Comedian, Lee Ridley was the standout performer on this year’s Britain’s Got Talent contest. He spoke with Able Magazine about television, ambition and laughter.
Some people have described your success on Britain’s Got Talent as a ‘watershed’ moment. What do you think?
I think there’s still a long way to go. It was really good to see two people with disabilities in the ﬁnal of Britain’s Got Talent, but I’d still like to see more. That’s why I would like to see more disabled comedians booked by comedy clubs, appearing at festivals and being shown on television. Basically, more disabled people being portrayed in a positive light. I’m sick of being part of a group in Society who are mostly demonised in the media (unless they can win a shiny medal, of course). That’s exactly why hate crimes against disabled people are on the rise.
The general public need to see that we’re not all just scroungers and beneﬁt cheats, they need to see that disabled people can contribute an awful lot to Society, and they need to see that we have a sense of humour just like anyone else.
Programmes like The Last Leg on Channel 4 have paved the way but there’s still a lot that could be done. Only when we see disabled people on our stages and on our screens as much as anyone else will attitudes really change. And only then will disabled people fully feel a part of Society.
Is it dangerous to tell jokes about disability?
Not at all, no. I think any subject can be joked about if it is handled in the right way. Basically, I’m just doing what most other comics do and joke about their own life. It just so happens that I’m disabled so that’s going to give me a lot of material. I don’t see it as any different from other people joking about their own situation. That’s what makes comedy so unique. I think it helps to get these issues out into the public domain, but in a light-hearted way.
Why does comedy appeal to you and where did the idea of using the voice synthesiser on stage come from? (Do you use it in other aspects of your daily life?)
Well, I had no choice in whether I used a communication aid on stage or not, because I wouldn’t be able to talk at all otherwise, and that’d be a very boring comedy show!
I’ve never been able to talk and I’ve used a communication aid since I was about eight years old, so I guess it just seems natural to me now. As for comedy, I’ve always enjoyed watching stand-up comedy ever since I was a teenager and I’ve always enjoyed making other people laugh. So I guess it was my dream job really. I never expected to do it though; I just thought it wouldn’t be possible. Then some friends suggested that it might work and that I should try it. I thought they were crazy but the idea got stuck in my head. Eventually, I decided to give it a try because I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. It seems like I was right! As for inspirations in comedy, I am a huge fan of Ross Noble, Tony Law and Gary Delaney. I also adore The League of Gentlemen, which could explain my twisted sense of humour.
Tell us more about your radio sitcom, Ability. You’ve just got a second series…
Ability is all about a disabled guy who can be a bit of a dick at times. So obviously it’s purely ﬁctional! He’s called Matt and has just moved away from home for the ﬁrst time, so this is his ﬁrst taste of independence. He has moved in with his best friend, Jess, who he also fancies – a lot – and he has a really rubbish carer called Bob. Together they get up to lots of mischief, mostly using Matt’s disability to their advantage, but things don’t always go as planned. I really enjoyed writing and recording the ﬁrst series so I’m looking forward to getting started on the second. It’s due to be broadcast next year.
It was an ambition of yours to sell out a big gig in Newcastle and you’ve just done it by selling out the 300 seat venue, The Stand. What’s next?
Selling out the Newcastle Arena, obviously!
Part of your Britain’s Got Talent prize is a slot on the bill of the Royal Variety Performance…
I’m really looking forward to it. I have some surprises up my sleeve for the Royal Variety Performance. I just hope the Queen likes my jokes, or I might end up in the Tower of London!
“I think any subject can be joked about if it is handled in the right way.”
Lee Ridley is appearing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 during August and will be touring the UK in 2019.