Some things never change; despite more than a decade performing stand-up, Laurence Clark still opens his set by drawing attention to his cerebral palsy: “This is just how I talk. I’m not pissed,” he explains, before the screen behind him reveals an image of him allegedly in an inebriated state. In an ideal world, you might hope that attempting to explain – even excuse – his impairment should be unnecessary; then again, it does get his first big laugh of the show, and relaxes the audience in for the next hour. So all power to him.
A far from intimidating presence on stage, full of warmth and humour.
Which, arguably, is precisely what Clark’s latest show is about: “independence”. He’s the first to point out that the word is slightly more loaded now politically than when he chose it back in January. However, Clark is being political only in the sense of “the personal being political”. Personal independence and his own limitations as a disabled person are now something he takes pride in, he tells us. Yet this wasn’t always the case; not least when he was growing up and a succession of well-meaning people (particularly the social worker he nicknames “Canadian Vicky”) forced him to practice for hours simple tasks – like drinking out of a glass – supposedly to help prepare him for living independently. No wonder “independence” seemed a scary thing.
No one, Clark points out, is totally independent – presumably even Bear Grylls opts to buy bread from the supermarket most weeks rather than bake his own. The difference for Clark is that he has to regularly prove to the authorities the extent to which he needs support in order to live as independently as possible. This, arguably, gives him a viewpoint on the subject that most of his audiences will hopefully never experience, but Clark as usual is brilliant when laying out his experiences before us in a readily comprehensible, good-natured manner. Unlike many a stand-up who uses PowerPoint and videos as a crutch, Clark’s shows are still genuinely multi-media, with him frequently using visuals to land a succession of punchlines. (He also interacts this year with his “tech”, who manages to get a couple of lines. Stardom beckons. Not.)
Clark continues to have plenty of hard things to talk about – from non-disabled actors “cripping up” and “stealing his act” to some slightly disconcerting experiences he had while gigging in New Delhi during the 70th anniversary commemorations for Indian Independence. Yet he remains, for the most part, a far from intimidating presence on stage, full of warmth and humour. This doesn’t mean that he’ll never risk making any of his non-disabled audience members feel slightly uncomfortable, but when he does it’s done with precision and just cause.