Listen: Katrina Roe chats to comedian and original Doug Anthony All-Star, Tim Ferguson. Above: Tim Ferguson (Source: Facebook / Doug Anthony All-Stars)
He’s an original member of the Doug Anthony All-Stars, the Aussie comedy trio famous for their politically incorrect humour – so it’s no wonder Tim Ferguson cracks jokes about his disability.
Case in point: these days he describes himself as more of a “sit-down comedian than a stand-up”.
Tim’s been living with Multiple Sclerosis for the past 30 years and uses a wheelchair to get around, yet is working as hard as ever, making TV, movies, and touring with the re-formed Doug Anthony All-Stars (Paul ‘Flacco’ Livingstone replacing original member Richard Fidler). Last, year the trio took out the top award at the Edinburgh Fringe, the festival where it all started back in 1987.
In an interview leading up to the South West Disability Expo where he was due to make an appearance, Tim told Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe how much he was enjoying being back with the trio best known as DAAS.
“It’s been great fun the last couple of years going back and causing trouble again, ruffling feathers, treading on toes and generally letting Paul McDermott and Paul Livingstone run riot,” he said, before quickly adding, “I just sort of roll riot.”
The man’s never short of a disability quip.
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The Slow Onset of Multiple Sclerosis
It was when Tim began noticing unexplained symptoms in his body that the All-Stars had to disband.
“My wheels started to come off and I started to notice there’s something wrong with me,” he recalls. “A couple of times the left side of my body decided it just wasn’t going to work at all. I went and saw a specialist who said ‘you can’t do this any more’.”
It wasn’t until many years later that he was diagnosed with MS.
“You feel like your head’s on fire, and one time my face went numb, as I was presenting at the Logies.”
“MS comes and goes…so a lot of people may have it and never know it, it’s just every once in a while they may get one of the thousands of different symptoms. So I just let it roll on. I was making network television, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and all that stuff…But it became clear this was going to have a mind of its own.”
Tim’s symptoms included a long list of sensations such as “buzzing, ringing, burning, tingling, slackness, numbness”.
“You feel like your head’s on fire, and one time my face went numb, just as I was presenting at the Logies,” he said. “So I had to give a deadpan performance, without anybody knowing what was going on.”
He said when he was finally diagnosed it was relief.
“It had been all these symptoms, and it was kind of comforting to find out that it was just one thing,” he said. “And I have got great faith in modern medicine to keep me upright, and it has.”
Tim’s attitude once diagnosed was to ‘keep ploughing on’, an approach he’s stuck to to this day. Multiple sclerosis hasn’t stopped him from doing anything that he’s wanted to.
“It slows me down, that’s about it.” he said. “So I’ve got to plan things a bit more carefully. I use a wheelchair now, because my legs are totally useless, completely moronic. But apart from that everything else works fine. So I can function perfectly well as a teacher, producer, writer or whatever it might be.
“I shouldn’t even be doing all the stuff I do if I was walking around normally.”
“If you’re driven you’ve just got to keep driving. I could lie around moping. Hopefully I’ll have a couple of days over Christmas where I can just lie around, watch television and mope!”
Breaking Down the Misconceptions About Disability
Being the boundary-pushing comic that he is, it’s in Tim’s nature to break through social taboos and with disability, it’s no different.
One of the greatest misconceptions he likes to tear down is that you shouldn’t laugh at disability. He’s here to prove everyone wrong on that point.
“You can relax around people with disabilities… chances are they’ve heard it or thought of it, and learnt to find it amusing.”
“Disability, like anything else that’s a bit scary, can be funny,” he said. “Usually you find people can be a little bit awkward, [for example] if they find a person who’s got vision problems, people will say something like, ‘Do you see what I mean’, and then will be like, ‘Oh my God I said ‘see’! But a person who does have visibility problems has made all the jokes. And usually they’re the first one to make the jokes.
“You can relax around people with disabilities in terms of saying the wrong thing, because the chances are they’ve heard it or thought of it, and learnt to find it amusing at least to a degree.”
He added that there are many misconceptions around the intellectual capabilities of people with a physical disability—such as cerebral palsy.
“One of the great misunderstandings about CP is that the whole thing must be broken. A person’s body isn’t working and if their speech isn’t so good, people figure they’ve got to talk louder and slower, because ‘maybe he’s deaf as well’,” he said.