He wowed Simon Cowell on Britain’s Got Talent and has supported Ross Noble, now comedian Lee Ridley speaks to TOM EARNSHAW about what it’s like performing with cerebral palsy
For many, performing in front of an audience is the most terrifying thought imaginable.
Hundreds of unknown faces starring down on you, ready to judge your highly perfected craft in a split second.
And that is only made a whole lot more intimidating when you have Simon Cowell, Alesha Dixon, David Walliams and Amanda Holden fronting the mob with their giant red Xs at the ready if they think you don’t make the cut.
So yes, it must be daunting. Now imagine doing it without being able to speak.
That was the situation for comedian Lee Ridley, who is unable to talk as a result of living with cerebral palsy (CP).
Instead, Lee took to the stage with his iPad that did the talking for him.
“It was all a bit surreal! I was really looking forward to performing in front of such a big audience and in front of the judges but I never expected this response at all,” explained the 37-year-old.
Lee wowed judges with his laid back and witty routine, which was full of self-deprecating puns.
Before comedy, Lee studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire from 1999 to 2001.
“At 18 years old, it was my first real taste of independence and I made sure I enjoyed every minute of it. UCLan was a great university too, I had some great lecturers and made some friends for life.
“I’ve always loved writing so I grew up wanting to be a journalist.
“I was very lucky to have a great English teacher at school who pushed me to do my best.
“Having CP meant that it made the job a bit harder because I couldn’t talk, and most of journalism is about communicating with other people.
“I wouldn’t say CP impacted it too much though. We always managed to find ways around it.”
Lee was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after falling into a coma when he was only six months old.
“It’s the little things that get to me the most.
“Things that I can’t do for myself such as making a cup of tea, or tying my own shoelaces. It just gets very frustrating at times. But mainly, it’s just a pain in the bum which I’ve learnt to deal with!”
The Newcastle resident added: “My family and friends have always been supportive of me. They’ve never stopped me doing what I wanted to do and have always been behind me one hundred per cent.
“They knew I wanted to be a journalist, they knew I wanted to be independent, and they knew I wanted to be a stand up comedian and have supported me every step of the way! I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
Lee turned his attention to comedy six years ago after a friend suggested the idea to him.
“The step into comedy about because my mate thought it would work well.
“Of course, I thought he was mental but the idea stuck in the back of my head.”
Lee’s first gig came in December 2012 and his first solo performance came at Edinburgh Fringe in 2013, resulting in appearances on the The One Show.
“I’ve only been doing it for six years but I’ve already done so much. It’s still a bit breathtaking really.
“I’ve supported Ross Noble at his gig, taken shows to the Edinburgh Fringe and played in front of two thousand people at a charity gig. It’s been a crazy few years.”
Regarding the future, Lee said: “I’m just enjoying the ride and seeing where it takes me next!”
Next for Lee includes a new Radio 4 sitcom called Ability, documenting his experience of living with CP.
He’s also set to bring his new stand up show ‘Inspiration Porn’ to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, looking at whether the inspiration we take from motivational media images are actually a help of a hindrance to the disabled population.