Comedian Chris McCausland: ‘A blind guy throwing axes was a health and safety nightmare’ TV comedy

CHris McCausland, 46, was born in Liverpool and worked in web development until he lost his sight due to retinitis pigmentosa and changed career paths. In his mid-20s he tried stand-up and is now a staple of the comedy scene and TV panels. He hosts the Radio 4 series You heard it here firstrecently appeared in a reality contest scared from the darkness and hosts Channel 4’s travel series The wonders of the world that I can’t see. This summer he’s headlining the comedy stage at Henley Festival.

How’s your new travel series come about?
Once live at the ApolloI’ve been whining weirdly about going on vacation and I can’t handle it. The production company, in their wisdom, said, “Maybe that’s a good idea for a show.”

You describe yourself as a reserved traveller. How reserved were you?
Very. I have terrible heat and I’m afraid of flying. I’m the worst person to sit next to on a flight because I can’t relax. I can’t see the normality around me, so my brain is constantly analyzing every sound or every time the plane rocks back and forth and think, “What was that?” It’s exhausting. I also don’t drink anymore these days, so I can’t even numb my brain in flight until I submit.

What were your most unforgettable moments? the series?
Me and Tom Allen did gladiator training in Rome, which was phenomenally fun. I explain from the off that the whole thing looks great because of the slow motion and the epic music. Then I say, “That’s what it really looked like.” We do it at regular speed with no sound and it’s just two untrained guys grunting. The trip to the Dead Sea with Guz Khan was also great. I can’t swim so it was quite an experience to swim in water where you can’t drown.

You go to Niagara Falls with Liza Tarbuck calling you a “grumpy Scouse Idiot”. is that fair
Yes, probably [laughs]. This was great, partly because Liza is so nice and partly because you experience the falls in an almost multi-sensory way. We did a bit of ax throwing while we were there. I hit the ceiling with a couple of axes but we survived to tell the story. A blind guy wielding axes was a health and safety nightmare. I said, “Quick, let’s get this done before someone does a risk assessment!”

Does blindness sharpen your other senses?
It doesn’t amplify them so much, but rather makes them pay more attention. That’s my problem with the heat. Since I’m not distracted by visuals, I focus more on what I’m feeling. When I’m sitting on the beach I’m like, “God, it’s really freaking hot.” We thought a key theme of the show might be how these places smell. But the truth is, shit smells like shit and donuts smell like donuts. You don’t say, “Ooh, doesn’t the Acropolis smell like Greek?”

Is there a representative for the disabled? improve screen?
Definitive. It’s great that there are people who are able to represent disabilities but also have the experience to do their job properly. There’s no point in rushing artists onto TV before they’re ready. Especially in comedy you need experience to be able to react in the moment. I joke that after 20 years I’m an overnight success. I’ve been performing non-stop since I was 20 and pounding the track tirelessly. So when opportunities to watch TV arise, I have the confidence to be myself and enjoy it.

Chris McCausland in The Wonders of the World I Cannot See.
Chris McCausland in The Wonders of the World I Cannot See. Photo: Channel 4

What does the blind community think of your success?
It was all very positive. My attitude has always been to represent by not hitting you on the head. I think the best way to portray a disability is to make people forget it whenever possible. It’s always a part of you. People are interested, you let them in and laugh about it. But if you can make a show that’s say 80% of the time it’s not about blindness, then talking about it becomes more impactful and fun. I believe in representation within the mainstream. Integration instead of segregation. Don’t do a sketch show with five disabled comedians. Take these five disabled comedians and put them on five different shows. This is the more effective way.

You’re about to headline the comedy tent at Henley Festival. How do you find festival appearances?
I tended to avoid music festivals. I played Reading once and you’re in this huge tent with people coming and going all the time. There is so much movement that it is difficult to deal with it unless you can see the crowd visually. But Henley looks very different – more respectful in front of a seated audience. I don’t think there will be too many people smashing their faces. I will do a mix of stuff from the last tour and some new stuff. Jack Dee and Jo Brand also play, which is good company.

I would be interested to know what you think politicians look like. How do you imagine Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, for example?
I know Boris is described as quite disheveled and with messy hair. I imagine he has a Churchill-esque face: a little chubby with sagging cheeks. As for Trump, I have the image of huge hair up in my head, but I might be thinking of boxing promoter Don King. The two dons are fused in my brain.

How was life in the dark for Channel 4’s reality show? fear of the dark? You seem to have bonded with your roommate, Paul Gascoigne…
Actually, I saw him last night. As a football fan of my generation, I was blown away when Gazza walked in [on the show], but he was shaking and having a panic attack. He faced many difficulties regarding his story and the way he interacts with the world. Some of this is self-inflicted, some is because he was a victim of his own brain, some is because his phone was hacked and the shitty way he was treated. But he’s a very loving, genuine guy and it’s been a privilege to help him get through this show. The whole experience was unexpectedly emotional. At first it seemed like a novelty. Nobody predicted how much depth it would have.

Who were your comedy heroes as a kid?
I was a huge stand up fan and got videos of Alan Davies, Jack Dee and Lee Evans every Christmas. Then in 1996 I bought Eddie Izzard’s Definite article by Woolworths because I liked the look of the cover. It blew my mind! For me Eddie was the epitome of comedy for many years. She subconsciously influenced my comedy by challenging stereotypes and exceeding expectations.

Are you still recognized by kids from your CBeebies series? Me too!?
Yeah, but the shocking thing is they’re all freaking grown up now. It’s adults with jobs who come to my tour shows. Unfortunately, it’s the show with the most inappropriate name. If you google my name, one of the suggested options was always: “Chris McCausland, Me Too”. Anyone who doesn’t know CBeebies has to watch this and be like, “Oh my god, what did that dirty bastard do?”

You won Celebrity Mastermind with Pearl Jam as a specialty. Is this an accurate representation of your taste in music?
Yes, the 90’s grunge scene was my genre. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains. The older I got, the more distinctive my taste became.

What’s in the pipeline for you?
I’ll be there next month [BBC sitcom] Don’t go outside with Lee Mack. I was also involved in writing this episode. Another series of the radio show You heard it here first is probably on the agenda. Otherwise I will prepare the next tour for January. I can’t wait to get back out there as I have some great new stuff in my back pocket. And you never know when the next pandemic will be around the corner.

Her acting roles include that of Jimmy McGovern Go on. Want to do more straight acting?
I’d love to. However, it is quite a niche. I realize I can only play someone who looks my age, is pale and can’t see what he’s doing! We are now at a point where disabled people can be themselves in panel shows or travelogues. Perhaps the next step is the loose representation in the drama. Where the disability isn’t the driving force of the story, just a side issue of the character.

Is it true that you almost became a spy?
Yes, I finished in the bottom 30 out of 3,000 for MI5 selection. Eventually I was rejected because of my eyesight. Fair play. It is perfectly acceptable to discriminate in the interest of the nation’s security [laughs]. The task was to identify and target terrorist threats, which of course has to be done in a limited amount of time. They said, “Honestly, we just think it’s going to take too long.” I was like, “Okay, that’s reasonable. I don’t want this burden around my neck!”

Chris McCausland plays at the Henley Festival, which takes place from July 5th to 9th. Tickets for his 2024 UK tour, Yonks!, are on sale now.

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