Andrew Dipper

Lost Voice Guy interview

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Pictured: Lee Ridley, a.k.a Lost Voice Guy, backstage at the 2014 BBC New Comedy Award semi-finals.

Lee Ridley is a stand-up who can’t speak. The Newcastle comedian – who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at six months old and has never been able to talk – tells jokes using a text-to-speech app on his iPad, with hilarious results. This week, he performs in the final of the prestigious BBC New Comedy Award, competing alongside five other stand-ups for the chance to win £1000 and their own BBC Radio pilot. How does he fancy his chances at beating the odds once again? Andrew Dipper finds out.

Hi Lee. Firstly, congrats on making the final of the 2014 BBC New Comedy Award. Are you going to win?

Ha ha! That’s a curveball of a first question. I think my material is strong enough to win based on the heats and semis, but it all depends on what the other guys do on the day. I think I’d be more confident if it wasn’t a public vote and being judged by the industry instead. As we saw last year, public votes can go any way they want.

Talk us through your semi-final win. Did you prepare differently for a stand-up competition compared to, say, a normal stand-up gig? Does the material have to be more ‘gaggy’?

It definitely has to be tighter. I rarely do five or six minute sets these days so it was strange to have so little time to play with. It meant that I had to pick exactly what I wanted to do beforehand, so that I knew it would fit. I never do that usually. I think ‘punchier’ jokes help in a competition, although I did do my ‘just click and go’ joke which is slightly longer. I think I just chose material that introduced me well, showed people how well I can write, then ended strongly.

Do you think you might be at a slight disadvantage performing on radio? You’ve got a lot of jokes that rely on people seeing your physical disability.

I did worry about that in the semi when I did my ‘hands up if you can tell I’m disabled’ joke. It seemed to work though. I have tried to pick material which doesn’t rely on seeing me anyway. I’d never get a job on radio if I did that!

For those who’ve not seen you before, how would you describe your act?

That’s quite hard actually. I’ve never really thought about it. In Edinburgh once I was described as Stephen Hawking if he was reading Viz, which I kind of liked. I guess I’m just a comic without a voice who has a pretty twisted sense of humour.

Where do you think you get your sense of humour from?

I’ve always watched comedy and stand-up ever since I was young, so it’s mostly from there I think. As I’ve said in the past, The League of Gentlemen have been a massive influence on me, just because their humour seems to be in sync with my own. I also think I used humour to cope with life in general. A classic case of if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry.

I noticed you shared the Chortle article by Helen Keeler – is it a case of you being more comfortable in your own skin when you’re on stage?

Yeah, more than I realised I think. I noticed a lot of myself while reading her article and I hadn’t really looked at it like that before, so it helped. I’m very self conscious and a bit paranoid about what other people think of me in my day to day life, but that seems to go away when I’m on stage.

Is reaching the New Comedy Award final your proudest achievement in comedy so far?

That will always be warming up for Ross Noble! This is definitely a close second though. I didn’t expect to get this far when I entered the competition so it’s a nice feeling to be in the final six.

Have you scouted out the competition for Wednesday’s final?

I listened to the other semi-final when it was on. That’s about it though. There’s only so much you can do. As long as my set goes well, I’ll be happy.

Have you played the London Comedy Store before?

Never. Obviously I’ve always wanted to though. I’m quite looking forward to it!

The winner gets £1000 in prize money and a chance to record their own BBC pilot. What would you spend the cash on?

I’d buy a Geordie sat nav, so at least some of my words could have the accent. Seriously though, I think I’d just plough it back into paying for travel to gigs etc. I entered the competition to gain experience and contacts mostly. The money is just a bonus.

Any ideas for the pilot?

Let’s not jinx it by thinking too far ahead. The BBC sent me the questions they’d ask me if I won the semi-final in advance too, and I didn’t dare prepare my answers for them beforehand either.

Everyone at GB Towers will be voting for you on Wednesday. How can anyone reading this support you in the final?

They can text ‘vote 3’ to 65577 between 3.35pm and 4.30pm on Wednesday, or do it via the New Comedy Award website during the same time.

Listen to Lost Voice Guy’s semi-final win below:

To register to vote and for more info visit the BBC New Comedy Award website.