Changes: Rosie Jones
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to Changes, it is Annie Macmanus here. My guest on changes today is a triple threat. Rosie Jones is not just disabled, not just gay, but also a woman *slight laugh*. Born in Bridlington in Yorkshire in 1990, rosie Jones is a Stand-Up comedian, a comedy writer, a children's author and an actor. Maybe you've seen her on programs like 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Would I Lie To You, The Last Leg. Maybe you've seen her live at the Apollo or have booked tickets to see her on her triple threat tour this year. Maybe, you know a young person who's reading her books about the adventures of Edie Eckhart, a young 11 year old girl with cerebral palsy. Or maybe you, like me, have laughed and cried whilst watching her now BAFTA nominated Channel Four travel show, Trip Hazard; My Great British Adventure. If you haven't come across Rosie Jones yet, then frankly I am jealous because encountering her on stage or on screen is a total joy. Rosie Jones, welcome to Changes.
Rosie [00:01:15] Oh my God, Annie, that was the greatest intro ever. Thank you and I am so happy to be here because I'm such a fan of Changes but more than that, Annie I'm a fan of you!
Annie [00:01:42] Stop it Rosie! *Rosie laughs*I can't handle it! I'm also a huge fan of you and honestly it's been so fun doing the research for this. Obviously, I've seen you on telly but the first time I kind of put you and your name to box was my niece, who's also called Annie, who also has cerebral palsy, was reading your Edie Eckhart book, and I was like 'what's that book?' because I always want to know what people are reading. She's it's this, and then I saw your name and then I was like, 'I know that name', and then it kind of all came together in my head. So it's been lovely, kind of getting to know you and getting to see how you are affecting the lives of people around me as well. So tell me how you use your cerebral palsy and your speech as a tool in your Stand-Up comedy. I had initially the word weaponizing, but that sounds pretty aggressive.
Rosie [00:02:35] *Laughing* Oh, Annie we will use our words as weaponizing because anything aggressive and forceful I am there.
Annie [00:02:50] Love it.
Rosie [00:02:52] But yeah, I love it so, we'll get into it probably later but I've had cerebral palsy all my life, which means, as far as I can remember I've been aware that I'm different. But more than that, people are awkward around me. I saw one of my oldest friends yesterday and she said, 'my first memory of you is four years old, coming into the class, starting school and everyone had to sit down', and I stood at the front and said 'hello, I'm Rosie, I have a disability called cerebral palsy which that means I talk slowly but apart from that I'm just like you'. Now, A thats amazing, but B, as an adult I'm a little bit like ooo, why did you put it on a 4 year old to explain herself? And that has carried through all my life. I feel like it has been my responsibility to explain myself to people, which is on one side annoying, but on the other side, amazing. Because from a very young age, I realised that I could break them barriers with humour. So even at 4 years old I could go, 'hello! I'm Rosie. I wobble but I'm not drunk!' and that would make the other kids laugh. So, when I started stand-up I already knew I had that comedy edge because I'd used it every time I entered any new space. But to do stand-up as a job... that was unconcievable growing up! Because I would watch usually male, able bodied, fast talking stand up's and that is not me at all. So I thought, I can't do it as a job because eevryone will get to the punchline before I do. And then I thought, wait a minute, they will think they get to the punchline but if I write it in a way that end in a curveball, no one will know what I'm about to say. So the first joke i ever wrote was, 'as you can tell from my voice, I suffer from being Northern', and I look back now and I'm like, that was such a cheap joke and I feel like I'm better than that now, but it did the job. Everyone thought I was just explaining my disability before I started, but no I hit them out the gate with a joke. So for me, it's all about the writing, but as a writer I love that and I love how I've got to think about every single syllable because if it's not important I'll drop it because I've got so much less time than other comedians.
