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Ray Bradshaw: Deaf Comedy Fam

at Gilded Balloon Teviot

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Comedy taken to a new level for the hearing and deaf community

Image of Ray Bradshaw: Deaf Comedy Fam

One in six people will experience hearing loss; two of them are comedian Ray Bradshaw’s parents. His father was born profoundly deaf and his mother lost her hearing at 14 months due to measles.

With British Sign Language being Bradshaw’s first language, there were only six British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted comedy shows when Bradshaw debuted at the Fringe in 2015. He’s made it his mission to make comedy more accessible for deaf people so that everyone, whatever their ability or disability, can enjoy the same experience at the Fringe. Since he’s started performing Deaf Comedy Fam, 400 deaf people have come to his comedy show, something he’s proud of until he realises that they get a concession, meaning less revenue, he says with deadpan humour.

Bradshaw has the first laugh with the hearing members of the audience, as his introduction is purely in BSL with no sound. There’s an air of panic from the majority of us before he starts again, this time signing whilst audio translates what we are seeing him sign. “We’re too middle-class to have complained anyway,” he says.

The show’s three sections move from the audio described signing, to him speaking while watching a video of him signing and then doing both at once. Timing is everything here and he admits it’s no easy task, with him sometimes ahead or behind himself, meaning that sometimes the deaf people are getting the joke ahead of everyone else or vice versa.

There’s no regret at having been brought up in a deaf household and raised as a coda (child of deaf adult) and he gets a big laugh when he tells us about a new acronym he’s come up with. He even credits his parents’ deafness for his choice of comedy as a career.

Bradshaw’s stories are personal and there’s no doubt that childhood in the Bradshaw house was one filled with laughter and imagination, like the time he thought his father might be a spy and a member of the KGB.

He’s obviously inherited his father’s sense of humour and practical joking. We learn about the time that Bradshaw organised an adoption certificate to be sent to his brother, Mark, on his 18th birthday, leaving his mother confused, and what it’s like coming to terms with the fact that his auntie signs for the soft-porn screenings of Channel 5.

Bradshaw also enlightens us on how sign-language differs around the world, with the British using two hands, but in the US, only one. In Australian, 81% of the signs used are similar to BSL and despite sign-language dating back to 1580, it was only recently recognised as an official language in the UK in 2003. In Australia, they won’t even achieve this until they’ve recognised the 300 or so Aboriginal dialects.

Creating a show which is effectively two shows in two languages for two different audiences is a comedy show breaking into new realms. A brave attempt to get more acceptance and understanding of deafness, Bradshaw’s warm and light-hearted approach is worth giving up an hour of your time for.