Oliver Hunter: Overcoming Barriers to Access in Stand-Up Comedy
Oliver Hunter shares his passion for stand-up comedy and discusses the challenges of being a disabled comedian. He highlights the lack of accessibility in the industry and his personal experiences of performing from the audience due to physical barriers. Despite these obstacles, Oliver remains determined to succeed and break down barriers for disabled comedians.
Connect with Oliver:
You can catch Oliver at this years' Melbourne Comedy Festival https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2023/shows/wheels-of-fortune#
Connect with Peta:
Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the @Icantstandpodcast the podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peter. I have cerebral palsy. Hello, I'm your host. This week I have Oliver Hunter on the pod. Oliver is an amazing comedian and after selling out his show in 2022, he's back for the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2023. I will leave a link in the description if you want to go see Oliver perform, but I really enjoyed this chat and getting to know Oliver on the pod and I hope you do too. So without any further ado, let's hand over to Oliver.
Oliver [00:00:54] I am Oliver Hunter, and I. I guess I'm a comedian. I try and do that sometimes, and I also have cerebral palsy. So we're matching up.
Peta [00:01:06] How did you get into comedy?
Oliver [00:01:08] About eight years ago, I was still at uni in University Wollongong. I saw a sign for the Wollongong Comedy Club and I will also preface by saying I was in the back of a cab after a big night out. I was quite intoxicated and I saw a sign of an off fare to comedy. I'll go to some shows and then by the end of the trip I was like, Oh, I think I want to try comedy. I think I'm pretty funny. My mom's always laughed at my jokes, might give that a crack. And then in the I got home at four in the morning and Googled Wollongong Comedy Club and sent an email and and within 24 hours they got back to me. Stu, who runs Wollongong Comedy, who I know now really well, he got back to me and said yeah, come and do a spot.
Peta [00:01:54] So I know you jokingly said your mom said you were funny. So you you know, you thought you'd give it a crack. But clearly, you must have felt in yourself that you had the skills and ability to do it well. Like, how do you go from the step of going, Oh, that looks cool to like, actually doing it?
Oliver [00:02:13] I was never one of those people that grew up going, I want to do that. I think you hear some famous comedians like, Oh, ever since I was ten, I watched Eddie Murphy's comedy special and I knew I wanted to do it, but for me, it wasn't. It. I, I catch embarrassing his ideas, but I didn't really understand that comedy was a full time job or an actual job you could do until I was about 58. I always tried to get get a laugh with people. So whether that was with conversation, friends, I was always trying to be funny. I was always, you know, having a disability and going through some of the stuff. We probably shared experiences of hospital trips and operations and doctors and therapists. You know, some of it. Many great people you work with and you deal with. But yeah, there's a lot of there can be a lot of trauma and a lot of tough times there. So I think there was always just find a way to laugh at it. And if you don't laugh, you cry kind of. That was the kind of vibe I realised that I always try and get a laugh and make people laugh.
Peta [00:03:21] Yeah, I really relate to what you just said. I do it too. I think it's a defence mechanism as well. For me. Like I tend to make a joke at my own expense to make people feel comfortable because I know a lot of people have never even met somebody with a disability. And when you have an obvious disability like we both do it, it can be a really good mechanism to get people on your side. So I can appreciate how you've always been like, Yep, I'm funny because it is a skill that many disabled people I think develop because we have to.
Oliver [00:03:57] Yes, I think so. I think yeah. And for me it was just always that's how I the I when I was at uni that's how I broke down any sort of barriers about my disability or, or going out. People would be, you know, bits of it sometimes, you know, ignorant. They'd be surprised that I was out.
Peta [00:04:20] I'll be really interested to hear how you go about constructing a set, because as we both know, having a level of understanding of disability can be quite nuanced. And like often you'd be going into a room without knowing how much the audience understands disability. So how do you how do you balance to make sure that you're not being patronising to the audience in how they understand what it's like to be disabled?
Oliver [00:04:51] A great question. I think my first first thought is always, has always been and always will be. I'm not doing a TEDTalk, so if I'm going into a comedy room or a comedy show, I'm there to be a comedian. So I'll talk about my disability and disability in general and some of the issues I face. But my first priority is always jokes and punchlines. For example, some of my dogs is structured in terms of here's a silly thing someone said to me about my disability, Dionisio, You weren't in the wrong, but I didn't. I had no malice in what I was saying. But how silly does this sound? I'm not necessarily going in there to fully educate you and and change your opinions or or tell you that you're wrong. I'm just that aware that I have to. And that's how I present my stand up as well. You know, and I go in there with an agenda. I've got my jokes, and if you laugh and have a good time, that's great, because that's all what they're trying to do.
Peta [00:05:54] If I had to do this and be a comedian, I'd be like, Sorry, mom and dad. I want to be a stand up comedian, but not necessarily the stand up part because I can't do that. But I do feel like sometimes you feel pigeonholed, that you have to talk about your disability because that's what the audience is thinking when they first see you on stage.
