‘I can’t believe I’ve written a sketch with Harry Hill’
Comedians Harry Hill and Jonathan Pie are two of the famous names taking part in a charity comedy night organised by a severely disabled young man.
Irving McCormick, 23, from Cambridge, has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which means he needs a specialist wheelchair that enables him to be supported into the standing position.
The name for his show, Stand Up with Irving, which he named after his hope for the new chair, is taking place at the Cambridge Junction and has won so much admiration and support it’s attracted the backing of famous comedy stars and has even prompted a career first for national TV favourite and supporter Harry Hill, the event .
Irving says, “I’m very excited to host the show and it’s been a dream talking to and working with some of the UK’s biggest comedy stars.”
Harry Hill explains, “These last six months have been a tough time for young people - and particularly for those with disabilities so I’m really looking forward to teaming up with the very funny Irving McCormick in supporting Total Arts - it’ll be my first time as part of a double act!”
The arts, including comedy, have made such a difference to Irving’s life that he’s decided to begin fundraising to allow other disabled people to be able to enjoy them too.
During the summer, supported by Cambridge Junction and Peter Harmer of Stories Projects in Film, Irving raised £25,000 for a new wheelchair for himself because government support wasn’t available.
They received donations through a crowdfunding page with a film by Peter, a quiz night at Cambridge Junction, and grants and donations.
Now Irving’s new chair is on order and should be delivered before Christmas.
Having reached the fundraising target for his new wheelchair, and undeterred by lockdown, Irving is hosting a night of comedy to raise money for a new fund to support local young people with disabilities to enjoy the arts.
This stand up show celebrates that with his new chair he will be standing up again soon.
Irving said, “Anyway I needed a standing wheelchair, because people just see me sitting down all the time and think I’m a lazy so and so!”
Having received such a generous response to his crowdfunding campaign for a new wheelchair, Irving met the target before he’d held the comedy night he was already planning.
The comedians all agreed the live comedy they were donating could be used to raise money for a new fund to support young people with disabilities access the arts.
So the money raised from the comedy night will create Irving’s Access the Arts Fund which will be administered by Cambridge Junction.
Irving said: “I am a bit star struck at the moment because I still can’t believe I will be doing a double act with harry hill as part of the show. I’m very excited about the show. I never thought this would happen in a million years. After this I want to do more comedy and more collaborations
“Harry helped me to see how to have fun and be funny and not worry about looking stupid.After lockdown I'd like to do some more live performances, I’m really interested in stand up routines and some comedy shows. I’m writing material all the time.
“Peter introduced me to Harry because he knows his family. Harry and I met during lockdown on Zoom and I've written the sketches with him which are a bit of banter between Harry and me and the ending is similar to his TV Burp show - with a fight!
“He is brilliant to work with and really funny and down to earth. He’s really helped me to develop my comedy.
“He has been a kind of mentor. We got a script together and I just need to make sure I can remember everything, so I’m a bit nervous.
“I will be on stage during the event while Harry will do a zoom link. And there will even be Harry Hill's most famous bit where he has a fight with me to see who is best. We have to use a body double for that bit.
“I love Harry’s delivery and his ability to get everyone laughing and his silly humour. I’ve always been a fan of his.
“I would like to be a professional comedian. I write all my own material and I like to talk about funny little anecdotes about my life and I am a very quick witted human being.
“I think the silver lining for me that has come out of lockdown is that where usually these comedians would have been very busy on tour, they were all just at home over the summer. So when I asked for help they were actually available and I’m really grateful they have decided to help me out."
Irving’s dad, Shaun, is amazed by the response to his son’s show. He says; “Harry has sent a six minute sketch in which the energy he put into it is brilliant; it's just like a TV Burp sketch. Irving gave him an idea where they have an argument over who is funnier. Irving came up with the idea and wrote some jokes for it. Harry insisted that Irving had to write it all but then he helped Irving to restructure it. There Have been dozens of emails going backwards and forwards and the result is really funny. It’s incredible to see this. It gives you a lift as a father to see this happening and I’m so grateful to all of them.”
Stand Up with Irving is being recorded in the celebrity comedians’ homes and at Cambridge Junction.
One of Irving's comedy heroes, Jonathan Pie, has also agreed to get involved. Irving says: “I watch a lot of comedians. I started watching a lot of Jonathan Pie's videos and I decided to do some form of comedy myself. I thought maybe I could do that.
Irving adds: “Working with Total Arts and The Junction has been life changing. I’ve met lots of friends there over the years and I want to give something back with this fundraising as well. I’ve also been working at The Junction in customer service for two years.”
Irving developed his interest in film as a member of Total Arts, Cambridge Junction’s arts group for young people with disabilities.
He is a founder member of the group, set up ten years ago. He is also a member of the front of house staff team at Cambridge Junction.
Irving was so inspired by the workshops he attended with Total Arts, where he particularly enjoyed making comedy films, that he went on to study performing arts at A level and he has just completed a film studies degree.
