Notorious funny woman Francesca Martinez, who has performed amongst the likes of Frankie Boyle, doesn’t shy away. The no-bullshit stand-up pokes fun at herself, championing her cerebral palsy and making her comedy different from the rest. In her latest comedic instalment, Martinez is performing an upcoming show for her Sheffield audience, based on her book ‘What The **** Is Normal?’ as part of the Festival of Debate.
To find out what’s hiding behind the quick-witted one-liners, I interviewed Francesca on the more serious stuff. From growing up with cerebral palsy, to feeling abnormal in a society obsessed with fitting in, Francesca gave me an insight into her world.
Q: What is “What The **** Is Normal?” really about and why should Sheffield students go see it?
A: ‘The show is about my journey to realising nobody is normal. I grew up in a world where people labelled me ‘abnormal’. But as a kid I felt totally normal, I was really unaware that I was different.
But then I went to an all-girls high school. I realised very quickly that ‘wow, I’m in a world that sees me as abnormal, broken and faulty’. That was a real turning point for me. I used to wish and pray that I wasn’t me – that I could be normal.
When I was about 19, I had a conversation that literally changed my life. It made me realise ‘hang on a minute, I’m not disabled or faulty, I’m just me’. I realised very quickly that I should focus on what I could do and not what I couldn’t. I should be appreciating my body for keeping me alive. It made me realise that my own battles in life have not been because I’ve been wobbly, they have been because I live in a culture that can’t handle difference and breeds self-loathing.
Once I rejected that value system, I became so much happier as I embraced who I was. This show is especially relevant to students, who are at the beginning of their adult life because that generation has the most pressure put on them.
It really upsets me that a lot of the younger generation don’t like themselves; they should be celebrating being young, being beautiful, being healthy. But instead, 90 percent of students are struggling with pressures to conform. The show is kind of a battle call to rebel against a corrosive value system, embrace who you are and get on with living life.’
Q: Your show deconstructs the notion of normality. What does the term ‘normal’ now mean to you?
A: Normal means different. Everyone is different. Everyone has things they can and can’t do and for me, that is normal. It is normal to struggle with things as a human being. It is normal to like yourself and want to find a way to be happy with yourself. I don’t think there is an objective normal person, or an objective beautiful person, or an objective successful person. Normality is a concept designed to disempower us and make us feel like we are not good enough. So, the term ‘normal’ to me means diversity.
Q: Students are often stereotyped as using university as a vehicle to ‘find themselves’. What would you say to a young person who is struggling to accept who they are?
A: I would say to students and anyone who is struggling, the most important thing in the whole world is to learn to think for yourself. If you can develop those tools, or help someone else develop those tools then you become equipped with the mental capacity to fight back. When I was so unhappy, I didn’t even realise I had given away my choice in what to think. I say in my show that the only power we have is the power to choose what to think. I gave that power away. I think many of us do, without even realising it. But when you take that power back, when you say ‘my thoughts and my beliefs aren’t making me happy, they are not serving my well-being’ you can then decide what sorts of beliefs do make me happy. I don’t watch TV; I don’t read newspapers or look at adverts. I don’t even have a smartphone because I don’t want to be online all the time. I constantly try to shield myself from really crappy values and pressures. There are lots of ways to accept who you are but as a starting point, you have to believe that you have the right to question, think for yourself and make up a value system that is beneficial to you, instead of detrimental.
Q: You often use your experiences with cerebral palsy as inspiration for your comedy. Does humour help you accept yourself and at what point did you start laughing along with the jokes too?
A: When I was little, I hated being pitied – I didn’t understand why I was being pitied because I felt so happy. I always thought ‘why are people talking to me in a weird voice?’ and then I realised it was that they feel sorry for me. For some reason, I thought if I could be funny I could kind of burst that bubble and make them respect me. From a very young age, I’ve used humour to relax people and show my personality over my disability. Comedy is a great way of saying ‘hey, I’m me and there’s nothing scary about it’. Anyone can become disabled at any time, so I’m not different from anyone else really.
Q: One of the main themes of The Festival of Debate this year is democracy. With the Cambridge Analytica revelations, what do you think about the state of democracy in 2018?
A: *Laughs* Not a lot really. I think we have a very poor version of democracy. I kind of feel we live in a world where instead of one person, one vote, it is one dollar, one vote. The richer, more powerful you are, the more able you are to influence the political direction which is rife with corruption. We’ve got a long way to go, in terms of clawing back our political establishment and our democracy, so it actually means something worthwhile and represents people and minority interests.
Q: You’ve been an open supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. What do you think he needs to do to stamp out anti-Semitism in the Labour Party?
A: I think anti-Semitism is a societal issue and like all forms of racism and prejudice, I’m totally against it. It is interesting to note that since Brexit, all racist abuse and hate crimes have gone up alarmingly, so I think to pin that rise on Corbyn is very inaccurate and disingenuous. I think ironically it is down to our very nationalistic rhetoric that has kind of resurged since Brexit and has almost been legitimised.
Martinez performs at Sheffield Students’ Union on 10th May. Follow the link for more details: https://tickets.sheffieldstudentsunion.com/ents/event/12168/