Disability

Transcript: Drunk People Ask the Most Awkward Questions - Ouch Talk Show 25 August 2017

This is full transcript of Storytelling Live: Tails of the Misunderstood which was first broadcast on 25 August 2017. It is presented by Sofie Hagen.

SOFIE - Thank you for downloading BBC Ouch. I'm Sofie Hagen and this is one of two podcasts we're bringing to you from our Storytelling event held at the Edinburgh Festival 2017. Seven storytellers with disabilities or mental health difficulties took to the stage to talk about some of those awkward or embarrassing moments that only they could have. And we're going to start this podcast with me.

So, basically you've been tweeting in and texting and stuff from your own awkward experiences, so now we're going to be hearing from awkward experiences on Twitter. I think you can still do it; you'll get some re-tweets from the BBC. Woo! So, these are some of them. We've been hearing lots of stories about those awkward moments you've had because you're disabled or you've said something insensitive to a disabled person you now regret. Well, a few of you have sent in your own mishaps. Think you could be a presenter, a BBC presenter?

AUDIENCE - Yeah!

SOFIE - Three of you think. So, Nicky says: after a date that I thought was okay I had a message the next day saying 'I'd like to take you out again but can you leave the guide dog at home?' Why would you do that? Who wouldn't go on a date with a dog? I'd message the guide dog and be like: leave the man at home. [Laughter]

Okay, so this is Sophie Weatherall: I met a colleague from another country for the first time. He has no right arm, so normally you'd shake left hands, but my left arm is non-functional; we compromised on a fist thumb. That's really nice!

This is from someone called Michael Fouracres: I was getting an extra £10 on my income support by working at a day centre. They asked me if I would work in the evening as people from another day centre were visiting for a wine and cheese evening. Of course I said yes. What's the worst that can happen? So, I was pouring some lethal home-made wine and the woman asked me if she could have a second glass, to which I replied, "Yes, but be careful, after two glasses of this your legs will dissolve" at which point I realised that she had had both legs amputated above the knee. Woo hoo hoo! [Laughter]

Karen Brown says: I work in a library and I saw someone who had his lower arm missing. He was struggling to use the stapler, and eager to help I went over and said, "Would you like a hand?" I instantly regretted it.

Right, are you ready for the next storyteller?

AUDIENCE -Yeah!

SOFIE -Please keep your - keep your hands together, what's that? That's not a… that's like pray! Put your hands together and give it up for the amazing Frank Burton. [Applause]

FRANK -I would like to tell you about the time I was sitting in the corner of the pub blurting out the names of Al Pacino films whilst patting my head and rubbing my stomach. But really I should put that in context.

I have a condition called non-epileptic attack syndrome, which means I have partial seizures which occur at random, and it can happen at any time of the day or the night, wherever I am, and it can result in me not being able to walk and being semi-conscious, and it's really annoying. I don't want to make too much of a drama about it but it's very much like being repeatedly struck by lightning. By which I don't mean the physical effects necessarily, it's more the randomness that's the frustrating thing; it's the fact that it can happen at any time.

Up until last year it was assumed that I had epilepsy and I was given lots of different drugs to try out and none of them really worked, and it got up to a point where I was having these attacks every day several times a day and I just wasn't able to live my life anymore. So, me and my wife had to move in with my parents temporarily because we needed help looking after the children and also just things like that. And I had some tests done and it turns out that epilepsy was the wrong diagnosis, that I have this other thing non-epileptic attack syndrome, and I was referred onto a neuropsychologist who explained all of this to me, the concept of non-epileptic seizure as it's called.

And interestingly enough as it turns out instead of taking medication for it what I need to do, when I notice the warning signs of an attack coming on, there are certain mental exercises that I can engage with: engaging the left side of the brain with the right side of the brain to effectively stop the seizure from taking place - that's the principle at least. Things like patting the head and rubbing the stomach for example, which is quite a tricky manoeuvre for the novices amongst us. As you can see I'm an absolute legend at it. Check that out. [Applause]

What was that, change direction? Yeah. This is what you've came to the Edinburgh Festival for, isn't it? I could build a whole show around this. [Laughter] The point of these exercises is it stops your brain from shutting down. It keeps you awake, keeps you alert and hence the seizure is then averted.

