LISTEN: World's first deaf sketch show filmed in Harrogate

Deaf Funny - Charlie Swinbourne

7:00am 14th February 2017
(Updated 10:05am 20th February 2017)

A pioneering sketch show is being filmed in Harrogate this week.

Producers say 'Deaf Funny' is the world's first TV comedy sketch show in sign language. 

The two programmes are written and directed by Ilkley resident Charlie Swinbourne, who is deaf himself and grew up in a deaf family, and stars a cast of deaf actors and comedians from across the UK.

The sketches are performed in BSL (British Sign Language) and are about deaf culture, with sketches based on real-life experiences.

It's being funded by British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust and is produced by Juggle Productions, based in Harrogate.

The 30-minute programmes are being filmed all this week in and around Harrogate.

Locations include Harrogate Town Football Club, Harrogate Squash Club and Harrogate College.

For Charlie, making the programme is a lifelong dream.

He said: "What I really hope is the deaf audience sees aspects of their life they recognise, and they laugh at that. But I also hope for hearing people they also laugh and enjoy it, and they get an insight into deaf culture at the same time. I think comedy is something that can explain an awful lot."

The programme will be broadcast in late spring/summer, with subtitles for the deaf-impaired on Film 4 and the Community Channel (available on digital TV) and will also be permanently available on the BSL Zone website at

Please find the transcribed interview below:

Presenter: So you may have noticed some particular spots in Harrogate have been turned into a bit of a film set this week, well thats because a brand new comedy sketch show is being filmed here.  Deaf Funny is the world’s first comedy sketch show in sign language and its being filmed here on our doorstep.

Charlie: Hi I’m Charlie Swinbourne I’m the writer / director of Deaf Funny, its the world’s first televisions sketch show in sign language and its got defa actors who are staring in it, I’m partially deaf and I’ve written and directed it and its based on all my experiences of growing up in deaf culture, I grew up in a deaf family and I’ve used sign language from a young age and its all about all the things that i have noticed over the years ad I’ve turned into a sketch show.  Many people notice that on television will often see an interpreter on the corner of the screen but what happened a few years ago was that all the channels, they realised that if they put all that money into a pot they could actually fund programmes made in sign language so its much better for the deaf audience to see dramas acted with deaf actors, and documentaries featuring deaf people than to always have people in the corner of the screen, because its means that programmes are being shown directly in their language which is much more direct and much more natural I think as a way of enjoying a programme.  The programmes are really aimed at being seen by both audiences, the primary audience is the deaf audience, but every programme has subtitles on it and many programmes have voiceover.  So it is very accessible to a hearing audience and I personally think this programme will really hope that many hearing people will watch it because hidden in all these sketches are parts of deaf life that are very unique to the deaf experience and i think if a hearing person watched it, they would get a real sense of that culture that they otherwise wouldn’t get.

Presenter: The programme stars a cast of deaf actors and comedians from all over the UK.  These interviews were done alongside a translator.

My name is John Smith: So some signs look like they are swear words, so this one here with you middle fingers up, this is the sign for holiday.  But a hearing person would see that and think whoah no, no, no but thats because they don’t know what the signs are for.  i thinks its going to be really good because a hearing person is going to watch this programme and also gain a bit of awareness and this is every day life and a hearing person wouldn’t know this.  Most TV programmes cover hearing people’s issues and there is no deaf specific issues so its very rare, so its very good that this programme is mediating a culture difference.

Presenter: This is the first time Nadeem has acted in short sketch.

Nadeem: i would like them to take away from the programme that there’s a texture to the deaf world, there’s a substance.  We don’t only want deaf people to know what we’e talking about we want to allow hearing people to see what the defa world is like.  Also i would like hearing people and deaf people to accept 'deafnithicity’ and as well as an Asian man and a young man and I’m deaf so I’m in both worlds, the hearing world, the mainstream world, the Asian and the white so, you know, some people think you can’t do that be in all of these different worlds but as an actor I can show them, that yes I can.

Presenter: Here’s Matt.

Matt: Obviously hearing programmes that have a variety of characters in them, across races, different sexes, I think the idea is to portray everyone as equal so finally we have a deaf led programme that is applicable to the hearing world.  Hopefully this will broaden horizons for deaf  people everywhere.  My character wants to explore Harrogate, wants to see different places but my friend is absolutely obsessed with going to the pub. 

Charlie: One of our main sketches is about two deaf men who are friends and one of them just loves going to the pub, and he just genuinely I do know deaf people who love pubs, as lot of hearing, non deaf people do as well.  I think deaf people love that its a very reliable place you can go to, and often communication tricky so when you know what a place is like in any city, then you go there.  So this sketch is about one guy who kind of doesn’t like the pub and another guy who really does and each one has got this punch line where the guy reveals that he’s going to go there, no matter what.

Hi I’m Ian Bevitt I’m part of the production team for Juggle Productions based in Harrogate, and we’re making a programme called Deaf Funny for BSLBT which is The British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust.

Presenter: These aren’t the first programmes that Juggle have made with Charlie.  Its a partnership of deaf and hearing programme makers sharing skills.

Ian: What I’ve learnt from it is that some of the use of visual humour, you don’t necessarily need words to make things funny and I think every day you can learn something fresh about comedy and how to tell story.  And the way that Charlie is setting up his actors to tell that story is really interesting and very ingenious in many ways, and we’re all learning all the time.  We’re based in Hornbeam Park, the production company itself is Juggle Productions is based in Harrogate.  We will be filming at Harrogate College extensively, we’re based at the Park Inn and the Premier Inn which is where the production base is.  We’re also filming at Harrogate Town Football Club and the Harrogate Squash Club, all these venues have been really kind to us and let us come and film at their facilities to film for what is essentially a charity production, and they’ve been really kind to us so we’re very grateful for that.

Presenter: You can catch the programme on Film Four and the Community Channel in spring.

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