Sam Wills needs no introduction. His actions speak louder than words. Although he claims it was an accident, there’s no denying that Wills (aka ‘The Boy With Tape on His Face’) has rewritten the rules of silent comedy. He left behind going over and over his lines in favour of scavenging the aisles of his local hardware store in search of the perfect comedy prop. The Boy adeptly blends speechless stand-up (there is a mic on stage), perfectly suited soundtracks, puppetry and extreme audience participation to create a positively unconventional experience.
(All photography courtesy of Caroline Briggs http://www.carolinebriggs.co.uk )
There’s a brand new comedian in town and he’s got the gift of the gab. Only thing is, he can’t get a word in edgeways. Confusing right? Well, Lee Ridley, who suffers from cerebral palsy, lost his voice as a child and has had to speak through his Lightwriter communication aid ever since. Thanks to fervent support from friends, Lee decided it was time to give it a shot, performing his first ever stand up gig as Lost Voice Guy, a mere three months ago.
Lee had always got a kick out of making people laugh and stand up was something that had always been in his sights. Whilst on his comedy quest, he also raises money for Scope, the leading UK disability charity for children and adults with cerebral palsy. Should anyone wish to sponsor please don’t hesitate to donate at his Just Giving page.
Actions definitely spoke louder than words in Lee’s case as not long after venturing onto the comedy circuit he started making quite a name for himself. Matt Lucas describes him as a wonderful comedian and the praise doesn’t stop there. He has a string of gigs lined up this year, including support spots for Patrick Monahan and Abi Roberts. Patrick believes “Lee is the future of comedy” saying “We all work in 3D while Lee is working in 4D with his voice box and his amazing one liners.” Abi told us that Lee is so unique and she just can’t wait to be gigging with him.
With such a rapidly growing fanbase it was only natural for us to ask Lee for a good old chin-wag. Here’s what he had to say on the matter:
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A lot of people will be wondering how on earth you manage to perform stand up if you can’t speak. Can you briefly explain how you get yourself across to the audience?
I use a text to speech app on my iPad to talk to the audience. The app is called ‘Speak It’ and it’s pretty basic as far as communication apps go but it suits me fine when I’m doing stand up. It’s really cheap too if anyone wants to have a go. Basically I just store my jokes in the app and make them speak when I want it to. Some people have said I’m cheating because I don’t memorise my set but I hope my writing makes up for that!
Obviously, stand up is not the typical choice for someone with a disability like your own? What was it that drove you in this direction?
I seem to have a habit of wanting to do things that I shouldn’t be able to. I also trained to be a journalist which is another bizarre career for someone with no speech! I had always enjoyed watching stand up comedy though. Friends have always said I was funny enough to do stand up too. Obviously I never took any notice, I just thought it would be too hard or a logistical nightmare. I didn’t even think anyone would understand me. Then, late last year, my friend suggested it more seriously. I didn’t do anything for a while 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 it was a good move!
Your disability is prominent in the jokes I have seen you perform. In a way it is very satirical, dark humour. You have clearly embraced you disability and are ready to joke about it openly. This is definitely a love it or hate it type of stand up as some people are pretty unforgiving when it comes to jokes about the disabled. Have you come up against much criticism or has it all been well received?
It’s all been well received so far. I think I get away with it more because I essentially joke about myself. Even if I didn’t, I think my disability would give me license to go a bit closer to the bone. I like to think I take the piss out of disability without being nasty about it. It’s just a laugh. Most disabled people I know have twisted senses of humour, I suppose it helps! I want to show everyone else that disabled people can have a sense of humour too. Not everyone will like it or feel comfortable with it but that’s like anything else in life. I don’t plan to exclusively concentrate on my disability forever. It was just the easiest subject to write about.
What about your family? How supportive were they when you first told them you wanted to do stand up? Did they think you were joking or did they back you right from the word go?
To be fair to them, they’ve always supported me and let me follow my dreams. Whether it was learning to drive, going to university, becoming a journalist or doing stand up, I know that I can count on their support. In fact, I couldn’t have done any of that without them. I did feel a bit awkward swearing in front of my Mam but she seemed to enjoy my set!
Which stand-up comics do you admire?
My comedy hero is Ross Noble. I just love how quick witted and random he can be. I could watch him all day and not get bored. My head probably wouldn’t be able to cope though! I also like people like Eddie Izzard, Dave Gorman, Chris Addison and Tom Binns. I love dark comedies like League of Gentlemen too. There hasn’t been a better comedy since.
I heard you auditioned for the X-factor but they didn’t see the funny side to it. What happened there?
I thought it might be funny if I went along and see what happened. Sadly this meant getting up at 6am on a Saturday and standing outside for two hours. I’m still not sure why no one questioned how I was going to sing but they never did. Eventually I got through to the judges and started to sing ‘I Believe I Can Fly’. They didn’t see the funny side and rejected me after a few verses. It made great material though!
Recently you have begun to ramp up a fair bit of a following and you will soon be doing a gig with “Patrick Monahan”. Surely this must be a great feeling of satisfaction, and you must be really proud that you are able to show people how barriers can be broken if you put your mind to it.
Yes. It’s such an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as people like Pat. Especially when they give you such positive feedback themselves too. It means a lot when people like Matt Lucas call me a wonderful comedian on national TV. I’m just enjoying the ride though. People can call me an inspiration or whatever but I’m just a bloke telling jokes. If it helps break down barriers though then that has to be a good thing.
So it looks like things are really starting to pick up for you as you will now be traveling around the country. Surely this must be quite hectic for you. What are the main problems you have to overcome now, with this new found fame? Or are you just content that things are taking off the way they are?
The main problem is dealing with all the bookings and getting to and from gigs. It is getting very hectic, especially as I have a full time job too. It’s hard to fit everything into a day! Thankfully, I’ve got some mates who are happy to travel with me and assist me when needed. As I’m paying for two people, it’s expensive too. I just have to hope it’s all worth it one day!
Tell us a little bit about what we can be expecting from you in the future?
Hopefully you’ll get to see me at gigs across the country. I’ve also got two dates booked at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. Details are on my web site. After that who knows! This has all happened so fast that I’ve given up trying to predict the future.
What advice would you give to disabled persons who would like to give it a go at something they never thought possible, not necessarily stand up comedy, but in general?
I guess you’ve just got to believe in yourself and believe that it’s possible. Even if you don’t succeed, you should give it a try. It sounds cheesey but you’ll never know what would happen if you didn’t give it a try.
For a guy who’s lost his voice Lee is definitely making himself heard, appearing on many a TV channel over recent weeks.
BBC Breakfast interviewed Lost Voice Guy and went down to record his gig at Bar Loco in Newcastle last month. If this clip doesn’t convert you into an instant fan, I don’t know what will.
You can also follow him over on his Facebook page.
As a final note, I highly recommend the range of extremely dark humoured T-shirts available on his site.
Also, please check out our other comedian interviews and general funny stuff over here.
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