Another technique that I've been taught is to focus on all five of your senses, just to keep the awareness of what's happening at that moment in time. So, for example I do this little sort of question and answer session with myself sometimes when the need arises to do so: what can I see? A bag of new potatoes, but they're not called new potatoes, they're called baby pearl potatoes. What can I hear? A colleague announcement: can Frederic please come to aisle 12? There has been a sparkling wine spillage. What do I smell? Organic Turkish Delight possibly. How do I feel? Out of my depth. Where am I? Waitrose. Relax, stay focused, pretend to be middle class. [Laughter]

Singing helps as well, just focusing on the memorised words, something happens in the brain. It's funny how your musical taste changes over the year. The teenager raver inside me was mortified, but the first time I officially averted a seizure I was in my parents' kitchen, I was banging on the cupboards with my fist and I was going, "B-I-N-G-O and bingo was his name! Ohhh!" It's a good song. It means a lot to me.

So, I was getting better; I was on the road to recovery and I was able to move out of my parents' house again. My dad drove myself and my son back home from Lancashire to Hampshire where we were living at the time. We took the scenic route, we stopped off at a pub for lunch on the way, and I was still weaning myself off these knockout drugs so I was pretty much off my face to be fair so orange juice was all I could manage. And my dad took my little boy off for a walk and I had a nice little sit down in the corner with my orange juice just chilling out. All of a sudden, whoosh, the dizziness came on, lightning was about to strike, something needed to be done:

What do I see? Red and white checked carpet with mysterious grey brown blotches on it. What do I hear? Lionel Richie Dancing on the Ceiling if I'm not mistaken. What do I smell? Heineken and crisps. How do I feel? Slightly nauseous. Where am I? The pub. Relax, stay focused, pretend to be working class. [Laughter]

That was working so I decided to go for another approved technique, "Serpico" I said, "The Godfather, the Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon". I had my eyes closed so I hardly noticed but the guy at the opposite table was calling out to me at this point, "Excuse me, mate, are you all right there?" "Fine thank you". "Do you mind if I ask what you're doing there?" "Yeah, I'm naming Al Pacino films" "Yeah, I thought that's what you were doing, yeah, I thought that's what you were doing". This wasn't time for me to elaborate on the ins and outs and the complexities of my condition. The man was clearly a little bit too polite to ask why I was doing all of this business, so I explained to him patting the head helps me concentrate on the films. "Got you". "Scent of a Woman" he said. I said, "Sorry?" "Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman" I said, "Hang on, hang on, I'm starting in the '70s, I'm working my way up. Scent of a Woman was 1992". "So it was, so it was".

So, I continued: Bobby Deerfield and Justice for All. "The Conversation" he said. "That was Gene Hackman I believe". "Oh right". "Mick!" he's calling across to this guy at the bar now. "Mick's on the quiz team" he explained to me, "He'll sort you out, he will sort you out, he's a good man". [Laughter] Sure enough Mick was a human IMDB; he came straight over to me, didn't even introduce himself, just started reeling off these films for me. "Scarface 1983. Revolution 1985" all the way up to, "Misconduct 2016". Bam, get in, well done Mick, you legend!

I was able to chip in a couple here and there. Glengarry, Glen Ross, a classic. "Yeah, that was a classic" Mick said, "That was a classic". [Whispers] He'd never seen it. "By the way" said Mick, "What's all of this business?" "It's a long story" I said, "Long story". I'd perked up a little bit by that point; I could have at the very least given him some kind of explanation of the back story behind all of this: the diagnosis, the medications, the complications, the re-diagnosis. I didn't want to bore him to be honest with you. It's a nice expression 'it's a long story' it worked for Mick, he was quite happy with that.

