"I laugh at the darker side of life" - Tim Renkow on the funny side of cerebral palsy
As long as there's still a taboo attached to talking about disability issues, laughing about them seems pretty unthinkable. But comedian Tim Renkow does just that.
His semi-autobiographical comedy ‘A Brief History of Tim’ pokes fun at what he describes as, ‘the darker side of life’ for someone with a disability.
Tim has cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that affects the part of the brain responsible for controlling muscles. Diagnosed with the condition when he was six months old, Tim grew up in America until 2011 when he moved to London to pursue comedy. “I did comedy because it’s the only thing physically I can do, all I can do is talk”, he explains.
He pushes the boundaries from the very opening scene of his film, when he plays a prank on an unsuspecting guy using the disabled toilet in a pub. Hands up… We’ve all done it!
And that’s just the beginning - Tim wickedly plays on these realities throughout. One scene, he told us, is an almost word-for-word replay of something that happened to him at a bus stop.
Tim confesses, “things like that happen all the time, people feel like they can tell you about their relatives, people are like ‘my son died from that’ and it’s like no he didn’t.”
The life expectancy of someone with cerebral palsy is unaffected, as the problem in the brain doesn’t get worse with age. But the physical and emotional strains of living with a long-term condition like this can put stress on the body and cause other problems later in life.
That’s just one of the common misconceptions about cerebral palsy. Tim says, “mainly people think that you’re about to die, or I get people who think I’m mentally retarded, yeah, people think I’m retarded a lot, I get treated like I’m very dumb a lot.”
But these misconceptions have provided a gateway for Renkow to find a plethora of jokes.
“I want people to know that I know what they are thinking and use that to my advantage. And because I’m a comic I want to show this in a funny way. The flip side is when someone gets me and calls me out on what I’m doing I respect that immensely. I like to be called out on it or I’ll keep doing it until I’m caught.”
In response to those who say his comedy, for that very reason, can be quite dark, Tim has a refreshing response, “I don’t think it’s dark at all, I feel like I need to laugh at the darker side of life, that’s why I go after that side, because it’s what makes life funny, life is just silly to me. I try to laugh at and work with that and make it ridiculous because it is ridiculous, I try not to think too seriously.”
But when he does stop and think Tim reveals that it’s not all fun and laughter. “Obviously things are harder, I have to think about where I live more carefully. I was homeless for about eight months because no one wanted to rent to a disabled guy. That’s been the biggest negative experience and now I say that out loud it’s kind of important. I had friends I could crash with, but it feels s**t when you know you’re not being rented to for any good reason except people just don’t want to live with you, you get sick of it after a while. There’s definitely a ‘Tiny Tim’ aspect, people expect you to be like that, and when you’re not it takes people by surprise. I have a very good relationship with a woman I’ve loved for three years now and if it makes people uncomfortable then I don’t want to be around them.”
The biggest piece of advice he’d give is something we perhaps can all learn from, he says; “you can’t take no for an answer, but people are going to be saying it all the time. Disability is the one thing where it’s acceptable to give up, people will let you give up if you want to, but you just can’t, you have to be extremely self-motivated, that’s the most important thing, just know you can do it. I mean, within reason - I’m never going to be Usain Bolt. And if you want to get into comedy just know that the first two years are going to be the most painful experience of your life, but you will get there, if you know you can do something, do it. Who gives a s**t, what have you got to lose?!”