He’s been wowing the nation with his incredible wit, self-deprecating humour and undeniable comic timing on prime-time British favourite Britain’s Got Talent.
After his hilarious semi-final winning routine last night, PosAbility rummaged through the archives to this time last year when Lisa Mitchell caught up with him to look back on how far he has come ahead of the live final on Sunday night.
Originally appeared in PosAbility Magazine June/July 2017.
Interview by Lisa Mitchell
Lee Ridley has gained as fame as a stand-up comedian with a difference. Going by the pseudonym ‘Lost Voice Guy’, his cerebral palsy affects his speech and he can’t communicate without a communication aid. But, instead of hindering his dreams of becoming a comic, it seems to be propelling him forward, receiving the BBC New Comedy Award in 2014. The 36-year-old Geordie has also opened for the likes of Ross Noble, Patrick Kielty, Jason Manford and Jason Cook. Little Britain’s Matt Lucas also labelled him “a wonderful comedian”.
So, what is the secret to his success? PosAbility Magazine caught up with the Edinburgh Fringe regular whilst on tour to see what life has been like for the speechless funny man, who proved anything but silent!
Have you always been interested in comedy?
Yes, I have actually. I can still remember watching videos of Jack Dee and Lee Evans when I was about 14, so I guess it’s just grown from there. I used to love watching stuff like ‘Have I Got News For You’ on the television, too. Then when I was a bit older, I started going to comedy gigs and going to the Edinburgh Fringe as a punter. I think that’s when I really got into it. Comedy has always been a big part of my life.
What was the defining moment that you realised you wanted to be a comedian?
I don’t think I can put a finger on a defining moment. It was more of a gradual realisation. Certainly after my first gig, I knew that I had caught the bug and I knew that it could be something I’d enjoy doing. It was a massive buzz to make people laugh, so I couldn’t wait for my next gig. I never ever expected it to be a career, though. I just thought it was a bit of fun. It was only when I won the BBC New Comedy Award in 2014 that I realised that I probably could make a living out of it and I haven’t looked back since.
Can you tell me the story of how you came to need a communication aid?
I was very ill when I was six months old and I ended up with cerebral palsy as a result. In my case, this meant that I lost my speech, I walk very funny and my right side of my body is weaker than my left.
What was it like starting out as a comedian?
My first ever gig was very scary indeed. Mainly because no-one had ever done comedy with a communication device before so I wasn’t sure if it would even work. I had visions of me just standing there telling jokes to myself, while everyone else couldn’t understand me. Once my first gig was out of the way though, I was a bit more confident about it all. Thankfully, the comedy circuit has always been very supportive of me, so that’s been a massive help as well.
What is it you like about comedy?
I’ve just always enjoyed making people laugh really. I was the kid at school who would make the others laugh and, even then, it was a great feeling. So I guess being a stand-up comedian was my dream job. I just never expected to do it. It isn’t even a job really. It’s just so much fun being up on stage and making people laugh. It’s a very good skill to have and I’m lucky that I get to put it to good use.
What was your best/most memorable gig?
I’m a massive fan of Ross Noble, so when he asked me to support him on his warm up tour a few years ago that was a very proud moment for me. I had grew up watching Ross do comedy and now here I was getting the chance to support him at a gig. It was a very surreal experience and I still can’t quite believe it happened!
How do you plan a tour/gig?
It’s basically a case of getting yourself known on the comedy circuit and then getting promoters to book you for their gigs. Once you have built a relationship with them, then they will be more likely to book you again. And, of course, the more that you gig, the more chance you have of other people seeing you. So it’s a lot to do with working hard and gigging lots.
What kind of requirements are involved?
All my need is to plug my communication aid into the sound desk at the venue so that people can hear it properly.
How does your communication aid work into your routine?
I have all my jokes stored ready to go and then I just press whichever joke I want to tell at that moment. Obviously it’s not as flexible as telling jokes with a voice but it’s still pretty flexible. For example, I can chop and change which jokes I tell depending on what I think the audience will like and so on.
Where have you played?
I’ve played all over the country really. From Aberdeen to Exeter and everywhere in between. My favourite venue is The Stand Comedy Club in Newcastle. Partly because it’s my home town comedy club, but also because it has such a friendly atmosphere and all the staff are lovely. It’s like a home from home.
Where have you still to play?
I’d love to be able to play some of the festivals in other countries such as Australia. At the moment, the only big festivals I have done have been Edinburgh, Brighton and Leicester. So I’d love to be able to add to that list.
What would be your dream venue?
I’d love to do my solo show in front of a sold out crowd in the Stand Comedy Club in Newcastle. That would be such an awesome experience!
What is your support network like?
My family and friends have always been very supportive of me, and I’m very lucky to have them around me. I realise I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them. And, let’s face it, they have even supported my crazy idea to become a stand-up comedian, so I owe them a lot!
What advice would you give someone with a disability who is wanting to start in comedy?
Don’t. There’s too many of us already. I’m joking! I would just say give it a go. You’ve got nothing to lose. I only tried stand up as a bit of a laugh, I never expected it to be as successful as it has been. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try though. I like to think I’ve been proved right.
What is next for you?
Well, I’m currently writing my show for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. I’ll be on at the Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh throughout August. I’ve also recently had a sitcom commissioned by BBC Radio 4, so I’ll be working on that a lot soon as well. Hopefully it’ll be broadcast next year.