Oliver R. Moore-Howells receives both banter and insight from Scottish standup comedian Ray Bradshaw whose efforts at creating inclusivity in his live sets are inspired by an upbringing in a household with deaf parents, and who’s returning to Cardiff after a previous stint supporting John Bishop.
Giving fair warning concerning the likely clash of accents, I was under no illusion as to miscommunication that might occur when a Welshman and a Scot attempt to converse via telephone. However, the interviewee – standup comedian Ray Bradshaw – has in mind a collision of a more visceral kind.
“Yeah, but we’re playing you in rugby tomorrow so it might be worse,” he says, marking his battle lines ahead of the Six Nations showdown. I take the thrust, but given last week’s defeat, am clearly in no position to parry. “I know,” I say, “and Saturday we got badly beaten by Ireland…” Wrong move – I’m a glutton for punishment.
“Yeah they pumped you man. Unlucky!” he cackles, his timbre now ringing with unspeakable cruelty. It’s just banter, I tell myself. Nevertheless, we hastily move on…
So far, it’s not been a particularly interesting day for Ray, hence his need for some rough-and-tumble perhaps. He kicked off his first solo UK tour, Deaf Com 1 in London’s Soho last night, but today he’s spent his time buying an adapter for his laptop. “Tour life’s very glamorous!” he quips. That said, he’s recently returned from a tour in Australia: “The best thing about this job. I’ve travelled all over the world!”
Could he pivot from comedy to a TV travel show, in the vein of Jack Whitehall and his dad? “Nah, I can’t imagine my dad doing a TV show. He would just be talking nonsense the whole time, winding people up. I think I’ll leave that to Jack.” A sitcom based on his family using deaf actors, however, is something he may be willing to consider.
On that subject, it’s clear Ray has a lot of love and respect for his parents and grandparents, even citing them as the inspiration for his chosen path in life. “When I was growing up I spent a lot of time at my granny and grandpa’s. My grandpa’s a really good storyteller and my dad is the life and soul of the party, a larger-than-life character who makes people laugh all the time. My mum and dad are two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. The amount of things they’ve achieved in life is incredible and even now my mum is doing brilliant stuff.”
Growing up with deaf parents, part of Ray’s role within the family being that of interpreter and advocate. In that spirit, he’s chosen to do the Deaf Com 1 set in both English and sign language – the world’s first such standup show, in fact.
“It’s part of my identity; my wife has learnt it, and my son is too. I don’t think I’d be doing standup if it wasn’t for my upbringing.” It was having to sign and speak on behalf of his parents in various situations as a child, he says, that gave him his confidence regarding public speaking; talking to him now, it’s clear he has the gift of the gab.
Moreover, Ray says, he wants to be inclusive – and performing means he gets to see families just like his. Does he get heckled in sign language at his shows? “Aw, you get it all the time. Not so much heckling… more like catching people signing to each other during the show. Things like, ‘That joke was rubbish’ or, ‘I need to go to the toilet’, so you’re constantly aware. With a deaf audience you get the laughter plus the signing back to you.”
Apart from the familial influence, who else has left their mark on him? “I saw a lot of 70s and 80s things when I was a kid. People like Dave Allen, Morecambe and Wise, Fawlty Towers… because we had the VHS tapes of them. When I was 12 or 13, I watched Peter Kay when I was off school due to having my appendix out and I thought, ‘That’s amazing!’”
Ray has also toured with some esteemed comic figures, such as fellow Scot Frankie Boyle. Regarding Boyle’s appetite for controversy and the evergreen talking point of cancel culture, however, he isn’t concerned. “My style of comedy doesn’t lend itself to that. I’m mainstream – a storyteller who talks about his own upbringing. Me and Frankie are like chalk and cheese, so we work quite well together. I’m the palate cleanser – the sorbet!”
With his upcoming show in Cardiff on the horizon, and having supported John Bishop here last year, Ray seems to have developed a fondness for the city, its cultural quirks – and, naturally, the country’s iconic Welsh cake. “They’re lovely – I could feel my arteries clogging up after a couple of them, but I’m Scottish, so I love that! I played the Glee Club and then ended up in Tiny Rebel until 3am, so I got the full Cardiff experience. I find that row of streets with all the chippies mental as well. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. In Glasgow we don’t really have one street where we’ve got like 20 takeaways next to each other, competing. It blew my mind!”
Hopping briefly from subject to subject, ground covered includes who, dead or alive, Ray would like to meet. “Either Elvis – because I think he’s fascinating and I’d like to give him a heads-up to stay off the toilet. Or Shakespeare, and get to the bottom of who actually wrote his plays – him or William Marlowe.”
Nearing the end of the interview, I wonder if Ray’s got a tidbit, an inside scoop to share that no one else really knows about. Perhaps he’s swam with a blue whale or taken a long retreat in a Tibetan monastery? “Hmm… I once stood next to Meat Loaf at a urinal at the old BBC building. Oh, and I have a Scottish school swimming medal because I used to swim all the time as a kid. I was a very, very sporty swimmer back in the day and then comedy happened and I got fat.”
Finally, regarding Deaf Com 1, there is a lingering mystery concerning Bahrain that I had read about and would like answered…
“Ah, so there’s a big long story about me in Bahrain in the show,” he says, “doing a gig and getting into a bit of trouble where I met a woman quite high up. That’s all I can say.” In other words, you’re going to have to attend the show to clear this one up.
Thanking him for his time, suddenly that timbre of unspeakable cruelty creeps into Ray’s voice again. “No problem. I hope you enjoy your weekend… and I hope Scotland absolutely destroy you at rugby again tomorrow!”
Ray Bradshaw: Deaf Com 1, Glee Club, Cardiff Bay, Sun 5 Mar.
Tickets: £15/£13. Info: here
words OLIVER R. MOORE-HOWELLS
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