As part of their ‘Funny Fortnight’, Channel 4 have commissioned a four-part series of I’m Spazticus, which originally piloted in 2005 as part of Comedy Lab. Now, I didn’t see the pilot so had nothing to compare this opening episode to. I did, however, have reservations.
For one, how the hell did the title make it past the censors? Very few comedians nowadays would dare utter the word “spaz”, so derogatory a term is it. I’d just like to clarify that I’m not complaining about the lack of usage of this word – I think it’s offensive, too. Therefore I was dubious about the show itself as this word – as is palpable – appears in the title.
It’s quite difficult to write this review as I feel as if I’m treading on eggshells: can I say this? Can I say that? Is that the politically correct term? I don’t think the creators and stars of I’m Spazticus had these fears, however, as this show is quite in-your-face and they don’t let you forget what their aim is – to change people’s attitudes towards disability and make it less of a taboo subject. Did they succeed? My opinion is no.
I mean, there were some funny sketches in this episode, such as the one in which a blind man received a delivery of a dog which he thought was his beloved Blackie, who had apparently been stuffed after its death, only for him to be told what had actually been brought to him was a stuffed golden Labrador. This man also reappeared later in what was my highlight of I’m Spazticus – a skit in which he walked into a roller-blind shop called ‘We Love Blinds’, claiming that he thought it was a dating agency for blind people. When he walked into the shop, you could see the joke coming a mile off but it still worked really well.
Anyway, that’s enough of what I found good about I’m Spazticus: it’s now onto the bad. I’m afraid I found a lot of the sketches very repetitive and dragged-out: I ‘got it’ within the first ten seconds of a sketch beginning – it didn’t need to be dragged-out for a further two minutes or more. God only knows how this going to fare over four consecutive nights.
And then, there are the sketches themselves. There were two in particular which I took umbrage with: one involving a ‘Street Dance’ in which a dwarf, an amputee and a man with cerebal palsy all busked in the street in front of stunned onlookers and another which saw an able-bodied man partake in an identity parade with three other men who all had cerebal palsy. I have to say that I found both of these very uncomfortable to watch. I don’t want to come across as a prude – I’m seldom prudish – but there was just something about these two sketches in particular which didn’t sit well with me. As a viewer, feeling discomfort can be a good thing: it can sometimes get you involved with the programme, make you laugh and cringe in equal measure. Take The Office for example: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant tackled subjects like ethnicity and disability in that show and I think it’s the only comedy which can actually have you watching through your fingers yet be hilarious at the same time. I’m Spazticus, however, didn’t do that – it just made me feel this discomfort without any of the positive connotations. Clearly these two skits in particular were created in order to challenge the viewer’s conscience, to make them really consider whether they were laughing at or with the performers. Unfortunately, this failed because, if you’re like me, you weren’t even laughing in the first place.
Channel 4 has a certain reputation for pushing boundaries and challenging its viewers but I think there are aspects of I’m Spazticus which take this too far. I’m not denying that the intentions of the programme are good – I can see why they want to change the public’s perceptions towards disability and why they’ve chosen this way to go about it but, if I’m being honest, I don’t think the end product will help their cause a great deal.
Contributed by Matthew McLane Follow Matthew on Twitter