March 2007

Josh Blue has cerebral palsy. It’s okay to laugh at him. Everyone else in America does.

Shoppers inside the suburban mall could not believe they were witnessing such cruelty. Mouths agape, clutching their bags and their collective breath, they watched as a Latino teen hurried through the crowd, avoiding, but laughing at, all could plainly see, two physically disabled kids: one hobbling along on forearm crutches, the other frantically limping and waving his contorted right arm. As if speaking caused him pain, the boy on the crutches grunted, “Hector. Yooou. Are. A. Terrr-i-ble. Caregiver.” The boy with the corkscrewed arm unleashed an Elephant Man-like moan, and pleaded, “Hector. Pleeease. Don’t. Leave. Us. Heeeere.”

Last August, a decade or so after that shopping-mall spectacle, a 27-year-old dude from Denver limped onto the spotlighted stage of the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, waving his twisted right arm at television cameras and an audience of some 3,000 people, who greeted him with a standing ovation. Josh Blue was on prime-time, about to perform on NBC’s Last Comic Standing—the comedy-world equivalent of American Idol. Every Tuesday night for the previous 12 weeks, Blue and the rest of the show’s comedian-competitors had done “time” on stage, with judges and TV viewers voting a smaller and smaller pool of contestants on to the next week. Now, it was the season finale, the face-off of the two funniest. Second place would get zilch, while the last comic standing would walk off with a half-hour stand-up show on NBC’s Bravo network and, better yet, comedy’s Holy Grail: a development deal with the NBC network itself—the chance to become the next Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, George Lopez, or Ray Romano.

Each of the previous winners of Last Comic Standing had had a shtick. Season one’s Dat Phan won by tapping his Vietnamese culture. John Heffron won season two by emulating the neurotic everyman. Alonzo Bodden, season three’s titleholder, riffed about being a tall black man in a suburban white world. While they’d joked audiences down familiar paths, Blue was unlike anything America had ever seen: Just when it was starting to look like there were no sacred cows left for comedians to tip, along came this character from Denver cracking wise about what it’s like to live with the physical disability of cerebral palsy.