Will comedy be the next Paralympics?

Guest post from comedian Francesca Martinez

Congratulations to Jack Carroll, the very talented young comedian in the final of Britain’s Got Talent 2013. The audience loved him and so did the judges – David Walliams described him as the next Peter Kay. Jack is funny and likeable. He also happens to have cerebral palsy. He ended his set with a quip about donating to the disability charity Scope – then gave himself £20 to cut out the middle man!

I bet Jack’s jokes have also helped a few people think differently about what it means to be disabled. Like me, Jack uses humour to challenge attitudes to disability, much in the way that Britain’s Paralympians did with their amazing achievements last summer. A year on from the games, it’s got me thinking: could comedy be 2013’s Paralympics?

As a child growing up wobbly (I prefer the term to ‘cerebral palsy’), I used humour to disarm bullies and to deflect people’s pity. I thought that if I was cheeky or funny, people would respect me. I loved saying the things everybody thought but nobody dared to say.

Fifteen years later, when I discovered comedy, it was a revelation. I’d found something which let me stand in front of people and challenge their prejudices and stereotypes. So if the audience feels sorry for me when I walk out on stage because I’m wobbly, I use humour to question why. By the time I walk off, I want them to see the person behind the wobbles.

A lot of my material questions the lazy thinking behind what’s seen as different and as normal. I think disability is normal – it has always existed. It’s not abnormal because it’s part of life. Of course it brings struggles, but many of those struggles come from society’s inability to deal with difference.

Comedy lets us tackle ‘difficult’ subjects in a light-hearted way. It lets you by-pass the discomfort that bubbles up when people worry too much about what to say. I try to turn people’s fears into jokes, because I find that people are more receptive if you make them laugh. And, do you know what? Disability can be funny! Some people think I’m talking about an issue, but I just talk about my life, which is what every comic does.

It’s a difficult time for everyone right now, including disabled people. Attitudes towards disabled people and the ‘vulnerable’ have worsened. We need the power of comedy now, more than ever. If I can say things that need saying and change attitudes for the better, it gives a deeper meaning to the job I love.

It’s wonderful to see Jack Carroll doing so well and I hope he has a great future ahead of him. The more that difference is represented in the media, the more people will accept it as a natural and invigorating part of life. But Jack and I are not the only ones using laughter to change the way people think: there’s a host of great disabled comedians out there. My friends at Scope, who work to remove barriers so that disabled people can lead full and productive lives, have collected some clips .