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
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