A week ago, a 14-year-old ‘stand-up’ comic with cerebral palsy took to the stage in what has to be one of the most impressive performances ever seen on the reality talent show, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. Although the series has only just begun, Jack Carroll is already tipped to be its winner. Such a victory could be the start of a glittering comedy career. But what is the wider significance for the young teen’s success? Could this Yorkshire lad be doing more than simply raising a few laughs?
Famous people with disabilities
Not too long ago, I wrote an article for this blog on famous people with disabilities. In particular, I focused on famous people with cerebral palsy as I was diagnosed with the same condition. My piece noted the British comedienne, Francesca Martinez, RJ Mitte of ‘Breaking Bad’ fame, and US funny man and sometime Paralympic soccer player Josh Blue. I also made mention of the stunning Abbey Nicole Curran who represented her home state of Iowa in Miss USA 2008.
All four of them have cerebral palsy and have not just achieved notable success in their respective careers, but have done much to raise awareness about cerebral palsy as well as disability awareness in general. Now they are joined by a new young pretender by the name of Jack Carroll, a 14-year-old comic ‘genius’, also with cerebral palsy.
The rise of a comic genius
Some of you may remember reading about him when he met master of the one-liner, Jimmy Carr, during the ‘Pride of Britain Awards’, last year. Since then, Jack has been honing his craft ready for the performance of his life on 13 April in front of a packed studio audience and millions of TV views.
I have to be honest, I’ve followed this growing star for some time and I’ve seen him deliver better shows. It was clear his act was affected by nerves and his delivery was not as slick as it has been previously. I first saw Jack on ‘You Tube’, entertaining his family at his parents’ wedding anniversary and he was nothing short of hilarious. If you haven’t seen the clip yet, please do. It will have you in stitches.
That said, for a young teenager with no real stage experience, Jack’s performance on BGT was epic. No wonder all four judges heaped so much praise on this gifted individual. Simon Cowell was reduced to laughter (an impressive feat in itself!), whilst David Walliams exclaimed “you are a comedy genius. I’m not even as funny now as you are at 14-years-old. It was incredible”.
Funny regardless of disability
Much of Jack’s material centred on his disability as one might expect, but there was something refreshing about his humour. Yes, he joked about his cerebral palsy, but not once did I feel he was going for the sympathy vote. Instead, I found his gags funny, engaging and very intelligent. “Stop me if I get too energetic,” he joked at one point, “I don’t want to lose my benefits!”
But whilst his observations did touch on some of the more delicate issues of disability, there was not a trace of bitterness in his delivery. Nor did I feel at any point, that he was pushing the fact that he has cerebral palsy too hard. Some famous people with disabilities can tend to be defined a little too much by their impairment. As Walliam’s poignantly noted Jack is simply funny, regardless of his disability.
Turning weaknesses into strengths
There was something more to Jack’s performance than well crafted quips. He has already developed his own relaxed and informal story telling style. His open and honest northern manner gave his stage debut the feel of Peter Kay, whilst the way he perched on the seat of his rollator, called to mind the delivery of Dave Allen. All he needs is a suit and a cigarette!
In short, Jack Carroll has the makings of a comedy great and one is tempted to believe this would be the case whether or not he had a disability. What this talented young raconteur has managed to do is turn his disability to his advantage. And comedy is the perfect platform to do just that. As Jack himself observed, in comedy “your weaknesses are your strengths”.
There is no doubt in my mind that the lad from Yorkshire is set to be a star and if he wins ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, it will be because he’s done it on his own merit, not because he has secured the sympathy vote. Nevertheless, I trust he realises just how important his success is to the disabled community at large.
A role model for the disabled community
Famous people with disabilities such as Jack Carroll inspire others to believe in themselves. This is what we need from the disabled community: Disabled people who are “doing it for themselves” and showing the world that physical impairments can actually give rise to something very positive. Furthermore, Jack’s performance can only help to raise disability awareness about cerebral palsy, a condition which still remains largely misunderstood.
I wish Jack Carroll every success for the future. He’s well on his way towards becoming a star. I hope that if he does get there, he will not simply be regarded as one of a growing number of famous people with disabilities. He will be seen as a gifted comedy genius in his own right. That said, the impact his fame will have on other disabled children his age cannot be ignored.
The disabled community needs role models and trail blazers to look up to and give them encouragement. It looks as though last week’s broadcast of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ has uncovered just that.