Laurence Clark: inspired, my arse!
The disabled comedian explains why he can’t stand being called ‘inspirational’
Like many other disabled people, I’ve been really looking forward to the start of the 2012 Paralympic Games and Channel 4’s high-profile coverage of them. But already I’m noticing that the media seems incapable of mentioning Paralympic athletes without calling them ‘inspiring’. I can’t help but find myself thinking: what about the ones that come last, or don’t qualify at all, or are just a little bit crap? Surely they can’t all be ‘inspiring’. Can they? As rhetorical quiestions go, this one got on my tits so much that I decided to write and perform a solo stand-up show about it.
I get deemed ‘inspirational’ myself, and it has always been my number one pet hate in life. You may be forgiven for wondering what the big deal is. After all, there are far worse words I could be called. But the reason it winds me up is that I’m not really considered inspiring for performing amazing, spectacular feats, like running marathons, climbing Everest or getting away with saying ‘fuck’ on ‘Newsnight’, even though I have actually achieved at least one of these things (I’ll leave you to guess which). Curiously, people instead seem to think that I’m inspiring for doing ordinary, run-of-the-mill tasks that everyone else takes for granted. Things like getting dressed, going to work or wiping my arse. I was even called ‘inspirational’ and ‘brave’ the day my son was born. Yes, I was the one tagged as brave when, compared to my wife, my contribution to the proceedings was undoubtedly the easy bit.
Talking of my wife, anyone thinking I’m inspirational has clearly never spoken to her, because she’d soon set the record straight. She struggles to be inspired by many of the things I do, like farting in my sleep, avoiding changing the baby’s nappy and arranging my complete collection of ‘Doctor Who’ DVDs into chronological order. She’s even less inspired whenever I actually want to watch one.
For the public, there’s often a feelgood factor to seeing disabled people as inspirational. Some people can’t envisage what it must be like to be like me and mistakenly end up thinking along the lines of, ‘Well, I could be worse… I could be like him.’ Now, can you see what my problem is? Many people effectively take it for granted that I lead an awful life and that it takes extra strength of character to fight against the odds.
It seems the less fortunate in life we’re thought to be, the less we need to achieve before we’re labelled ‘inspirational’. Which is just a polite, slightly patronising way for people to say they never thought I’d get very far in life, but somehow I’ve surpassed their low expectations. Charming!
And so in my stand-up show, ‘Inspired’, I set out to demonstrate to my audience just how uninspiring I really can be. I talk about the many things I’ve done with my life: getting a PhD, having kids, giving it a go with the bungee jumping. It’s up to the audience to sort out, once and for all, what is and isn’t truly inspirational. Every crowd comes to a different conclusion.
I guess this show is my attempt to reclaim the word ‘inspired’ and make it really mean something to people again. If you come to watch it you can expect to find absurd logic, death-defying stunts and bizarre varieties of crisps. But whatever you do, just don’t expect to come away feeling inspired.