Brunel University and Terra Consultancy
Two of television’s most innovative programmes The Last Leg and Trollied were highlighted in a thought- provoking lecture considering comedy and disability. The lecture entitled ‘Beyond the Bell Jar’ was part of a series on the topic of disability planned and organised by the Centre for Comedy Research at Brunel University with British Sign Language (BSL) and media support being provided by Terra Consultancy.
The speaker, Dr. Margaret Montgomerie, a lecturer and researcher at Leicester’s De Montfort University, is currently researching and writing a book examining the somewhat sensitive, and perhaps controversial, relationship between comedy and various forms of disability; importantly, the lecture was attended by a number of people with various disabilities: Deaf, blind and impaired mobility.
Taking these two programmes as her launch point, Margaret examined how disability has traditionally been portrayed on television – usually by non-disabled actors and presenters, and she contrasted this with portrayals of disability in The Last Leg and Trollied, both of which include disabled performers. Interestingly, Margaret questioned whether we should actually use the term ‘able-bodied’ as it belies the huge range of varying disabilities that people might be experiencing . Linking in with this, she discussed the concepts of ‘visible’ disability and ‘invisible’ disability in which she opined it was the individual’s decision whether or not to ‘reveal’ their disability. As a case in point, she highlighted the situation of stand-up comedian Adam Hills, who is also a presenter on the chat-show format programme The Last Leg . Adam has chosen to reveal, quite physically, that he has a prosthetic leg. Yet, in episodes of Trollied, it is visibly clear that the comedian/actor Jack Carrol has difficulty walking, because of cerebral palsy, and yet, as Margaret demonstrated through a particular film clip when we see Jack in this clip seated behind a check-out counter, his disability is not so clear or obvious to the audience. Margaret showed how disabled people reserve the right to ‘make fun of themselves’ if they want to and she showed us a film to demonstrate this. Tanyalee Davis who deliberately provoked audience reaction by making edgy jokes about her own dwarfism.
I and the other deaf people were really surprised and happy to see all the different ways disabled people were being included and represented in the media. We were even told about a TV channel that is centered around disabled people/issues which I and the other deaf people did not know about before.”