Disability Benefits by Rosie Jones: accessible comedy full of whimsy and huge potential

For Rosie Strawbridge, the new comedy blap by Rosie Jones "perfectly combines the brutal experience of a PIP assessment and subsequent life with whimsy and silliness"



(Photo by Isi Parente on Unsplash)

[Image: a woman sits just out of view on an old television set playing static, in a red shirt with black trousers. Her bright red heeled boot crosses the screen.]


by Rosie Strawbridge


It seems rather fitting to me that Rosie Jones' sitcom pilot was announced only two days after she was called a 'comedian no-one's heard of' by Graham Linehan, a man who hasn't even written since Jones' first television appearance. This comment was Linehan's second regarding Jones' support for transwomen, I suspect he is threatened by Jones' ability to be outrageous without getting suspended from Twitter (yeah, I went there).


For those less obsessive about comedy than myself you may not know why Jones started stand-up. Originally working off-camera, as a researcher and writer for several well-known TV shows, one of Jones’ first jokes was delivered by Jimmy Carr… but he said it wrong, so Jones decided to start stand-up herself to do it better. Aside from comedy, Jones has had roles in Silent Witness and Casualty and has written for the major Netflix series, Sex Education plus has a published children's book, The Amazing Edie Eckhart.


With her background in research and writing, and being a Triple Threat (gay, disabled and a woman), it's no surprise Jones reached our screens as early in her performance career as she did, however, her extensive credits over the last five years is a real testament to producers beginning to see disabled people belong on TV for their talent, not their diversity.


Disability Benefits is a Comedy Blap on All4, written by Rosie Jones and Peter Fellows. The show follows Rosie Dawkins (Jones), a woman with cerebral palsy who, after having her disability benefits cut, gets involved with an old school friend who turns out to be a drug dealer.


I was initially surprised to learn Disability Benefits was about a drug dealer, but by the time I'd finished reading the description, I understood how this was an excellent angle to comedically explore the invisibility many disabled people face. I must confess, however, to worrying the show would be depressing. With its dreary aesthetic, bleak subject, and blunt title, I feared it would be another ‘comedy’ that forgets to be funny. I should have had more faith in Rosie. Disability Benefits perfectly combines the brutal experience of a PIP assessment and subsequent life with whimsy and silliness. There is no caricature in the portrayal of a PIP appeal, I’m sure far too many viewers will relate to Jones’ character being cut off while describing day-to-day struggles and being asked ‘do you soil yourself on a regular basis?’.


With its dreary aesthetic, bleak subject, and blunt title, I feared it would be another ‘comedy’ that forgets to be funny. I should have had more faith in Rosie.


The show is aimed at everyone, I don’t imagine many nondisabled people would feel out of place watching it, but it also has ‘in jokes’ for disabled viewers and their family and friends. While other viewers may find it funny on a surface level that Rosie is mistaken for another disabled person, we know what’s really behind that joke.

Jones never lets you stay depressed, she makes serious points, leaves them with you for a moment, then pulls you back to laughter and happiness. I think we can all learn from that. It’s clear Jones and Fellows have put their hearts and souls into this, the characters are already so developed, they feel like real people, not just cut-outs who’ll be worked on later if a series is picked up.


Throughout just fourteen minutes, Jones educates viewers on the trouble many disabled people have in finding a job, how you must play the system to get disability benefits, and even concisely and comedically explains the cause of cerebral palsy, all whilst making you laugh and telling a truly compelling story. It really is a platform for challenging ableism, in both viewers, and hopefully TV (I do wonder how people working behind the camera were disabled…). There is huge potential for this show, and I truly hope Channel 4 pick it up for a series.


These are just the early days of Rosie Jones' career, and with Disability Benefits being only the first of four Channel 4 commissions plus a fifth show with UKTV Play she has coming up this year, where she'll end up, I have no idea. I however have no doubts that in ten years’ time, young disabled, and nondisabled comics alike, will be citing Rosie Jones as their inspiration for starting comedy.


I started this piece as a review, but frankly, it has become a love letter from one queer, disabled Rosie to another. You’re doing that very specific demographic a good service, and that makes me proud, but it also puts a lot of pressure on me so maybe calm down a bit, yeah? Rosie, you've expressed your hopes for more disabled people in TV, so - I await your call.

 

Rosie is a writer and performer, who specialises in disability, musical theatre and comedy. She is also studying for a degree in biomedical engineering and hopes in the future to combine her creative and technical work to contribute towards a happier, more inclusive world.

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