TV presenter, Alex Brooker started his career as a sports journalist at the Liverpool Echo. In 2012 he became part of a brand new comedy show, The Last Leg on Channel 4, now in its 20th series.
He recently made a documentary for the BBC entitled ‘Disability & Me’ which we reviewed, Alex heard that show and now he’s our guest.
We cover disability and identity, what the phrase ‘disability doesn’t define me’ might actually mean. About his family; his mum’s influence, his father’s suggestion that he use his brain not brawn, and being the eldest of many brothers. Alex tells us he pushes himself to exceed those low expectations some people have about disability. He talks about comedy and disability, that he might do more stand up and how some jokes are a risk.
Alex believes the disability aspect of his life is a work in progress. He went from not really talking about it to being named the No.1 most powerful disabled person in the UK in 2019.
He discusses society’s attitude towards disability and the difficulty of being a representative face, whilst also being an individual. He talks naturally, openly and our conversation is peppered with humour and insightful reflection.
Alex Brooker Twitter
Disability & Me documentary
The Way We Roll show when we reviewed Alex’s documentary ‘Disability & Me’
This is The Way We Roll with Simon Minty and Phil Friend.
Simon Minty 0:13
Welcome to The Way We Roll with me Simon Minty.
Phil Friend 0:15
And me Phil Friend.
Simon Minty 0:17
have a special guest on today someone who we have spoken about on our show before, so this is a little bit awkward, and he recently made a BBC documentary about his personal feelings about being someone with a disability.
Phil Friend 0:30
He's well known to many in the UK as he is a host of the hugely successful Channel Four topical comedy show The Last Leg. His name is Alex Brooker, and welcome Alex to The Way We Roll.
Alex Brooker 0:42
Hello. Thanks for having me. A pleasure to be here.
Simon Minty 0:46
And now just in case, there are some people who don't know once upon a time you were a sports journalist for the Liverpool Echo.
Alex Brooker 0:52
Yeah. The Liverpool Echo when I was a trainee there. And then yeah, Press Association.
Simon Minty 0:58
So you entered a competition became a TV reporter for the London 2012 Paralympics. And then this in turn led to you becoming part of the late-night comedy and sports roundup show During the Game, which now is the regular series of The Last Leg is that right?
Alex Brooker 1:13
Yeah, that is essentially its 10 years ago, since I auditioned since I did the audition tape on YouTube. Literally 10 years ago this week. For Channel Four, I was just looking for another job. I wanted another sports journalism job. And I saw that they were looking for presenters and journalists for the Paralympics. And yeah, I really wanted to be a pitchside reporter go on be a serious journalist, serious television journalist, and yeah, within about two days of the Paralympics, I was on the Last Leg. You know, yeah, the rest is, the rest is history. Very different work to what I expected to be doing.
Phil Friend 1:56
So Alex has a number of disabilities. Although being born in Croydon isn't one of them. And supporting Arsenal is even less of a deficit. I'm a Chelsea supporter, by the way. So we have to be very careful here! We need your disability credentials, Alex so it would be good in your own words if you just explain what it is you're dealing with,
Alex Brooker 2:16
Yes, I was born with congenital hand and arm disabilities are kind of the blanket term for them. You know, kind of got shortened arms, fewer digits on each hand. And then I have talipes in my left foot. And also I was born without I can never remember which one it is tibia or fibula in the right leg, it's the longer bone of the two. I was born without one of those and because, you know, in order to kind of help me walk, you know, because of the way my leg was constructed. You know, the decision was made to amputate my foot when I was 13 months old. So I also wear a below-knee prosthetic
Simon Minty 3:02
tibia fibula, I'm with you, I still don't really get which is which
Alex Brooker 3:05
it's the longer one that's the one on I know,
Simon Minty 3:08
So in July, we reviewed your BBC documentary on this show and it was called Disability and Me and I'd forgotten but you also made a documentary about body imaging for Channel Four back in 2013. So I'm wondering for you, has your self-image changed over the years, most specifically since 2012? Has it changed particularly as you talk about it so openly now?
Alex Brooker 3:33
I think it's massively changed mate it really has because I think a lot of people at home will probably expect that I've always talked about my disability in the way that you see it presented on television. And actually, that's not necessarily the case. It was um, being in the Paralympics and within the Last Leg and around the show, actually, the conversations I had on there were kind of for the kind of conversations I've had. For the first time really, I don't I didn't really know a lot of other disabled people until you know, London 2012 and I've never, you know, apart from talking with friends and stuff like that, I've never really kind of talked about it much so very much so that that was kind of the first time I talked about it and with that, it has given me a different perspective of my disability how I feel about my body. It's quite a strange one with me because I had an operation on my left leg in 2003 and it was the last one I had done. And within that, I thought they were going to kind of break my leg above the ankle, reset it and straighten my foot because talipes curls the foot so I kind of that club foot kind of style and basically what the surgeon did was he created a bend in my shin you see it in the documentary bends the shin to sets it in place it basically I do line up, albeit they put in a curve. And I can tell you now that when they did that it's most upset I've ever been about anything on my body because it was like a new, like a new deformity for want of a better phrase. It was like a new, a new disability I didn't have a bent leg that was my good leg. It was the one that aesthetically looked like everyone else's. And all of a sudden I had this bend in it, and I can honestly say it's a still now it's so weird. My hands like I wear shorts, I'm still slightly more self-conscious of it more so because it does look like it's going to break even though structurally, it sounds. And actually, that really set me back that in two thousand. That was a big thing that really set me back. And actually, once I kind of you know, I turned my back on surgeons because of it. I mean, I'm talking about not even an outpatient. But like, until I did it in a documentary. Earlier this year, I hadn't seen a surgeon in 17 years because I was like, this is this was an how it was meant to go. And my kind of body image did slightly kind of dip it in my own mind and kind of been on television as well. And also getting older, you kind of the things you worry about more when you're younger. They kind of they dissipate slightly, and yeah, so it definitely did help kind of my body image. The weight loss documentary that did in 2013 was mainly just about me being kind of chubby.
