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Why Does Rosie Jones Feel Like The Only Disabled Comedian In The Country?

March 25, 2022

I’m writing this article from a lovely cafe in Poole, Dorset, and a sweet man has just asked for a photo with me. He’s a fan, he claims. I of course say yes, but when he swipes to open his phone, it reveals that the last thing he Googled was “disabled comedian”. He is mortified. I, naturally, find it funny. It is clear he saw me from across the cafe, thought, “Oh, I recognise her mug” and searched the two terms he knew about me: “disabled” and “comedian”. I am not bothered that he had to Google who I was, or that he reduced me to my ability and my job, but I am bothered that, according to the world’s number one search engine, I am the only disabled comedian.

This isn’t true. In the UK right now, there are so many great comedians with disabilities and neurodiversities: Adam Hills, Chris McCausland, Lost Voice Guy, Tim Renkow, Ashley Storrie and Fern Brady to name but a few. But it does seem that recently I have become somewhat of a poster girl for disability. I think there are a number of reasons for this.

First, I am not afraid to speak openly and frankly about my disability and how proud I am to be a member of the disabled community. And I regularly use my platform to make people aware of systemic ableism in society – or, lately, my personal, internalised ableism when it comes to using mobility aids.

Second, and this is a tricky one for me, but I sometimes think I am the “perfect amount of disabled”. I am being facetious but hear me out. I look disabled and I sound disabled, but I am not too disabled. I can appear on a panel show without disrupting the whole programme. There’s no need for subtitles, ramps or additional needs. I’m a TV producer’s dream!

If I were being arrogant, I’d say a third reason for my success is simply my being funny. But God, even writing that made every organ in my body cringe, so let’s forget that for now. Anyway, I have a few more things to say about that second point. Even though I have cerebral palsy, I pretty much live an able-bodied existence. I travel everywhere on my own, I live independently, I do not take any medication and I am not in constant pain. I gig pretty much every day, all over the country and, due to my mad busy schedule and writing deadlines, I am currently functioning on an average of six hours’ sleep a night. In short, I’m an insomniac, a workaholic and a little bit of a psychopath – but in a cute way.

My life would not be sustainable for a lot of able-bodied people, never mind disabled ones. I feel as though I’ve covertly entered the comedy world in a Trojan horse, by pretending I am just like every other comedian. But now I’m inside the city walls I can reveal my true goal: I want to make the industry a more welcoming and accessible place for comedians with all different kinds of disabilities and additional needs.

This is a big goal and I am well aware that this will not happen overnight. I dream of the day when a panel show books more than one guest with a disability, and I hope for a time when I only perform in venues that are accessible and inclusive of all disabilities.

The latter aim is something I strive for, but I am ashamed to say that I regularly perform in comedy venues that are inaccessible for wheelchair users. And when I do, I am quite rightly challenged by some members of the disabled community who think I should solely perform in accessible spaces.

But here’s my argument for still gigging in inaccessible venues: if I made a stand and refused to perform in the space, I would simply be replaced by another, probably able-bodied comedian. Sure I’d have the moral high ground but I truly believe I can make more of a difference if I take the gig – and while I’m there, use the opportunity to educate and inform said venue or panel show about how they can be better and more inclusive.

It should not be solely on my shoulders, either, just because I have a disability. I cannot change the workings of the comedy industry on my own. I’m only one person. It’s up to able-bodied people, too, to be good allies. Seek out disabled comedians and challenge places that aren’t accessible.

In some respects I feel that I’m at the beginning of my fight to make the comedy world more disabled-friendly and accepting. We’ve got a long way to go. I hope in five years’ time, if you were to Google “disabled comedian”, you’d be presented with an array of different faces beyond my mush. I hope television commissioners and producers start to consider additional needs and abilities when booking comedians, and they remember that sometimes people need more time and more care in order to perform to the best of their ability. And finally, I hope that one day I’ll be booked on a panel show where I am not “the disabled one”, I am simply Rosie. That’s the dream, anyway.

  • Trip Hazard series two, Rosie Jones: Dine Hard, and a documentary presented by Rosie Jones will all be on Channel 4 later this year
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