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No Such Thing As Normal

28 March 2012 | 2:02 am | Nick Jarvis

British comedian Francesca Martinez is rallying against the idea of “normal” in her show What The Fuck Is Normal? Reloaded!.

The first thing you'll notice, seeing Francesca Martinez do her thing live, is that she's 'wobbly'. By which we mean she has cerebral palsy, so a slightly slurred voice and random twitches are par for the course.

The second thing you'll notice is that she's incredibly funny. Most comedians mine their self-indulgent feelings of 'otherness' to extract the nuggets of funny – Martinez has had an entire lifetime of being immediately defined as 'other' by pretty much everyone in the world, and she spins that comedy advantage into pure gold. (Sample gag – “The school kids near my house love me, they always imitate my walk when I'm going by, and my dad gets furious, he'll storm up to them and say, 'No – you do it like this…”)

Martinez has been writing and performing comedy since 2000 (before which, as a teenager, she starred as the first main disabled character in BBC kids' drama Grange Hill). And she debuted on the stand-up scene by winning the Best New Comedian award at Edinburgh – no mean feat.

Her latest show, What the Fuck is Normal? Reloaded!, is her personal answer to the question, “What do you do when you're labelled 'abnormal' in a world obsessed with normality and fitting in?”, and is the culmination of more than ten years of stand-up craft.

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“It's ironic that I'm still labelled a disabled comic,” says Martinez, “because from the first show I ever did I was questioning how we label each other, and in my experience the only normality there is, is difference. So these labels that try and separate people I find divisive, and in the end it just makes us all feel that there's a secret club that we're all trying very hard to fit into, when actually that club doesn't exist. A real revelatory moment was when I realised that I'd never met a normal person before.”

Beyond a rich vein of personal experience to mine and cultural hierarchies to overturn, being wobbly has other, more tangible benefits, Martinez says, like, “Getting out of housework! My brother always says, 'You've got exactly the right level of cerebral palsy to get out of all the housework!' He's very jealous. My disability is a great cover for my laziness!”

It's also allowed Martinez to bring onto the stage perspectives from that most underrepresented of social groups, the disabled. Because comedy is about more than just gags for Martinez – in the grand tradition of idealistic comics like Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks – it's also an opportunity to challenge people's views.

“I think comedy is a unique art form in that it allows you to cut through the chit chat and address difficult topics, but in a really light-hearted way. I'm interested in questioning accepted ideas in all areas because

I think it's so important not to just accept the views that society and those in power hand down to you.

“I think all art should aspire to say something of value, so I want to believe that everything I say on stage is the best it can be. I think having an audience's attention is a huge privilege so I want to leave them with something beyond laughter that they can take home with them. I think that the power to choose what to think is the only real power we have, so I'm passionate about questioning how we view the world around us.”