I am one of most unlikely stand-up comics. I can't stand up and I don't speak a word. I got into this industry completely by accident. It was supposed to be a one-off but I got asked to enter a local stand-up competition.
Things blew up from there. I was on Seven Sharp and got 4000 “likes” on my Facebook page due to this appearance.
I also performed in Auckland.
Performing in the arts can be an opportunity for us to increase visibility of people with disabilities, and also in dealing with the media.
For example, I like to correct journalists when they say that I suffer from cerebral palsy. I think it’s worthwhile that I can use my position to can let journalists know not to use language that enforces the idea that we should be pitied.
It is my purpose to entertain, not to teach. However, sometimes you just naturally find yourself doing both. My suggestion is that if you can form comedy around an annoying perception people have, it's a good way to crush it.
For example, when people talk to me slowly, I say, “I’m not sitting on a giant hearing aid”.
As much as I like talking about myself, let's talk about getting us into acting.There are very few people with disabilities on scripted shows and I would like to change this.
Producers see us as different with different issues. This has to change.
Some may be scared of the backlash from the public if they get things wrong. In my opinion, this view is silly.
I don't think they need to focus on the disability of the character too much. They should just view it as a regular character who happens to have a disability. If they want to go into particular issues, that's fine. If not, that's fine too.
I think that disability organisations should write letters to producers asking for them to occasionally cast people with disabilities and explaining my previous points.
Media can change perceptions
Visibility in the media will be a big help in knocking down people's perceptions of disability. People deal best with what they know, so let people get to know us.
You are not necessarily limited to TV either. You can publish your own scripted shows through YouTube, either individually or as a group. Who knows, you may get discovered.
I'm not into telling people what to do so if you want to perform without being an advocate, that's totally fine. It's your life.
In comedy, I am not in the business of being an advocate. However, I am finding that teaching people is just a natural consequence of what I do. It’s a good consequence.
I mainly use book writing and blogging to advocate.
Getting so many “likes” on Facebook has also lead to increased sales of my book, Disability Rights and Disability Wrongs: The Conclusions of a Cripple Volume 1, which is good for my advocacy work.
I perform comedy because I like comedy. It has nothing to do with having a disability. However, I use my disability in my comedy and this is working very well for me.
You know the old saying: if you got it, use it.
I didn't envision this year at all but the local comedy scene has been more than supportive. This path is going well for me. I plan to continue this journey. I really think that I could see the world with this.
Thane Pullan is a member of Making A Difference Arts Advocates Christchurch. This group participated in three advocacy workshops, facilitated by Arts Access Aotearoa in 2014 with funding through the Ministry of Social Development's Making A Difference Fund.