Francesca Martinez: In Deep, Hackney Empire, London
Tuesday 19 February 2008
In a recent article in the New Statesman, Mat Fraser – the musician and actor who was born with phocomelia because his mother was prescribed Thalidomide during pregnancy – writes: "It can only be a matter of time before the first disabled comedian appears on television." He namechecked Francesca Martinez among the front-runners.
Martinez, a cerebral palsy sufferer (or CP, as she calls it, because she says she's "too lazy" to call it by its proper name), has already had her fair share of television exposure, albeit not so much for her stand-up comedy. In the Nineties she played the first disabled character on Grange Hill, and more lately the 29-year-old has appeared on Extras, as well offering regular punditry on seemingly endless top 100 shows.
As with those clip shows, Martinez's latest full-length stand-up set is something of a pick-and-mix. Some routines are stand-up by numbers, such as imagining that business sponsorship of schools would lead to ticks for good work being replaced by Nike signs and business studies teachers behaving like Virgin Trains, being late and stopping in mid-sentence.
Though some routines are a little too contrived – such as a mock charity appeal to Africans to help save Western women trying to be size zeros – elsewhere, Martinez's excitable, indignant delivery gives her stand-up a strong identity all her own. "I don't know if you know this, but when you put teenage girls together they become bitches," is the slyly offhand way she introduces some of her tales of strife at school. On another occasion, she lifts an uneven routine about politics by quipping on the "spreadable" nature of democracy to Iraq and beyond, "I can't believe it's not better."
Martinez's disability is not the mainstay of her act, though some good material does inevitably come from her experience of dealing with it – such as how she pretended to herself that she could hide her disability as some people do with their sexual orientation.
For In Deep, Martinez has chosen religion as the dominant subject, and this shows off her humanism ("we're destroying the whole world arguing over who created it") but also her irreverence ("I'm sure the Bible has some good shit in it, but...") and her disdain for the uncharitable nature of the times by imagining Jesus being fired on The Apprentice and Alan Sugar exclaiming: "I don't want to have a prophet, I want to make one!"
Judging by her own track record, Martinez is more likely to be hired than fired, though there's still scope for some debriefing.
Touring to 12 April (www. francescamartinez.com)
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