The Galway Theatre Festival commences next week and among the highlights is Laurence Clark’s comic show, An Irresponsible Father’s Guide to Parenting. It comes here, at the behest of NoRopes Theatre Company, for three performances at NUIG’s O’Donoghue Centre from May 8 to 11.
Clark is one of the UK’s funniest stand-ups, with much of his comedy comprising sharply observational humour and filmed stunts revolving around his cerebral palsy that wittily expose attitudes toward disability.
He has presented a series of acclaimed shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, including The All-Star Charity Show which sent up telethons for disabled people by presenting appeals on behalf of the celebrities who fronted them in the same patronisingly sentimental way. Spastic Fantastic followed his attempts to reclaim the word ‘spastic’ as someone with cerebral palsy through stand-up comedy and hidden camera stunts. In Inspired, commissioned by the London 2012 Unlimited programme, he tackled his pet hate of disabled people being called inspirational for doing mundane things and staged an unconventional Olympic race.
An Irresponsible Father’s Guide to Parenting is based on Clark’s own experiences of parenthood and raising two young boys with his wife Adelle, who also has cerebral palsy. Growing up Laurence never saw dads with cerebral palsy which made him think he’d never be a parent himself. Besides, the only thing he’d ever managed to look after was a cactus, and even that died from dehydration. But when Adelle told him early on in their relationship that she wanted children, Laurence had to brace himself for the fateful journey of fatherhood.
Over a morning phone call, Laurence tells me how the show came about; “In 2012 Adelle and I were filmed for a documentary by the BBC about being parents when our younger son was being born,” he begins. “Recently it got uploaded to Youtube and the thing with Youtube is that folk can say the first thing that comes into their heads in the comments box underneath the video. One day I took the brave, but unwise, decision to read through these comments and what I realised was that they reflected how people saw us and there were all sorts of misconceptions. There were comments like our kids miss out, it would be hard for them to adapt and why we were even making kids in the first place. All that was what prompted me to write the show so as to set the record straight and address those misconceptions.”
The show includes video footage of Laurence’s sons reading out some of the negative Youtube comments responding to the BBC documentary. “I gathered a selection of what people said and then filmed my kids reading them and saying what they thought,” he explains. “That forms the structure of the show, really, as we go through the various misconceptions. The good thing about the kids reading the comments and saying what they think is that it is way more powerful than anything that I could ever say myself.”
It is notable that, while much of Laurence’s comedy candidly tackles discrimination and ignorance around disability it is never fuelled by anger. “No, it is not fuelled by anger it is more amusement,” he admits. “I find it quite cathartic to take something negative and then laugh at it.”
Nor does he write his shows primarily to raise awareness of disability issues, albeit that they always succeed in doing that; “It is nice that the shows might raise awareness but that is not really why I do it,” he states. “It is the job of a comedian to make people laugh. No-one buys a ticket for a comedy show to get their consciousness raised! This is just a really funny, entertaining show and I hope lots of people in Galway will come to see it.”
An Irresponsible Father’s Guide to Parenting runs at NUIG’s O’Donoghue Centre from Wednesday, May 8 to Saturday May 11 at 7pm nightly. The show lasts 60 minutes and tickets are €14 / €12.