Disability

Transcript of Have you heard the one about....? - 15 December 2017

This is a full transcript of of Have you heard the one about......? where Lucy Edwards chats with comedian Chris McCausland about his career and his sight loss. Chris will appear in Live at the Apollo on 4 January 2018 on BBC2.

CHRIS (VIDEO CLIP) - It's difficult to be married. I'm not saying it's not good. Of course being married is the best thing in the whole world as long as you don't count being single. But second best is good. [Laughter] Second best is good enough.

LUCY - That's Chris McCausland, a stand-up comedian from Liverpool. He's also an actor and appeared on the BBC One drama Moving On. Younger kids and parents might know him from the CBeebies series Me Too! where he plays Rudi the market trader. Chris is also blind and he was born with retinitis pigmentosa which gradually caused his sight to deteriorate over a number of years.

I'm Lucy Edwards and I caught up with Chris to chat about this upcoming appearance on Live at the Apollo on BBC Two the 4th January. I began by asking him how he got started.

CHRIS - I started doing stand-up mainly as a dare. I was always a big fan of stand-up comedy. I never originally had any thought that it could ever be a career, but then people start paying you to do what is a hobby and then it becomes a viable option.

But my approach with the stand-up was always to not make being blind the thing that I go on about. It's a part of what makes me me, and I always mentioned it a little bit and made some jokes about it, but the idea originally especially was always just to kind of get it out of the way and move on.

LUCY - So, the times when you do tell blind jokes, Chris, how do you incorporate them into your stand-up?

CHRIS - I used to avoid it quite a lot for various reasons, but I think mainly because there wasn't a massive amount of stuff that could be said that was funny that was original, apart from 'oh I didn't see it', you know, that kind of typical blind joke. But as I've got older and had a daughter I seem to have a lot more original experiences or unique perspectives on things that other people have their own versions of - whether it's [0:02:04?] or whatever - I've got a kind of unique angle on that so people can relate to the story but also get my own kind of angle on it which is hopefully funny as well.

But I still limit it to maybe about 15% of my set might be of any relation to being blind.

CHRIS (VIDEO CLIP) - You heard of audio description on the films?

AUDIENCE - Yeah!

CHRIS - If you haven't it's basically an audio track that you can have on the film and it tells you what's going on on the screen, so if you can't see the screen you don't miss any of the action that's going on. And I'll be honest with you, it tells you a little bit too much: 'I'll see you later, boom, he closes the door.' I'm not mental. [Laughter] I say, what happened? Did his head explode? Is he still in the room but he's got no head? How's he talking? [Laughter] 'He enters the room wearing a green t-shirt.' Exactly how key to the plot is the colour of his t-shirt? [Laughter]

But the point is if you can't see the screen you can sit there on your own, you can watch the film, you can watch your DVD, something like Captain America and you don't miss anything what's going on, you know. And it's a good idea, isn't it, do you think so?

AUDIENCE - Yeah.

CHRIS - Yeah it is, isn't it? Got to be able to see the bloody menus to turn it on, haven't you? [Laughter] Oh, got that one, you've got to go settings, audio - I'm in French half the time, 'je suis, huh, huh' I'm like, what colour's his t-shirt? [Laughter]

LUCY - Going back to when you were a teenager, Chris, and you lost your sight how did you deal with it?

CHRIS - I was losing my sight all the way through childhood. I had pretty decent sight in the grand scheme of things. I could never read the letters on the blackboard or anything in school but I could run around and play football.

When I say I lost my sight it was mainly like night vision in my late teens, and then being able to see the computer screen at all, and having to move over to speech on the computer, and then being able to walk out on the street on my own in my early 20s. And you've got no choice but to come to terms with it in a way. But it's very much swings and roundabouts: if you were to say to me, 'would you rather be born blind or lose your sight?' I'd rather lose my sight because I like the fact that I was able to see. But if you are born blind you're a different animal. People just they cope, they battle their way through situations because it's all they've ever known. I'm not like that. I was very self-conscious, denial a lot, you know what I mean. I hated using a stick; I resisted it until the very, very last minute because I hated being seen carrying a stick because it labelled me as being blind or disabled - which I was, but it was still quite new, if you know what I mean.

I think the best thing you can do, and you learn it as well I think when you get a bit older, I think because I was a teenager and in my early 20s and you're quite self-conscious about your image and you're interested in girls and going out and all that kind of stuff, and as you get older you just stop caring really. And I think that's the best thing for a lot of things in life. It's nice to care, but sometimes if you care too much you cause yourself more stress than you need to.

