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Interview: Comedian Chris McCausland discusses taking Edinburgh show Speaky Blinder on tour

Blind comic Chris discusses the realities of achieving success with a disability.

Interview Comedian Chris McCausland tour Speaky Blinder

Scouse comic and actor Chris McCausland has successfully been working the stand up comedy circuit since 2003.

Chris has recently launched his own podcast ‘That Blind Comedian’ and has to date taken seven acclaimed shows up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Chris recently took time out to speak to Entertainment focus about his inspiration for material, the realities and limitations of achieving success with a disability and his upcoming tour of Speaky Blinder – a pun which, he admits, wasn’t his first choice.

You’ve lived down south for many years, do you get back up to Liverpool much?

Yeah I work quite a lot in Liverpool, Manchester, Cheshire but I always go and stay in Liverpool whenever I’m working in Manchester. It’s like getting paid to go and see your folks isn’t it? I’ve got my daughter as well now so we get up there more often with her.

Your wife and your daughter form quite a bit of your set, don’t they?

Yeah, I always thought I wasn’t going to be that kind of comedian. When you’re young and carefree and you’ve got no real responsibility you don’t think you’ll be the type who talks about being a dad on stage but then you have a kid and there’s literally nothing else happening in your life. Obviously with me not being able to see anything, even though it’s normal stand up material, people can relate to it but some of the aspects of it have a slightly different angle and perspective.

Are you comfortable talking about the way you lost your sight, Chris? I believe it was it a gradual thing?

Yeah! Basically it’s got a long complicated name – RP (Retinitis pigmentosa) – it’s genetic. I was born with it. My sight deteriorated very, very steadily and slowly throughout my life but most of the noticeable stuff went in my late teens like being able to see in the dark, being able to walk around and being able to see the computer screen. All those kind of things went around about the time I got to my early twenties.

Had you thought about stand up as a career as a teenager or did it come to you later?

Not at all, I haven’t got a performing bone in my body. I’m a tech nerd. My degree’s in software engineering. I was always a comedy fan ever since my mum and dad bought me a Rowan Atkinson live DVD when I was about 12 and after that they were always on my Christmas list every year. Jack Dee and Lee Evans videos and things like that. It was more just a dare one day. I thought about just doing five minutes to see what it was like to do it. To see if I could make anybody laugh. It was never an intention of ‘I’m going to do this for a job.’ I thought I’d have a go at doing it once. I got a few laughs, nothing really that took the roof off, but I thought I might have another go and before you know it you’ve done twenty gigs and you’re getting better at it and then somebody gives you a fiver, and then somebody gives you a tenner and from there it snowballs.

Obviously being good at something and getting better at it is important and you must have had that within you.

Everybody has bad gigs there’s no escaping it. Some things are your own fault sometimes your material’s just not that funny but some things are out of your control in terms of the audience, the room, the sound or whatever. People have bad gigs, and I’ve had gigs since my first few that if they’d been first I don’t know if I’d have done it again. But then you have some that are really nice so if you have a bad one you think, ‘Well, I’ve had ten nice ones so these things must happen.’ There must be someone who’s had a really bad first gig and never done it again and we’ll never know if they could do it. There’s a lot of luck to it as well.

You’ve been doing this since 2003. And you’re going on tour with Speaky Blinder, I love the pun by the way.

I still really don’t like the title. Another comedian came up with it. I’ve never seen the show Peaky Blinders. I was trying to think of a title and another comedian said, ‘I’ve got a title for your show but you’re not going to like it.’ And he told me and it made me laugh. But I didn’t do anything with it. Then when I was coming up with a few other options for the show my agent didn’t like them so I told him that one and he said it was brilliant and I had to choose it!

It’s certainly great as a pun to stick in the memory. So you took it to Edinburgh last year?

Yeah I did my first Edinburgh in a while because I didn’t go up for a few years. My daughter’s 5 now and she was due to be born in August 2013 so I didn’t go up that year and didn’t miss it to be honest. Got used to being at home and not being away for a month. I did Live at the Apollo on the BBC and I was advised to do Edinburgh. I wrote the show but the festival’s long, it’s a long time to be up there a month but the show went well which is great.

Are you looking forward to taking it on tour as it’s not quite as intense as performing every single day?

Yeah, it’s nice to be able to go home afterwards and be in your own place. Especially with me when I’m there for a month, I find it very difficult just in terms of, you know, you’re not in your own surroundings, and you don’t know where anything is. You can get used to a hotel room but when you’ve rented a flat for a month that you don’t really know with not not been able to see it’s harder.

That’s understandable. How did the Live at the Apollo gig go?

