The title of this particular show, we soon learn, comes from a nickname disabled comedian Aaron Simmonds was saved as on the phone of a hook-up five years ago. The funny thing is – and there’s many things which are funny in the hour-long production – is that the moniker wasn’t exactly a bad thing but rather something more positive and impressive.
Simmonds, who has cerebral palsy and is an ambulatory wheelchair user (that is, someone who only uses a wheelchair when needed and can stand when they so wish), comes armed with many jokes about stairs and standing up. So playful and seamless with these two scenarios is Simmonds that I feel I can describe his work as stand-up without being seen as insensitive.
And it’s that anxiety and awkwardness around disability – more present in non-disabled people, though, it must be said – to which Simmonds is wonderfully receptive. In addition to the routine, there’s the occasional sprinkling of off-the-cuff gags and snappy reactions to audience feedback. He knows they use the disabled toilets, and uses the crowd’s response as confirmation.
There are some repetitive jokes, as the comedian doubles back on jokes about his Uber rating and soft drink nicknames given to his parents, but they still get a laugh the second time around. Similarly, the connection to previous stories in the routine are smooth and effortless.
Although Simmonds is an atheistic Jew, there’s quite a lot of talk about Jesus in all of the ways the son of God could possibly be embodied – drunkards and ministers being the main two – and the anecdotes thrive on just how outlandish the situations are, and the unspoken fact that the audience somewhat know where the story is going next. He plays with their expectations and subverts them masterfully. Stories about the Paralympics and his first encounter with Christ (not really) are hysterical.
Equally, he also sees it as a learning opportunity, emphasising that some wheelchair users can stand and walk unaided and deconstructing the harmful binary misconception still present in society. He has us anticipating every punchline and catches us off-guard, right up to when the lights go down, and it is joyous.
Aaron Simmonds: Hot Wheels is now playing at the Pleasance Courtyard, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2022, until 29 August.
It also has two performances at London’s Soho Theatre on 12 and 13 August.
Production Images: Steve Ullathorne.