Rosie Jones appeared eight times, she specifies, on telly last year – and her show Backward is about how her life has changed as a result. The impact isn’t conspicuous on her comedy, which still majors in mischief and in torpedoing disability pieties. But TV success has opened up a confusion for Jones away from the stage, between how she’s lionised by those who recognise her, and – dispiritingly – often abused by those who don’t.
“Who’s right?”, she asks in her thoughtful closing section, and “Who am I?” – which (post-Hannah Gadsby) counters all those gleeful jokes about her cerebral palsy with an acknowledgment that all is not always Rosie in the Jones garden. But the keynote here is joy, writ large across Jones’s beaming face as she deploys one gag after another sending up the solemnities that surround disability.
“I am,” she begins, “a triple threat: I’m disabled, I’m gay – and I’m a prick.” Many is the joke (like the one about auditioning for street dance troupe Diversity) that seems to be about Jones’s disability – before revealing itself to be about that key third characteristic. Jones’ slow speech is her ally here: she lets us formulate her punchlines in our heads, then pulls the rug with a different – usually darker – laugh line entirely.
In relating the last year of her life, Backward divides between jokes on newfound fame and on Jones’s love life. There’s a section to rival Stewart Lee’s routine about being named 41st best standup ever, as Jones is listed – much to her bewilderment – as the UK’s 96th most powerful lesbian. Another skit finds our host writing a sex scene for the object of her lewd attentions, Gillian Anderson.
While part of the joke is that people with disabilities are seldom depicted in terms of sexiness, Jones overplays that hand. I’m not sure the wanking gags, or her excitement when an ambulance appears with two lesbian paramedics, quite justify themselves. But more often the jokes (like the Harry Potter one about a relationship in which she over-invested) are well-crafted and on point. Seldom can an hour in a prick’s company have been more enjoyable.
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