Interview: Ray Bradshaw
1 Feb 2019
Two-time Scottish Comedian of the Year finalist, Ray Bradshaw brings Deaf Comedy Fam to Brighton. Full of hilarious, revealing stories about growing up with deaf parents, Deaf Comedy Fam, is the first comedy show performed simultaneously in both spoken English and British Sign Language – which happens to be Ray’s first language.
Ahead of his show, we have a quick chat with Ray to find out more about his journey, accessibility in comedy and what to expect from his show...
For those who don’t know – can you tell us a bit about Deaf Comedy Fam and how you got started in comedy?
Deaf Comedy Fam is the world’s first comedy show done in English and British Sign Language (BSL) at the same time by the performer. The show is all about my experiences growing up with two deaf parents and how it shaped who I am. The show started in 2017 and has since helped over 700 deaf people come to their first ever comedy show.
What can people expect from your show?
They can see a comedy show as part of an audience they’ll potentially never have experienced before. Deaf and hearing audiences will be laughing at different points which is always quite a strange experience.
If you’re deaf, then you can and see a show without having to stare at an interpreter or captions and if you’re hearing then you can come along and have a laugh whilst learning about sign language and deaf culture.
What sparked your decision to perform in both BSL and spoken-English?
I’d been doing stand up for a few years and realised that the only time my mum and dad had been able to come to see me perform was at the Edinburgh Festival when I had two interpreted shows. I then looked at the number of interpreted performances at the fringe at the whole and realised that there was a huge gap for deaf comedy fans and that they weren’t being catered for really at all.
What were the challenges and how did you tackle them?
The structure of English and Sign Language are completely different so timing punchlines is tricky. Things like puns don’t really exist as much in sign language so the show doesn’t really have any of them. Regional variations of signs were also something I didn’t think of at the start; sign language has slang in the same way English does so I’ll sometimes have to consult locals to make sure everything makes sense.
Having mix of audience members, both D/deaf and hearing - How have their responses differed and has anything surprised you?
Yeah, it’s actually so much fun to watch the audiences interact. When deaf or hearing people see the other laugh, they know a joke is coming for them and they concentrate a little more!
I think the most surprising aspect for me was a deaf audience member coming up to me after one of the first shows at the Edinburgh Festival. They were quite emotional, and I was worried they’d thought the show was shit. Instead they thanked me as they were a regular fringe goer, and this was the first comedy show where they come see it any day rather than just the one interpreted show. It was something I’d never even considered and helped me realise just how big an impact this show could have.
In what ways do you hope you’re able to raise awareness of the experiences of deaf people and the use of sign language?
I think there are a lot of better deaf organisations and deaf people raising awareness and talking about their experiences than I am. I’m just trying to make all types of audiences laugh with some knob jokes in a couple of languages. It’s a big part of what makes me who I am so I just enjoy helping people learn a little about sign language and deafness as it’s such a great community to be a part of.
What do you think the future holds for accessibility in comedy? And why is it important?
I think it can only get better. A lot of comedy clubs themselves are located in basements and thus not very disabled friendly. I think like society comedy is becoming a bit more accessible but there is still a long way to go. One of the big problems with interpreted shows is that the cost is often met by the artist, so it isn’t financially viable for them
I don’t think I even need to say why it’s important for that to happen. I’m proud of what I’ve managed to do but realise it’s just a drop in the ocean; let’s hope it keeps improving over the next few years.
What has been your favourite moment from your shows?
There’s been a lot so it’s tricky; people driving three hours to see the show is always a bit mental and humbling. My mum and dad being able to come to the show with their pals is always something I really enjoy. I never thought that would happen before I did this show so it’s a huge bonus.
I love seeing families coming to the show who have a mix of hearing and deaf members. A lot of the time it’s the first time they’ve come to a theatre or a comedy club together and that’s a really cool thing to see.
My particular favourite is a hearing dog for the deaf sitting onstage while I performed. He kept yawning at punchlines and became the star of the show.
What are you most looking forward to at your show at Brighton Dome?
I love performing in Brighton as it’s such a cool place to visit. I have heard nothing but good things about the dome and I know there is a big deaf community down there so it will hopefully be two rammed shows.
Also, the last time I was in Brighton was doing Komedia the same weekend as Pride so it’ll be good to see if the city is still intact as I saw things I’ve never seen before and unlikely to ever see again!
Fri 15 & Sat 16 Mar, 7pm