real life

Comedian Alexandra Hudson has a disability. She's not your 'inspiration porn'.

Every year the Melbourne International Comedy Festival hosts Raw Comedy, a national search for emerging voices in the comedy industry. 

Previous winners have included the likes of Hannah Gadsby, Aaron Chen, and Celia Pacquola. This year the honour was shared between Brisbane mother-of-three, Bron Lewis, and 34-year-old disability support worker from Ballina in NSW, Alexandra Hudson.

I was there in the audience. When I saw Alexandra win, I cried.

I have to declare a vested interest in this story. Alexandra was one of my students. 

Watch: Interacting with people with disabilities. Post continues after video. 


Video via Columbia Office of Human Rights.

I know her story and how hard she’s worked. Claiming victory wasn't just a moment for Alexandra; it sent a message to other people with disabilities that the space also belonged to them.

Alexandra has cerebral palsy. She was born a triplet, with a non-disabled brother and sister. For Alexandra, while the accolade was amazing and definitely on her bucket list, it was also about being seen.

"Representation matters," she says. "I never saw myself represented... I would love to make comedy spaces more accessible."

As a comedian myself, I am guilty of viewing my profession from an ableist lens. We all do it. The world is built by able-bodied people for able-bodied people.

It had never occurred to me that Alexandra was more nervous about falling on stage than she was about performing. With 30 years of experience as a standup, I’ve never had to worry about access, and how that might impact my performance. I just worried people wouldn’t laugh.

"I have fallen getting on stage – it’s happened a few times," Alexandra reveals. "There have been a few gigs where I needed help with a big step. Once I get up there, if I thought I was going to fall, my whole set might sound weird because I am in a panic state and my muscles are freaking out."

Often, theatres and venues are built with disabled access to the audience area, but no consideration is given for a person with disabilities who may need to access the stage as a performer. This tells us that people with disabilities are passive onlookers, not commanding and in control in an active space.

"If access is difficult for me, it takes away from my performance," Alexandra says. "During my performance, I am often worrying more about getting up and getting off. You just want to come out there and be a strong performer...

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"Although, in saying that, it's sometimes handy when the audience immediately realises I have a disability. I am blunt. I don’t mince words. I might come across as sweet and innocent and younger than I am, but I have had a lot of experiences and I articulate them strongly. It sometimes works in my favour they see me as this stereotypical person with a disability."

There was no worry about accessing the stage at Melbourne Town Hall for her grand final performance. Alexandra took centre stage and won the crowd from hello.

But in telling her story, I’m mindful this doesn’t become what she refers to as 'inspiration porn'. 

"Inspiration porn is this idea that disabled people are inspirational for doing basic everyday things that other people do easily," she says.

"When someone who has a disability does something normal, that is celebrated and then put up on a pedestal, and then used as a tool to tell non-disabled people you can overcome everything with a positive attitude. Every time someone calls me inspirational, my eyes just roll in my head."

She’s not inspirational. She’s talented. And driven. 

She’s a young woman with focus and determination. And she’s also a really funky dresser. She could be a style icon. She sports a bleached mullet, sometimes tinged pink, combines 80s styled big shouldered power dressing suits with crop tops in an effortless upbeat ensemble. 

It’s part of her unique style. But it’s also part of her messaging.

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"I see clothes as a reflection of personality," she says. "Through comedy I started to wear suits. Disabled people aren’t business people or perceived as having a full-time job.

"For the longest time people like me were excluded from the workforce. And me wearing shoulder pads is me as a disabled woman claiming that space. This is my business and I belong here. Disabled people should have a right to have a job and contribute and earn money and live independently and autonomously."

Alexandra didn’t dream of becoming a stand-up comic; it happened by chance. She enrolled in my comedy class and from day one it was obvious she had natural charisma and a unique perspective. 

She wasn’t just funny; she had something important to say. 

She made you lean in to hear what came next. Her delivery is soft and non-confrontational, but her content is challenging. It’s an intriguing mix. After teaching around 2000 people you start to tire a little, but when Alexandra spoke I listened. I knew she had something. The X Factor. But lots of people have it - few have the capacity to use it. 

"I started in July 2020 and I realised early that my story and the stuff I talk about and the way I spoke about it wasn’t very common," Alexandra says. "That motivated me because the audience response was always very positive. There is a bit of awkwardness because audiences are unsure of me and I have to navigate other people’s perceptions of disabilities and present my comedy to be true to myself but not so far that they can’t enjoy it.

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"Sometimes it's a tricky balance to be true to myself and the perceptions around disability. Being proud of having a disability is quite an abstract idea for some people. To be disabled and to be proud of being disabled is a bit like being an educator and teaching people about disability.

"I have to work hard to be in spaces and my whole life I have to push back against the disabled narrative and the perceived ideas and the prejudice of some in order to be myself."

When Alexandra is up there on stage, a lone figure hanging onto the microphone stand for stability, I reflect on what she told me.

"I want to be left alone. Every disabled person wants to be left alone to exist. At every point of my life there is someone with an opinion on what I should do. I just want to live my life."

Mandy Nolan, Alexandra Hudson, and Bron Lewis. Image: Supplied.  

Alexandra will be travelling to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with her friend and colleague Bron Lewis. Watch this space. While she says she’s keen to see where this might take her, she also muses about one day writing a TV show and finding a way to get disabled kids into comedy so they can process the challenges and barriers they face. 

"This is the start for me," she says. "It’s something I want to see where I can take it. I don’t want to place any parameters on it. I’ve had parameters put on me my whole life."

Here comes a proudly disabled, fabulously dressed, very funny and insightful woman.

Please welcome to the stage: Alexandra Hudson!

Mandy Nolan is a comedian, mother of five, Mamamia writer and Greens candidate for Richmond, the third most winnable seat for the Greens at the Federal Election. For more from Mandy, you can follow her on Instagram

Feature Image: Supplied.