Irving says: “I want to help get other young people into the arts because I have so many opportunities and I want to give disabled people like me the same opportunities. It would be nice to give something back and help other people.
Because working in the arts has changed my life completely. And I wouldn’t be doing this now if it wasn't for the opportunities I had through Total Arts.
I wouldn’t be working with Harry Hill if I hadn’t had these opportunities. The honey we're raising is for total arts which gives young people access to different art forms.”
And now, with the help of one of his teachers at Total Arts, filmmaker Peter Harmer, he has even met one of his greatest comedy influences - Jonathan Pie.
Irving says: “My biggest comedy hero has always been Jonathan Pie. I told Peter Harmer who is organising the comedy night that I would love him to be involved and Pete managed to get in touch with someone who knows him.
“I’ve watched everything he has done and I love him because he doesn't hold back with his rants, he gets to the point and he is very clever with his humour.
“We went to see him live last year and I really liked it. It is right up my street, I enjoy a comedy rant.
I think people will be more inclined to listen to him when he talks about the wheelchair problems I have faced.
“I have chatted to him over Zoom and it was pretty surreal. I’m really inspired by Jonathan’s stuff but in my own comedy I like to do a range of humour because I like other forms of comedy like Harry Hill and Lucy Porter's. I'm open to other forms of humour.”
Lucy is another comedian who has offered to send in a pre-recorded sketch to the comedy night.
The reason Irving needed a new wheelchair was that he is stuck in a fixed seated position which means his circulation can be impaired after hours every day in the chair.
Dad Shaun says: “Irving is quite severely disabled. Some people can still move around but Irving is stuck in one position with the new chair. With the new chair he will be able to push a button and make himself stand up and stretch out which will help his circulation. He hasn’t been able to do that for over a year. He sits in that position all day so when you put him to bed his body is shaped like the position he is in his wheelchair. This is how it affects him. It’s not good. We weren’t trying to get anything extra, just what he needs. I’m proud he has managed to raise the money and delighted that he will now be raising money for other young people with disabilities.”
Peter Harmer, who helped set up the comedy night, says: “I’m a filmmaker practitioner and for many years I worked with Total Arts, where I have known Irving for about ten years, and I do a lot of work with the junction such as work with schools and charities.
“When I saw Irving was raising money for a new wheelchair that goes into a standing position I thought is there anything I can do to help with that so I got in touch and offered to make a video with him to put on his fundraising page to raise a bit more awareness on Facebook.
Then I had this idea that it would be fun to do a comedy night. Irving has always loved comedy and the whole stand up wheelchair thing made me think we need to do a stand up comedy night. So we started contacting comedians without realising how successful the original fundraising would be. We actually raised the 25k we needed to buy the wheelchair for Irving because the old one was in a really bad condition, before we put on the comedy night.
“We no longer needed the money for the wheelchair so we decided we could do more to help other young disabled people.”
The fund Irving’s stand up night will raise money for is called Access The Arts and will help other young adults have opportunities in performance, painting, filmmaking and comedy. Peter used his contacts to bring in Harry Hill, whose niece he knew from university.
“Harry was immediately up for helping,” says Peter. “He loved the idea and the reason behind it.”
“He has been working with Irving on a short script which we are going to record as a little promotional video. How amazing is it for Irving to have written a script in collaboration with Harry hill? He was really encouraging, really fun. In the first zoom call we had with him he quickly showed us his Chris Whitty doll, which is his latest creation that he is enjoying playing with. Irving was a little bit star struck. He didn't say much at first but then we talked afterwards and he couldn't quite believe we were going to put on this show with Harry hill. Irving’s other real favourite, because he is quite political, is Jonathan Pie. And i thought well we have Harry now let's shoot for the starsand see what we can do.”
Luckily, the comedian was more than happy to come on board and is preparing one of his famous ‘rants’ for the evening.
Peter says: “The reason we set this up is because Irving was unable to get the support he needed in the first place to get the basic stuff he needs.
“So Jonathan asked Irving about his experiences. He said, show me the emails telling me why it has been hard for you to get access to the new wheelchair that you need. Tell me how bad it has got for the last few years. And he said he will write the piece he is doing much closer to the time to make it up to date and relevant and spontaneous.
“He is going to do a piece about that side of it which I think will be funny but will have a serious side. We are thrilled he is involved.”
With new friends in show business and plenty of ideas up his sleeve it seems Irving may be able to continue with his comedy work.
Peter says: “I really hope this is the start of a career for Irving. He is doing what he loves right now, writing and performing. He has written his own sitcom about the lives of young people with disabilities and taking the mickey out of how other people perceive people with disabilities. It’s clever stuff and needs to be handled sensitively but he really has a good handle on that he’s a funny guy. I'm sure he will go far. And now he knows Harry Hill he can be sending him his scripts and getting good feedback. He’s in a good place.”
The show with be livestreamed on Cambridge Junction’s Facebook page on Friday 20 November at 8pm: https://www.facebook.com/cambjunction
It will also be streamed on some of the participating comedians’ Facebook pages.