Rosie Jones is a highly in-demand researcher, a critically acclaimed stand up and a globe-trotting TV dynamo. She also has cerebral palsy – a neurological condition affecting movement and coordination – but that doesn’t slow her down.
“When I meet someone their first emotion is to shit themselves because they’re like ‘Is she drunk? Is she mental? What is she saying?’ I love that because I can think, right, I am going to prove you wrong!” she says.
Rosie has recently come back from the Funny Women awards where she reached the final with the support of her mentor, stand-up comedian Sara Pascoe. “It was only my tenth ever gig” she recalls. “I performed to about 800 people. That’s my biggest audience by about 780 people…”
As a relative newcomer to stand-up, Jones’ background is in television, where she has worked as a researcher for five years.
— sarah worthington (@SarahWorthy) September 29, 2016
“I was so naïve”
Determined to get into television at the end of her degree, she applied to a training scheme: “I thought, I would like a job at Channel 4. I went on the website and they have a trainee scheme for people with disabilities. I applied for that job. For one job! And thank God I got it! Looking back, I was so naïve.”
The year-long Channel 4 Production Training Scheme puts the participants in external production companies. Rosie Jones found herself at Objective, the indie behind hits including Fresh Meat, Peep Show and The Cube.
“Working at Channel 4 for a year was amazing because I got the opportunity to work on so many different shows. [Objective] liked me so they kept me on after the year.” Jones says. The scheme, she says, “was such a great foundation for my TV career.”
Jones is under no delusions about how lucky she was. “I don’t know anyone who has had it as easy as me” she admits. “Because of the scheme, my first job was a junior researcher so I was never a runner – which is a good thing because I am shit at running and you don’t want me to make you a cup of tea!”
However it has not all been ‘Rosie’, she jokes. When the company that she was working at couldn’t afford to keep her on, she found herself “funemployed”, but what was fun turned rapidly downhill.
“It was lovely, and then I got a bit poor. To be honest, it was a down time,” she reflects, turning serious.
It was during that year that she found people’s perceptions acted against her. “I was going for a job and not hearing [back], or they would ring me up and hear my voice and hang up. That happened.”
“I understand if you don’t know me then I might be a bit of a risk, and TV is so competitive. I understand, but at the time I did think ‘I will never work in TV ever again!”
To escape the doldrums of unemployment, Jones enrolled in a National Film and Television School screenwriting class.
The course began in January 2015 and at the same time, the jobs started rolling in. She laughs, “It’s so funny to think: 2014 I did nothing, and then from January 2015 until now I have not slept at all. I don’t know how I am still alive!”
“Yeah, we’re disabled. So what?”
And her credit list reads like a what’s what of hit comedy entertainment shows: from 8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown, to Would I Lie to You? and The Last Leg, her recent credits have sent her near (Manchester) and far (the Paralympic Games in Rio for The Last Leg).
“The Last Leg was the hardest but most incredible show I have ever worked on” she says.
At a recent meet up with the Last Leg team, she says “we all said the same thing: we can’t put our experiences into words because it was so intense.”
A day at The Last Leg during the Rio games involved a 5am start and a 2am bedtime. Jones says, they were “just working so hard and being away from everyone and being in this bubble. Our relationship is so strong. We are family. We all nearly had breakdowns together!”
The Last Leg launched with the Paralympics in 2012 with Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker and has since gone from strength to strength, becoming one of the country’s most popular topical comedy shows and becoming a game changer for the presentation of disability on screen (both Hills and Brooker are disabled).
Jones is proud of the impact of the show. “It’s so great! For the first time it’s saying ‘Yeah, we’re disabled. So what? Who gives a shit? Not us!’”
“Adam [Hills] does so much” she gushes. “He writes the entire script. He’s very much in control. In Rio I don’t think he slept at all! His day would be: get up at five; prepare for that day; write that day; rehearse; do the show; and then straight after he came off air he’d start writing for the next day! How?!”
“I have a lot of pies and no more fingers”
Despite her background in production, comedy is where Rosie’s heart lies: “For me comedy comes hand in hand with disability, because comedy breaks down the fear of disability.”
She realised she could write jokes while working on Cats does Countdown when she answered an open call from her boss for jokes for Jimmy Carr’s opening monologue. “Listening to Jimmy Carr saying my jokes was incredible” she says. “But it made me think ‘Oh! He’s getting my laugh! I wanted that’”
“I don’t laugh at disability” she says. “I make fun of things that have happened to me because I am disabled. I have been making jokes all my life because I use comedy when I meet someone: I’m disabled, but don’t shit yourself, I’m quite funny.”
“I had lines like ‘when I’m drunk I walk straight. It’s when I am sober that I have the problem.”
Because her condition affects her speech, stand-up might not seem like the easiest thing for a cerebral palsy sufferer. “Every word counts,” she insists. “For ages I thought, 'I can’t do stand-up,' because it takes me so frigging long to get to the punchline that people guess what I’ve got to say.”
The solution? Make sure that the audience guess wrong. “My opening line is: As you can tell from my voice, I suffer from being northern. It’s such a silly joke, but in that opening line I have addressed the fact that I am disabled, but I have also given you a laugh.”
So what’s next? “I have a lot of pies, and no more fingers” Jones confesses. “I want to be an assistant producer – that’s my next step. I feel like some day that [being on screen talent] is possible. I’m writing a sitcom at the moment with my mentor Rachel Stubbings – she’s recently written for Trollied. It’s about a girl with cerebral palsy… I don’t know where these ideas come from!” she jokes.