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24 February 2012

photo of performer Tanyalee Davis taken from above

Photo of comedian Tanyalee Davis

Abnormally Funny People have a run of gigs at the Soho Theatre, Downstairs. Rich Downes gets infected by the humour of the comedians on the bill on the 20th February.

I am in a bad place. I do not mean the Soho Theatre Downstairs where I am to review Abnormally Funny People with a focus on Tanyalee Davis. My body feels heavy. A black cloud scowls and scratches within. I am desperately worried about meeting deadlines, making appointments, being a part of the world wherein I must appear to be OK.

No need to worry. I arrive early and meet producers Steve Best and Simon Minty. I am finding kindness in comedians who are keen to support what I am doing. But, I feel agitated. Desperate for a laugh but wondering if I can raise one within me. Is it fair for me to do this review today?

I am not alone in struggling with the compere, Noel James, the only non-disabled comedian on the bill. He is being heckled by deaf people who I suspect may be there primarily for Sophie Woolley - following my Disability Arts Online colleagues Charlie Swinbourne's interview with her on his blog.

In fact I’m wondering what the whole audience is doing there. Deaf People withstanding, they seem (I know appearances can be deceptive) to make up a largely non-disabled world. Our comedians are storming the barricades, breaking down barriers, finding acceptance and inclusion. Standing or falling on the tools of their trade. Jokes. They are leaders who reflect how far we have come in a matter of a generation. Comedy has returned to being King and we are a part of the coronation.

Steve Day, (who will get fuller attention in a later feature), begins what for me is the coming of a safer, warmer world. He is ably abetted by Penny Pepper and the aforementioned Sophie who is finding much humour in the act of crying. Even Noel James can demonstrate wonderful things with a guitar case that becomes a prop for the silliest of impressions.

Together they set the stage for Tanyalee Davis whose website shows how far we have come. Whilst our lives are still restricted Tanyalee has headlined Las Vegas, appeared in films, television, works constantly, touring, gigging, raising laughter. She is top of her craft. I see a great stillness within her that is hard to spot due to the rapid fire scatological nature of her humour.

There does not seem anywhere or anything that falls outside of the framework of fair game. Her fundamental obsession lies within her size. Whilst she introduces herself as a little person she is not afraid to throw in the words dwarf or midget depending on which of the words are most likely to fit within the framework of the joke.

Whilst we might struggle with tossing dwarves there is something most appealing about an exploding midget beset with the worst case of diarrhoea you have ever heard described. Tanyalee is pure muscle. She has no soft skin, no brittle bone. She is as physical as any comedian I have seen. Whilst the previous comedians found laughs within me Tanyalee has me hooting with laughter. A deaf friend in front of me is crying.

Later I manage to catch a word with Tanyalee. We are to do an interview very soon. She tells me that she had inserted four new jokes into her routine. She keeps things fresh, comes over crisp and juicy, refreshing the parts the pale beers failed to reach. In a word, Tanyalee Davis, is brilliant. Long may she shine within the darkness.

Abnormally Funny People have a run of gigs coming up at the Soho Theatre

19th March
Laurence Clark, Mat Fraser, Liz Carr, Steve Best, Don Biswas

23rd April
Steve Day, Addy Borgh, Liam O'Carroll, Kiruna Stamell, Dawn Willis

21st May  (Palantyped / live text to speech)
Huw Thomas, Caro Sparks, Gareth Berliner, Liz Carr

18th June
Tanyalee Davis, Bennett Arron, Liz Carr, Liam O'Carroll

You can buy tickets at



25 February 2012

May I suggest that Deaf people attended this event because ALL of it was captioned. Yippee!!!! That means accessible. Right? Then it started and Noel moved the mic and walked about in front of the subtitles. For me, it was like back in the Disability Arts day when these guys used to stand in front of the Sign Language Interpreter. I call it telling folk to get out of the way or standing up for our rights to access comedy! The captioning was BRILLIANT!!! So was the whole show. Even Noel recovered and rose to the occasion once he moved out of the way and we could read what he was saying xxx

richard downes

25 February 2012

i'm not sure why oel was heckled. it could have been the list of impairments that he was pretending tohave to find humour from. Some of it came (i think) from his proximity to the mike andhow this might have been interfering wtih hearing aids, the best bit was when he impersonated a dolphin, the palantypist couldn't record the sound and someone insisted to know what a dolphin sounded like. In my humble opinion there was no effecetive response.

I think my concern abou tthe make up of the audience was rooted in the fears i was experiencing. I remember i went to a gig the week john lennon was murdered and i wqas jumpy with everyone. I think it was therefore more about what i was going through and my levels of confidence at the time.

With respect to how the comedians felt i have started asking them this in the research i am doing. Whilst they clearly want to support the movement and DPO's it would seem that in some ways a non disabled audience is easier for them. It seems they may be judged more openly in the non disabled community which does not always share the same critical frameworks that we ourselves apply from our understanding of models and language. I have been wondering about this and have been considering how i might interview audiences

Deborah Caulfield

24 February 2012


I enjoyed your review, especially as I'd hoped to see the show and couldn't.

Some questions for you:

* What was the heckling about and how did the compere respond?

As far as the mainly non-disabled audience goes:

* What is your concern about their motive for being there?

* Do disabled performers only want to see disabled people in the audience?

I'm hoping to see the show on March 19. See you there?

Steve Best

24 February 2012

Thanks for the review Rich, and good to meet you the other night.

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