And I'm still not good at it. If possible I still don't go out with a stick, and not because of the image thing; I carry the stick around with me but I'm just rubbish at it. I think I must have one leg shorter than the other; I seem to veer over towards walls. I'm not an expert at the solo stick walking. I'm an Uber man now.

LUCY - So, going back to your comedy then, what is the best way you prepare for a show? Is it different to other comedians?

CHRIS - I don't have notes. That's probably one of the main differences is comedians write new material and then what you'll do is you will go to a smaller gig or maybe specifically a new material night where comedians do their new bits, and comedians will often go on stage with notes, go on with less preparation: more writing, less preparation, and just go on and read their bullet points and work it out on stage. Whereas if I write something I have to really get it all in my head.

I obviously don't have the luxury of being able to see the audience as a route in to interacting with them or seeing what somebody is doing. An example of that would be if people had been to a comedy night and the compere, who's a normal comedian but they're generally very good at bantering with the audience and talking to them, 'oh you mate, are you with her, is this your wife? What do you do for a living?' and blah, blah, blah, I don't have that luxury to be able to go into an audience and talk to them like that.

LUCY - What do your colleagues say about the way you do stand-up?

CHRIS - Well, they've laughed a few times in 15 years. Six maybe. [Laughter] The way I do the job is I've learned that I have a stool on the stage, I like to be up and down from the stool, but the stool gives me a point of reference. So, if I didn't have a stool half of my brain would be thinking about, 'which way have I turned? Which way's the middle? Have I moved? I've taken two steps to the right; I need to go back to the left'. But if I've got a stool I can get up and I can move around, and when I go and sit back down and perch on the stool I'm reset, so it takes all of that logistical calculations and stuff out of my brain and I can just concentrate on the gig.

And just in terms of mentioning, one of the other reasons you don't want to go on about being blind is it stops being funny. It doesn't matter what it is, it can be blind, it can be fat, it can be a woman, if you're just going on about the same thing about being that thing, you know, being from Liverpool, being a banker, if you're just talking about that, people will get bored of it and the jokes will become predictable. So, what you want to do is you want to make people forget about that so you talk about other things, and then when you do have a joke that is about that it's funnier because people have kind of forgotten and it catches them a little bit more by surprise.

That's what comedy is: it's sleight of hand really.

CHRIS (VIDEO CLIP) - All I did was suggest perhaps it might be a good idea if I wore socks on the beach. I might as well have said, 'do you know what, I think I'm going to punch a baby in the face'. [Laughter] The reaction I got far outweighed the suggestion of the crime.

I think sometimes, especially the ladies, be honest with yourselves, right, you can let fashion overtake the practical requirements of life. It's just because they're socks. That's the problem, isn't it? If socks never existed, if there was no such thing as socks, and I'd have said to exactly the same people, 'hey come here, look what I've invented for the beach: little miniature towels. [Laughter] Little miniature towels that fit over your feet. Feet towels.' 'They're going, 'wow, you have solved a problem that has plagued this goddamned country for centuries'. I could have been a multimillionaire founded on an empire of feet towels rather than just [beep] socks. [Laughter]

LUCY - What was it like then when you got the call to say you were going on Live at the Apollo?

CHRIS - Okay, well I didn't get a call. I was here in this very building and I came in for a meeting with Pinki Chambers who is one of the commissioners for entertainment here at the BBC, and I came in for a meeting with her to discuss opportunities and what we could hopefully do together. And we sat down and she said, 'right, you've got Apollo'. [Laughs] I think my immediate reaction was, thank you very much, and then keep your mouth shut, Chris. Don't say anything in case you mess this up! [Laughter] Just shake her hand and back slowly out of the room.

Yeah, it was very nice to come into a meeting and leave with something more concrete as an offer, as a thing that's happening. You come into a meeting and you think it's going to be all very, 'oh maybe, maybe this, and maybe in a few months we can talk about this and possibly that'. But to come out getting I'm going to be on the Apollo, I did a little dance and went and had a beer with my agent.

LUCY - Would you say it's the highlight of your career?

CHRIS - Oh yeah, yeah, hands down, yeah. It's definitely the highlight of my career. And hopefully it'll go well and lead to other highlights. That's the goal.

LUCY - Tell us about one of your rubbish gigs then.

