- BBC Radio 4
- Don Biswas
- Don Biswas
- Kurt Brookes
Politically charged gag merchant Don Biswas looks at how having learning difficulties has shaped his worldview.
At the age of 21, Don was a young fresh-faced business graduate from a typical middle-class Indian family. He wanted the same things as other people in his position, which was have a well-paid job, to get on the housing ladder and eventually start his own family one day. This aspiration came to an abrupt halt when he got fired from not one, but two management trainee roles, for being too slow and making a litany of mistakes.
This drove Don to descend into depression and ultimately to have a mental breakdown. The light at end of the tunnel came through the help of doctors and his time at the Priory confirmed he had been living with various undiagnosed learning difficulties from childhood. The key diagnosis was dyspraxia a condition causing coordination and organisation difficulties. A lot later Don was also diagnosed with mild Asperger's and ADHD. Through this journey Don found fellow sufferers who had similar experiences as they reached adulthood and felt he had finally found his tribe.
While it may sound like a cliché it all suddenly made sense why he always struggled to fit in with the norm. Even today, his mild traits of Asperger's and ADHD mean many sufferers don't believe Don is on the spectrum and many neurotypicals judge Don by their own standards, because they can't see the hidden difficulties. Don remarks that his milder trait's means he's "not so much rain man as drizzle boy".
However, before we get into Don's journey into politics and stand up, what was it like for him growing up with undiagnosed learning difficulties?
Don came from a strict middle-class Indian family obsessed with education, where there was a one size fits all parenting policy of doing everything you can to make sure your child becomes a doctor, lawyer or accountant. Anything else is classed as a failure! This disciplinarian approach might have had a chance of working if you had no hidden disabilities. But Don did, his parents were unaware and at the time learning difficulties were less frequently diagnosed at school. So, to them Don just came across as a lazy child who gave up too easily compared to his twin and older high achieving Oxbridge sisters.
In reality, his learning difficulties affected every aspect of daily life. It meant he struggled to carry everyday tasks that others found easy, such as tying shoes laces, writing neatly and dressing himself properly. Don's parents assumed boys developed later compared to his sisters and with their focus on education and Don's perseverance, against odds, he managed to graduate with a degree in Business from Liverpool university.
After struggling socially at school and university, the subsequent job losses, mental breakdown, finally followed by a diagnosis, Don realised how many people with learning difficulties were marginalised from society. Some with more severe impacts such as having their benefits sanctioned. This made Don want to become a champion for the small guy ultimately joining the Labour Party attracted by their social values.
So how did stand-up enter Don's life? In the depth of his depression battling suicidal thoughts Don's twin sister took him to a comedy night at The Bedford Arms, a well-known spot in Balham south London, to keep an eye on him and provide distraction. This is where Don discovered his passion and love of comedy.
By now working part time in a more manageable admin role it gave Don time to think about what was really going on in the world we live in. Being forced out the rat race was a blessing in disguise. With his focus on comedy Don felt liberated allowing him to be who he wanted to be on stage while also providing a great place to air his political views. Over the years Don has mastered the art of stand up and gained an enviable reputation.
Becoming an award-winning and highly versatile comedian equally at home in a comedy club or political party fundraiser, finally gave Don a purpose and pulled him out of severe depression. Comedy has taken Don around the globe from the east and west coasts of America to Europe and of course hosting his own show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Expect jokes on austerity, immigration and the pandemic amongst other political hot topics mixed in with his unique journey from an underdog graduate to becoming a political activist and award-winning comedian.
- First broadcast
- Sunday 22nd May 2022 at 7:15pm on BBC Radio 4
- Episode length
- 30 minutes
- Next repeats
- Friday at 7:30am on Radio 4 Extra
- Friday at 5:30pm on Radio 4 Extra
- Friday at 10pm on Radio 4 Extra
- Saturday at 5:30am on Radio 4 Extra