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TX: 23.05.08 - Liz Carr - What disability means to her

PRESENTER: JOHN WAITE

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WAITE
Now in a society which values being cool and in charge we find disability threatening - that's what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, told us earlier this week in our series asking public figures what does disability mean to you. Well today it's the turn of comedienne and a wheelchair user Liz Carr. At the age of seven Liz contracted a muscle wasting illness and that and the drugs she took to control it have left her with limited movement. She's currently travelling and performing all around the world because, as she explained to Peter, she's determined to live her life to the full.

CARR
When I was 14 I remember going into one of those medical consultations with about 12 people around the room - the doctor, all their cronies and the psychologist and the whole thing - and I wanted to know - what about my lifespan. And the doctor just said - well you won't live to be old. What does that mean? You know I'm 35 now, am I old now? And it's like a sword of Damocles over me all the time, I never quite know. Medical technology and science means that a lot of us who were told we might not live beyond our teens or our 20s, or 30s are making old age.

WHITE
Does that influence the way you behave, are you grabbing at what there is?

CARR
Totally, absolutely. I think it is a huge definer of who I am. I do live everyday as if it could be the last because I'm always terrified, you know, I don't think about the future, I don't think about retirement and pension and buying a house and all that kind of thing. I think about what do I want to do, what makes me happy. And I'm quite grateful for that.

WHITE
Is that what going round the world's about?

CARR
These opportunities are there for a lot of us, maybe not to go round the world but you have to be open to ideas and to taking risks sometimes.

WHITE
You are now a professional comedienne, when did you decide to cope with disability, if that's the right way of putting it, by laughing at it?

CARR
I think I always have. It wasn't a conscious thing, it was just, I guess, to avoid having to answer those serious questions and sometimes having to avoid confronting some of the nastier realities of life, you laugh about it and it makes life easier. People listen to you, it makes you popular, people want to be in your company, it's a great tool for the insecure.

WHITE
I'm interested you talk about avoiding some of the issues because that's what I really wanted to ask you - how much is laughter a defence mechanism and how much is it an attack?

CARR
Ooh it's both a weapon and a shield I think. Quite often when you laugh people think you're being very open and I think it actually can block a lot of truth. And also it can be a weapon in that you can say things with humour that you possibly couldn't say in a straightforward assertive way, you can get away with murder.

WHITE
Is there anger in your comedy?

CARR
I don't think so, no. I think when the night goes bad it's like - oh it's 'cos she jokes about disability, she's angry, she's bitter, why does she have to play out her personal tragedies on the stage. But when a night goes well I'm just funny and I think that's very interesting - that when it's bad it's about disability, when it's good they don't really care what I'm joking about.

WHITE
How much is your disability an essential part of your comedy? Could you suddenly say I've had enough of that, I've said everything I've got to say about disability I want to joke about football?

CARR
I think comedy is about your view, your take, your observations on the world and mine are coloured by the fact that I'm disabled and a disabled woman. It's what amuses me and I think it's what makes me unique and it's what makes me me. I'm not adverse to talking about anything on stage but it has to interest me and it has to engage an audience. Sometimes you're criticised for that - oh you're a one trick pony, can you only do disability - no but I'm choosing to do that, let me change and let me grow, yeah, because in five years time we might be having this conversation Peter, and you're right, I might be joking about airline food and the mother-in-law. But you know what there's plenty of comedians doing that and I've got a right to do that too but at the moment I want to talk about disability because it's not as though there's that many of us out there.

WHITE
Another criticism that's sometimes made and I'm not a stand-up comedian but people make of me when I do it is that the comedy is kind of self-deprecatory, it's almost apologetic - you joke about it to make people feel easier about it.

CARR
Yeah, I think with any comedy as long as you've got a mix of jokes, as long as it's not all about - oh you know having a go at yourself - I think mine's usually quite cutting and more social observations, even political or about society and the way that it views us. But it's also not that pc, it's about making people a bit less precious around disability and less fearful and we should talk about it. I think things aren't taboo, I think it's better when they're out there.

WHITE
Away from stand-up, away from joking, what really gets on your nerves? I think again with disability sometimes people think we're edgy almost by definition.

CARR
Oh no, things that get on my nerves are being ignored and having - feeling controlled and feeling I've got no way out and whether it's my life, disability, or getting out of a phone contract, if it's about being controlled and trapped and not getting my own way - I hate that Peter.

WHITE
Should we read something very deep into this fear of being trapped?

CARR
Oh probably, you know if you want to psychoanalyse me, there's lots of other things that get on my nerves as well. We're all many layers aren't we and like the next person I think there's many layers to Liz Carr.

WAITE
And we'll be hearing more from Liz Carr and how she's getting on travelling the world in coming weeks.

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