Feature

Twisted

March 2007

It wasn’t until adolescence that Blue’s disability became an impediment. “Junior high was a real challenge,” says Blue’s friend, Nick Wilkie, who also has CP. “All of a sudden, we had different labels.” Wilkie was the one with Blue when they pulled the shopping-mall prank. The two grew up a mile away from each other; they’re the same age, went to the same public schools, and are still close friends. As Wilkie remembers, “We had the frustration of trying to breach those social barriers. It’s hard to stay upbeat in a situation like that.”

By all accounts, though, Blue never sulked—rather he always found a way to get along. In his first junior high English class, an assignment required each student to write an essay and read it in front of the class while being videotaped. Because CP deprived Blue of the ability to completely control his muscles, including those in his eyes, he has always had difficulty reading and writing, so he dictated his essay to a classmate who read it for him. Thanks in part to a teacher who encouraged students to do group-improv skits, Blue became comfortable in front of his classmates; by the time he reached high school he was making presentations, shrewdly incorporating a slide projector. He earned As in biology and chemistry, and he spoke French so fluently that he won his graduating class’ French Prize. It was Blue’s self-effacing sense of humor that eroded his classmates’ perceptions of him and earned him friends from all of the public high school social cliques. However, it wasn’t until he got to college that he truly felt comfortable in his skin and discovered just how seriously funny he is.

By selecting The Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington, Blue chose the perfect incubator for his talents. Founded in 1967, Evergreen is sometimes known as the “Harvard for Hippies.” Literally translated, its motto, Omnia Extares, is “reach out in all directions,” but it is more often and perhaps more accurately interpreted as “let it all hang out.” Notable “Greenie” alumni include avante-garde celebrities such as The Simpsons creator Matt Groening; comedian Michael Richards, Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer; and cartoonist Lynda Barry, the queen of the comic-strip underground. Describing Evergreen, Groening has said, “I went to…a fine little progressive school…state-funded, no grades, no hard courses. I highly recommend it to all self-disciplined creative weirdoes.”

Freshman year, Blue took a yearlong interdisciplinary study called “Sense of Place,” with classes on visual arts, botany, and creative writing. “Basically, we were a bunch of freshmen screwing off and smoking pot,” says Liz Kover, who took the same classes and became close friends with Blue. Evergreen’s nontraditional format is meant to encourage students to define their own paths by creating their own majors. Whereas Kover had a hard time adjusting to the nonexistent curriculum, Blue, she says, “was having the greatest time ever. He was just having fun and taking a bunch of different random classes. I think that’s why we made for such good friends. He kept me from taking things too seriously.”

When it came time for Blue to declare a major, it wasn’t much of a surprise to Kover, or to anyone else, that he cooked up “Comedy.” Blue went to the comedy clubs in and around Olympia, studying acts. Toward the end of his senior year he began taking the stage at open-mic nights. For his initial performances, Blue sat on a stool—he wanted audiences to listen to what he was saying, not get hung up on his appearance. But much of his material was about living with CP, and Blue realized that standing up improved his act. In no time, he adopted the pacing style of Chris Rock. For his final Evergreen project, he did an hour-long performance on campus entitled “It’s Not the Palsy, It’s the Pot.” As Kover puts it, the end of college was the beginning of Josh Blue’s comedy career.

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