Simon Minty 6:19
So your mum, we loved your mum.
Alex Brooker 6:21
Phil Friend 6:22
we all love your mom.
Simon Minty 6:23
She really sharp, she said this bit about they wanted to split your two fingers that were fused together. She said there's no point you lose the functionality. So they don't do it I'm almost feeling you want her in your camp whenever you're having surgeries because she'll be aware of
Alex Brooker 6:38
Yeah, yeah, she was. I mean, the last one, I had done in 2003 I just had because I was still getting pain when I just wanted to play football, and I was still getting pain when I was playing. And it's one of those things where, you know, I should have probably been mature enough at 19 years to go, this just ain't gonna happen for me this, you know, I'm not going to it's one of those things where my body just, you know, I'm not going to play for the Arsenal now. So why am I putting myself through this pain to do something once a week and I kind of thought another operation would be a good idea. In fairness, my mum didn't really want me to have that one done. And that was the one where I was like, Well, no, I'm over eighteen now I make the own decision. And in my head, it was Yeah, looking back now. It's a pretty crap one. But she was good. And you know, when we went back to Great Ormond Street in the documentary, she got very emotional. You know, obviously, there was an edit in there, but it was, the thing I loved about Disability and Me is everything was done as kind of as live. So, okay, you kind of, there was a scene where me and mum look back through the photos. We hadn't done that before. I didn't know that's what we were gonna do. We haven't chatted about it before. Even though she's my mum, I went in there, as if you know, I was about to film something live. And that's why it's so raw. And the same with the surgeon, I had no idea what he was going to say. They just had the camera in there with us while we were doing it. And that was a big thing. Certainly more so when I saw the first edit of it, and they hadn't blurred out my bits on the X-ray that you could see in the background. And worse than that fellas, even more, confronting than seeing the show that you've just been told is ready to go out on BBC and realising that the shadow of your genitalia is on there. Worse than that. The ruler which they use to measure leg length is down the middle. So there was literally a ruler next, next to my bits and I remember watching it I got sent a copy I remember watching it with my wife, and literally at the same time, this is kind of like something of a stranger things a shadow kind of pops up. OMG, this can't go out. So there was very much a last-minute panic. So going back from the shadows of my genitalia back to my mum. Yeah, she was. She was great. And she's very emotional. She's very, she kind of says, what she thinks as she as she sees it. And, you know, she's always been but then she's, you know, for many years has been like you should go and you should keep in contact with the surgeons. And I've lost it all now because I've you know, the documentary got me back into it back in with an orthopedic surgeon. But in terms of my hands and arms. I haven't seen someone since 94. So I used to have what's called a plastic surgeon. I don't even know now that what they can do I just choose I've just willfully chosen not to because I have an element of functionality I can do pretty much everything that I want to do. There's nothing that it's really stopping me from doing. So that's kind of one of those things where I kind of almost not turned my back but I've just not seen anyone.
Phil Friend 9:57
What I was gonna ask you about was your mum comes over, in that documentary in all sorts of ways. I mean, a very warm, caring, you know, individual. What I didn't get from it was what she was like, you know, you're beginning to tell me now as you're talking, what kind of relationship did she have with you and your disability? Did he encourage you to get out and do stuff? I mean, what was her sort of angle?
Alex Brooker 10:23
I mean, there's, yeah, obviously, as I said it within the documentary that kind of, there was she did a long interview with them, which I think where I know, she spoke a lot about what life was like with a disabled child in Croydon, in 1984, and stuff like that, you know, we moved our family moved from Croydon down to Kent, they made the decision that Croydon was to, you know, maybe more of a rough place with all due respect to Croydon to bring up a child with a disability, Mum always wanted to protect me, you know, she used to get annoyed at people staring at me and things like that mum was very protective. You know she was, you know, anybody looked at me, you know, it's changed from that to now on Twitter is I try to avoid the Twitter reaction. It's not good when you're in the public eye, but my mum half the stuff I find out from my mum, my mum will be like, Ah, this person said this about you the other day. It's like mum, you know, and it's like, and the amount of times I've kind of had to say to her, do not search my name, don't search my name on Twitter, because you see the stuff that people say, without acting me in. So you'll get all of it. And she's very much now she likes to know because she wants to defend me. And in fact, actually, I always say to her, but I wouldn't have known about it unless you told me so now I feel rubbish. Because you've, you've told me I didn't know the person. The troll never contacted me. I didn't see it. But she was always protective. And I know that when I was younger, there was some talk of sending me to a specialised disability school. And I remember my mum was keen on it. And my dad wasn't my dad was very much, you know, go into mainstream education didn't see the need, access wise was pretty much all right. If I'm honest, you know, back then, you know, they gave me laptops for you know, before my writings on them by surface laptop when I was about seven or eight as massive as like a brick. And you know, had all those, you know, all that help. And then eventually, when they gave me the operation on my left hand, which gave me the grip, I was able to write so my dad was like, well, why are we sending him to a specialised disability school? Why are we going to, for want of a better phrase, hide him away? And I, you know, I kind of, I can see it from mum's point of view, but you know, I don't know how my life would have gone if I'd have gone to a specialised disability school. But yeah, we kind of mum was very protective.
