Tony Coffey started to lose his sight to retinitis pigmentosa when he was just eight years old. Today, aged 45, Tony gets his kicks from being a stand-up comedian. Here, he explains how he got into the funny business.
I started doing stand-up really when I was about 25. I went along to a famous club in Manchester called the Frog and Bucket just to try out a couple of jokes.
Johnny Vegas as comparing that night. I was sat on the front row, and he was giving me pelters, and then he said, “Right, next up on the stage, Tony Coffey!” I stood up, and luckily I brought the place down. It was only three or four minutes of material, but I told my jokes and they went down really well. From then on in I have just carried on doing it.
Comedy is something I enjoy – you can’t beat making people laugh.
When I first started out, I didn’t tell any jokes about my eyesight, or refer to anything remotely concerned with it. It was daft really because I’d be falling over tables, or would have trouble getting up on the stage or finding the microphone. I didn’t want to be known as a visually impaired comedian. It was crazy really because people in the audience just thought I was a weirdo.
When I perform, what I do is imagine that every venue is packed to the rafters so even though I have sight loss, I still pile on the pressure.
Some people have said I’m lucky to be partially sighted because that gives me ten minutes worth of material. A lot of comedians come on and they just want to talk about their dead dad or their dog. That sort of thing doesn’t wash me – I want to experience a comedian who can make me laugh! You’ve got to have a good punch line, that’s the main thing.
Some of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done in my life were when writing for Viz magazine. I spent six years writing spoof news stories about Osama Bin Laden being locked in lifts or crazy British Eurocrats, and Gok Wan being found swimming up the Thames. It was complete nonsense, utter gibberish, but there was nothing better than seeing the comic come out and having my articles in it – I did prefer that to the stand-up.
With my style of comedy, I’ve never scripted anything. That’s one of the things I feel I let myself down on. I’ll basically go on knowing the gist of what I’m going to talk about, and I know what the punch line is going to be, and then I try and remember how to get from the start to the finish. When you’re stood there waiting to go on, and the compare says, ‘Welcome to the stage, Tony Coffey!’ and your mind goes blank, it’s truly terrifying!
Every six months or so, I do take a bit of a nose dive. I find it keeps me on my toes. If you’ve never failed, you’ve never succeeded either.