Meet Neil Skene, a blind, Scottish comedian who tells it like it is and hopes through doing so, we will raise awareness of disability issues through humour.
I say I’m a comedian, and officially this is correct. But I see myself more as someone trying to raise awareness of issues faced by disabled people in general, and blind people in particular, and doing it in a humorous way.
For years I’ve conducted presentations on visual awareness and have always tried to inject humour into it; if people remember you as a person, then just maybe they will retain some of the message too.
I also use a guide dog and, as I’m sure every guide dog owner agrees, I am always amazed by the patronising things people come out with about having a guide dog. My favourite statement: “they must be a great comfort.”
I hope by relaying some of the situations I’ve found myself in and, in some cases, embellishing the tale slightly so I can get the message across, people will understand what using a guide dog is really like: they don’t know bus numbers, do the dishes nor even pay my mortgage, although if they did, that would be a real comfort.
But despite this, I don’t really think of myself as a comedian. People often say to me; “you must be very brave and have tons of self-confidence to stand up in front of a crowd hoping to make them laugh.”
The truth is I’m almost the opposite, much to my wife’s frustration. I have no problem with a stand-up show, but in many social situations, I clam up and often find it hard to speak to strangers.
Having done presentations for years, I do have the confidence to stand up in front of an audience and cope with the idea of everyone looking at me. Maybe having control of the microphone, and therefore of the situation, makes all the difference.
I think it helps as well that, so far, all my material has been very well received and, honestly, there’s no better feeling then standing up in front of a venue full of people laughing because of something you have said. Especially since I am a disabled person creating the laughter, not a disabled person being laughed at, which is what happens all too often.
There are many debates about jokes about disabilities and I guess some of my material is not very PC. But my view is that in a comedy club, where there is an opportunity for people to escape from reality, anything goes. Something deemed offensive in the outside world can be totally appropriate in this setting.
I love performing my comedy routine, but also do After Dinner speaking, which is less controversial as it tends to follow my life story, again with humorous embellishments. I have also developed inspirational and motivational talks suitable for conferences and seminars; in fact, I pride myself on being able to adjust my set to most occasions… apart from children’s parties!
Apart from being a blind guide dog owner, I’m married and have a 10-year-old daughter. As well as fitting in the stand-up shows and talks, I also work full time as a fundraising co-ordinator with my local blind society and also attended a RNIB rehabilitation centre in Fife. Despite being almost totally blind, I spent my secondary school days at a so called “normal school” where I think the teachers were bigger bullies than the pupils!
So you’ll see from this, I’ve got an abundance of experiences to drawn upon. Whilst most of the above experiences were (by today’s standards) very negative, I took many positives and am able to turn them around into positives.
By Neil Skene
What are your thoughts on disability and comedy? Are non-PC jokes OK? What is, and isn’t, PC? Let us know what you think by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweeting us @DHorizons, sending us a message on Facebook or commenting below.