"Listen" I said to them, "You've helped me out here. I really do appreciate it" and it was true. I was back in the room, I was fully conscious, another crisis had been averted. I was on the verge of conquering this major illness in a really unexpected and bizarre way. And my new friend suddenly got all serious on me; it was as though he realised as well, he'd figured it all out: it wasn't just about some Hollywood nostalgia; there was more going on in this little exchange of ours, something a lot more significant, a lot closer to home. He said to me, "Seriously, listen, I'm going up to the bar now, I'm going to get you another orange juice and when I come back my friend I'm going to sit down and it'll be time for Robert de Niro".

Thank you very much. [Laughter and applause]

SOFIE - Frank Burton! Are you ready for the penultimate storyteller?

AUDIENCE - Yeah!

SOFIE - Please put your hands together and starting whooping and cheering and give it up for Maura Campbell.

AUDIENCE - Woo!

MAURA - Good evening. I reckon I come from a family of VIPS, we all have letters after our names: I have ASD, my son also has ASD and my husband has ADHD. ASD stands for autistic spectrum disorder. Now, I don't feel disordered as such; I regard it more as having a set of differences. Like many women on the autistic spectrum I had a late diagnosis. I was 44 before it was confirmed that I have Asperger's syndrome which is a form of autism. I usually just say I'm autistic - that's identity first language. Some people prefer person first terminology, in which case they can call me a person with autism. I also answer to Maura. [Laughter]

Autism affects how a person perceives and relates to the world around them. It's a very complex neurological condition so I don't have time to explain it in detail to you, but there are a couple of things I would like to state for the record. The first is this: autism is not caused by watching too many episodes of Peppa Pig. Also it cannot be cured by eating broccoli. [Laughter] You may well laugh; those are actual scientific theories. I know this because I keep getting tagged in all the bloody Facebook posts about them. Oh and another thing is I won't be able to fix your computer for you. Some of us are tech geeks, some of us are not, we're all different.

In my case I was born let's say with the social skills of a used teabag. [Laughter] Now, I've improved on that over the years thankfully just by carefully observing the humanoids in their natural habitat, [laughter] studying their strange ways. But I still have some social blind spots and I have a limited amount of social energy, and because of that I experience high levels of social anxiety. I should really be on social insecurity benefits.

So, you may be wondering how I can stand here and speak to a big roomful of people, but that actually is quite different from most social interactions. For a start I know exactly what I'm going to say, I have a script. I'm in control. I don't have to worry about processing what someone else is saying to me and thinking about how to respond to them, plus I know what is expected of me. Plus you all seem quite nice so it's fine.

I would say that my defining characteristics growing up were probably my honesty and my directness. Let me give you an example of that: one evening, for reasons I won't get into, I found myself at a dinner hosted by a national newspaper during party conference season. It was back in the late 90s I think. I was seated beside a fairly nondescript bloke. He seemed pleasant enough. He introduced himself and he manfully tried to keep a conversation going with me - small talk is not my forte. After an awkward pause, there were several, I finally thought of something to say to him. I said, "Do you work for the newspaper? Are you a journalist?" and he said, "No, I'm a politician. I'm an MP" so, I said, "Oh, what did you say your name was again?" and he said, "Iain Duncan Smith". [Laughter] So, you've heard of him! I hadn't, not back then. Luckily I found a pretty smooth way to cover up the fact that I'd never heard of him, I said, "Sorry, never heard of you". [Laughter and applause]

