Interview with Laurence Clark

In the run up to Voice's latest coverage of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, we have dozens of interviews with performers like the taboo-breaking comedian Laurence Clark, who we'll be seeing up there.

Interview with Laurence Clark

Firstly, could you introduce yourself, and give a quick summary of your show?

I'm a stand-up comedian who happens to have cerebral palsy. My comedy thrives on breaking taboos. Disability still seems to be considered a taboo which is why you get so many comics doing material about it. But because I'm disabled I think sometimes there's a preconception that my act is going to be worthy in some way and not particularly funny. Sometimes people say to me "you don't do comedy about disability do you?" as if they think it's going to be really depressing. However no one would dream of telling a Chris Rock to not do material about being Black. All stand-up comics use aspects of themselves and their experiences to create material and I don't see why disabled comics should be any different. So I tend to use uncomfortable, socially awkward past experiences as inspiration - it's very cathartic! Oh yes, and funny! Very, very funny!

For a long time now I've really wanted to make a show about what it's like to go through life relying on other people to do personal tasks for you. Oops, as I typed that last sentence and read it back I realised how dodgy it sounds! I mean the kind of things I can't do for myself like shaving and getting dressed. But when I came up with the title 'Independence' back in January I had no idea just how topical it would be by now!

What is your earliest arts memory?

It's probably not my earliest memory, but I vividly recall a school trip to see the RSC's The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. I was totally immersed in it and remember being shocked at the start whensome of the actors came running through the auditorium. It certainly had an impact on what I've done since with my life.

What first encouraged you to become a performer?

When I was 11 I saw the actor Nabil Shaban on TV. This was the first time I'd ever seen someone like myself, a disabled person playing a role on television. Up until then it had seemed as if people like me were invisible. It was at that moment that I realised I too wanted to be a performer. Admittedly, at the time he was playing a green, slimy, slug-like creature on Doctor Who, but for me this just added to the attraction.

Do you remember your first professional performance, and how did it go?

My first ever comedy gig was at a cabaret night at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in March 2002. I did a 20 minute set solely on how much I hated Jimmy Savile – I was ahead of my time! But with the benefit of hindsight, starting with 20 minutes of untested material was suicidal! The video clips I was using on my laptop weren't cued up so I had to manually load up each one during the set. The whole thing was a nightmare but it went down really well.

What do you feel is the best thing about your job?

There is nothing quite like the rush of adrenaline you get when your show's going well, the audience are laughing and you feel like you have them in the palm of your hand. It's better than any drug.

Conversely, what is the worst?

The worst thing about doing the Fringe is definitely leaving my wife and kids for 4 weeks, but at least this year they are coming up to stay for a week. The fringe seems to be a much friendlier place for kids nowadays, with more shows aimed at them and a number of play areas. My kids actually prefer going to see shows with me at the fringe because, due to the temporary nature of the venues, the spaces for wheelchair users are usually on the front row so we get great seats. When we go to the theatre at home we're usually stuck miles away from the action on the back row, where it's difficult for a restless 5 year old to engage with what's going on.

How do you decide whether or not a show has gone well?

Comedy is just about the only art form where you get an instant critique. You know automatically if it's going well or not by whether people are laughing.

If you could work with anybody, dead or alive, who would you choose to collaborate with?

I'd love to work with Larry David or Louis CK because of the way they pushes the envelope when it comes to exploring awkward situations.

What made you want to come to Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

The comedy circuit can be a daunting prospect for a wheelchair user. The majority of clubs tend to be above or below pubs, accessible only via long flights of stairs. And even if I can get in, there are often more steps to get onto the stage. So fairly early on in my stand-up career I decided to focus on the Edinburgh fringe, where I've found both accessible venues and, to my joy, some critical acclaim.

Is performing at EdFringe different from 'traditional' shows?

Yes, the experience of doing a whole hours every night for three and a half weeks is amazing as you get to hone your show.

If you could travel back in time and give 16 year-old you one piece of advice, what would it be?

Ever since I can remember I've really wanted to write comedy. For a long time I was sending off scripts to the BBC and getting nowhere. I loved stand-up comedy and really wanted to give it a go but couldn't see how someone like me could pull it off. Then I saw a show the comedian Dave Gorman use PowerPoint slides and was completely blown away. He made me realise that stand-up doesn't have to be just one person standing on a stage talking to an audience for an hour. All my life I'd had stuff to say and a dark sense of humour which I'd inflict on those around me. Suddenly this gave me an outlet, an entry point into the mainstream. So if I could travel back in time and give 16 year-old me one piece of advice, it'd be to try stand-up earlier!

What advice would you give to young people who want to enter the industry?

There slowly seems to be more opportunities for disabled people to get into the industry, far more than when I started out. So my advice to young disabled people today… just go for it!

Do you have social media that our readers can follow you on?

Yes you can find me on Twitter at @Laurence_Clark or on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/LaurenceClarkComedian

Where can people catch your show during EdFringe?

Name of the show: Laurence Clark: Independence

Venue: Assembly George Square – The Box

Dates: 3-28 August (not 16)

Time: 7pm

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