Blog: Romina Puma

The stand-up comedian is joining other disabled stars for the annual Joke for Scope event – and readers can win free tickets

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Disability and comedy: most people wouldn’t associate those two things with each other. Rather like they wouldn’t associate the subjects of sex and disability. But I am disabled and, as a comedian, I can assure you those subjects go very well together.

When I started comedy, I had not yet been diagnosed with my condition. I have facioscapularhumeral muscular dystrophy, or FSH, for connoisseurs of the condition. I was diagnosed 12 years ago when I was 29. My life changed from that moment.

At first, I didn’t use my condition in any of my material, probably because I was still processing the diagnosis and couldn’t see the funny side. Now talking about it on the stage for me is my therapy.

I get through difficult times by looking at the bright side of things, and then I turn them into a comedy routine. I like to make fun of the way I walk, the way I drive my wheelchair and the things which happen to me every day.

I like to challenge the audience and say what a lot of people think but do not have the guts to say. You could say I’m not very politically correct in this department.

Because of this, I get lots of different reactions. Some people absolutely love it when I talk about difficult topics. Some are not so keen, but watching a few cringing faces is more than worth it.

Most of my material is sex and disability related, and stand-up comedy is definitely a good way to look for a boyfriend

You can tell which way it is going if the laughter is genuine or if there is that kind of awkward feeling in the air, which is fine by me. I may be Italian, but as the British saying goes: “I’m not everyone’s cup of tea!”

Luckily (or sadly?) I have never been heckled, probably because I am very nice. Honestly. I like to have a bit of banter with the audience, especially if I spot a hot guy. Most of my material is sex and disability related, and stand-up comedy is definitely a good way to look for a boyfriend. Tried and tested.

But one issue that keeps rearing its head regarding disability is access.

It is always a challenge for me to access venues, but I’ve found a way around that. I’ve invested in a very practical, foldable powered wheelchair. This hides in a corner so I can climb upstairs or downstairs, which is often where my gigs are. Despite the various obstacles I come across daily, I have never given up. It’s just a matter of precise organisation. When it comes to the crunch and I can’t get on a stage because it is too high, I get people to lift me up on it. That actually makes me feel like a Broadway actress going on stage for a musical, or Madonna in her Material Girl video.

It’s interesting to see how attitudes towards disability are so different in other countries.

A few years ago I was performing in Italy. Comedy there is more character-based and is also very theatrical. It’s important to note that there aren’t any disabled comedians on the Italian scene, at least as far as I am aware of.

At that time, I was still on crutches, and at the end of the show a guy came up to me and asked me what character I was portraying. He refused to believe me when I said it was “me”. It really made me wonder how disabled I had to be to perform in Italy and be believed.

There is some good news though, because disability in the comedy scene in the UK has been growing in the last few years. More and more disabled people are coming to open mics to try their material, and Joke for Scope is a brilliant vehicle for this.

On 30 May you’ll get a chance to see me, along with some of the best in the business – Lost Voice Guy, Tanyalee Davis and Tez Ily – as Scope brings the annual Joke for Scope evening of stand-up comedy to Manchester.

Joke for Scope is at Stoller Hall, Manchester, on 30 May. You can get your tickets here or, to win a free pair, buy a copy of Big Issue North issue 1287, out on 20 May, from your friendly local vendor

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