Annie [00:09:29] Yeah so you'll go on and you'll have like a 10 minute slot and you'll have to, yeah, maximise every word that you can say. There's something so deep about that joke though, Rosie. Like that 'as you can see, I suffer from being Northern', because what it does is it kind of democratises the room in that you realise that everyone has their thing. And also, I wonder like- just that kind of liberation of walking into a room and having to lay your cards on the table, like if anyone's listening now, if you were that person who had to walk into a room and explain yourself in one sentence, you know, which you do so well and you're so practised at, there must be something quite liberating in that. Before anyone can judge you or make any assumptions, you can go 'no, this is who I am'. You've got the control there in a way.
Rosie [00:10:15] Yeah, and I've recently started therapy which I think is incredible and life changing. And maybe she says it to everyne but my therapist said, 'you know yourself so well'. And I think It's because I have to. Physically and mentally. So physically I need to know exactly what I can and can't do, but also when you're entering spaces where you've got to reassure people that you are intelligent, that there's nothing wrong with you, that you deserve to be there, you need to have the confidence in yourself. I think if I went into my Yorkshire school in the 90s and gone *sheepishly* 'oh, um, hello. Hello', the sad truth is, I'd have had no friends. I'd be the weirdo, I can't afford to be shy. I've got to go in there going, 'hello! I'm Rosie. I've got cerebral palsy. I love lego! Shall we play lego?'. Because at that age children are so accepting, they just went 'ahh okay! You talk a bit weird but I love lego as well'. So, my friend who I saw yesterday said 'at 5 years old I never comprehended that you were disabled or different. You were Rosie' and I've kept that with me all my life. I think people might initially see my cerebral palsy but literally 20 seconds in my company, hopefully you go 'oh that's Rosie, she's loud, funny, lovely but let's be honest, a massive prick *both laugh*.
Annie [00:13:50] I don't think you're a massive prick!
Rosie [00:14:30] Ohhh, Annie, you don't know me yet!
[00:14:30] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:14:30] Okay! So let's go back to little Rosie Jones, four years old, entering the class. And I'm thinking of the parents who would have left you off to school that day, nervously, as any parent would leave their kid going to school. Who were your parents, what were they like and I guess what kind of effect did they have on you growing up?
Rosie [00:14:48] My parents are just a pair of legends.
Annie [00:14:55] Are they?
Rosie [00:14:55] Yeah, Rob and Andrea Jones. And we may have a disagreement with this because my opinion is that of, they are the best people in the world. And I got cerebral palsy because at birth I didn't breath for 17 minutes. I nearly died and my mum and dad were 26 and the nurse said, quite practically said to them, 'we don't know'. 'We don't know the extent of Rosies disability, we don't know whether she'll have intellectual disabilities'. They didn't know whether I could walk, talk, anything. And all newborn babies look the same so pretty much my mum and dad had to wait to see the extent of my disability. And then as I grew up it became evident that even though I talked slowly and I didn't walk until I was 5, there was nothing wrong with my intelligence. So, they just supported me and I was the first disabled person to go to my local primary school and then secondary school and then I said right, I'm going to uni, studied English, then I moved down to London after. And every step of the way they never made me feel less able or uncapable. So that's my version but their version is, 'Rosie, we did nothing. You were an unstoppable force. We just said yes and on the very few occasions we said no, you said "well I'm doing it anyway"'. So I just think maybe we're both right. It's a great combination between loving and supportive parents and just a little stubborn bugger that never took no for an answer.
Annie [00:19:03] Yeah I guess, like they can say that they've done nothing but the act of saying yes most of the time, that's the key, that's the magic, that's enabling you to do what you feel like you should be able to do. Right, Rosie, let's talk about your first change. So your biggest change in childhood, tell me about that, please.