I did wonder about your dad because your dad doesn't feature as much clarity as your mum did what? But you're explaining that to some degree. What was your dad's line? Apart from wanting to treat you just kind of pretty normally?
Yeah, well, sadly my dad passed away by the way just that's why he doesn't feature.
Phil Friend 13:02
Alex Brooker 13:04
He passed away about six months before I started doing the documentary. Obviously, you weren't to know, it's not stuff that's in the public domain. I don't mind telling you fellas out because it was actually a big reason for me wanting to do the documentary. I wanted to have the stuff with my mum. Because I wanted conversations with my mum that we hadn't had. And I don't think we've shied away from it not at all we're very open. You see the relationship between us. It's very open. It's not like we're, we're keeping stuff from each other. We just hadn't really had those conversations. And certainly, when my dad passed away, I thought I wish I'd asked him about this thing. And certainly, you know, from when I became a parent myself, you know what it was like for him, how did you get on? You know, that must have God that must have been, you know, my kids get ill I worry? What must it have been like for you lot you know, I regret not being able to have those conversations with my dad, but my dad was always very much, you know, just give it a go. Give it a go. My mum was, you know, if it's too hard, if you think it's hard, don't do it.
Simon Minty 14:08
And I like that it's a lovely winning team that you got one who is saying just go and give it a crack. And the other ones will just be careful. There's quite a nice balance they have between them.
Alex Brooker 14:17
So very much so it was, you know, as a child, and even, you know, I mean, my mum and dad got divorced in 1992 or 93. Sorry. So like, you know, they divorced when I was quite young, but at the same time, I still was always very much that sense of, you know, kind of certainly with myself that they were very much on board. You know, even though they had slightly different ways of doing things
Simon Minty 14:40
I had, I have a lot of empathy with you. I'm kind of 10 or 15 years older, but the Great Ormond Street every six months, which I used to quite like because they used to sort of test you and you have to squeeze things and run about on all the kind of weird things they did. And also the whole what was it the family and kind of fighting not to go to a special school to go to a mainstream school and see if the school could adapt. The one thing I didn't have and I wanted more in the documentary is it, six brothers, you've got?
Alex Brooker 15:07
I've got five brothers yeah.
Simon Minty 15:08
Right now I imagine being disabled and the eldest, are you the eldest?
Alex Brooker 15:13
Yeh, I'm the eldest. I've got two brothers and my dad had another three boys with my step mum. So I've got three half brothers as well. So we literally range from Yeah, I'm 36 Ashley's 35. Lawrence is 31. And then the youngsters are 24 20 22 and 21. I think so yeah, it's a real range.
Simon Minty 15:35
I loved it. When you met and you're hanging out, I kind of I don't know how I'd feel if I had that many younger brothers, did you almost have to battle with your disability versus being a bloke forgive the stereotype?
Alex Brooker 15:48
It's weird with me. I think for my brothers, they've always felt, I think they've kind of always felt this element that kind of Alex is the favourite. That's what if you ask my brother Lenny who kind of features very much at the end of the documentary, he was very good. When the camera was on, he was a very good talker, he also looks a lot like me. So kind of me and him are very much alike. And he was great talking about what it was like having a disabled brother. And in fact, he did say, do you, you know, there are times when it might have been easier not to Wow, really going in with that mate that's gonna play well with the audience. But he was kind of half-joking, but half being serious. But for me, I kind of one of the big things for me is academically, I was the one that went to grammar school, I went, you know, kind of did GCSEs A levels. I'm the only one that went to University of all of us with my brothers because we're kind of, you know, varying in ages, the younger ones, I always kind of, you know, when I went to university when they were very young. So it's kind of now it's almost like I want to see them more because when they were growing up, I wasn't there all the time. You know, I went to Liverpool in 2003 and I've lived up north ever since apart from a little spell in London when I first got on television, I've been up north I've never been back to Kent to live. And I, you know, I always certainly my younger brother Edward, who he turned 21 in in in August. I want you to know, I like to kind of look after him. I definitely played a big brother role. More so But yeah, I try to look after them. And obviously, with my dad passing, I've taken that on a lot more my step mum very much says, you know, you're not, you don't have to be kind of, you know, look out for all of them. They're grown men now. But I very much feel that responsibility.
Simon Minty 17:42
I like that you're you weren't about I need to be able to fight somebody you were like I can use my brain. And that's how I'm gonna sort of lead the way and all that kind of stuff.
