COMEDIAN AIDAN Bishop was not diagnosed with dyslexia until three years ago, at the age of 28.
His first on-stage mention of his dyslexia came only in April this year. Now he is at the Edinburgh Fringe performing Misspelled, an hour-long comedy show about his experience growing up with undiagnosed dyslexia, attracting the acclaim of support organisations.
“Dyslexia communities are spreading the word. That’s something I did not expect when I was coming over here,” says Bishop, who grew up in New York but now lives in Ireland.
“Word of mouth is better than anything, you know. I’m surprised by how many people are getting behind it and how many dyslexics are coming to the show.”
In the show, which he hopes to tour in Ireland, Bishop explains how the left side of the brain is used for reading, but for people with dyslexia, the right side jumps in. Asking someone in the audience who does not have dyslexia to read out loud, he personifies the right side of the brain, reinventing it as a heckler with a hillbilly accent. “You murder your own inspirational thoughts,” is how he describes his attempts to write school essays.
Bishop, who is the younger brother of fellow comedian Des Bishop, runs through a list of common myths about dyslexia: that people with dyslexia are lazy; that they see words in reverse; and that they think in pictures. “The only time I think in pictures is when the broadband is down,” he jokes. (It’s an adult show.)
He takes issue with people who complain about additional time granted in exams to students with dyslexia. “You don’t say about the guy in a wheelchair, ‘How come he gets a ramp?’” But the myth that clearly hurts most is the myth that dyslexia affects intelligence.
He is prone to phonological slips (confusing words that sound similar), which traditionally has prompted some ribbing from his family, he jokes on stage.
He might note that “Scorsese isn’t doing enough” about the euro zone crisis, meaning to say Sarkozy. Before he can correct himself, his brother will have dived into a Martin Scorsese-style mafioso impression: “Yo, Greece, where is my money?”
A review on Dyslexia Scotland’s website describes the show as both funny and heart-rending. “This is a ‘cool’ and sincere young man on a mission to tell the world about dyslexia in a light-hearted fashion and he deserves our support,” it concludes.
“It’s a whole different world,” says Bishop of the time since his diagnosis. “You spend the majority of your life thinking you’re stupid and then you find out what’s going on and it helps you a lot in different areas of your life – with your self-esteem.
“That’s the other reason why I wanted to do the show: if there are any adults out there who have had similar struggles to me, they might go out, maybe, and get themselves diagnosed. Because even though they may have a job, and things may be going all right, it’s good to know for your overall wellbeing.”
Bishop is not the first comedian to talk about having dyslexia – Eddie Izzard, Billy Connolly, Robin Williams and Ross Noble also have dyslexia. But, as far as he is aware, he is the first to base a show on the subject.
“It’s my most personal show. It was very hard to talk about it at the start. But then the more you do it the more you want to do it, because it also takes away from that misconception about dyslexia, that it’s a real serious thing. It’s not that serious, it’s not that big of a deal, so it’s good to talk about it and clear up some of the misconceptions that are around.”