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Francesca Martinez

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Francesca appeared in the BBC children's series Grange Hill for five years, but is now an award-winning stand-up comic who has performed at the Edinburgh, Melbourne and Montreal festivals, as well as on Broadway in New York.

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Comedy=tragedy time

19th November 2002

You know, my disability brings me a lot of comical moments. So I thought I'd share a few amusing anecdotes with you.
I can see them as 'amusing' now that I have reached the ripe old age of 24. During my teen years - the period of these anecdotes - I viewed them slightly differently. As Woody Allen once said, "Comedy is tragedy plus time". I have found this to be absolutely true, as once I can gain a bit of distance and perspective on certain events in my past, the comedy is clear as rain. As Woody Allen proved more than once, a healthy dose of paranoia can go a long way. And I think that, sometimes, I had more than a healthy dose ...

The clubbing anecdote
Like many 16-year-olds, I went through a clubbing phase. Only difference was, I didn't need drinks or drugs to fit in because my Cerebral Palsy could happily double as 'Pissed Woman'. Unlike some disabilities, mine is only visible when I'm moving or talking.

Picture the scene: it was dark, noisy and most people were off their heads. So when a guy started to chat me up, I would convince myself that he had no idea of my ... shall we say, 'uniqueness'. He would assume I'd just indulged in some kind of drug. Cue me trying to maintain the pretence that I was, in fact, totally 'normal' by not moving or doing anything that required control in any way. That was all fine, until the guy in question invariably asked me for a dance. Now, I can dance, but I feared my 'normal' cover would be blown and the spell would be broken. It would be my Cinderella midnight moment and the truth would be revealed; the guy would look shocked at my deceit and then walk away, while the rest of the club would shake their heads in disgust as I wept on the floor. So I would decline. Repeatedly. Until the guy in question would come to the conclusion that I must not like him, and would promptly disappear to try his luck elsewhere.

The P.E. anecdote
It's official: PE teachers are born with a special gift - they don't see disabilities. It's amazing! No matter what disability you may have or limbs that are missing, according to a PE teacher, you can still play basketball, netball and tennis! And I was no exception. Apparently, every time it was a PE lesson, my disability would undergo a magical transformation; it would cease being a condition caused by brain damage at birth, and would instead become a psychological condition caused by me 'Not Trying Hard Enough'. I did try to explain that while I would love to be able to serve an ace, it wasn't going to happen. But, luckily, my PE teachers ignored my defeatist attitude and continued on their quest to make me an Olympic champion in whatever sport they saw fit.

Six weeks into our table tennis term, and I was really building up strength in my leg muscles. Up and down I went, picking up the ball from the floor again and again and again. Fortunately, the fact that I could not return a single ball did not deter my teacher from placing enormous faith in my abilities. So much so that when the headmistress and an important visitor wandered into the gym to inspect the talent on display, who was chosen to play a game of table tennis with the important visitor? Yes, yours truly.

You see, my PE teacher was trying her best to teach me an important lesson that day: just because you can't hit a ping pong ball with a small bat, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy a game with a complete stranger in front of your whole year and your headmistress. Luckily for me, Ms Ram is now immortalised in several comedy routines that have been told to a large number of audiences across the world.

The security guard anecdote
I love to shop. Of course I do. I'm a girl. Walking in Piccadilly one day, I unwittingly incurred the wrath of a security guard. I heard someone shouting, "Stop that right now!" I turned around to see a security guard waving his arms at me. I was completely baffled and asked him what he was on about. He told me to stop imitating a disabled person walking! For once in my life I was lost for words. He finished off his rant by saying, "What's a nice girl like you doing that for? You're gonna offend someone!"

A few seconds later he realised his mistake and began apologising profusely. Apparently, my 'nice' clothes had thrown him. Talk about preconceptions. But my favourite part of his initial rant was when he said, "I've got to hand it to you, you're very good at it!" Well, I should hope so!

I'd just like to thank myself for being paranoid, my PE teacher for being her, and the security guard for finding my 'nice' clothes so confusing. Without them, I may not have been a comic. But I possibly would have found my life-long love had I just had that dance.


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