I’m Spazticus: straight from the horse’s mouth

I’m Spazticus: straight from the horse’s mouth

I’m Spazticus is a new hidden camera prank show from Channel 4, airing in the run up to the Paralympics. As this controversial four-part disability show comes to an end, we hear from one of the actors and writers, Simon Stevens.

Originally a pilot in 2005 as a part of Channel 4’s Comedy Lab, it was assumed I’m Spazticus would become a relic of the past, never to be heard of again. But once Channel 4 was confirmed as the broadcaster for the Paralympics, it opened up an opportunity for this comedy show to be commissioned into reality.

The show stars disabled actors including Tim Baggaley, Jamie Beddard, Tanyalee Davis, Tim Gebbels, Toby Hewson, Max Laird, Peter Mitchell and myself, all with various impairments. A truly co-produced show, we have all worked not only as actors, but as writers, creating our own sketches. From wheelchairs parachuting to talking guide dogs, the aim of the show has not been to raise awareness of attitudes or make any political statements, but simply to be funny.

Prank shows, by nature, provide comedy through the unscripted reactions of unsuspecting passersby; in this case, able-bodied people being confronted with absurd situations acted out by disabled people. The programme does not try to confront or challenge these reactions, but simply show how funny they are and something that disabled people see all the time.

The show is not without controversy, even before being broadcast. One sketch, which involved a blind man groping a nude model in an art class, had to be pulled when neither the students nor the college involved saw the funny side. Although some might argue that, in itself, is funny.

The title of the show has caused offence, especially as the show is being broadcast in the week before the Paralympic Games. The title comes from Ian Dury’s song of the same name, a song that was commissioned by Scope (then the Spastics Society) to celebrate the International Year for the Disabled, in 1981. Ian, who had polio from a small age, took this opportunity to stick two fingers up at the establishment, and this in itself reflects the spirit of the show.

The initial reactions to the show have been very positive as people welcome this original comedy. I feel that those who have not enjoyed the show, or found it uncomfortable, may have tied themselves up with political correctness trying to understand a deeper meaning that does not exist.

Whether you enjoyed it or not, it has to be argued that I’m Spazticus has been ground breaking on many levels. Being placed as a part of Channel 4’s Funny Fortnight, which showcases the best of the channel’s comic talent, rather than part of any series of disability-themed programmes, means that the audience is invited to judge the comedy for how funny it is, rather than as a political statement.

In the same way Goodness Gracious Me redefined British Asian comedy, creating a new generation of mainstream Asian actors. I wonder if I’m Spazticus will be seen as a defining moment in the portrayal of disabled people in comedy and on TV?

For some it may be just another freak show, like the many freak shows before it, wrapped up as documentaries. But this is a show where disabled people have taken control and had an opportunity to act out the comedy they find funny. The show does not portray its cast of disabled actors as the vulnerable people of society, like china dolls who need to be protected.

The show is what some disabled people – including myself – have been waiting for a very long time. It’s been a chance to share our humour with the nation in the way we want to portray it. Channel 4 has, after a seven year gap, been ready to commission this series, and I would hope, they will commission a second series.

But the big question is whether the public is ready to see what we have to offer. The answer appears to be a definite yes, but we will have to see what this means for the future of disabled people in comedy and mainstream television.

By Simon Stevens

Did you watch I’m Spazticus? What did you think of the show? Get in touch by emailing us at editor@disabilityhorizons.com, tweeting us @DHorizons, sending us a message on Facebook or commenting below.

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  • I thought I am Spazticus was irreverent, disturbing, so near the knuckle you could see where the tendons joined, and one of the funniest role on the floor, sometimes literally, pieces of sublime comedy I have ever been lucky enough to watch.

    Not once did the show use the ridiculousness of the general public attitude to being disabled as the target for humour. It did that again and again and agian.

    I guess it would be best point out the serious side of the show but fourtuneatly I couldn’t find one. It’s just funny in a showing people what they are actualy doing, thinking and comunicating to another group in society way.

    As a member of that group and having spent sometime in the Biz, my thanks goes out to Simon and the team for bringing crashed wheelchairs on to my screen, and hopefully they will return.

  • Sarah Ismail

    This is my review after watching one episode. It turned into quite a discussion on disability and language. http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/08/21/i%E2%80%99m-spazticus-in-the-run-up-to-the-paralympics-channel-4-fails-to-impress/

    I’m going to link this there too as some people thought the show was raising awareness of attitudes.

  • I’ve got a life

    Good programme! But what I don’t get are the people who say shit like its out of order or what ever. If you don’t like it turn over! You never hear me complaining about coronation st. I just press channel up or hit the power off button. Some people have got nothIng better to do than complain about everything. People like that are the ones that fuck this country up. They want everyone to live a boring life like themselves.

  • dB

    I’m spazticus-absolutely brilliant !! Wonderful to see disabled people having an obviously great time ! Am sure they all had a superb time in the making!! a big well done to all involved !!

  • Tony Coffee

    ‘Speaking as a……’ Don’t we all shudder when we see those words at the start of a post on an internet message board?

    Followed by the
    word ‘parent’, ‘cyclist’ or ‘owner of a vicious dog’ the rest of this
    interminable ramble will bore its reader to death with examples of
    ‘outrage’ and ‘offence’ and include an alarming amount
    of exclamation marks plus a frowny face at the end so we can all truly
    appreciate the injustice and trauma that the writer has to suffer every
    day as life deals them one crushing insult after another until Jeremy
    Kyle comes on.

