream world, not always in the minority. I would love to see us represented more often and more realistically. Comedy is a great place to start!
We can start to improve this by creating more accessible comedy venues. You become a great comedian by trying out material on the open mic scene, which is currently the worst in terms of accessibility. Few venues are accessible. The more popular you become, the more likely it is you’ll be playing at an accessible venue. If venues were improved, I am pretty sure that more disabled people would be up for giving it a go!
I’m not the only disabled comedian. Last year I met Simon Minty, co-founder of the Abnormally Funny People. Abnormally Funny People is a group of stand-up comedians with different disabilities. They do an excellent podcast and shows all over the country. I went to see their hilarious show Edinburgh last year; the best part was when they had a special guest who was the non-disabled token and all the others were making fun of him.
I loved seeing Abnormally Funny People and would really appreciate seeing more disabled people: get out there and give it a go!