“Wing disability, drink disability, wear disability, fake disability, snog disability, f**k disability.” – Katherine Araniello.
Me and my mug of tea were part of the most diverse audience I had ever seen. People of all different ages, ethnicities, sexualities and abilities had gathered at The Yard to see she whom they call “Queen of Crips Lady K.”
The show opens with techy beats accompanying a mock music video featuring Katherine Araniello, which finishes with her roaring in place of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer lion. With hair a mane of vibrant orange, hideously applied makeup and a stare wilder than the lion itself, Araniello challenges: “are you ready for this?”
I was not.
She comes on stage while a break-dancer, a Deaf Interpreter and Daniel Oliver, her co-producer, obsessively point at her. In what first seems like a Tadaa here she is introduction, on second thought, mocks those that ogle at disability. In fact, more complexly, Araniello parodies the sensitivity of social etiquette that all-too-precariously warns “don’t point and stare.” Araniello points right back at displays of pettiness and pity, and not with her forefinger.
In an explanation for why she is late to the show, she talks about her journey when she accidentally clipped a cyclist. With total nonchalance she slowly reveals that he may now be paralysed for life. What seems like no laughing matter is dismissed with an “oops” and the reassurance: “but that’s good, we don’t need to have a diverse society, everyone can go around in wheelchairs, that’s fine.”
The pity parody is in full swing when Araniello is force-fed an entire tube of Pringles. The audience are made to feel uncomfortable as they watch the artist with SMA, immobile and unable to prevent what is being done to her. Only when her assistant piles over 20 crisps into Araniello’s mouth while crumbs cascade down her front do I realise what she is getting at. Araniello pushes our discomfort to the limit to mock the notion of pity and challenge preconceptions of fragility and powerlessness that accompany the discourse of disability.
In a karaoke number Araniello spins fairy-tale narratives into pornographic stories, throwing the question of PC out the window. The Araniello Show twists taboos and rejects decorum as it plays with the type of crudity that comes with a big red 18+ warning.
Personally, I found the vulgarity tacky. And that’s the point. SickBitchCrips, Araniello’s comedy company, denounced the show before its release. They warned it will leave a “mediocre, dull aftertaste” like “biting into semi-coagulated library paste.” With tack, lewdness and in-your-face unruliness, they leave no room for vulnerability.
Katherine Araniello brushes off hindering stereotypes of disability, declines offers of pity and laughs in the faces of taboos and labels in a way that leaves the stage a mess, the audience bewildered and herself empowered.
On four wheels, she leads DAG (the Disabled Avant-Garde) with unfaltering speed.