Rosie [00:19:24] Well we touched on it and I'd say the biggest was going to a mainstream school, because before that I went to an all disabled school and it sounds awful and I am telling this story through the prism of a four year old child, but I looked around at all the other children and they had physical disabilities and intellectual disabilities and I thought, why am I here? I can't explain it but I innately knew that this wasn't a place I needed to be so I went home and I said to my mum, I don't want to go there now, I want to go to big school. I couldn't walk at the time and I said, 'if you let me go to big school, I promise I'll walk. I'll walk and talk'. *Annie laughs* This is how driven and stubborn I am. I was like well, I'm way --- than people who can't walk, if I can just do a little two leg action, I can get out of here, and I did. And that was life changing for me because, I don't want to get too political, but I will. I think I am the perfect age. I think if I were 10 years older they wouldn't have let me go to a mainstream school. I'd be in the disabled school 'till I was 18. And they simply didn't have the tools and the resources to educate someone who was a bit clever. But I went to school for the majority of new labour and at the time, I was given a teaching asisstant 1-1 and I got so much money from the government, and it was because of that care that I was able to succeed and be happy and safe in a mainstream school. And I loved my TA and she's incredible. And I met up with her recently and she still is in teaching, she loves her job. But unfortunately now she's got to look at the 4, 5, 6 chidren with extra needs, so that money and that care that I recieved has gone away. So I fear that if I went to school now, I wouldn't be able to grow and be looked after in the way that I did in the 90s.
Annie [00:24:50] Yeah, and the Disability Discrimination Act came in in '95, right?
Rosie [00:24:56] Yeah.
Annie [00:24:56] Which is basically the first ever UK legislation protecting disabled people against various forms of discrimination. How did that change your life? Can you remember anything being different?
Rosie [00:25:08] Ahh. I mean, because of that, that's why I went to a main-
Annie [00:25:16] Were allowed into the school?
Rosie [00:25:16] Yeah.
Annie [00:25:16] Wow, okay.
Rosie [00:25:20] Yeah. And then moving forward from that, just applying for jobs, being in spaces with toilets for me, being able to get onto buses, I was only 5 years old at the time so I do not think 5 year old Rosie was super political, but I need to acknowledge that every part of my life I've been affected because of the Disability Discrimination Act. So, as I say, I think I was born in that sweet spot where disabled people were having rights but they had the money, the resources and the care from the government that disabled people do not have right now.
[00:26:12] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:27:08] Well, I want to talk about activism later, but just sticking to your story growing up, I know your books focus on a young girl with cerebral palsy who's going to secondary school. How was your experience of going to secondary school?
Rosie [00:27:25] It's so funny, I've got two opinions on my secondary school. One, how I felt there, and two, looking back in hindsight. So, when I went there I loved it and I always had friends and I was never bullied. I think because I was always the loud one, the talkative one, I put a wall up to go 'don't even try it', and you know if you say anything, I will make you look like a moron. Like one time, this little scroat of a boy said 'get some fucking proper legs'. And I turned around and I went, 'ooo, okay, where from? Is there a fucking proper leg shop? Can you buy them in bulk like? What do you mean by that because my legs look fucking proper'. And just how I met that aggression with, 'okay, lets really deep dive intp your fucking stupid comment'. And it made him feel tiny because I was like, you know what, I might keep my fucking improper legs because I like the shape. So yeah, at the time I loved it. It was so fun. And not to toot my own drum or bang my own horn, I was always clever so I always got by and was always liked by teachers and kids. So I think I left there at 18 going, 'great, I'm not scarred but I'm glad I'm out now'. So that's how it was in the present but in hindsight, a bit like alot of my childhood, I felt like I survived secondary school. And I was hardworking, I was popular, but because I knew if I let my guard down for a second I would have got eaten alive. And then again, in hindsight, I think alot of my teenage years were taken up by having gay thoughts and fancying girls and watching Terry Hatcher play in --- and thinking I really like her, and I don't know why. I like Bridlington, it will always be my hometown, but it is small minded. It is backwards. A bit like everywhere in the nineties, the words 'lesbian' and 'gay' were thrown around like an insult so I spent alot of my childhood thinking, 'I'm not a lesbian' because thats a bad thing. And it was only at 21 when I moved to London and my friends became queer and diverse and non-white and other disabled people, it made me go 'oh, right! I'm not alone, I can come out, I can be myself in such a way that I don't ever think I fully embraced who I am in the 18 years in Bridlington'.
