Different Kind of Funny: Comedian with Cerebral Palsy Who Can’t Speak
May 17, 2013
Despite having a form of cerebral palsy that leaves him unable to speak, Lee Ridley is a stand-up comedian. His show is called “Lost Voice Guy,” and he delivers his lines to the audience using an iPad app that speaks aloud what he types.
He says, “I’ve always loved stand-up but I never thought about trying it myself until friends suggested that it might work and that I’d be unique.”
Ridley’s first stand-up show was at a friend’s comedy night. He was ecstatic to see the reactions he received from the audience. He recently opened for comedian Ross Noble on tour, and Matt Lucas, the star of England’s popular sketch-comedy show “Little Britain,” is a fan of Ridley’s comedy.
Lee says, “I was very nervous. I thought no one would understand me. After a few minutes of it going well I started to enjoy it. It was a massive buzz knowing people were laughing at stuff I’d written. I managed only two hours’ sleep afterwards because I was on such a high.” Ridley is now planning a stand-up tour of his own next year.
“I’m comfortable making fun of myself. People don’t expect it and there’s that awkward feeling in the room initially when I get on stage.” Ridley says, “But when I’m funny that goes away.”
The audience chuckles at his joke, “When I realized I’d never be able to talk again, I was speechless.”
Ridley was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was six months old. A cold sore triggered an infection known as encephalitis, which put him in a coma for two weeks. When he came out of the coma he was left with hemiplegia, a common type of cerebral palsy. This type of cerebral palsy has made the left side of his body very weak. Because his mouth muscles and tongue are too weak, it is hard for him to swallow, and he is unable to speak.
He attended a specialist primary school in County Durham in England, where he learned sign language. At age 12, he was given his Lightwriter to help him communicate. The machine reads aloud what Ridley types and has two screens, which makes what Ridley writes easily visible to others.
“I take the Lightwriter for granted now but it changed my life and made me a lot more independent.” Ridley continues to say, “It’s frustrating that I can’t just instantly say something, that I have to type it out first–although if I’m angry that can be a good thing.”
Although in his everyday life he uses his Lightwriter machine, for his stand-up he uses an iPad app, which is, “More fun for the show, but harder to type on,” says Ridley. Because of time constraints while performing, he stores each individual joke into the iPad app in advance, then chooses them to play when he wants to use them as he goes.
Although his everyday Lightwriter machine has an American accent, his iPad app speaks in an upper-class British accent.
“The voice is a bit posh for me, but I think that makes it funnier.”
While not doing stand-up, Ridley works as a journalist and has worked as a sports reporter for his local newspaper and for the BBC.
“Luckily I had a really good English teacher who pushed me to my limits,” he explains. “I’ve always loved writing and English and until now journalism was all I ever wanted to do.”
He goes on to say, “I always seem to choose strange careers for someone who can’t speak.”