Over the past few years, Lee Ridley, aka Lost Voice Guy, has become one of our favourite gagmasters at the Fringe. As the stage name suggests, he’s unable to speak (due to cerebral palsy), but he has a speech synthesiser which does the job of delivering his wry humour instead. There’s a hilarious story (sadly footage is not available) of how he once auditioned for X Factor, stood there in front of the judges, and had the synthesiser read the lyrics to I Believe I Can Fly by R Kelly. They didn’t see the funny side. You will if you go to see him.
His new show Inspiration Porn arose from a frustration with motivational internet memes, especially where they relate to disability. But we have to start with the elephant in the room…
You must have experienced prejudice, stigma and abuse because of the terrible affliction you were born with… how exactly have you overcome being a Geordie?
I admit it has been very tough. It’s no fun being stared at, pointed at and laughed at just because I have problems with drinking, no one can understand me and the fact that I’m shit at playing football. It’s not even my fault that I’m from Newcastle!
Did you ever think of giving your text-to-speech software a Geordie accent? Do they even do regional versions?
Yes, it’s possible. It’d just take a lot of work from someone with a Geordie accent to do it for me. I think it’s about nine hours of speaking to create a voice for someone. I have heard some of these accents getting used on devices though, and they actually sound quite decent. I think I would like to try a Geordie accent one day, just to see what it sounded like. I’m not sure if I’d keep it though. I’ve used my current voice for over ten years now, so it’s part of who I am. It would be weird if it suddenly changed now. Plus I think my current posh Robocop accent makes all my material funnier anyway.
Your gags can be dark and a bit sick, like the guys from Viz. Do you think there’s something in the water in your part of the world that lends itself to black humour?
I do think that Geordies enjoy having a laugh. That’s probably why The Stand Comedy Club in Newcastle has been so successful and why I enjoy gigging there so much. In fact, I very rarely have a bad gig when I’m gigging in my home city. I just think that people are more receptive to having a good night out at a comedy club. I also think that that means we can push the boundaries a little bit and see how much we can get away with. From a personal point of view, I always prefer to try new material out in Newcastle before I take it anywhere else. I find that Geordies have a good sense for what is funny and what isn’t.
Your new show takes a pop at “inspirational” internet memes about people with disabilities. What does inspire you, if it’s not internet memes?
Don’t be mistaken, I’m inspired by disabled people all the time. But not just because they’re disabled. They inspire me because they’ve taught me that I can use a trouser hanger to hold open my book. They inspire me because they use hair straighteners to pick up stuff off the floor. And they inspire me by the way they take advantage of the Make-a-Wish Foundation to get a free trip to Disney Land.
Are there any memes you do enjoy?
All my Facebook friends will know that I can’t resist a meme that involves a dog! I’m forever liking and sharing dog memes on social media. With all the shit that’s going on in the world at the moment, pictures of dogs help make everything feel alright!
You’ve been outspoken about Tory government cuts. How do you feel since the election? They didn’t really win, but they didn’t really lose either…
I was surprisingly pleased with the election result actually. I think that’s mostly because I thought the Conservatives were going to walk to a large majority though. So it was nice to see Labour do quite well. I don’t think anyone expected them to win, but hopefully now the tide is turning a bit, and I hope they can build on this going forward. If they don’t, all my disabled mates will be dead soon….
How are things coming on with your Radio 4 series, Ability? When will it be broadcast?
I’ve just started working on writing the series in the past few months. I was delighted that the pilot episode was so well received and, obviously, I was over the moon when the series got commissioned. Now I can’t wait to get stuck into it properly and do the best I can with it. I never dreamed that I’d ever be writing a sitcom for Radio 4. So it’s such an exciting experience! I’m very lucky to have a great writing partner in Katherine Jakeways who has helped me improve my writing skills a great deal. Hopefully you’ll be able to hear it in early 2018.
Finally, any inspirational words you’d like to leave us with?
Don’t be a bastard.