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Monday 25 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
Dublin Fringe Festival
Emily Ashmore Stand-up comedy helped me deal with my mystery health issue
When Emily Ashmore dislocated her knees, it was the start of a long medical journey. She found solace in humour.

WHEN I FIRST dislocated my knee caps I was on a 105 bus service coming home from a shopping trip with my fellow 15-year-old pals.

We had dropped all the coinage we had on bits and pieces from Claire’s and Penney’s, and a Starbucks frappuccino drink that somehow cost a fiver. We were high off whatever the hell they put in a frappuccino and we were headed home. Life was good. Or so I thought.

Before I knew it I was lying on the sticky floor of the bus, where no human had ever dared venture before.

My Penney’s bits were scattered down the aisle as the other passengers pretended there was something incredibly interesting out the window, and my friends looked like how I felt – mortified.

My left leg wouldn’t move and when I looked down it looked like it was on backwards, like a Barbie doll at the hands of a ruthless toddler.

I don’t remember much of the journey back home. The bus made every single one of its stops as passengers hopped over me and winced as they thought to themselves: “where is that girl’s kneecap?”. They winced again, even harder, when they realised it was behind me.

After what felt like the longest bus journey ever (the 109a bus to Kells included!), I saw ambulance lights through blurry eyes, then nothing…then a hospital ward. I woke up thinking: “Jesus, what do they put in those frappuccinos?”

Toxic relationship

That was the beginning of the most toxic relationship of my twenties, me and my kneecaps. From then on they kept trying to leave me, but they always came crawling back. Well, metaphorically speaking of course.

These knees don’t let me do anything other than walk slowly and carefully. Doctors have had different opinions about my knees over the years. They’re quite the controversial pair – a bit like Jedward.

Medical professionals couldn’t figure out what the story was with them, but they were also somewhat intrigued. With each dislocation came a new theory. Maybe I would grow out of it, or I just needed a bit of exercise, or maybe it’s a hormonal issue, somehow… Just women’s issues, eh?

I’ve still tried to live my best life. I cut knee holes in all my jeans so I could still wear them. I go to concerts (I enjoy them from the back though. I can’t risk getting swept up in a mosh pit screaming: “PLEASE BE CAREFUL OF MY KNEES!”…again).

My boyfriend drives me to my physio appointment every two weeks. It’s beneficial for my knees but really it’s an excuse for us to try a new coffee shop and sing Harry Styles songs all the way there and back.

Stand-up comedy

I still perform stand-up comedy at pubs and venues across the country nearly every night of the week.

Stand-up comedy has been my life for a long time now. And before you burst a vein trying to come up with a stand-up, sit-down knee joke, let me save you the trouble – I’ve heard them all. The worst was when someone, before a gig, told me to “Break a leg! Or a knee!” Seriously.

Stand-up is my oldest friend, my diary, my therapist. I could be standing on stage with a room full of people, my knees barely holding my body weight. But as soon as I get that first laugh, that first ripple of chuckles and cackles reverberating back at me, I might as well be floating.

Moments before I went in for surgery I got a gig offer and part of me, well I’ll be honest, every inch of me, wanted to run out of the hospital, ring a taxi and be on stage within the hour.

After my surgery I still performed: I had to. I was limping onto the stage. I’d toss the crutches into my boyfriend’s car so no one would be any the wiser, and wait in the wings so it would be the shortest walk possible to the mic.

The worst is still when you have to weave through the crowd to get there – the amount of twisting and turning involved, I’d probably be safer crowd surfing up to the mic.

For the longest time I hid my issue from my audiences. I just let them believe I was an average girl with perfectly normal kneecaps. 

Sometimes I find myself slipping (physically, of course); that’s always a risk with dodgy knees. But also in my own head.

I find myself wishing I could drive a car, or be in the middle of the mosh pit, or just not cry every time I get an x-ray. That’s when I stop and I write. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes not so much, but it always helps. And I can do it sitting down which is always a bonus.

By writing this show, I’ve been able to reclaim my experience the best way I know how. Ever since that first dislocation I’ve laughed more about it than I’ve cried.

I laughed when I couldn’t get oat milk from the hospital trolley (even when I offered the extra 30 cents); I laughed at the nurse offering me a picture of my x-ray for my Instagram; and I laughed when they drew a big red arrow on my skin before surgery with a note that read: “THIS KNEE PLEASE”.

That’s why I’ve written Ashes to Ashmore, because the jokes, the humour, much like my knees, kept popping out. And I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Ashes to Ashmore premieres at the The Workman’s Club (The Vintage Room) as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2022, September 12 – 22.

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