A disabled comedian who has won a high-profile award – beating competition from hundreds of other performers – says his success shows how new technology is helping disabled people break down barriers to their participation in society, and tackle stigma.
Lee Ridley – known as Lost Voice Guy – beat opposition from nearly 800 other up-and-coming comedians to win the 2014 BBC Radio New Comedy Award.
Ridley has been performing stand-up – with his act delivered through the use of a communication aid – for less than three years, and has already supported comedian Ross Noble, and taken two of his own shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
But last week his career took a huge step forward when he won the BBC competition – following a public vote – which has previously featured finalists such as Alan Carr, Peter Kay, Lee Mack, Russell Howard and Shappi Khorsandi.
Ridley told Disability News Service: “When I first entered the competition I just entered it because I was curious to see how well I would do.
“I was surprised when I won my heat, and I was surprised when I got through the semi-final.
“I knew that I’d be up against the best new comedians in the country in the final so I was just pleased to be there. I was thrilled when I found out that I had won.
“It’s especially nice as it was a public vote. It’s very satisfying knowing that that many people think that you are funny!”
Wearing a tee-shirt with the message “I was disabled before it was popular”, Ridley entertained the audience at the final with gags such as: “I have lived in Newcastle all my life, but for some reason I still haven’t picked up the accent. However, if you are trying to place my accent, it’s from PC World.”
Another was: “I went to a school that had ‘spastics’ in its name. They certainly knew how to make us feel good about ourselves.”
Ridley said he was now looking forward to working on various projects with BBC Comedy.
He said he would like to think that new technology like his Lightwriter communication aid was helping to break down barriers.
He said: “I certainly couldn’t have done this a few years ago. And a few years before that, I would have found it hard to communicate at all.
“I just started doing stand-up because it seemed like a laugh, but I have realised since that it has opened people’s minds a bit.
“If I can encourage other people with disabilities to follow their dreams then that has to be a good thing.
“On the flip side, if I can help take some of the stigma away from being disabled, that’s good too.”
Despite his success, he said he still faces the same barriers as many other disabled people, particularly around access.
He said: “Some places (especially comedy clubs!) aren’t very accessible. Although that is improving.
“I also think that many people don’t know how to talk to disabled people yet. They either shout at us or ignore us completely and talk to our friends instead.
“I don’t think they do it on purpose, they’re just not educated about that kind of thing.
“Hopefully, as time goes by and disability becomes more mainstream, this will change too.”
23 December 2014