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Meet the neurodiverse artist tackling ADHD and autism stigma through comedy

Meet the neurodiverse artist and theatre maker who's breaking the silence of ADHD and (especially) autism stigma through stand-up comedy
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Victoria Melody is a British visual and performance artist and theatre-maker. She is an anthropologist and she loves to immerse herself in communities in Britain and make shows about those communities.

She’s heading to Manchester for her new show Head Set…

Victoria studied Visual Arts at university and she has always been interested in Britain’s niche communities. Melody embedded herself in these communities for around four years and she’s got quite a track record when it comes to different jobs/roles. Victoria has been: a pigeon racer, a northern soul dancer, a beauty queen (Mrs Brighton 2011), a championship dog show handler, and a police officer. For Head Set, she became a stand-up comedian. 

“I always find these communities by accident.” She tells me when I ask what inspired her to write this show. “When I got interested in the whole amateur comedy scene, I was like this is fascinating and so I wanted to do an anthropological-like documentary almost on the amateur comedy scene,”

It’s a different take on the way a show is made. “My dad was misdiagnosed with a terminal illness, and he asked me to organise his funeral, then I became a funeral director because I found that industry fascinating.”

Victoria goes on to tell me about how she and her father put on a show about funeral directing but she came to the realisation that this job was a difficult one and the show was a financial disaster.

“What else can I do? How else can I repurpose my skills? So, then I decided to become a stand-up comedian, so that’s where the initial inspiration came.”

Why are women undiagnosed with ADHD and autism?

We get to the topic of women being undiagnosed when it comes to ADHD and autism, and I wanted to get Victoria’s take on it. “Okay, easy, it’s because all science tests, everything is based around men. Even seatbelts in cars are tested on men.” So, with everything aimed towards men and the science only being researched around men, it’s no wonder women go undiagnosed for so long.

“Hans Asperger basically said it was only men that have autism and so there’s two reasons. The sort of medical model is based around men, the patriarchy means we care more about men. There’s a lot more stuff about erectile dysfunction than there is about menopause.”

There is no lie in that statement, as the wait for a genealogist is at least a year or two. “Women mask. So, we’re very good at masking. Men very often will be like, these are symptoms, whereas women are like no I need to fit in. I’m a people pleaser.” 

Is neurodivergent a superpower?

Being neurodivergent means your brain works differently to people who aren’t. I asked Victoria if she viewed her neurodivergence as a superpower as she gets incredible opportunities. “In some ways, it’s very disabling. There are pros. My brain is amazing, it’s unique. And as an artist, I come up with these amazing ideas that people wouldn’t think of.”

It’s a given that as an artist, we use our experiences to come up with ideas and our interests for shows, and ADHD makes it so you have many interests and you’re fascinated by many topics. “On the other side of that I get very overwhelmed, I get exhausted. My brain is working I don’t know how many times, at least twice as fast as a normal or typical brain, just trying to keep up with everything.”

That is a downside to having ADHD as trying to be an artist can be overwhelming but when your brain doesn’t work the same as everyone else. “I have found self-acceptance but I do struggle with it and I do still feel humiliated and sometimes I still feel like a massive baby.” People with ADHD do feel like that as they don’t operate in the same way as other people but Victoria Melody believes we should all “Treat ourselves the way we would treat our best friends.” And I find that a lovely sentiment. 

How art and humour tackles difficult subject matters

Russell Howard is a person who uses humour to inform his audience of the dangers of this world and it’s a brilliant way of informing audiences of certain topics. I asked Victoria if that was what she intended. “I think through humour or any art really, you can really tackle really difficult subjects. It’s a way of being entertaining while still getting the message across.”

There are a lot of pieces of art that use art and humour to inform people of difficult subjects, but it is also a very brave thing to do. Most people wouldn’t use their humour to risk talking about taboo subjects. “We listen to humour because if we’re being ranted at we shut off.” 

The new comedy show about self-acceptance

It is a unique show and after meeting Victoria and hearing what she has to say, I believe everyone should try and watch this show. How would she ‘sell’ Head Set? “People should come and watch the show if they are interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the stand-up comedy scene, specifically the amateur comedy scene. But if you also like theatre. It really is a show about self-acceptance and what happens when we behave in a way society doesn’t approve of.”

Victoria Melody will perform Head Set at the Edge in Chorlton on the 19th of October. To book tickets, please click here.

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