Oliver [00:06:17] A big thing for me was to write stuff about not about my disability. So whether that be observational jokes about just stuff going on around me that had nothing to do with my disability, my stories about my family that had nothing to do with cerebral palsy or my disability. So I think I actually made the decision to actively try and write stuff that isn't just about my disability and prove. And then I think because if you just talked about it, like you said I do, I feel the pigeonhole to talk about it. No, I don't. Because if I did, that's how I would get how I feel. I would get pigeonholed by by just becoming the guy that talks about his disability. Like I think got him Heels is a great example. Like, he's one of them, one of our best stand ups ever. But he's also someone that we he actively didn't talk about his disability for, I reckon, the first 20 years of his career. I don't feel pigeonholed and to not feel that I am always actively trying to write stuff that isn't just about my disability.
Peta [00:07:27] Yeah, I think, like, not that I'm in the same spaces as you, certainly. No, I'm not funny like you, but I think that often I feel like, Oh, am I the tokenistic person that's being put in a room and given that opportunity and like, as much as I'm so appreciative to have the opportunity, it does go through my head.
Oliver [00:07:50] I might get something because of my disability or I might get given an opportunity because of my cerebral palsy for a diversity type angle. But I know, like I've proven to a lot of people, a lot of gigs into myself that I'm funny and I can do this. I have a joke where I say, like, I'm like, I'm a straight white man. Like, without the chair, I'm the problem. Thankfully for the chair, you know, I can I can be a protester and not be the one being protested about. So that's a joke. Everyone can relax.
Peta [00:08:24] So you did your first gig at Wollongong and went, Well, what happens after that? Like, obviously as a disabled person you have to think about boring things like access. How have you found getting access to clubs and things like that?
Oliver [00:08:39] It is tough access to the rooms is is brutal. And I just have to really work hard to to find those rooms. I have probably found at least a room on six of those days that I got a gig I could do. The big thing that I try not to one, compare myself to what other people are doing and going on while they're on there doing six spots a week or eight spots a week, and I'm doing two or three or, you know, sometimes one. And then my, my I would to really battle fought with my head and go on the now lesser Canadian or I'm further behind because I can't get to the six or eight gigs that they're getting to because the access issue. Because I sort of set back this time last year and went, you can either quit or figure it out. You've got to work on your relationship with stand up. So your relationship isn't doing ten spots away. I'd love it to be, but I don't have the capacity one from an access point of view, which is out of my control. And too, from a physical energy point of view. I mean, you know, Peter we sep energy take it does play into it and then I'll go to work as well because unfortunately at the moment stand up isn't my full time job, so I have to manage a real job. Unfortunately, I do like my job, but it's, you know. So I had to sort of come to terms with if I can get up twice a week or 4 to 4 or five times a month, that has to be okay.
Peta [00:10:21] When you said you found all those gigs that you could do during the week, was that you physically emailing somebody and reaching out or physically going and doing site visits to make sure?
Oliver [00:10:32] But I saw a gig that I wasn't aware of. I just. I never hit up the ad, find out who ran it, or I'd find I just message the because a lot of the gigs have their own pages, so like social media accounts. And I would just go, Hey, what's your access like? And I think this is this is what frustrates me a little bit as well from a just from an ethical point of view, is that I have gigs that I can do that aren't officially accessible. So I can say, Peter, you're in a power chair so you wouldn't be out. There's a few things I do that you wouldn't be able to get to that I can get to because I am a manual chair and I have a job and enough capacity and function to help get up a staff or whatever. BE There are some gigs I do that are one step up, but then once I'm in the venue, I can get to the stage and then and then some gigs are the stages and accessible, so I have to sit in front of the stage with the microphone basically in the crowd, which I'm I riff on and I make jokes about and I do my set and it goes it goes as well as, you know, it's still good. I did a gig recently. I've done a couple of recent newer ones and I come off and it went well and I was buzzing and. That was good. You agreed. And as I made it the best I actually could get on the stage. And I remember I said this once, too, and this to the just to no one in particular. And I think I saw a few of these other, you know, able bodied, non-disabled comedians go, Oh. Yeah, that is tough. If I can get to the microphone, then I can make it work, which it's not the best approach to have, but. But as I said, there, there is six parts of the way I can get on. If I if I went with the attitude of it has to be perfectly by the book accessible. Unfortunately, I'd probably have three gigs I could do across the whole city. The conversation I get a bit tired of with other comedians. Again, no reflection on them, no real criticism of them is that I'll might say, some new ones. There are a bunch of people I haven't met before in the comedy world or other comedians, and and they'll go, Oh, I can get you on this guy. I know this person. I'll help you get on this gig and go, What's the access like? And then you watch them on Take over and they go, Oh, yeah, what's up? Some steps. And then they sort of tick off in their head. That one's not good. That one's not good. And the amount of times I've had that conversation, where am I? And I and I might.
Peta [00:13:11] You're going to do another comedy show this year at the Melbourne Comedy Festival after a sold out show last year. Congratulations. Tell me about this year's show.