Alex Brooker 17:51
And my mum, and dad were, I remember it's quite a weird thing. But when I was I remember getting a set of encyclopedias for Christmas in 1992. And I used to go to bed and read encyclopedias and God knows what's happened to me now because I was so clever. When I was a kid I was I there was a big thing. You know, Alex, you know, you're not manual kind of labour that might be difficult for you. So there was a very big emphasis on me academically and with that as a bit of pressure as well. You know, and that was, I suppose that kind of it, it kind of drove me on because that was one of the earliest conversations that I had with certainly, my dad's about being disabled is, you know, we tried not to make it the big thing. But, you know, I, one of the things I can know, you know, I can remember him saying is, you know, you're not going to be, you're not going to be like a builder and that these manual work you're not going to do so you've got to use your head a bit. And that's kind of one of the things that stuck with me. I always kind of do a joke in my standup about like, well, I don't know why you say I'm not going to be a builder and you keep buying me all these plastic toolsets for Christmas give me a break you just bought me a load of Lego don't buy me that you know what I mean buy me the books
This is The Way We Roll hosted by Simon Minty and Phil Friend,
Simon Minty 19:07
I want to explore the identity Phil and I debated a lot about what you said about identity on the show. And in disability. It's so complex because there's like your own personal then there are external views and they collide. One of your brothers said Alex doesn't let his disability define him.
Alex Brooker 19:23
I think now is a hard word. It defines the wrong word in a way I think it's not defined in this is who he is. I think it's more and I think this is how I mean it. Sometimes when I say even I'll use the word define. I think what I'm trying to say is I don't let it be the thing that either. Well, I try not to let it be the thing that decides whether or not I'm going to try and do something or whether or not it's I try not to let it be the overriding factor in the life decision I will make whether that be a job or an activity, how I act and that's different. Defined I suppose isn't is that slightly more is slightly wrong word I think and I kind of the way I see it is that my attitude has always been, and also will he let it beat him cos like it's not a case of winning and losing really, it's more nuanced and certainly with the documentary, it was hard, I think because it's an hour documentary. And it was called Disability and Me, it's a tough one because there was so much of my own story in there. And there are bits that didn't kind of make it into the final edit, and I was very happy with the show as a whole. There's no way we could cover all that the whole nuances of disability is so much one of the big things, it's so much bigger than what I think a lot of people can comprehend. Even within the realms of being an amputee, I meet amputees, like you know, in the Paralympics and stuff. Within my work, I've met other amputees who've lost legs. Now I've lost the leg, but I was 13 months old. So technically, I've lost a foot, but I don't know the pain. I don't know the rehabilitation side of it, because I was too young to know. So people go well, you know, it must have been hard, it's like, maybe I don't know, um, all I know is that I put on a leg like I put on a shoe. And in a way it's kind of feels, you know, it's not the same as some other amputees I meet, you have to go through, you know, fittings and stuff and stump shortening and that's just within the realms of one bit of my disability, let alone the hands. And then you've got, you know, disabilities, you know, hidden disabilities, and it's a, it's a broad old church. If it was up to me, I personally would have maybe done like a three-parter, I think that would have helped and maybe one of the parts starts and ends with my own personal journey. And in the middle, was kind of more of the stuff you had with people like Lee at Arsenal, who I met, you know, go into the Scope Helpline, meeting some other disabled people I think would have. If that was if I could do it again. That would probably be it, but I was still very proud of the one hour that we put together. It's hard though, fellas, it was it's a really hard one because, you know, I wanted it to be as I've said to you before there's not a lot of disability programmes, let's be honest, not on television. And you feel I feel like a responsibility to try and portray or try and do something for you know, to represent disabled people. But ultimately, I only represent a very small minority of disabled people. So it's, it's really hard I find it so hard we've kind of disability representation how to do it, the best I can is, is a real quandary because it's almost an impossible thing to do I think I mean really, what they should do is just put more disability programming on and that would quite help and if there's a few more of us knocking about in regular programmes and films then maybe that might help a little bit rather than going, yeah, we did that one hour with the guy from the Last Leg and that's us done for a bit
Simon Minty 23:16
Don't forget you are doing the Last Leg and that's brilliant.
Phil Friend 23:18
I wanted to ask about this identity issue thing. One of the phrases I think the reason that Simon I talked about it for so long when we did was this idea that if you weren't disabled, what would you have been like it's that so in a sense you're being defined because of the limits you had and that makes you the person you are kind of thing do you buy that?
