When going blind is funny

Post date: 
Friday, 21 July 2017
Photo shows Tom in a barn with a piece of straw in his mouth looking into the distance

In a recent episode of BBC's Ouch: Disability Talk podcast, presenters spoke to Tom Skelton, a visually impaired comedian, about his upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show, Blind Man’s Bluff.

Blind Man’s Bluff is a comedy about losing your sight. Is it funny?

"Well, that’s the main aim. I don’t know yet. The good thing about comedy is you can tell if it’s funny because the audience gives you nice immediate reaction. It’s the one art form that if it’s met with stony silence, then you know it’s failed."
 

So, what are the things that come up in the show? 

"The show is the story of me losing my own sight and also the history of blindness.
 
I play the most famous VIPs (Visually Impaired People). Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles both make appearances. I’ve included some historical figures too like Samson from the Bible, the poet John Milton, and Béla the Blind who was the king of Hungary in the twelfth century; he was quite a fella. There's also Libby Clegg, the Paralympian sprinter. Aside from that, I talk about things like not being able to read or write or achieve the same things that I wanted to achieve [when sighted].
 
I recently saw a very good show called Catching the Ghost by Chris Campion, which examines the idea of there being the ghost of the self you could have been. That’s a very good show; you should go and see it."
 

How did you lose your sight?

"I lost most of my sight eight years ago, so in my early 20s. I now have five per cent vision. We have a genetic condition in my family called Leber hereditary optic neuropathy so I knew it was a possibility for me. I prefer calling it Leber’s because it means I can make a joke about the Labour party in the show."
 

When you found out, despite it being in your family, you decided not to tell them about it. Why?

"Initially, I felt like if I didn’t acknowledge it, then wasn’t real. Psychologically, I also didn’t want to acknowledge it because I knew how much it would upset them. But you can disguise it to a point, but eventually it becomes a bit hard to bluff."
 

One of your anxieties you talk about is not finding love. Why was that?

"I suppose because during the initial phase of falling in love, a lot is based on eye contact. I know that I’m giving you eye contact right now and I have got better at that. I’ve developed it as a skill."
 

Does making eye contact get you into trouble some times? 

"I can accidentally make eye contact across the room, that’s true. There was one time in a pub when I did make quite serious eye contact with a large man, a large man who didn’t like male-to-male eye contact. It was explained away luckily by my very perceptive diplomatic friend. [Laughter]"
 

So have you found love?

"I have, yes. So, it is possible. [Laughter]"
 

Was it as difficult as you thought it would be?

"I think once you find the right person, it definitely doesn’t matter. They have to take a lot into account, more so than when dating a sighted person, like by giving extra help or assistance. But I suppose they’ll also simultaneously realise that that’s one thing that you’re bad at, and they might also be bad at something else."
 

Did you try and hide your sight loss from people you were dating?

"No. It’s not the first thing you’d say, but it can also be a conversation starter. If you speak to someone in a pub and you’re getting on well, at some point they’ll describe something and then say, 'Oh, I took a photo of it'. Rather than lie and make a specific comment, I find it’s more interesting to say, 'Actually, I can’t see that because I’m partially sighted'."
 

Tell us about where we can see you for more of this crazy weirdness which we can imagine your show to be.

"Oh god, don’t sell it like that. [Laughter] You can see the show at the Edinburgh Fringe from 2 to 29 August at 4.30pm at the Daisy in the Underbelly Med Quad." 
 
Tom’s show has received excellent reviews ahead of the Edinburgh Fringe: "A wonderful narrator" (Times). "Inventive and very enjoyable" (Mirror). "Undoubtedly funny" (TheWest.com.au). "An extraordinary performer" (RipitUp.com.au). "Exceptionally funny, clever and original" (WeekendNotes.com). "A kaleidoscope of costumes, an inexhaustible array of accents and a delightful skirmish of tongue-in-cheek references" (Young-Perspective.net).
 

Further information

  • Ouch: Disability talk is a lively BBC podcast about disability and mental health available to listen to every Friday. It features journalists with disabilities who bring their personal experiences to the table and go behind the headlines and social media conversations. 
  • If you want to get in touch with the Ouch team, please email ouch@bbc.co.uk, call 020 3614 1871 or tweet @bbcouch.
 

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