Annie [00:33:48] You know you're in therapy now, do you feel like you're still fully embracing who you are as a woman in her thirties?
Rosie [00:33:55] Yeah. That's a big question, yeah. I embrace who I am, I embrace being a comedian with a platform, I embrace my sexuality, I am a proud gay woman. Side note, I describe myself as gay because that word lesbian for me, still has negative connatations. So yeah, Rosie as a singular person, I embrace it and I'm proud of myself. But if I'm being honest, I'm single and I've been dating and I am so happy being single but I can't imagine getting married. I can't imagine having children. Even though I think I want children, I can't imagine being in a happy, healthy relationship with somebody and that is because, I have grown up in a world where I don't see disabled people depicted on TV in happy, healthy relationships. And as I say, I've dated a lot and I enjoy having fun, but I think when it gets a little bit serious there's a voice in my head saying 'you're disabled', 'you don't deserve this', 'you're a burden on her', 'you're a burden on society'. And I never feel that when I'm a singular person, it's when I try to include somebody else in the situatuion who are- the women who I normally date just happen to be non-disabled and I think that is a factor, it's the moment where they see what it's like to be disabled everyday by society, makes me go into pushing away mode. Maybe because I know I can cope with it on my own but if I care about someone, I don't want them to see what I see.
Annie [00:38:02] You got to find another Rosie. You gotta find someone with the same type of tenacity as you. Or I think the therapy will hopefully, like, help you realise that you're an asset to anyone who goes out with you, you know. It's that kind of like, realising that they're lucky to have you and what you bring to the relationship, you know?
Rosie [00:38:25] Yeah. Yeah.
[00:38:27] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:38:37] Listen, can we talk about your adult change? You cite the moment at 27 when you started comedy, tell me about that.
Rosie [00:38:44] Yeah. So before that, I'd been living in London for 6 years. I had been working in TV, I'd really enjoyed it and I'd had a lot of friends saying to me, 'go on, try comedy!' and I'd always be like 'no, no, no one sounds like me, you don't really get disabled comedians, no'. And then that changed and I don't know when it happened. It was just a feeling that if I don't try this now, I never will. And I never want to get to the end of my life regretting anything. And I think before, we briefly chatted about my birth and how I didn't breath for 17 minutes, I nearly died. And I feel like I've always been super aware that there is a scenario in which I'm not alive. So I've always been quite fearless because of that. I'm very aware that we only live once. So I was like, worst case scenario, I'll do a Stand-Up show, I'll die, I'll get booed off stage and that's it! And I would have tried it but that didn't happen. My first stand up gig was in a shitty little bar in Dalston to 12 people and in hindsight, it was grim. But the whole feel of it, holding the microphone, being on stage, making people laugh, was all I needed to go 'yeah, I like it'. And I think when I worked on TV, when I worked on panel shows, I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make TV and awards in general more accepting for disabled people. And I think I was making a difference in my own little groups. I was making sure no one none non- disabled was shitting in the disabled toilet *Annie laughs*. But with stand-up I thought, wow, I can really make a difference. And what I'd been doing in my own little way, in work, in pubs, in my friendship groups of talking to people, explaining my disability, showing people that even though I talk slowly, I'm intelligent and funny and blahblahblah, everything that I had spent 27 years doing, I could now do on a larger scale. And now with the books, the touring, with meeting people- like I nearly cried when you said Annie has cerebral palsy and she reads my books because that is why I do what I do, so that another little girl or boy in their little Northern town who's feeling a bit alone and confused as to why their disabled and all their mates aren't, they can turn on the telly or read their book and choose to go 'I'm not alone'. And it's stories like Annie that make me go, yeah, I'm tired, yeah, I haven't had a full day off in about 2 years, but I'm making a difference.
