Harry Dungate

Interview: Lost Voice Guy

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Newcastle-based comedian Lee Ridley has cerebral palsy and uses a communication aid to perform stand-up. Under the stage name Lost Voice Guy, Ridley is quickly establishing himself as one of the circuit’s unique acts.

Armed with his iPad, Ridley wins over audiences with dark and self-deprecating stories about growing up without a voice. Here Ridley talks about his move into stand-up, his comedy heroes, the taboos surrounding disability, and his new show, Laughter Is The Worst Medicine.

Hi Lee. What did you do before comedy?

Shout jokes at people in the street to see if they laughed. I’ve always needed to feel accepted like that. They never laughed though. Bastards.

Seriously though, I started off as a journalist. I’ve worked for the BBC, Sunday Sun and Sunderland City Council in their media team. I’ve always loved writing really so I never wanted to do anything else. As you can see, I have a habit of choosing careers unsuitable for someone who can’t communicate properly.

Thankfully I had this great English teacher who pushed me to my limits and helped me achieve so much. I’d like to think that my writing skills have helped me in my comedy as well.

When did you first decide to become a comedian?

I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh so you could say it started there really. I never thought I was funny enough to be a comedian though, I just wrote amusing blogs and stuff. Then a friend saw that I was funny and suggested that I gave stand up a try. I thought he was mental but the idea stuck in my mind. Eventually, I decided to give it a try because I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. Turns out the bastard was right all along!

Who are your comedy heroes?

I’m a massive fan of Ross Noble. I first saw them when he did a gig at my university in Preston in about 2002 and I’ve seen him a few times a year since. I was blown away by how quick witted and random he could be. It really impressed me.

I’m also big fans of the likes of Tony Law and Tom Binns. The type of comedian’s comedian. I grew up watching Lee Evans and Jack Dee as well so I guess they’ve had a big influence on me as well.

You were accused on Twitter of ‘cheating’ at comedy by using an iPad – what’s your response to that?

Hang on, I’ll just copy and paste my response. I know it’s on here somewhere…

Rightly or not, some audience members often feel uncomfortable when a comic walks on stage with a guitar or keyboard. You must experience something quite similar…

It depends on the room really, like for everyone else I guess. You can tell that some people are more comfortable with a disabled comedian than others. That’s why I like to make a joke about my disability early on, to ease the tension a bit. Most of the time, that’s all it needs. After a few minutes I don’t notice it at all. Maybe I should walk on with an iPad, keyboard and guitar and see what happens then.

What would you say to anyone with a disability looking to get involved in stand-up comedy?

Don’t. I was here first. Go into acting instead. I’m only joking, there’s quite a few of ‘us’ with a wide range of disabilities. That really helped me when I first started because I knew there was nothing to be afraid of. I would just say go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? We’re quite a supportive bunch so I’d encourage anyone to give it a try and see where it leads.

Last year was your debut hour in Edinburgh – what did you learn from the experience?

I learned not to try to do too much or you’ll end up in hospital with pneumonia. Despite that though, it was one of the best experiences of my life, which is why I can’t wait to go back. My own show was doing quite well and I think I learned a lot just from being there.

I also got to duet with The Boy With Tape On His Face in front of 1500 people at a charity gig, which was out of this world. Then, of course, I got to meet so many people and got so much good advice. It may have ended badly but I wouldn’t change that much about last August, it was immense.

What’s your favourite thing about Edinburgh?

All the steps…and the hills…the big massive hills…it can’t be beaten for inaccessibility. My other favourite thing about Edinburgh is obviously The Stand. It’s such a lovely comedy club to play and I’m lucky that I have such a good relationship with them. It’s the best comedy club I’ve played so far.

Who will you be seeing at the Fringe this year?

I think Knightmare Live is coming back, isn’t it? I loved that last year. My inner geek was so happy. So I’m going to that if it’s on. I should really have a proper look at the Fringe programme instead of just looking for my face in it! I always go to see Tony Law as well. Is Jim Davidson still on? I might go see how awkward I can make his show.

Tell us about Laughter Is The Worst Medicine.

It’s basically the story of what happened to me last year at the Fringe after getting pneumonia. I’ve done that typical comic thing of seeing how much material I can get out of personal misery. it turns out to be quite a lot!

So, it starts with me trying to ring the ambulance and getting mistaken for an automated machine, being rushed into hospital, being seen by a doctor worse than Harold Shipman, having that many x-rays that I develop a massive glowing cock, trying to chat up the nurses, that sort of thing. Seriously, nearly dying is comedy gold!

Finally, what are your plans post-Edinburgh?

I’ll just be happy to survive Edinburgh this time I think! My gig diary is full for the rest of the year so I’ll be all over the place as usual. Hopefully without seeing the inside of a hospital.

Lee Ridley: Laughter Is The Worst Medicine, The Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, 1-24 August (not 4, 11, 18), 5pm, £10/£9, arfringe.com