Laugh And Learn: A Panel Discussion Featuring Comedians with Disabilities

(Joe) In the work I’ve done, maybe
two or three of the roles have been specifically because of the chair. All the
other roles… and I’m the only disabled member of our comedy troupe that we
work with, and it’s kind of neat because aspects of disability come into play,
but most times it’s: I’m Joe. (Veronica) Most people don’t believe that
I have ADD. I say “Not only do I have ADHD I have E, F, G H, I, J, K, L, M,
N, O, P, I have the whole bunch” [laughter] And so, I think, in comedy I try to explain
that we are real people, we are people, you know, with families. We are not in
the mental institution being restrained. And I think that a teaspoon of sugar
does help to medicine go down. I think that with ADHD, there’s a lot of pain,
there’s so much pain, so much shame and until we get the word out that there is help
available, many people are still imprisoned by You know “Oh, someone’s going to find out”
yada yada yada. And I really think that if I can contribute to that, I want to be
a part of that to help get the word out. Because, well, my children are treated, one
of my sons took the help, one chose not to, the one who took the help has a masters
degree and is in teaching school now because he went to this college, he used the support
services for ADD and he was able to succeed. The other child didn’t want people to see
him going in there, you know, so we kept on explaining to him “These places would
not exist if people did not have a need”, but he still won’t go, but at the end of
the day, I believe, he’ll see it my way. (Jack) Comedy provides that way to be
intimate with people and connect with them without having to, without having to be, you know,
completely honest, dis- uncomfortably honest. Like, normally, most people on the
spectrum aren’t very good at small talk, but comedy is just the natural way to make
small talk without actually saying anything. (Joe) You wanna take that? (Will) Yes! I have been accused of having a hook.
[laughter] (Joe) It’s kind of cute, if you
weren’t the couple involved [laughter] The first couple of years following injury,
I’ll admit, I might have been a little… angry at the world, at myself, at anyone
that got in my way… On top of that, I was a single dad, had a toddler on my
lap and being new to being a single dad, I wasn’t that smart yet. She taught me so many
things, in fact from 15 to 18 she knew everything. [laughter] We would go out and I was able to save money on a
stroller, so I would carry her everywhere on my lap. But I didn’t realize how much she was picking
up of what I would say. And a lot of times I’d be wheeling around, if someone, you know,
was ahead of me or whatever and I had to get by. I would say “Excuse me”. And a lot of times
people overact “Oh my God, I’m so sorry! “Here let me get out of the way”. And I’d, you know, be
nice, but as I wheel away I’d mutter under my breath “Nothing to be sorry about, just get the hell out of
the way”. We’re going through Target [targée], in Connecticut, we call it Target [targée]
everywhere else it’s Target, but, my beautiful daughter’s sitting on my lap, Shirley Temple blonde hair,
curly hair, curly locks of hair, she’s sitting on my lap And we’re wheeling through and in front of us is Mr. and
Mrs. just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell picture, you know, it’s Ma and Pa Kettle, probably 85 years old,
really, really cute people. And we’re going and I say “Excuse me”. And the woman’s like “Oh,
I’m so sorry” and she grabs her husband and pulls him out of the way. And my
eighteenth month year old daughter says [child’s voice] “Nothing to be sorry about,
just get the hell out of the way” [laughter] (Veronica) And I think that, uh, for me, I choose not to
use profanity, I am a mother, I take that very seriously, I work great pains. So people will say to me “Uh,
you don’t curse” Well, I don’t want my children coming in here hearing me use every- all these
four letter words, so I choose not to do that. I think that I really exploit the Pentecostal upbringing
and I do a whole little thing on the Church. And so people will hear a line that they like because I
say, I told my husband, my husband told me, he said “You’re Church has more miracles than the Bible.”
The lady said “I was going to catch that bus “and the bus driver closed that door in my face.
I said ‘Jesus!’ and those doors flew open.” [laughter] So, they’ll remember those lines and
they’ll say “haa”, they’ll howl like that. Cause it is really a professional courtesy that
you not comment on people’s whatever they do. Cause whatever you do, you do and you’re evolving that
way. So I think that- and people know that I talk so fast, I never worry about people stealing my stuff because
who has three children and can talk as fast as I do? (Jack) I feel like the only way we’re going to be
able to, uh, break past these simplistic narratives about people with disabilities is to, uh, have
people telling their own stories, I mean, literally every minority group or, uh,
disempowered group over the years, until they started telling their own stories, basically had
sort of dualistic sort of, um, portrayals in the media. (Will) I got into comedy because a friend said
“You know, you’ve lost your limbs, but, uh, “you kind of have a really funny way of
talking about it. And maybe you want to talk “to a group of people for this documentary
that we’re working on. And maybe that “group of people can be at a comedy club”.
And I kind of thought, “Well there’s no way “of that actually happening”, so I said
“Sure, why not? I’ll do that” [laughter] And it turns out that she knew someone who,
um, has connections with this comedy club and they basically told me like two
days later that I had a slot booked. And, uh, so it turns out that rehab is a
really good place to work on material. (Joe) There hasn’t been any, like any great
role models for people with disabilities, and especially because there’ s so many types
of disabilities, if you just look at our stage here. Um, for the longest time, I was in advocacy for
20 years, physical advocacy and legislative and all that. And a lot of the things we would
hear all the time is “We want to be treated like everybody else”, but the thing is, if
you think about it, we really are everybody.

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