CHRIS - Let me sift through the vaults. I did a gig once; it was a corporate gig. Corporates by the way are notoriously horrible to do, mainly because nobody there really cares about the comedian that's on. It's somebody's just said, 'oh we'll have a comedian to bring a little bit of entertainment to a dull and boring conference or whatever.

But I did this thing for the RAF and compered on. The guy hosting the show was an escapologist, and before he brought me on he got in a box and tied himself up and then spent ten minutes in a box, during which time everybody in the room got up and started milling around and doing their own thing and forgot that this bloke was in a box. [Laughter] And then he got himself out of the box and he went to the microphone and introduced me. And no one was sat at their tables anymore; they'd all just got up. So, I ended up being introduced by a bloke in a box and then playing to a room of people that had forgot that there was any kind of entertainment going on on the stage. So, I think that would go down as one of the hardest and weirdest and most surreal.

LUCY - Before you said a person in your life told you to do comedy. Has it always been something that was at the back of your mind though before that, before he said anything?

CHRIS - I was off work ill for a while and I got signed off, and I was just Googling things or whatever the Google was before then - maybe it wasn't Google, who knows - and started Googling comedy things and came across one of these things that said, 'you can be a comedian in two weeks' or something like that. And I thought behave, nobody could do that. And then I thought to myself I'm sure loads of people must have a go and loads of people must be awful, so really all you'd have to do is just not be the worst person to have ever tried it.

So, I started looking it up a little bit more about the circuit and open mic gigs and dared myself to write five minutes and just see if I thought what I'd written was funny and then go out and have a go at an open mic gig so I could make the bucket list to say I've done it. And it wasn't the most disastrous thing in the world. I didn't set the world alight but people laughed more than once, enough to make me have another go.

CHRIS (VIDEO CLIP) - I live with my girlfriend. We've been together for six and a half years and I'll be honest with you, it's got its ups, it's got its downs. She's a psychologist; that's a problem. [Laughter] It means lots of her friends are also psychologists, it means they're all a little bit kind of, 'yah, how does it make you feel?' Hungry. Hungry and bored.

One of her friends invited us to a fancy dress party where you had to go dressed as a particular state of mind. I don't like pretentious things at the best of times, but when we start getting invited to pretentious fancy dress parties, and they're all like, 'oh no it'll be amazing; I'll go as envy, you can go as jealousy, the subtle differences it'll be brilliant'. I went dressed as a pirate. She wasn't happy. She came bounding straight over. She said, 'no, no, no, no, Chris, you've got this all wrong'. I said, 'I know. I'm confused'. [Laughter and applause]

LUCY - What's your family said about your profession?

CHRIS - Get a proper job. Make some money. Be a grown up. Get a mortgage.

They're very supportive. My parents have always been very supportive and my sister. My wife, I was already doing it when I met her. I can see comedy is a strain on a relationship because apart from the kind of general psychology of a comedian always wanting to make people laugh and always saying the wrong thing, and sometimes saying the wrong because even though you know it's wrong, because you've decided to go for the laugh rather than the decent thing.

It's antisocial hours: you're always working when there's a birthday party; you're away quite a lot. It can be a strain on a relationship. I met my wife when I was already doing it so she's supportive, but I never try my jokes out on her because she just stares at me blankly and ruins my confidence in what I thought was a funny idea.

I never tell my jokes to anyone. One person alone will always do that. You can tell a joke in front of 50 people, 20 of them can laugh and you can think, oh there's something in that, I'll work on that. But 30 of them haven't laughed, but it doesn't matter because you know there's something in it. You tell a joke that you've thought of in your head to one person and they don't laugh that's 100% failure. [Laughter]

LUCY - What's next after the Apollo?

CHRIS - Well, hopefully the BBC will see that it's gone really, really well and will decide to put me on everything that they make.

LUCY - Wink!

CHRIS - Yeah, wink, wink. I'm not going to be so forward as to tell everybody what show I want them to put me on, but I'm hoping that they will realise that I have been quite interesting on this and put me on a suitable show that caters for that attribute. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Who knows? I think I'm going to go and do the Edinburgh Festival. I haven't done it in six years. I haven't confirmed it; I haven't 100% decided on it. But I've done six of them in the past and I think I might go back and do it next year. But apart from that hopefully a little bit more stuff off the old Beeb.

LUCY - I'm blown away with what Chris has achieved and I cannot wait to watch him on Live at the Apollo in the New Year.

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