Let me give you another example. As well as autism my son and I have something else in common, we both have curly hair. His curls are gorgeous, it makes him look like a cherub; me I look more like Dougal from the Magic Roundabout, Crystal Tipps - anybody remember them? A guy in the front row just carbon dated himself. And for all my life as long as I can remember I have always longed for straight smooth hair. Anyhow I used to work with a woman - let's call her Janice because that was her name, no it wasn't - Janice had great hair. She wore it in a nice bob. It was very elegant. I wanted Janice's hair. I had hair envy so bad. Eventually we went off to work in different departments and we didn't see each other for a long time, but a few years later we ran into each other again at a meeting. Lots of people sitting around a big table. The lovely bob was gone. Her hair now was short and curly. It didn't suit her nearly as much as the lovely bob. So, and I think we know where this is going [laughter], I said, "Janice why did you do that to your hair? It was far nicer before". The room went very quiet. I looked around and everybody had their head down, everybody that is apart from Janice. Janice just smiled and said, "Oh you know, it just grew back like that after the chemo". I immediately realised what I had done and I felt truly awful. I started to apologise but Janice laughed. She told me it was absolutely fine, not to worry about it. You see Janice had worked with me before and so she knew, even though it appeared to everyone else in the room as though I'd just been rude to her, that I meant no harm. And she even chose to see the funny side. Now, maybe it was a bit of a relief to her that for once someone wasn't tiptoeing around her illness. I didn't tiptoe around it, I kind of trampolined on it [laughter], or maybe she was just being kind, I don't know, but for whatever the reason I was immensely grateful to her for being so gracious.

And I guess what I'm trying to say is what may come across as rudeness may actually be something very different. Often I think it's a result of our inability to be fake. It can also I think be a result of a thing called context blindness where we just don't get what's going on around us, which leads some people to assume incorrectly that we don't empathise.

By the way I think my son, my beautiful wonderful ten year old son may have inherited the honesty gene from me. The other night we were snuggling together on the sofa when he poked me in the stomach, "Wobbly. Too wobbly". And do you know what, I could not have been prouder.

You've been absolutely lovely. Thank you so much. [Applause]

SOFIE - Maura Campbell everyone! Are you ready for your last act?

AUDIENCE - Yeah!

SOFIE - Give them all your love, all your energy, start applauding, start whooping and cheering and give it up for Lost Guy Lee Ridley.

LEE - Hello ladies and gentlemen. Are you all well?

AUDIENCE - Yes!

LEE - One thing that I've noticed about being a stand-up comedian is that mixing a disabled guy with loads of drunk people is rarely a good idea. In fact I would say that the majority of my awkward moments come from meeting people in the bar after my gigs. [Laughter] It still amazes me how people can quite happily watch me on stage and laugh at my jokes like I'm just another comedian, but as soon as I'm off stage they aren't sure how to treat me at all. They either think I'm deaf as well and start to write everything down, or start shouting everything really loudly for no reason whatsoever.

Let's be really honest , after they've just watched me be funny on stage they could at least give me a bit of credit.

I think my most awkward moment came after a gig at The Stand Comedy Club at Newcastle. It's a lovely venue and my favourite place to perform, so I guess this incident took me by surprise a little because I was used to people just treating me normally in there. I had just been on stage and was chilling out in the bar when this bloke came up to me. I think he said his name was Dave, but to be honest all I can remember is what happened next, because then he asked me if I really couldn't talk - as if I was really putting it on to take advantage of the disabled parking. [Laughter] "Let's face it, I don't think it's acceptable to pretend to be disabled for the sake of entertainment."

To be honest the atmosphere got really awkward at that point. I had never been in a position where someone had questioned my disability before - well, if you don't count my Disability Benefits Assessment. Surely it was obvious I was disabled. I mean, I have the funny walk and everything [laughter] and not even the best method actor could put this [bleep] on for days at a time. [Laughter]

It was so obvious that I really couldn't talk but he didn't believe me. So, I tried to lighten the mood a little by making a joke about what he had just said. I told him that if I was going to lie about being disabled I doubt I would have chosen this one. Then I explained to him that as a comedian not being able to speak is probably the worst disability to pretend to have. It's far more likely that I would pretend I couldn't walk so I could perform while sitting down. Or maybe I could say that I was blind, then I'd be able to let my dog shit on people who didn't laugh at my jokes. [Laughter] I told him that admittedly this job would be so much easier if I could talk because apparently it's very important to get your tone of voice right when doing comedy, so that meant I was completely screwed.

