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> > > Interview: Laurence Clark talks about his Unlimited commission 'Inspired'
a man sitting in a wheelchair photographed from above smiling pulling open his shirt to show a Superman t-shirt

Laurence Clark dressed as a superhero! Image © Laurence Clark

Ladies and Gentleman The 'Inspired' Laurence Clark. Richard Downes, meets Laurence Clark on the day of his third preview of Inspired.

Laurence Clark, Comedian, always strikes me as a giver. Today he's more guarded. There are things he doesn't want me or you to know about Inspired. He would rather we went to see it. There is something he is particularly proud of - a dramatic twist at the end. I try to get it out of him but in keeping it in he gives to you, the promise of surprise.

Laurence is the only commissioned comic at this years’ Cultural Olympiad. I ask him for a synopsis of Inspired.

“I can't believe I got funding for this, I didn't expect it. I put in for the opposite of what they are looking for. I didn't want to do a show about how inspiring we all are as disabled people. I wanted to do a show about how we are not inspiring.  This is how comedy should work. It should go against the status quo and argue the opposite viewpoint to what everyone thinks. Otherwise you're just preaching to the converted.

My last show about the NHS was not something people in this country would disagree with. It was too easy. Challenging the idea that we are inspiring seems more difficult. The Paralympics are everywhere so I thought this was the direction to take. The show is not a criticism of Paralympians. It is critical of the way they are portrayed especially in the media as heroes, people we should aspire to be like. I'm asking awkward questions. Are all Paralympians special? What about those who come last?”

At the last Olympics a swimmer came in last and was so slow he became a cause celebre. We have our own Eddie the Eagle who was called an eagle precisely because he could not fly.

Eddie the Eagle is in the show. He's an example of how the British are inspired. Americans are inspired by really amazing feats but for us Brits we also like Eddie the Eagle.

So, what's good is good, but rubbish is better.

I read his biography on Wikipedia and he's not doing bad for himself. But this isn't about anybody else really. It’s about a deeply ingrained idea that we are inspiring. Charities use this idea but they are not in the show. They didn't make the list this time.

For the audience to follow what is being said I find reasons to slag myself off. I can say what I like about myself and get away with it. If I'm just slagging off other people or organisations I'm not going to get the message over and it will not be so powerful.

You're often the target of your own humour, yet in the end you come through, survive and achieve things.

When it’s about you, you can get away with things that you couldn't otherwise. My own achievements are very ordinary. They are not things that other people don't do, can't do, won't do. In terms of the format of the show it's autobiographical. I am talking about bits of my life which are not inspiring but which have been called inspiring. The audience is given the chance to participate and judge how inspiring it is by making noise.

Laurence changes the drift of the conversation to emphasise that Inspired is a work in progress and is open to change.

I've done the show twice so far. I have more previews before Edinburgh before ending its run at Bloomsbury. It’s going well and should be in good shape by then. I will have done it 27 times. I am making changes. I record my shows with a dictaphone on my i-phone and listen back for laughter. I also look to make it like a conversation rather than reading from a script. At the moment I've got the script with me to remind me where I want to go but I'm not reading it.  I'm glancing at it, re-writing it, improving the dialogue with the audience, chancing the spur of the moment and finding out what is funny, what works and what doesn't. Editing.

What's happened so far? What are people saying to you?

There's a nice little twist at the end which I didn't see coming. The structure of the show is that I talk about a specific person. It’s not someone famous. Just someone that I met. They came to the first preview not knowing what the show was about. It must have been quite a surreal experience for them to go to a comedy gig having just met me once and then to become the star by coming out of it looking better than me.

This is another example of Laurence giving. The last time I reviewed a television documentary with him in it I ended up calling him special. I want to explore this more. I remind him that he is a disabled comedian, who talks about our issues as much as his own and through this he's become a leader.

Why is that? Is it because there are so few of us around? There should be more of us working, getting the breaks. passing on the message. This doesn't make me special, doesn't mean that I am inspiring.

It goes back to what they say about us. We become inspiring because we do something everyone else does. They set the bar low. I wonder how non-disabled people would respond to it if it was reversed.

I've done more secret filming in London. I say to people, I find you so inspiring for having a baby, going to work, going to the toilet. People look so bewildered. How would anyone take that. They expect us to take it though. They take a while to get over it, told they are being filmed and why, then they go and sign the consent form so I can use them in the show. Those who don't sign can be pixelated out.

I feel there is a courage in this. Perhaps it relates to my stammer. But to go up to a stranger, take the piss and then admit to it. I talk about my Dad applauding me for kicking a football.

Yes. That's right. It’s the low level again.

But it did something to me. It made me want to kick a ball over and over again. This of cause is one of the rubs. To be heroic is a form of self-feeding that we can get into which will  lead to another form of damage. We become Super Crips, disabled people who do better than anyone else, work harder, take less time off, keep on going in spite of illness. This is something I want to talk to Laurence about in future because it is said that he is helping to design a Super Crip comic for DaDaFest - the next installment of Inspired perhaps.

Art. Olympics, Paralympics, Inspiration. Before writing up the above interview I read a blog by Louise Hickman, a follower of my non-DAO blog which touches on the issues very well and which may aid further consumption of the above.

'Inspired' is part of the London 2012 Festival which will play at the following venues:

Underbelly's Bristo Square Venue, Edinburgh from 1 - 27 August
Bloomsbury Theatre, London on 7 September