    However…

    Speaking as someone at the ‘spaz-end’ of society I sat and watched
    I Spazticus (Channel4) open mouthed. I’d read the previews about
    how the show’s intention wasn’t to ‘raise awareness’ or to make any
    ‘political statements’ and just to be ‘funny’ but I wasn’t hopeful as
    Channel 4’s idea of what constitutes ‘funny’ many
    revolves around the fantasy of twenty-four hour Peter Kay DVD’s. I was
    right too. After watching I couldn’t help feeling that far from being
    affirming comedy the show fell into playing the exact same stereotypes
    you might have witnessed on Benny Hill twenty
    years ago.

    Mainly centred
    around a blind man and a handful of ‘fun-size’ people (as I’m lead to
    believe they now insist on being referred to as) I wondered exactly who
    or what was the subject of the humour. We saw
    that little guy off the telly driving a little car because erm….he’s
    little and we see the blind man asking a waiter to comment on the
    attractiveness of his ‘blind date’. The only appearance from what I’d
    call a ‘true Spazzer’ was a guy in a wheelchair
    doing his best Stephen Hawking impression basically to annoy two women
    who were just having a sit down.

    Genius!

    At worst the
    ‘normal’ people in these skits come across as nonplussed or unsure of
    how to offer assistance. They all seem willing to help but basically
    that’s it. There’s no big Jeremy Beadle reveal where
    the ‘victim’ is met by a deformed presenter with a daft beard and made
    to look like a sucker but basically a good sport and the lasting
    impression is that the disabled are nothing more than a bunch of
    wankers.

    Defending the
    show by saying it was written and performed by yer very own mongos
    doesn’t really cut it either. The people in the show are billed as
    ‘actors’ so let’s face it they’d eat a tin of dog food
    if it paid them to – acting is not a profession that requires dignity
    or evidently any concerns as to the ramifications of your actions.

    The whole show
    left a bad taste in my mouth. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy ‘bad
    taste’ people deserve to have their beliefs and pre-conceptions
    challenged this show did nothing but reinforce them.

    And Candid Camera did it all 50 years ago anyway.

    All the best.

    Tony coffey

  • Tony Coffey

    ‘Speaking as a……’ Don’t we all shudder when we see those words at the start of a post on an internet message board?

    Followed by the
    word ‘parent’, ‘cyclist’ or ‘owner of a vicious dog’ the rest of this
    interminable ramble will bore its reader to death with examples of
    ‘outrage’ and ‘offence’ and include an alarming amount
    of exclamation marks plus a frowny face at the end so we can all truly
    appreciate the injustice and trauma that the writer has to suffer every
    day as life deals them one crushing insult after another until Jeremy
    Kyle comes on.

    However…

    Speaking as someone at the ‘spaz-end’ of society I sat and watched
    I Spazticus (Channel4) open mouthed. I’d read the previews about
    how the show’s intention wasn’t to ‘raise awareness’ or to make any
    ‘political statements’ and just to be ‘funny’ but I wasn’t hopeful as
    Channel 4’s idea of what constitutes ‘funny’ many
    revolves around the fantasy of twenty-four hour Peter Kay DVD’s. I was
    right too. After watching I couldn’t help feeling that far from being
    affirming comedy the show fell into playing the exact same stereotypes
    you might have witnessed on Benny Hill twenty
    years ago.

    Mainly centred
    around a blind man and a handful of ‘fun-size’ people (as I’m lead to
    believe they now insist on being referred to as) I wondered exactly who
    or what was the subject of the humour. We saw
    that little guy off the telly driving a little car because erm….he’s
    little and we see the blind man asking a waiter to comment on the
    attractiveness of his ‘blind date’.

    The only appearance from what I’d
    call a ‘true Spazzer’ was a guy in a wheelchair
    doing his best Stephen Hawking impression basically to annoy two women
    who were just having a sit down.

    Genius!

    At worst the
    ‘normal’ people in these skits come across as nonplussed or unsure of
    how to offer assistance. They all seem willing to help but basically
    that’s it. There’s no big Jeremy Beadle reveal where
    the ‘victim’ is met by a deformed presenter with a daft beard and made
    to look like a sucker but basically a good sport and the lasting
    impression is that the disabled are nothing more than a bunch of
    wankers.

    Defending the
    show by saying it was written and performed by yer very own mongos
    doesn’t really cut it either. The people in the show are billed as
    ‘actors’ so let’s face it they’d eat a tin of dog food
    if it paid them to – acting is not a profession that requires dignity
    or evidently any concerns as to the ramifications of your actions.

    The whole show
    left a bad taste in my mouth. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy ‘bad
    taste’ people deserve to have their beliefs and pre-conceptions
    challenged this show did nothing but reinforce them.

    And Candid Camera did it all 50 years ago anyway.

    All the best.
    Tony coffey

  • sorry, the show was not groundbreaking but cringeworthy. it missed its mark, tried too hard to be controversial and was overshadowed by the paralympics. It was a real missed opportunity for disability rights. Lets hope next time they get some better writers

  • It’s not about people with disabilities taking control or equal opportunities to be TV stars. It’s still intended in all purpose to be a modern day freak show.

    Could you imagine a similar comedy aimed at black people, with that word that begins with the letter N in the title? Or similar with gay people with another similar word? It wouldn’t be allowed to air, and it would get a slamming by the public and press for being racist, homophobic, whatever. Somehow when it comes to disability it’s deemed differently.

    It’s nothing to do with challenging stereotypes, but all to do with reinforcing them. C4 has just about admitted so themselves. Very disturbing.