Simon Minty (pictured) defies convention in all kinds of ways. Best known perhaps as the cofounder of the comedy troupe Abnormally Funny People (AFP), a collective of mainly disabled comics and actors that's been around in various guises for almost a decade, he is also a former high street banker, an entrepreneur and a disability consultant. And he is charting new territory once again with the launch of a comedy podcast.
Featuring disabled actors, comics "and generally interesting people" as guests, the AFP podcast, he says, is not trying to change people's beliefs. "This is first and foremost comedy. I want lots of disabled people to listen to it, but I also want it to be accessible to everybody so that people think, 'You know what? This is a different, quirky thing.' The hope is the podcast might be another step towards ensuring more disabled actors and comedians are in the mainstream of entertainment."
After two experimental runs, the inaugural podcast, Girls Just Wanna, is out this week. With guests actor Lisa Hammond and model and lawyer Shannon Murray, September's one-hour "discussion" touches on everything from being pointed at in the street to dating.
Minty, 46, sees humour as a powerful tool to relax people about an awkward subject, and is determined that the podcast should not be pigeonholed as "earnest" or "lecturey".
When asked if he ever dreamed he would have so many strings to his career bow, and that one of them would be comedy ("my evening job"), Minty says he used to be envious of a pal who always seemed to go to bed late and get up late and thought: "How can I work that out?"
Minty's funny bone is never far from the surface, but that's not to say he doesn't do serious. For a start, he says that grappling with issues such as discrimination and inclusion in a comedy context can be illuminating. "We will talk on the podcast about the Independent Living Fund, or about access to work. These are massive things that are having a huge impact on disabled people. Assisted suicide is another topic.
Sometimes we throw in a random gag because we can. Sometimes you need to prick the tension a bit.
"I think a good chunk of disability comedy is taking the mickey out of people who aren't disabled and how they behave. It's lovely, because the non-disabled person says: 'Oh yeah, that is me, but they're not being horrible to me'. So they laugh at their own behaviour, but they also learn from it."
On wider disability rights and social justice, Minty has achieved a substantial amount through his consultancy work over the past couple of decades. He advised a number of large companies, including banks, on how to implement requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act after it was introduced in 1995. While he doesn't describe himself as an activist, he is close to many campaigners and is vocal on a range of issues.
"It disappoints me hugely that the act has been in place for coming up to 20 years, yet the unemployment rate for disabled people has remained pretty level," he says. "That really devastates me. As for the whole idea of 'disablism', people don't even know what that means – it's like a made up word for them. It's going to take another 10 years before they even get the concept."
Referring specifically to disabled people in the workplace, he adds: "There are little moments 15 years later where I see companies slipping back a little, and I just think: 'Did we really make an impact?' And then there are other areas where we've come on in leaps and bounds."
Minty speaks admiringly of the enthusiastic supporters within companies, as well as across media and entertainment, who have helped drive progress alongside the activists and advocates. All of this gives him cause for optimism. "Five years ago, no one was talking about mental health in the workplace – now everyone's talking about it. Learning disability was something else that people didn't do, and now there's a huge amount of work on it."
He says the portrayal of disability on screen has come a long way since he was a boy and people of small stature were almost always depicted on TV and in films in a negative or derogatory way that horrified him. "They were dressed up as some freakish clown or an alien … or were the butt of a very poor joke. It used to make me flinch." But even if things have improved, he nevertheless cautions against complacency. "What you have to be very careful of is that organisations will say: 'Oh, we're doing our week of …' and that's it for the rest of the year."
He applauds recent moves by the BBC to introduce new "diversity targets" throughout the organisation, including for disabled people. He was consulted by the director general, Tony Hall, while the policy was being drawn up. Asked if he worries about it being a potential box-ticking exercise he says that, done well, it can constitute effective auditing. "So long as it's lots of boxes and you do it regularly."
He would like a version of the podcast to transfer to radio or TV, but the bigger picture is never far from his mind. "What I sometimes wonder about media and other organisations is that they say: 'Oh, we can't do that – we're worried about tokenism', and I say: 'Yeah, but that means you won't do anything!' Sometimes you just need to force it."
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Co-founder of British comedy troupe Abnormally Funny People says humour a seriously powerful tool for changing attitudes
The Guardian in the UK:
Posted by BA Haller at 11:16 AM