Feature

Twisted

March 2007

His afternoon plans are a bit tamer: A couple of friends are coming over, and Blue is going to work on his routine. “We just hang out and make jokes and suggest ideas,” he says. “Instead of writing jokes, we’ll just talk about things. If someone laughs, it’s funny. And I’ll try to make it funnier. Like, ‘That’s good, but if I say this.…’”

I ask Blue if he thinks the comedian Margaret Cho was right when she said the best comedy comes from tragedy. He squirms in his seat at the end of the couch and looks away from me. The action could be an uncontrollable CP twinge to a stressful situation—after all, stress often induces the spasms—or it could be Blue’s own visceral reaction to my question. To an outsider it’s hard to tell when the CP is pulling Blue’s strings, and when Blue, a natural showman, is using his CP to pull the strings of others. “I don’t know,” he says. “I’ve never thought about it. Hold on.” Blue gets up, leaves the room, and comes back with a bag of cookies, a bag of weed, and a pipe. In what’s becoming an awkward silence, he takes a hit or two, and then exhales a response: “Like my experiences—I just don’t give a fuck. I just don’t. But if you look at my talking-slower thing, to me that’s funny, but think of how many millions of disabled people deal with that every day. That’s not funny. Having a disability definitely gives me a point of view not many other people have. I’m able to put it into a story so people can understand my perspective. Richard Pryor, he did it with race. Margaret Cho with Asians. And I look at myself as the one who put this [cerebral palsy issue] out there.”

There have been other funny-types with CP, like Geri Jewell, who appeared on the sitcom The Facts of Life, and the comedian Chris Fonseca, who’s done The Late Show and Baywatch. “But here’s the thing,” Blue says, the funnyman’s tone sounding uncharacteristically serious. “No one has had the platform like I have. I had everyone’s ears on Last Comic. Every week. I don’t think there’s been a disabled person who’s done that.”

Until Blue, America had not accepted a physically disabled person as a comedic star. During the last few years in the U.K., physically disabled comedians have been breaking big. There’s even a tour of physically disabled comedians akin to our Kings of Comedy and those blue-collar comedic rednecks; it’s called The Abnormally Funny People Show. Meanwhile, in the United States, physically disabled comedians have been operating in the margins, their craft studied and analyzed as if it were an experimental drug.

In October 2006, a three-person team of academics and educators published a research paper in the journal Disability & Society entitled, “The humorous construction of disability: ‘Stand-up’ comedians in the United States.” The way the researchers see it, there is a comedic genre of “disabling humor,” which denigrates the physically disabled, and “disability humor,” “in which disabled comedians…use self-deprecatory humor positively to dissolve and recreate disability. By shifting from victim to perpetrator, they undermine the power of people who laugh at them.” The researchers concluded that disability humor in the United States has been evolving in phases: “First, non-disabled people positioned disabled people as freaks and fools. Second, they circulated sick jokes, quadriplegic jokes and Helen Keller jokes. In the third phase, disabled people claimed humor as their own, laughing at society’s attitudes and barriers. Finally, in the fourth phase disability is just one more human variation in the landscape of diversity.”

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