“People ask me if being disfigured has had a big effect on my sex life, and the answer is yes, but not nearly as much as being raised Catholic,” chuckles David Roche. It’s the tagline to his new one-man show, and he knows it’s a doozy. ”I call myself an incense survivor,” he adds.
With his wispy white hair and keen, intelligent eyes there’s a look of the actor Jonathan Pryce about David Roche. But there’s something unmissable that makes him unique – the facial disfigurement that he describes as a gift: “My shadow side – my difficulty and challenge – is on the outside, where I have been forced to deal with it.”
The comedian and storyteller is bringing his new show Catholic Erotica to the Unity as part of DaDaFest. A personal show about sex and religion, it has taken a long time to perfect.
Roche is no stranger to DaDa, and thanks its CEO Ruth Gould (“an iconic figure in the world of disability arts”) for encouraging him to finally bring together all the strands of the show he always knew was waiting to get out.
“Catholic Erotica is a great title, it grabs people, but I’d been working on it in one form or another since I first started performing,” he says. “There was always going to be a show in talking about religion and sex, and bring my facial disfigurement into the equation – but I kept putting it on hold. It was confusing, and painful, and out there – and was it funny? I needed that support and the right setting to make it work.”
Calling himself an ‘inspirational humourist’, Indiana-born and Vancouver-based Roche was born with a large, benign growth over one side of his face. As well as his comedy shows, he also writes and performs as a motivational speaker for audiences of all kinds, including schools, where he and wife Marlena spread their message of inclusion and diversity.
He was 45 before he finally found the courage to get on stage. “I’m from that generation that always had that secret desire to be a comedian, but it always felt like I shouldn’t do that – I thought people would make fun of me,” he says.
Catholic Erotica is obviously something a little bit more grown up. Roche combines stories of his strict religious upbringing — back in the days where girls were forbidden from wearing patent leather shoes in case boys could see up their skirts — with the taboo subjects of sex and disability. It’s an important step, and covers the kind of issues that both disabled and non-disabled audiences can relate to.
“Everybody has something to say afterwards, and that was important to me,” he says. “The whole issue of sexuality in disability arts is something that is really trying to emerge a lot. Someone like [performer and DaDaFest patron] Mat Fraser is incredibly sexy, and plays on that too – there’s a kind of movement of exploration, and this is my take on it.
“I’m perceived as being disabled, and that means as soon as I step out on stage I’m on show, it’s symbolic. I don’t have control over how people see me – people may say, ‘oh, you’ve suffered so much’… they see what they want to see. ‘He’s not supposed to be sexual’… it’s something that people with disability deal with all the time.”
Aside from the show, Roche will also be hosting a workshop. He has found he loves storytelling so much, he enjoys helping others hone their skills.
“I used to think I’m different to other people, that my face made me so different, but one of the things I’ve learnt from being on stage is when I tell the truth about my life that I’m the same as everybody else. Everybody feels like they’re disfigured,” he says. “Everybody has an interesting story to tell, something to offer the world. Because I did not find my creative voice until I was middle-aged, I enjoy nurturing the creativity of other people.”
David Roche’s Catholic Erotica is on at the Unity Theatre on September 1. Details here.
Picture by Kathleena Gorga