Alex Brooker 23:45
You know what there's, there's an element of it you know, I am open about saying I go to see a therapist and I have done for a while now. And it was just something in general that I wanted to do certainly after my dad passed away it was a big thing but it's actually obviously expanded very much so and we talk a lot about how I react in certain situations. And actually, my disability and my life as a disabled child actually plays more of a part in it than what I can ever imagine. I'm very quick to the idea of proving people wrong. I get a big thing of it. I want to prove people wrong. I revel in it. I need someone to tell me I can't do anything to push me my fitness. Like my personal trainer at the gym. He'll say to me Yeah, now you won't be able to do those so we'll go this way, and then I'll get the hump, and then I'll do it, and then afterward I knew you'd better do it. But that's the way to push you. You know when you're when I'm younger. The bar in a way is set so low for you not deliberately not nastily, but people think you can't do sod all. Yeah, and you're not going to be able to do sod all. He's not going to be able to write, he's not going to be able to walk, or you know, and stuff like that. And I've got that, that thing in me that I want to do more like when I did the swim, you know, I kind of I kept going oh yeah, but everyone thinks I'm not gonna be able to do it not one person said that, to me, that was in my head, this imaginary person who's telling you that you can't do it. But that comes from, from being a disabled child, in a way, it very much does, in many ways define aspects of who I am because I react to situations because I am disabled
Simon Minty 25:32
if we changed the words to Alex doesn't let to anybody, because I think it's a very common phrase about defining me. And I think if you change it, it doesn't limit you or it doesn't stop me. That kind of makes sense. I mean, in one case, you're almost saying, not only does it not stop me and makes me do twice as much to even show that I can
Alex Brooker 25:48
I genuinely believe in some aspects of me that that is the case in terms certainly for things like pain threshold, when I did that swim, you know, I get, I found it very hard with people who are saying like, are they're injured and stuff like that. So I was very much injured I to have an injection in the, into my spine with steroids to stop the pain that was just an injury in my shoulder. That wasn't even the stuff that I've got to deal with in the first place. And I very much my pain threshold is a lot higher. And I kind of get, I also don't have a lot of tolerance for people giving up. My daughter fell over. We went to Blackpool zoo, my daughter's three. I mean, she had the smallest scrape on her leg. And I did say to my wife afterwards, I was like, when I was her age, I was having tissue expanders in my hands. And it's like, it's like, this kid doesn't know. You don't know how lucky you are. And it's certainly there is a little bit of an aspect of that. Define is slightly the wrong word. It's just hard. It's slightly more nuanced to kind of give it the full explanation. So it's kind of slightly you, you fall into that defined phrase, but it is like everything with a disability, it's certainly a lot more nuanced than kind of what it is. It's so hard sometimes.
This is The Way We Roll hosted by Simon Minty and Phil Friend.
Simon Minty 27:14
You met with a schoolmate, and there's a couple of bits. I have one I'll come back to you. But the first one was a bit I think you're both saying that you weren't you both weren't those people who keep banging on about disability and you know, me and Phil have got no idea who you might be talking about because that we that's what we do is bang on about it. But I just kind of wonder, is there a conflict Now remember, when I started doing this work, I kind of thought I'm getting really known for disability and I'm people forgetting that I'm all this other stuff as well. You occasionally have little moments with the Last Leg and I have
Alex Brooker 27:44
I have it pretty much every week. I had it on Friday, where I'll go, there's this thing of I'm gonna think I might say this thing about my hands or my leg and it will lend itself to it. And then it'll be like me, but I don't want to do too many of those. And it's almost like you're picking and choosing bits again. It's ultimately that's what makes my take on this situation unique. So when the whole stuff about Coronavirus when it first started and we're talking about it on the show. And like they're on about oh well, you know, you're not gonna be able to shake anyone's hands anymore. And I was like, Well, people are always weird about it with me anyway. So it's not going to affect me. In fact, it's going to remove some of the awkwardness, you know, people have always kind of gone do you wanna get an elbow or, or what with me. And it's kind of one of those things where that is my experience. So that lends itself to it. And then you're like, oh, but I meant in a way I'm kind of like limiting myself. And actually, what I kind of realised what I should be doing is actually slightly the opposite. And it's not always going to be every single thing I say, but I shouldn't be kind of self-censoring myself too much. And it is easy to do. And yeah, you know, it was great to see Andy in the documentary and we had a good chat about the kind of comedy and kind of joking about disability. He says, well, do you not find sometimes it's a bit easy. You guys are really good comedians do you not find it easy. What he was referring to was every year at Christmas with John Lewis advert comes out and on the Last Leg, we will do a parody every year. You know, we've dressed as foxes jumping on trampolines. You know, someone's pretended to be the old boy on the moon looking down like we've done it. We do it every it's just a thing that we do every year. And there was one a couple of years ago where Elton John it was one without Elton John in and it's him as a kid all through his career at the end ends up with him getting the piano. So the parody we did is that I'm meant to be the Elton John character I come down get the piano and go, what am I meant to do with this. And so this year, or last year's one, it was the one with the little dragon who keeps accidentally setting things on fire and is ostracised but then saves Christmas because he can light the Christmas pudding on fire, we have an idea whereby it was, I kept dropping stuff. And in the end, I'm able to save Christmas because my arm is small enough to get some keys out of a Pringles tube. Basically, we ignored the logic that if you tip a tube up, but the keys will come out. We just did it on it's a sketch. The boy's hands couldn't fit in I could I save Christmas. And what he was referring to was that sketch, but he hadn't seen the original. So he had no idea. There's this advert going on, he just sees a sketch, which, if you take it on his own, is absolutely bonkers. And I was kind of like, actually, it's not. It's not just us doing a thing where I'm just dropping baubles just for the sake of it. It's a parody of an advert. And he genuinely didn't know that. And I realised that I've just described it to you. And it's kind of gone on for a few minutes. And I was kind of like, will you be, you've got to understand the construct of the joke and why we've done it. And it was it was one of those things where he was like, Oh, actually, Yeah, I do. I never saw the originals that well. Yeah, so it's gonna be absolutely mental. The idea of me getting a piano at Christmas I suppose works on one level. But it's funny if you see the Elton John version of it. And it's kind of like one of those things. That was the example that he used. And it didn't make it into the documentary. And it was the one bit where I, I know that they want, I know that there's a bit where I, I very much do like I've just done with you before I kind of question the comedic side of kind of disability and things like that. But ultimately, very much comedians, that we kind of talk about their own experiences. The writer who I work with Last Leg is brilliant. He's kind of well no because it's what makes you unique. You literally talk every week and you give, you'll tell me something that makes you laugh makes me howl. And it will make the audience laugh. And it's just an aspect of your life.