It couldn’t have gone better it, if anything I would say that I knew about it for too long beforehand. It’d have been nice to be told just a week before so you’d only have a week to let it build in your mind but I knew for four months. So it kind of builds up in your own head as stressful. And when you think about it, it’s 3,500 people facing forward. They’re all comedy fans. Everyone’s in a good mood. The sound system’s amazing. Everything’s in your favour. The only thing that can muck it up is you. Then as soon as you go out there and you get that first laugh, you relax. I tend not to get nervous anymore but that was an exception.

You must experience people patronising you because you’ve succeeded despite your disability. Would you tell anyone out there with aspirations to follow their dream no matter what?

No, actually, I wouldn’t. I think sometimes you need to be aware of your own limitations. I think we’re very close to getting into a world where people expect to be allowed to do anything irrelevant of their own abilities or shortcomings or disability. That’s not the way the world works. I’ve just been doing this thing for Radio 4 about Bryan Cranston playing a disabled character and people were asking why couldn’t that have been a disabled actor playing a disabled character? Well, because he’s a household name and you’re never going to get somebody in a wheelchair that’s going to be a household name because there isn’t the opportunity for them to do that. And then somebody said to me ‘There should be. Why shouldn’t there be?’ But I think you need to be aware that you’ve got a disability and there’s things you’re not going to be able to do. And you need to find something else that you can achieve at the top level at rather than trying to achieve at a level that’s impractical. We’re in an era where online social movements can snowball, and sometimes they’re very valid but sometimes people jump on bandwagons and people need to be a little bit more realistic about what their own level of achievement is and focus on something that is achievable. Stand up is something that I can achieve at but I have done some acting, and it’s great, but I know that that’s not something I should ever pursue and think ‘I’m gonna be a Hollywood superstar’ because I couldn’t because there’s only like, three acting jobs that I’m suitable for. You’ve got to be a little bit realistic.

Yes, pragmatic about how you would approach your work, of course.

Yeah, that’s the word I’m looking for. How many different acting jobs can a blind bloke do? A little bit of self awareness in a way and not think that you just deserve the same as anybody else irrelevant of your own shortcomings.

True but I think it’s good there’s a new mindset for people not to let things hold them back in a way that they might have done in the past. 

Yeah, absolutely. I still dream of playing for Liverpool one day! But in terms of acting I’m very aware that I’m niche and opportunities only come around every so often.

With stand up you’re in control of your own work and creativity and that must be more enjoyable?

Yeah it’s very immediate with stand up. You can think of things that morning and be doing them on stage at night. Or even five minutes before you go on and know if they’re funny because you get instant feedback. In terms of creativity you do other things where there’s a lot more of a delayed time period between having an idea and being able to put something out there as a finished product.

It must be is quite hard to put the jokes to bed once you’ve toured them?

What I do is that as I write things I drop them out so it’s kind of like a constant conveyor belt. Then I’ll realise that I haven’t done a bit for 18 months so I’ll bring that back in and I’ll always think in my head when I’m doing it that someone’ll go ‘I saw you two years ago and you’re still doing the same joke!’ I don’t do the stuff that I did on Live at the Apollo because it was on the TV and there’s a video on YouTube. And I suppose that’s the way that some comedians work with online videos and DVDs and then Netflix specials. When you’re at the level below that on the circuit you can keep doing it because not millions of people have seen it.

You do a podcast too called ‘That Blind Comedian’?

Yeah it started as a way to put out a half an hour of content every week. And it’s been going well I haven’t really been promoted properly at the minute because I’ve been trying to get into the routine with it. It’s a little bit more personal than what I would ever do in a club. Means I can talk about the things that are more interesting and personal to me than what I would do in front of a Saturday night audience of people on a hen party. It’s called That Blind Comedian because that’s how people often refer to me when they can’t remember my name. That blind comedian!

You can see Chris touring Speaky Blinder on the following dates May-June 2019.

MAY 2019

Thursday 9 May
Hen & Chicken, Bristol

Friday 10 May
Ashcroft Arts Centre, Farnham

Saturday 11 May
Playhouse, Epsom

Thursday 16 May
G-Live, Guildford

Friday 17 May
South Street Arts Centre, Reading

Saturday 18 May
Forest Arts Centre, New Milton

Thursday 30 May
Phoenix Arts Centre, Bordon

Friday 31 May
Guildhall, Gloucester

JUNE 2019

Saturday 1 June
The Spring Arts & Heritage Centre, Havant

Sunday 2 June
Arts Centre, Swindon

Friday 7 June
Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead

Saturday 8 June
Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Sunday 9 June
Lowry, Salford

Monday 10 June
Hot Water Comedy Club, Liverpool

Thursday 13 June
Komedia, Brighton

Saturday 15 June
West End Centre, Aldershot

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