Oliver [00:13:22] Yes, this year show it is shows called Wheels of Fortune. It would be a fun show. I'll talk about having a disability and growing up in the country and my family and some of those stories 11th the 23rd of April. So the Tuesday after Easter is the 11th, and then Sunday the 23rd, just before the Anzac Day public holiday. It's 630 Tuesday to Saturday and then we're an hour earlier on on Sundays. It's at Acmi in the city, in Fed Square, near Fed Square. So in the NGV and that area, that part of the city and yeah, it's accessible, it'll be a wheelchair accessible so there'll be accessible bathroom.
Peta [00:14:12] I want to say, like you said, you grew up in the country and I know we've spoken a lot about your comedy, but I'm really interested to hear what it was like for you growing up with cerebral palsy.
Oliver [00:14:24] It was at its moment. It was tough at times, but I was very fortunate. I had a super supportive family. Three younger brothers, born parents, super involved and and, you know, willingness to make things happen for me, obviously now. And this until I was 22. And then I also didn't really have much access to the old system of support because I would say the government at the time with that old system, well, you're not disabled enough to get access to whatever it was like. So individual funding packages. I went to a mainstream school, both primary school and high school. I believe I was the first student with a disability at my high school. I think out of an intensity, I've become a good talker and we are going. So I was able to advocate for myself, but then I also had really good support that if I couldn't and as a kid, sometimes you can't. You just don't have the capacity or the experience. I was patient, the Royal Children's as well in Melbourne. So I had to draw. We had to drive to from Albury to the hospital. So 4 hours each way and they were big dice. I was a sport head, so I knew everything about the professional leagues and the cricket and the AFL. But I so I would be up to with all that. And then but what I, what my friends would talk about at school was their footy and how they went on the weekend. I would know and I would try and go and watch and they had to invite me to go watch. But it was tough because I would watch and I just didn't feel part of part of it. I think sometimes we can get a bit caught up in drinking the Kool-Aid of disabilities. Awesome. And it's amazing. And and yes, I have had a great life and travelled and met some great people. And but like, it's not saying that life isn't tough and isn't hard and and it can be a battle. And trust me, there are moments where I go, gee, if I was able bodied, American life would be a touch easy. I am. From a job point of view or from a just getting around, I say as well that the man I'd been we have to do is people with disabilities. If we got paid for that, we wouldn't have to work. Things that are hard for other people can be very difficult for for May and for us especially, and say pays its own thing. So yeah, I think for me, grown up too. Now I think about it, um, dealing with that pain from a physical sense, like chronic pain that takes a lot area sometimes. I got you. I really wish I wasn't in this pain or. Or I didn't have to have that surgery that that caused me all that that stress. That's something that always bugs me as well. Is, is, is. Oh, someone's always going to worse off. Well, I've had people tell me, I said, well, I think I'm struggling and then I see you and I'm like, I'm alright. I go, I don't look that bad, do I? I'm not sure. And I got my hair done and, and like, it's okay, Like it's gonna be alright. That's why I haven't quit stand up yet. Because I think if you think about it, I sit back and I've been through a lot worse than then not being able to get to a certain gig.
Peta [00:17:59] You seem like a fairly ambitious person, and I feel like inherently you have to be when you have a disability. As you said, we face so many challenges to succeed. So what's one thing you wish for your future self?
Oliver [00:18:15] From a professional point of view. Just keep doing keep doing the gigs. Kate on the stand up and hopefully that turns into something I can do more full time contributing to the disability space as well. And some of the consulting work I've done. And then personally, like I said, I live with, with my girlfriend and that we have a great relationship. That. That's a big one, too, for young people with disabilities is relationships. And whether you think you were worthy or whether it's going to happen. And it's amazing when it when it does. The other advice I'd give to potential young people who might be who might be teenagers with disabilities, like figure out what you can do and work within your capacity. If that's GA in the gym once a week, go to the gym once a week. Don't think that I can't go three times a week, so I'm not going to go out at all. I still get in that trap too. Well, I can't swim five days a week. I don't have the energy to swim five days a week, so I won't swim at all. But yeah, Cave doing something. And you don't have to be an athlete. You don't have to want to be a Paralympian. And I understand that not everyone has the has had the level of support I've had from a family point of view. And and they may not be as extroverted as us. But my you got to yeah, make something happen. And at some point it is it is up to you.
Peta [00:19:50] What do you wish for the future of people with disabilities?
Oliver [00:19:54] What I what I wish is that we can just can we just can access whatever we want to access. So if we want to if someone with disability wants to get a job, they can get a job. If they want to be able to go out and meet people and socialise, it's and it is happening now. But I hope that the barriers keep coming down and and we keep working on that. I have someone in a kid in primary school now. When? So in another ten years, when they're 14, 15, 16. I hope they're not dealing with the same stuff I went through when I was 15 or 16.
Peta [00:20:34] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, can I encourage you to leave a writing interview on Apple or Spotify? Or if that's not quite your thing, share the episode with a friend. It always helps more people find the podcast and helps the podcast grow. If you'd like to suggest a guest for a future episode of the podcast, you can always send me an email. My email address is email@example.com I always love when I get a DM on my Instagram. My Instagram handle is at @Petahooke spelled Peta Hooke. Thanks again for listening and until next week. Have a good one, guys. Bye. I'd like to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, but especially to the pioneering people where this podcast was recorded.