Ayrshire Magazine interview by Sergio Burns
In his own personal darkness he tells me, “It is all done tongue-in-cheek and has a nice refreshing
It was obvious he was excited about the TV show.
I am talking to visually impaired comedian Jamie MacDonald about Blind Ambition the BBC Two documentary he co-presents with director Jamie O’Leary (who is also dealing with losing his sight).
“Normally when you get a programme about disability,” Jamie continued, “there is some kind of tragic element to it or a truth comes out at the end to pull the rug from under the laughs.”
Blind Ambition he tells me is not like that and adds, “It was a really nice project to be involved with.”
It hasn’t been an overnight success. Jamie MacDonald and Jamie O’Leary have been discussing the idea since 2016, and it has proved a long, hard road to take it from kitchen table to screen.
Meanwhile, MacDonald has been kept busy. He became the first blind comedian to take part on a TV panel show when he appeared on BBC Scotland’s Breaking The News. Hosted by Des Clarke, Jamie describes his fellow Glasgow comedian as ‘unbelievably quick and brilliant’.
Jamie also has a BBC Sounds comedy special Blind-sided as well as his own Radio 4 series Life On The Blink.
It is a cheap thought, but how many word plays on loss of sight can this man get away with?
“God, everything has a blind pun in it,” he seems to agree in a weird moment of magic realism.
We both fall silent, no doubt simultaneously considering the idea of synchronicity (meaningful coincidences that appear to come out of nowhere)?
“It is my own series,” Jamie starts up again, “and it has just been recommissioned. So there will be a series two of Life on the Blink.”
MacDonald also appeared as football bigot ‘Mad Uncle Ronnie’ – he laughed and admitted he enjoyed playing the role – in the BBC Scotland sitcom The Scotts and tells me there will also be a second series of this show.
He will also appear on the popular BBC Two series QI.
“I am really looking forward to that,” he said. “I want to go… and pit my wits against the best in the business and that is doing what I love to do. I want to be up there competing and you can do that in comedy with a disability as long as you are good – you can be the best. I strive to be up there with these guys. It was recorded on the 9th of March but I have no idea when it will air.”
I reassure him we will keep an eye on the schedules and he laughs again.
I found Jamie MacDonald talkative, friendly and genuinely funny. I had first caught him one morning while watching Sunday Morning Live. Watching might be too strong a word because, at the time, I was reading the morning newspaper, eating from a bowl of corn flakes and telling the dog to relax, stop barking and we would take him out in 15 minutes.
Jamie came on, I took notice and he was just very funny. He seemed pleased when I told him this and we drifted on to where it all started for him as a stand-up.
“Went to uni, went to another uni,” he told me and chuckled. “I was working in London as a banker.”
He laughed again thinking about those days before comedy.
“My dad’s an accountant, my brother is a banker,” Jamie explained his early career. He thought, “Well I may as well go and give it a crack [but] I didn’t like it. They were doing open mic stuff in a comedy club called The Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch (London) where I did my first gig and I am [suddenly] moonlighting.
“Then the credit crunch hit, got fired, got into it [and] when I started, I loved it. The first set I did… got a laugh. When you are making a roomful of 200 people laugh… Wow, I thought I could do that. Then it started to take off.”
Jamie told me he lives for getting up on stage and doing his set. And this seemed like a good time to ask him about his show – heading for the Edinburgh Festival on August 4-29.
“Yep,” he agrees, “can’t wait.”
He laughs again and pauses a moment.
“Reasonably Adjusted,” he adds, as if explaining his present condition as in ‘I am reasonably adjusted?’
Of course he is speaking about the title of his set.
It is in the Gilded Balloon (one of the top venues at the Edinburgh Festival),” he says, “for the whole run.”
Reasonably Adjusted was originally written for the festival in 2020 and was to be called 2020 Vision – another pun.
“That was the biggest loss to the pandemic,” he continued.
“The loss of that title. This show has been in the pipes for a couple of years now so it is nice to kind of update some of the material… It is a strong show. I tried it out at Edinburgh and Glasgow Stand (comedy clubs) a couple of weeks ago and the response was great.”
It was a good time to ask how he goes about gathering and writing his material for his shows.
“I was thinking about that,” he replies. “Honestly, I was thinking about that question just to myself the other day.”
More magic realism?
“I have no idea how this comes together,” he says thoughtfully, and then reveals, “You start with an idea for a set. You maybe get 10 minutes out of that. Then suddenly the New York Times publishes a poll about the worst thing that can happen to you and blind comes number one. You go right, there is what I am going to hang this show on. You just work hard on it and you just kind of keep polishing it. It is quite a long process but I couldn’t tell you the mechanics of it.”
He just did?
We come to the end of the interview, I thank him and he mentions how he enjoyed our chat.
“Oh!” he says suddenly. “I wrote a radio comedy play over lockdown which I think is coming out on Radio 4Extra. It was meant to go out on Radio Sounds so hopefully that will be coming out.”
Jamie MacDonald is busy and, maybe, reasonably adjusted?