Phil Friend 27:53
Is there a joke? a disability joke you wouldn't do? Is there a line? Is there a line you wouldn't cross?
Alex Brooker 32:00
I think you know do you know what, it's not. Not really I think everyone has their own taste. You know, comedy is subjective, what one person finds funny. Not everyone does like I've always found. I've always found the use of the word crip. I've never liked it. And we talked about that in the documentary. I've never liked it. And that's it. I know, realise that for some disabled people that I know and love. It's very much a badge of honour for them. It's them taking ownership, no different from how I do. But I kind of I know that Hills has mentioned that he's used that word on the Last Leg. And I've visibly live on-air recoiled. So it's one of those things where it's, it's you know, it again, it's just subjective. And I don't particularly get offended by other people or disabled people using it. It's just the one thing that I think I'll never, I'll never say in my jokes if I'm honest, then and that's it, really,
Simon Minty 32:57
I think I'm with you on that. And I have really good friends who use it. Um, but when I was growing up, there was something deeply problematic about it. I read a really interesting piece recently, and they said, You can't reclaim a word that is negative about you. It's almost an inherent contradiction because you are now knocking yourself and as I oh my goodness, me if I tell all my radical friends that actually they're, they're doing themselves in it will really mess up the apple cart. But you're right, there's little boundaries where you go, No, that's just too much.
Alex Brooker 33:27
The other thing that you know, certainly one of the biggest, you know, I do try to avoid Twitter and stuff like that. That's the stuff that bothers me the most is when other disabled people don't like something that I've said or done. And I very much feel a responsibility as one of the few disabled people on TV. And inherently I do want to represent disabled people in the best way possible. But obviously, it's impossible, because I'm not the same as all disabled people, my experiences aren't the same. So it's really hard, but because there's so few of us on television, that there's an element, of pressure to it. And then you know, some of the stuff I when people say, well, do you not think do you think the audience is laughing at you rather than with you? Or do they? Are they going to take from you joking about your hands that they can go and say something inappropriate to someone like that, and that's a really hard thing to wrestle with? And it's a very, you know, it, I'd like to think that the majority of people, you know, I think if you're going to say something awful to someone, you're going to do it anyway, regardless of whether you've watched the Last Leg on Friday, I think if you have that mentality that you feel you could say that you know, people so misjudge things to me, even now, and I don't particularly get offended because I'd rather that they, you know, even that thing where people are all well, you know, with a handshake or how do we do this and it's just like, why don't you just try and I'm not missing a hand why don't you just give it a go and there's a part of you which goes out and then part of you, which goes, well, isn't it better that they're asking how do we do this and inherently it is an awkward interaction anyway, meeting someone for the first time. So there's part of it, it kind of gives a bit of leeway.
Simon Minty 35:11
When the Last Leg first came out. I was envious because it's something I'd love to do. And secondly, I want to get to screw up because I'm petty and small-minded and all that. And then all of you did a great job. And I think you walk that tightrope incredibly well between both disability and not a disability, knowing when to do it, when not to as well as the type of gags that you'll mess around with. Oh, pettiness disappeared. All right. They're doing a great job. And I love the fact that I can say I know that exists, and it's going on, and it's good. And they do it really well. And you get mainstream comedians to come on, and they go, Oh, but you play around with it.
Alex Brooker 35:52
I think within the Last Leg and like, thanks so much for saying that and I actually think it within the history of the Last Leg I actually think that maybe Josh doesn't quite get the credit that he may be slightly deserves because you've got to bear in mind he came into that show and, you know, he's kind of thrown into this world of me and Adam are suddenly talking about our legs and he's never had and you know, I'm they're playing rock paper scissors for Freddie Flintoff. And I'm winning every time because all mine looks the same. And it's kind of like, you know, it is slightly Whoa, okay, we're doing this are we and what after you get a while I did League of Their Own with Freddie. In the summer, when I was sent in place eight years, you know, eight years ago, literally, we were doing that. And, you know, he's very open, you know, there's a clip of me playing amputee football on the show, and he's very much more comfortable, then also, it comes down to knowing someone. And I think that people probably think that Josh would have done the jokes sometimes he does about me, or, you know, he would have done those all the time. And actually, he didn't in London 2012, he's like anyone, he established a relationship with me. Once we became friends and knew each other better, then he kind of, you know, got on board and was able to joke about me no different to how I joke about his voice. And I find that very comforting. I find when you're at that level with someone and there's that mutual respect there, I find that it's a very comforting thing. And for me, that's why I'm all you know, I've always enjoyed the Last Leg, you know, and as I say, I think that Josh deserves a lot of credit because that that can't have been easy to do you know, that sort of show. You know could have gone on even I thought it was it could go either way. I'm not gonna lie to you fellas. Like when they said to me are you gonna do some jokes about like, a blind triple jumper missing the pit I was really are you, sure guys? Because I have no reputation I was like, oh sod it, I've got no reputation to lose. No one knows me. It's the host is like big in Australia. And that Josh's on a stand-up. So I'm the guy I'll just go back up to Leeds. You know, and it is hard even as a disabled person, I'm not sure on this.
