This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

> > > Review: Abnormally Funny People
photo of comedian Caro Sparks wearing a big smile and red lips

Abnormally Funny... Caro Sparks

Richard Downes strolls down to the Soho Theatre Downstairs on 21 May to spend yet more time with Abnormally Funny People

Abnormally Funny People is more than a show. It's a small community of people with like minded interests. Their themes include jokes (surprising for a comedy event), disability, inclusion and... professional development. There is a core group of established talent, opportunities for newbies to try out for future involvement, and a commitment to helping and appreciating each other. An institution to be cherished.

Tonight's compere, Huw Thomas, comedian, teacher, leading light in the growth of alternative comedy. He is founder of Downstairs at the Kings Head. I looked at the club website, where he raves about inclusion. He extends this to his audience. We are offered rare forms of participation. We sing, gesticulate, take imaginary journeys around the world and laugh within seconds. Later, sitting with the group in his absence, I hear about how much he is loved, how he supports, how gentle and encouraging he is. A role model.

London is a big city. Some of us are easily connected. Huw associates with Crouch End close to the home of Caro Sparks. A new comedy name for me. I knew her previously as Caroline Parker, purveyor of sign songs, a Liberty festival regular. Her comedy is less powerful than these other presentations. This is a very different level of performance. Gentle. Less out there, less bold, less brassy. But, valuable as she reminisces about  the adventures in sound she took growing up, changes in hearing technology, myths about lip reading, amusing anecdotes about confusions in her life, before a sign song version of Its Raining Men that re-introduces us to her passion and movement.

Tim Renkow is typical of the Absolutely Funny People ethos. Recommended by another of this years débutantes Don Biswas. A dark storyteller; Tim ruminates on suicide, alcoholism, the threat of violence, american extremes and fetishism. Tonight Huw gave me a new word; pharyngeal - to do with the throat. And paraphilia. Look it up. Tim is the night's first gag smith. It’s amazing how the darkness makes you laugh.

Gareth Berliner is constantly touring. He is developing a new show with Kiruna Stamell who I reviewed last month. It promises two very different faces of comedy. The disability circuit is small and getting smaller. So, Gareth does the mainstream and it shows. He is calm, confident, dealing in a world that still struggles to include us. He has no need to  reveal his impairment and barely touches on disability at all. He participates exclusively as a comedian. These are the terms he sets himself. His achievements are a welcome sign of progress.

Next up Ella Josiah offers a gentle style of comedy. Given Huw and the early part of Caro's routine it's too much for me. Aren't we supposed to be difficult, challenging, edgy. Its not a criticism of Ella. The mix failed a diversity test of sorts tonight. A shame. But there is sly wickedness in Ella's content that could be pumped up: "Do you know why there is no bullying at special schools for blind children? Because no one can see the fat, ugly ones." That's wicked. The driving joke was too. She provides an insight into what it means to be not blind enough; not deserving enough. It’s hot at these times of Welfare Reform. Which of us will pass the test? Who will fail? Do we really need to put each other down? Surely if we have impairments and experience discrimination, then surely we are proper enough. So, less gentility, more wickedness please.

Finally Liz Carr... who asked me not to review her because I've written about her Abnormally Funny Performance previously on DAO.

I appreciate Abnormally Funny People. The community reflects what we need from society. Their next gig is the last of the series. See you there!

Abnormally Funny People plays at Soho Theatre Downstairs, London. On 18 June you can see Tanyalee Davis, Bennet Aarron, Liz Carr, Liam O’Carroll on. Go to the Soho Theate website for further details including some helpful access info.