For example, "This is what I sound like when I'm excited, and this is what I sound like when I'm miserable, [laughter] and this is what I sound like when I am happy, and this is what I sound like when I am bored. In fact the only time I sound any different [female voice] is on Tuesday nights when I pretend to be a woman". [Laughter] The bloke laughed and I thought that was the end of the matter, but I was very wrong indeed. Instead of just walking away at that point, like any normal person would have done, he decided he wasn't finished with me yet, so then he decided to ask me if I had ever tried to talk just to see what would happen - as if I had just been lazy all of my laugh and therefore just couldn't be bothered to talk. [Laughter]

By this point I felt like walking away. I've had my fair share of awkward moments and I usually know when I'm fighting a losing battle. But something about this guy made me stay. I told him that no, I hadn't tried to talk before, mainly because I know nothing would happen. Besides I've built a career out of not being able to speak now; I don't think I should be encouraging my voice to magically reappear too much. The Found Voice Guy just doesn't have the same ring to it. [Laughter]

Then I realised something; I realised he was drunk and it meant that he would be very easy to wind up. So, I decided to tell him that I do actually talk in my sleep, because I always woke up with random sentences typed out on my iPad. Needless to say he believed me. [Laughter] I wasn't finished yet either. I also convinced him that I had a job as a satellite navigation system. [Laughter] He didn't seem too sure of this at first, so I asked him if he wanted to see me in action. I got him to suggest a location and said that I could direct him to it exactly. [Laughter] Thankfully he chose somewhere that I knew, so I started my journey:

After 200 yards bear left. Well done. At the roundabout take the second exit… or is it the third? I can never remember since they did those roadworks. Maybe it's the first exit. Yes, it's definitely the first exit. Take the first exit. [Bleep] It was the second exit. Why didn't you say something? You [bleep]. Never mind, I know a short cut - follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road, follow, follow, follow, follow the yellow brick road. [Laughter] Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street? Take the Bridge Over Troubled Water, winding your way down on Baker Street. Stop, hammer time. [Laughter]

But even after all of this he still wouldn't leave me alone. So, in the end I do what I always do when I get tired of talking to people: I pretended my batteries had gone flat. [Laughter] Funnily enough my battery is on 2% now so I'd better go.

Ladies and gentleman I've been Lost Voice Guy. You've been a fantastic audience. Even if you haven't I can't change what I say at this point.

AUDIENCE - Woo! [Laughter and applause]

LEE - Enjoy the rest of your night. Goodbye.

AUDIENCE - Woo!

SOFIE - Lost Voice Guy. Give it up for all the storytellers you've seen tonight. Maura Campbell!

AUDIENCE - Woo!

SOFIE - Frank Burton!

AUDIENCE - Woo!

SOFIE - Lost Voice Guy Lee Ridley!

AUDIENCE - Woo!

SOFIE - I've been Sofie Hagen. Thank you so much. Have a good evening.

You've been listening to stories from BBC Ouch Storytelling Live Show at the Edinburgh Festival 2017. Watch out for more stories over the coming weeks. There will be a special programme on the BBC News channel and iPlayer, articles on the BBC News website and videos on YouTube too. What more could you want?

You can email us on ouch@bbc.co.uk, tweet @bbcouch and also find us on Facebook. We'd love to hear what you think of the show. I've been Sofie Hagen, thanks for listening.

Storytelling Live: Tales of the Misunderstood

Seven people with a disability or mental health difficulty performed their stories about awkward moments as part of BBC Ouch's storytelling event at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

You can also read:

Look out for a special TV programme which brings all the tales together.

For more Disability News, follow BBC Ouch on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to the weekly podcast.

The seven BBC Ouch storytellers for Tales of the Misunderstood
Ouch graphic

For more Disability News, follow BBC Ouch on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to the weekly podcast.

Related Topics