Phil Friend 38:06
What is it next that you're going to be doing? What do you think? Do you have sort of thoughts about what challenges lie ahead that you'd like to tackle?
Alex Brooker 38:13
My big thing is I definitely want to have a proper crack at stand up. I've got to you know, a lot of people assume that I do it all the time. Because of that, I work on a comedy television channel. In fact, actually, I've done four free actual stand up gigs billed as proper stand-up gigs. I do corporates and I'll do 20 minutes and or 10 minutes and stuff like that in them. But it's now time to sit down and really write the stuff really write the gear down. I've been writing for a long time, got pages and pages of stuff, you know, and it's time to really put that and give it a go and trust myself it's a big thing. It's you know, other people have gone You know, I've had offers to go out and do it and I just shy away from it. And I think it's a big thing as a fear of failure. I think another thing is what you mentioned before Simon is about you know, will I do I feel like I'll just be doing those cheap gags about myself. And in fact, actually, it's not it's just my life that's what I can't change what happened and then I realise at the start of this year its time to have confidence in myself really go out and give it a go and obviously Coronavirus has changed the world somewhat so that live aspect has gone and I'm certainly not going to start doing my first gigs on Zoom because it's um you know I did a show on Friday on Zoom and it's quite soul-destroying I'm not hearing laughter. You know that will be it's gonna give me time to properly write. That's a big challenge and also, there will come a time hopefully sooner rather than later when kind of a disability sitcom is done more in the more mainstream there's a few you know, few ones that have been on over last couple of years. They're becoming more frequent. But there haven't been any on a big on a Channel Four yet or a BBC One yet. And, and that is something that I'd like to do. I've had lots of ideas that have come close a couple of times to get in something away.
Simon Minty 40:16
Write, or be in it?
Alex Brooker 40:18
Do you know I did a short for Sky a couple of years ago called Hands of God? And we co-wrote that, and I was in it. And it's a weird one. Because I've actually said, well, let's write something about, you know, another disabled person it doesn't have to be necessarily me, me in it. And it's a weird one. Because channels are like, well, we want to want you to be in it because then that's a bit of a draw without sounding arrogant. And it's like, well, it's one of those things really, I want to do more of that work, though. And I'm happy I would happily write it if getting a disability sitcom on Channel Four somewhere. And they said, well, we'd rather you just cast someone else I'd be like, yeah, absolutely there's enough disabled actors out there that aren't getting the opportunities you don't need me in it. And I'm more than happy. It's a style that I that's my big thing it's the stories that I want to tell it's the stories that are just everyday stuff that happens, which isn't always to do with my disability. And the fact that we just, you know, we there are some days where I think some people at home just think that disabled people spend all their day they wake up in the morning, and their alarm is shaped like a blue badge or something like that. And it goes off and it's not right, it's disabled. What disabled stuff am I gonna do today? And it's Oh, no, I just got up. And, you know, it's a weird thing. Because it's like always say to visit, get up or get a shower. And then someone would be like, but you that looks quite weird, doesn't So? Well? Yeah, I suppose it does. You know, I know if you saw me showering stood up on one leg like a flamingo, probably, you know, if I could add some glitz to it, I'd have a good go at Britain's Got Talent. You know, it's those stories need to come more often. And some of the proudest work on the Last Leg is, is that it's not always about disability, and people are still engaging. And I've just become that geezer on the telly. And that's a really big thing and we need more of that. We need more, it's got to be more of that and television for some underrepresented still. And if I can, you know, kind of do that some way and tell stories, write a sitcom where the characters disabled and it's not just all about that is a really big thing. So it's a massive thing because it's just, it seems so simple though to us. It's like, how can that not be something that's on television all the time, and it's still got a long way to go?
Phil Friend 42:45
I suppose my question Alex is do I mean, in my lifetime, I've seen quite a change in disabled characterization, I think it's got a lot better, and we see more of it. What I've never seen is a half-hour comedy, featuring something like the Fast Show was for black people, you know, that kind of thing. And the Asian Goodness Gracious Me shows where they featured and there've been lots of examples of shows which just feature women comedians, but I can't remember seeing ever a show, which was all about disability gags.
Alex Brooker 43:18
It's a strange one at the moment, because it's not like a big thing really, for it's just not happened yet. And I thought bear in mind that I first started writing a sitcom pitch to Channel Four in 2015. And I was like, ah, someone's gonna do it soon. Someone's gonna do it soon. And it's now five years later, and no one has. Well, you know, there's not been loads of them anyway.
Simon Minty 43:42
There was the I'm Spasticus what I would say they didn't completely stay there. I'm sure with Spasticus it goes back to that word crip. It was quite clumsy.