Annie [00:45:44] Oh, God, you're going to have me in bits. Jesus, can't handle it *Rosie scoffs*. You are though, you so are, you're changing the world. You're changing the world just by doing your job, being up there every day. And it's so interesting how you talk about- like, you knew you were funny because you'd done it all your life. But also it's important for anyone listening to know that you worked as a gag writer before you were a Stand-Up. So you were a professional, funny person. The battle for you wasn't whether you were good at being a Stand-Up comedian, it was whether you could do it for you, right. And whether people would accept you as a Stand-Up comedian, right?
Rosie [00:46:20] Yeah. And I mean, what is interesting is on top of all of that, I'm a woman. And I think you find that a lot of female stand-ups have come into the business a different way because, this is a sweeping statement but on the whole men are a lot more arrogant and up to go, 'I'm funny, I'm going to start stand up, no ones told me that I'm funny but I am'. Whereas my way into it, and of course being disabled is a part of it, but my way was 'am I funny? I need to check. I need to get the experience. I need to hone my skills. I need to do a comedy writing course. I need to write for other comedians to hone my craft'. And then it as only then, when I had had 6 years writing for other people, that I could go 'right, I think I've got the knowledge and the tools and the experience to go at it myself'.
Annie [00:48:40] Can I ask about the kind of intersection between you as Rosie Jones, comedian, getting on with your life, to being Rosie Jones activist, person who represents a huge swathe of people in our country that aren't represented on stage and on screen. How do you reconcile those two things? I can imagine, and I don't know, but I can imagine there might be a day where you're just like, I don't feel like being an activist today. I just want to eat my cornflakes and get on with my day *Rosie laughing*, you know, I don't feel like having to speak for so many people.
Rosie [00:49:11] Yeah, the truth is it changes every day. Like, I need to remember that I am first and foremost a comedian. My top line job description is 'make people laugh'. That's it, if I do that, job done. But I need to be aware that I am female, I am gay, I am disabled. And I have the platform and I have the opportunity to talk on behalf of those communities and I can hopefully change people's minds and do a little bit of good in the world. And I think for me, a big shift was the pandemic because that was an interesting combinaion between- my career somehow took off during lockdown and I feel like because of the government, because of the pandemic, disabled people were a community that weren't being talked about as openly and fundamentally disabled people were dying because they didn't have the care or resources that they needed. I thoguht it was extremely damaging when, at the begininng of the pandemic people were saying, 'don't worry, it only kills people with pre-existing health conditions!'. Essentially, that is people with disabilities and I think that they felt like a second class citizen during that time. And that is when I got the opportunity to go on Question Time and I was able to look Matt Hancock, who was health secretary at the time, I could look him in the eye and say 'what are you doing for disabled people?'. At that time, we had had 10 years of the tory government, where year after year they had stripped the disability benefits down and down and down. And it was the 25 year anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act and I said 'that act was brought in a quarter of a century ago, I don't think we've made enough progress, we need to do more'. And I mean, it went all over Hancock's fucking head, but by saying that, I really felt like I made a difference. And I spoke for us, a group of people who don't often get the spaces to talk, so I will continue to campaign and fight and talk for us. But at the same time, there's a few disabled people who say 'you need to do more'. I recently got a lot of abuse online because, not my own tour shows, but I sometimes perform other people's gigs in places that are inaccessible, and I get people going, 'why is she doing that?'. And the unfortunate truth is, 90% of comedy venues are downstairs or upstairs and if I took a stand and I never performed in those clubs, A, I'd never have work and B, I'd just be replaced by a non-disabled comedian. And I make sure that a lot of my venues are accessible, but I also don't want to deprive non-disabled crowds of seeing me because you never know what difference I can make to non-disabled people. So, yeah, to summarise I love making a difference and I think it is so important to speak out and be proud of who I am, but my job title is comedian so if I want to go on stage and for one evening not talk about any activism and just talk about how great my tits are, let me do that!
