March 2007

That night in New York, as we walked toward Blue’s hotel, a short woman stopped on the sidewalk in front him. “I know you,” she said. “You’re the, um...You’re the…” Blue waited patiently for the woman’s brain to catch up with her mouth. A guy with CP knows what that’s like. Practically bouncing on her feet, she said, “You’re the one who just won that funniest motherfucker in the universe contest.”

It makes perfect sense that Blue has become a nationally recognized funny mutha. Never mind the material that comes from living with cerebral palsy; Blue had his eccentric supportive family, the home that was like an international hostel, and a college experience lacking curriculum and fueled by bong hits. Even his birth was unusual: What American white boy is born in the African hinterlands?

Blue’s parents met when his father, Walt, was in graduate school at Yale and his mom, Jacqui, was working at a daycare center. In the late ’70s Walt, an adventurous bohemian, took a leave of absence from the Minnesota college where he’d been a French professor to teach English in Cameroon. It was there, in 1978, that Josh, the youngest of the Blues’ four children, was born at the mission hospital. Walt likes to say that the operating-room instruments included a fly swatter.

The Blues recognized almost immediately that Josh was “delayed physically,” Jacqui says. “But there wasn’t anything we could really do about it other than just treat him like a regular person, which we did.” Blue was about 13 months old when the family moved back to Minnesota and he was formally diagnosed with cerebral palsy. CP is caused by brain damage that often occurs during fetal development, but sometimes during or soon after birth. The condition affects muscle development, posture, and coordination. According to studies, more than 500,000 Americans suffer from the disability. Blue is among the 10 percent to 20 percent of those people with the type called “Athetoid” or “dyskinetic.” Symptoms of Athetoid cerebral palsy are uncontrolled muscle writhing in the limbs, face and tongue; the muscle spasms tend to become more intense in stressful situations and subside, sometimes entirely, when sleeping.

There was no hand-wringing over Blue’s diagnosis. Josh was not suffering any mental or emotional disability. As far as Walt and Jacqui were concerned, he was simply unique physically—and who’s not? The fact that Josh talked slower and moved differently wasn’t a big deal. With a Ph.D. in French and fluency in nine languages, Walt had been around the world—a few times—and what’s more, it seemed that the world passed through the Blue household. The Blues were members of an organization of international travelers who hosted and were hosted by other members. On any given day, visitors from Texas or Tanzania could be crashing at the “Blue Hotel.” Among the various dialects and quirks in the Blues’ exotic universe, Josh’s slurred speech, foot-dragging gait, and crooked arm were unremarkable.