In 1995, a doctor called Madan Kataria from India made it his mission to help people de-stress through ‘laughter clubs’. These quickly spread around the globe and resulted in the creation of World Laughter Day in 1998. It is now observed on the first Sunday of May.

To celebrate the day, I spoke to Jamie MacDonald – a blind, Glaswegian comedian who lives with his wife in Sheffield. The 43-year-old began losing his sight at 16 due to a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. He has since gone on to complete degrees, try his hand as a high-flyer in the city, and become an award-winning stand-up comic. In this interview, Jamie talks about his career to date and why he believes humour is a powerful tool for challenging disability stereotypes.

Image show Jamie smiling happily. He is wearing a dark grey sweatshirt and is stood in front of a slightly darker grey background.

Q: What were you like as a child?

A: I come from a very funny family and growing up, the house was filled with laughter. We’d all sit around the table – me, my mum, my dad, my brother- and we’d banter with each other. It was quite competitive actually. I was also a cheeky little guy at school. It was the nineties then, and it was Glasgow, so as you can imagine, the banter was pretty aggressive. The world is a lot nicer now.

Q: How did you get into comedy?

A: After school, I studied Ancient History at St Andrews, before reading law at Aberdeen University. I then moved to London, after graduating in 2006, and got a job in corporate banking. I didn’t like it though, and I quickly started moonlighting and doing open mic nights at the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch. While I loved it, I never considered it as a career. I thought: how am I going to justify quitting a high-paying job to become a comedian? Then in 2008, the credit crunch hit and I got fired along with a load of other people. I didn’t apply for more jobs because I was quite crap at banking to be honest. I also wanted to give the whole comedy thing a proper go. So that’s what I did, and my career officially started in 2013.

Q: Blindness features a lot in your material. Why do you think it is important to highlight this and also make fun of yourself?

A: At the beginning, I wasn’t sure if to mention the blindness. But then I thought, of course I should. Comedy is all about having a USP, and my blindness was something I have over other people. I also wanted the audience to know they were coming to a blind comedian’s show, because I think you need to be honest with your audience. So, I called my first Edinburgh Fringe show “That Funny Blind Guy”, and there was a poster with my head busting through a Venetian blind.

Another reason why I talk about blindness in my shows is because there’s this misconception that people with disabilities are always miserable, which is just not the case. My disabled friends are some of the funniest, happiest people I know. They crack on with things. They’re very good copers and problem solvers, and they’re not afraid to make fun of themselves. For me, laughing your way out of a situation is much better than being miserable.

Q: Throughout your career so far, what has been the response from the press and public?

A: I’ve had amazing support from people, and some really positive reviews in papers like The Scotsman and The Telegraph. I did have one crazy experience though, when I became the centre of a Twitterstorm in 2022. It was following my appearance on Have I got News for You on the BBC. If you’ve ever seen the show, you’ll know there are picture rounds and the producers and I thought it would be funny for me to shout out random guesses when the pictures came up. Unfortunately, some viewers misinterpreted our joke and all these people started getting really angry on Twitter, saying the BBC hadn’t made adaptations. It was mad. I had to release a statement to say that I’d absolutely loved my time on the show and at no point had I felt excluded.

Q: In 2022, you won ‘best presenter’ at the Grierson Awards for your BBC documentary Blind Ambition. How did the doc come about?

A: I met this TV presenter guy called Jamie O’Leary who was facing eye surgery and he said he was looking to make a show about blind creatives. I thought it sounded great and he kind of recruited me as his sidekick to front the programme. We were meant to be going all around the country to interview artists, but it was lockdown so we were a bit restricted. We still managed to talk to some amazing people though including a blind rapper, an opera singer, a photographer and a wood turner. Ultimately, we wanted to show that blindness doesn’t stop you from being creative or from achieving your vision.

Q: As disabled people, many of us experience awkward/funny moments in our day to day lives. Can you tell us about any you have had recently?

A: There’s a lot more awareness than there was thirty years ago. However, that comes at a price, because people are more cautious around disability and they sometimes end up doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. For example, not long ago I bought a coffee from a train trolley and it was really odd: the lady blew on it for me.

Q: Last month, you performed at the Glasgow Comedy Festival with your latest show “Toxic Bastard”. What inspired this title?

A: The premise was: white, middle-class, straight, able-bodied men are now seen as the pariahs of the world. They have fallen from grace. And in a funny sort of way, I feel survivor’s guilt, because I used to be that man. When I was 14, I was shaping up to be a right little toxic bastard. But I ended up taking the coward’s route by going blind which means I’m supposedly not toxic anymore.

I also wanted to show that just because you have a disability, it doesn’t make you a good person. We’re forever being portrayed as lovely and innocent. But the truth is, we can be arseholes too.

Q: Can you share your top tips for any budding VI comedians?

A: I’d say two things. Firstly, know your material. You want to be able to just reel it off when you get to the mic. Secondly, be on time. That’s very important. Comedy nights run on slots and if you’re given a five-minute slot, it has to be five minutes.

Q: What is your ultimate career goal?

A: I want to do more TV shows, and eventually I would love to try and get a Netflix special.

Interview written by Charlotte Bateman.

Find out more about Jamie MacDonald here:
Follow Jamie on X (Twitter): @funnyblindguy

Thank you to Jamie for chatting to us. In honour of  World Laughter Day we’d love to hear your funny stories and jokes in the comments below!

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