I met the first Transgender person I ever knew when I started out as a comedian back in 1999. It was at a workshop run by the Stand Comedy club for new wanna be comedians. The woman’s name was Karen and I remember her making me really laugh out loud when she sang a song, accompanied with guitar, and the chorus went, “I’m weird, I’m weird. I’ve got boobs and a beard.”
Karen made the news in Scotland because of her identity. Sadly not for good reasons. She became victim of a targeted campaign of animosity from locals in her community. Her house was sprayed with bigoted graffiti, windows smashed and she was eventually forced to leave the area. Things were pretty bad for trans people back then. In direct contrast to this whenever Karen got on stage people really enjoyed what she had to say and nobody ever complained.
This year a local disabled comedian and friend won Britain’s Got Talent. Lee Ridley has a common type of cerebral palsy that has left him unable to speak and severely hampered his mobility.. He uses and iPad to deliver his routines and is a talented writer and performer. Now he’s becoming a star. I remember one night chatting in the bar with Lee and we were joined by another man who attends comedy night regularly who has learning difficulties. When the other chap left an idiot who had been listening in on us said to Lee “Aren’t you getting on the bus with your mate?” This idiot didn’t recognise the dreadfully patronising thing he’d just done. It was a genuine question coming from a place of extreme ignorance. My jaw nearly hit the floor but Lee just fell into hysterical laughter. I hope in all the time he has worked with us he’s felt equal and on exactly the same level as the rest of us comics.
I’m doing a degree in Drama at Northumbria University in Newcastle just now. In my year are around half a dozen folk with dyslexia, a couple of people with a learning difficulty, a couple of acute mental health diagnosis (Including myself) and a young man with autism. None of this has hampered how we work as a group and all are doing well in their degrees.
Last week I ran a comedy night where I was joined on stage by service users from a local mental health charity, a young formerly homeless woman who was raised in care, a couple of teenagers from a local youth theatre and a couple of writers from the local community. As far as I can tell everybody had a great time and the audience at Alphabetti theatre couldn’t have been less judgemental and more welcoming of the huge variety of entertainment and information that was presented to them over two nights.
So as the title of this blog implies the arts are for all. We can be a bunch of insecure prima donnas in our respective fields, but when it comes to inclusivity and being non-judgemental the arts community are often second to none in that area. So give us a cheer for the artists. Bring an end to this despicable government who would have all funding required to nurture new talent taken away. Bring an end to University Admins who award themselves 18’000 pounds bonuses, go on jollies to lap dancing bars using public money and who have recently shut down our theatre at my Uni, “Because we can’t afford it.”