Comedian Rosie Jones – Im not a victim or a hero

Rosie Jones is on a mission: to be the person she never saw when she was a child. “When I was little I would turn on the TV, read a book or open a magazine and not see anybody disabled,” says the 32-year-old stand-up comedian, writer and actor. “The comedy world had some brilliant women. My heroes were Victoria Wood, French and Saunders and Jo Brand. “But it was dominated by white, straight, non-disabled men. I couldn’t compare myself. I was completely different.”

BAFTA-nominee Rosie, who has cerebral palsy, has starred in Channel 4’s Trip Hazard, written for Netflix’s Sex Education, and performed stand-up countrywide. But she says people often don’t know what to make of her.

“I’m very confusing for a lot of people,” she says. “We’re conditioned that disabled people are one of two things – victims that we need to help and feel sorry for, or Paralympians who earn the country gold medals – inspirational heroes.

“But then you have funny, saw past disability someone like me who goes on TV and is normal, sometimes rude, and very happy. I talk about sex and being a lesbian. People say, ‘how can she be so happy when she’s so disabled?’

“I’m not a victim or a hero. I don’t fit into a box.”

And don’t call her an inspiration, she adds.

“I get called an inspiration for walking out of the door and going to the shop for a pack of fags. That’s not inspirational at all,” she laughs.

Growing up in Bridlington, East Yorks, Rosie made people laugh from a young age. “I’ve always used humour as a coping mechanism in order for people to feel comfortable around me,” she says.

“As a child I realised that some people underestimated me or felt awkward around me, and I hated that. I quickly realised that if I said something funny or silly, people would relax and see past my disability. They’d realise that I was just like them.”

Rosie, who lives in London, never dreamed her funny bone would blossom into a career, and until 2017 she worked as a TV researcher.

“Never in a million years did I think it could be a job that I could get into. Mainly because of representation.

“Not having representation is very damaging. It gave me the hunger, the drive, the ambition to go out there fearlessly. But it can easily do the opposite,” she says.

Rosie is now a regular on panel shows Would I Lie To You? and Eight Out of 10 Cats.

And after performing at the Teenage Cancer Trust comedy show at the Royal Albert Hall in March, she will be hitting the road on her Triple Threat tour later this year. She hopes to be the representation she so lacked.

“Representation is so important because it makes people believe that they can do it. I’ll damn well be it for future people.”

But being so visible has meant that Rosie has also been subjected to vile abuse throughout her career.

“I’m probably the most vilified comedian in the UK, and you know what, I quite like that,” says Rosie.

“As a gay, disabled female, I’m an easy target. Aggression comes from ableist people who don’t seem to understand how a disabled person who speaks like me is on the television. I’ll tell you why I’m on every TV show – one, I’m very funny, and two, I’ve got a very good agent. So get used to it. I’m not going anywhere.”

Indeed, she’s keen to use her platform to help give the disabled community a voice.

“If I can tell a joke but also educate people and say look, here’s what we need to do to be more accepting of all disabilities, I’m going to do it.

“It starts with having more conversations and asking more questions. Disabled people need to be consulted more. Buildings are still being made now with no accessibility – why? Ask a disabled person what they need.

“Language needs addressing too. Both Lizzo and Beyonce released songs recently that contained an ableist slur. A disabled person would have said no.

“It’s about including us at the table. We need non-disabled allies. But don’t speak for us – give us the space for us to speak for ourselves.”

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