Alex Brooker 43:53
Spasticus was Channel Four, wasn't it? There's a guy called Martin Dugan, who I worked with within the Channel Four trainee scheme, and he was in it. And it made me laugh. It made me there are bits of it that made me laugh. But I agree with you the crip thing is
Simon Minty 44:09
it's it was a political bit. Before you go, I wanted to raise something and I know this was you wouldn't have seen it because it was on Twitter and you're deliberately smart and you don't read all that nonsense. But I'm debating this thing about the social model. And I know you when you spoke to us, you said you two guys were a bit easier and fairer than other people Phil's generation the social model changed it for my generation oh my goodness, this is something that I never even thought of. But I do feel each generation it's modifying it slightly different doesn't work for everyone. And I just kind of where do you fit on that? What do you think?
Alex Brooker 44:43
The idea of a social model of disability the other one is the medical model, isn't it? Yeah, the idea that I've never ever heard of until I started working within this within this industry. And I think that it's hard for me because a lot of what I talk about is, certainly sometimes it seems medical-based like well, my hands may have stopped me doing this very much the story I told you about the bow tie is very much medical and my hands stop doing that. I've not, I've been very lucky, I've not experienced lots of, you know, society stopping me doing stuff. I went to mainstream schooling. Now, I'm very lucky, I didn't really get bullied I kind of went to university, I went into a job, you know, my first job as a sports journalist at Press Association. When I first went there, you know, my first day, that was my first like big job, the manager kind of took me to one side and said, Is there anything you need? And I thought, well, I don't really know. And it's like, well, if there ever is, you come to me, and that's not, you know, until, you know, I hear horrible stories of the kind of, you know, we've got employers not going for disabled people and stuff like that. And I really very much so for me, that that wasn't the case. In fact, actually, I got the job at Channel Four, because I'm disabled. So it's like, it's hard for me to talk about my own personal experiences because society hasn't always stopped me doing stuff and, but at the same time, that doesn't mean I don't recognise that it's a huge, huge thing. And it's very hard. That's why I take that criticism slightly more to heart because just because I'm not always talking about that, it doesn't mean that I don't recognise it's not, I'm ignorant to it. And it's, you know, there's a bit in, in this in the, in the documentary, when I go to the SCOPE, call centre and I said to them, you know, we should have a gathering, like, we should all get together, but let's be honest, with you off of us wouldn't be able to get there. And it was kind of like, it was a joke, but it was caveated. I think I said, you know, what, the Olympic Park is probably one of the only places and it was kind of it was a joke, but it's caveated? In very seriousness, um, you know, I've one of the big things about this kind of pandemic is the idea of people staying in. And it's like, well, if, you know, a lot of people I know, when they're lift in their buildings haven't worked, and that that's their life. That's them, they're stuck, that's your living what they are, and I'm very well, well aware of it. At the same time, it's a hard thing to talk about, because I know, kind of the social model is more slightly more forward-thinking and it's slightly different, you know, very much medical model. And I think that both of them, you know, have had their merits. Personally, I think the social model is I agree with it. I agree that we are disabled by the society around us to a large extent, but um, you know, it wasn't, it's not the government's fault that I can't undo my bowtie! Do you what I mean?
Simon Minty 47:43
I'll give it as a nod to Phil and the disability radicals who used it to change society to make it a bit easier for each generation. So it should become slightly less critical. Because I mean, there was that gorgeous, bit you got out of a taxi, and we're going in to get the tube and I'm like well, oh! Alex doesn't even know half of it nobody knows he's disabled. Look at him swanning about with his bag looking all cool, but then you said if someone stares at me, I'm ready to launch into them to attack them. And then they go, Oh, love your show. And you go OH! Hey, I get it. He gets it gets it. Absolutely.
Alex Brooker 48:21
It is hard. And you know, as I said, I do say, and certainly feel many times the word lucky isn't. Lucky is kind of a maybe a strange word to use. But I'm well aware that my experiences haven't been as harsh as some other disabled people. One of the mad things that you didn't say, which I only realised when I watched the film back and I do feel bad about this is when they when Andy comes to film with me, they make him get, do all that stuff of his chair, get out of the car, crawl into his chair, come around and then make him put it all back again, just for me to come out and say hello. I watched it back. And I genuinely hadn't thought about it at the time. And he never said anything. And it was like we're making it hard for him. And we're meant to be the show that's promoting disability.
Simon Minty 49:06
We meet people who have disabilities and we meet them at all presentable and they're all fine. We forget all the backstory that he's what he's got to do, just to get out a car and put his chair away. That's, you know, that's part of life
Alex Brooker 49:17
It is very much and you know, just because I'm disabled doesn't mean I always recognise it, as I said, I only recognised it afterward, because I've me head you know, so focused on what we were doing. It's only when I've got to sit and watch it. And I'd had a couple of beers and I thought bloody hell how have we ended up doing that? And, you know, that's
Simon Minty 49:37
So I've got this greetings card and it says 1% envious, which I am, but 99% proud and that's how I kind of feel about it. So thank you for coming on. I really love the fact that you sort of reached out and said, Well, I'll have a chat with you.
Phil Friend 50:03
Alex it's been fantastic talking to you and mainly listening to you tell us about your life and what you've been up to and it's been tremendous so from me personally thank you very much. I really enjoyed talking to you.
Alex Brooker 50:17
Thank you fellas
This is The Way We Roll presented by Simon Minty and Phil Friend. You can email us at [email protected] or just search for Minty and Friend on social media. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
Transcribed by https://otter.ai