[00:57:43] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:58:02] Rosie, okay, the last change question is what change you'd still like to make or see. Now this can be about you and your life and your situation, or it could be about the world around you.
Rosie [00:58:14] I'm gonnna make it about me.
Annie [00:58:17] Good woman!
Rosie [00:58:22] YAYY! *Annie laughs*. I want to care less about what other people think of me. I am naturally an upbeat, happy, honest person, but I'm not like that 24/7 and I want to get to a space where if I'm tired, if I'm fucked off, and I go into a cafe and i am recognisd, I am able to go, 'hello, I don't want photos today'. Because I think I'm at the point now where I give everyone, everything. And as soon as I leave my house, my guard is up and I am *jolly voice* 'hello! Hello! I'm Rosie! Always happy and never sad! I love being disabled, I love it, I love it!', and the truth is, I don't. Sometimes if it's 4 am and an Uber driver won't pick me up because they think I'm drunk, I'm fucked off. I don't want to plead with a driver, 'I'm not drunk, honestly I'm disabled'. I should be allowed to just be myself and not be the shiny, happy Rosie that I had to be for other people.
Annie [01:00:51] Do you feel like your comedy is changing? As you change, your perception of yourself changes, as you're growing, as you're doing therapy, as you're doing 'the work', as they call it, I wonder what will happen with your comedy. Like will you go darker?
Rosie [01:01:04] I think that's what's so exciting about comedy because we all change, I will change. At the moment I'm a woman in her early 30s and I plan on being performer until I die so, I'm excited to see that change and I think I will become more unapologetic. I will become, 'right, this is me, if you're not into it fuck off. You, you look nervous, get gone and I am not apologising again for who I am'.
Annie [01:02:12] Rosie Jones, you're a fucking legend.
Rosie [01:02:14] This has just been the best conversation.
Annie [01:02:20] I mean, it's the nicest way to spend the morning, you could wish for.
Rosie [01:02:25] Thank you so much.
Annie [01:02:32] Rosie Jones, ladies and gents, what an absolute legend. So warm, so smart, so funny. Of course, she would be being a Stand-Up comedian, but such a unique take on comedy and on the world and I think we can all agree the world is a much better place having Rosie Jones in it. There's moments when you watch her on stage where, just the second after she drops a punchline her entire face transforms from being, you know, quite serious to being the embodiment of joy. I can't describe it, but I've never encountered anyone with a smile like Rosie Jones. It's unbelievable. Go and look at it and you cannot not feel joyous watching it. Now, to consume Rosie Jones and all of her work, so she's on tour, it's called The Triple Threat Tour. I think you can still get tickets to that now. She has her amazing Edie Eckhart books, if you know of any young people who might be interested in reading about the adventures of Edie, then go and get them, they'd be lovely presents for people. And also whatever you do, go and check out Trip Hazard; My Great British Adventure on 4OD, you can still watch them on there. They're such lovely, lovely programs. Rosie brings a celebrity with her to a different part of the UK on every episode. So you kind of learn about the UK, you also have amazing rapport between Rosie and the celebrity, and Rosie kind of pushes herself to the limits of her disability in every ep and it's, yeah, just a hugely kind of thrilling and interesting watch. She's just so watchable. Yeah, let's all just be Rosie Jones' biggest fans from now on, I am. And that is it for this week, folks. Thank you so much for listening. Please do share this episode to anyone who you think will appreciate it and subscribe to Changes as well. That's always so, so cool if you could do that. We're very grateful. It means you'll get the episodes that come every Monday morning delivered straight to you. We'll be back next week with another episode of Changes. Until then, huge love. This episode was produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Seeya!