“I use the term wheelchair comedian because I’m tired of hearing the giggles when I tell people I do stand up.”
That little gem often opens Michael O’Connell’s comedy set. Meet four funny folks who play their infirmities for laughs to the delight of audiences around the world. As they expound on the lighter side of living with disabilities, both able-bodied fans and fans who can totally relate crack up as they share their hilarious experiences navigating life. It was wheelchair comedian Michael O’Connell who brought the act together.
He was in the audience watching Steve Danner, a little person, perform at a comedy club. “Damn”, he said to himself. “If we could find a blind guy, we’d make a hell of a team.” Not long after, he caught wind of a blind comedian named Eric Mee, who also included wheelchair jokes in his set. They met, and the guys soon hooked up with a producer/comedian who had a national touring company. The rest is history.
The Comedians with Disabilities Act debuted November 26, 2010 at the Sacramento Comedy Spot in northern California. The performance was sold out.
In the audience were blind people, some with their seeing-eye dogs (which were underage, so they were only allowed water), people in wheelchairs (who had a distinct advantage when the room filled to standing room only), several little people, a number of folks with a variety of disabilities, and, yes, plenty of patrons suffering from an uncomfortable absence of any noticeable disabilities. One woman in particular, who had lost her sight eight years ago, made her first solo expedition from home and back for this event –her first in those eight years.
Even though the evening showcased three funny guys lampooning each other and the audience relentlessly, their performance was moving, inspirational, and thoroughly enjoyed by all–enough to take their irreverent, insightful brand of humor on the road. It was there they connected Nina G, a comedian who stutters. She’d heard about the troupe and was interested in what they were doing. They gave her a guest set at their second San Francisco show, and as Michael puts it, “She was so amazing that we immediately decided our group needed her as one of the full-time partners. Don’t tell the other guys I said so, but I think she may be the funniest of all of us (shh!).”
Here they are:
Michael O’Connell’s business card reads “100% comedy, 0% Stand-Up”. Clearly, he doesn’t take himself or his disability too seriously, and he’s come pretty far from his days as an unemployed auto claims adjuster. A dare from a friend to try doing a few minutes of open-mic comedy at a local club was all it took–he won that night’s competition. He’s appeared on the annual MDA telethon, several TV shows, and top-flight comedy clubs throughout the US, often performing with comedy icons like Bobby Slayton and Will Durst.
Pot o’ Gold
Telling his audiences “objects on stage are closer than they appear,” Steve Danner takes his ‘little person’ status to new heights. He loves to perform, and he’s willing to answer the questions everybody wants to know about little people, but are afraid to ask–though he says they will if they’re drunk enough. But there’s a little more to it than that.
Danner maintains, “It’s a comedy show, but who says you can’t make people laugh and send them home with something to think about, too?” Ironically, his career started out as a heckler in a comedy club. A comedian performing onstage was having some fun at his expense and, not one to take things like that lying down, Danner heckled back, getting good laughs on his own. After the show, the comic approached Danner and proposed he take a shot at comedy. A successful career in comedy and producing ensued–night after night he’d entertain throngs at nightclubs with hilarious tales of his life as a dwarf.
Cane and Shades
Eric Mee’s flair for comedy emerged when he lost his eyesight at the age of 19. A year earlier, he was stabbed in the chest while protecting a child, and complications from his injury resulted in his loss of sight. To avoid the pity of family and friends, Eric’s strategy was to make them laugh. And laugh, they did. So much so, that Eric began contemplating a serious career in comedy. The jokes about his condition and the humorous speeches he presented to groups evolved into a stand-up comedy act. People love to watch him, and he has a theory about why. “People watch a blind guy like they watch NASCAR. They’re just waiting for the wreck.”
Though it started out as a boys’ club, the Act has wisely welcomed Nina G, who happily brings a special kind of diversity to the Act. Yes, she has a stutter–not the type of disability you’d expect in a comedian. She also has dyslexia. They guys say she’s an important part of their group because she represents non-apparent disabilities and women. A disability advocate who champions disability rights at every opportunity, Nina G has also written a children’s book called Once Upon an Accommodation , which addresses the special needs of disabled students in the school system. Her catch phrase? “If you stutter, I’m an inspiration.”
We’ll leave you laughing today with a clip from a performance by the Wheelchair Guy. So, is laughter the best medicine, or should some subjects be taboo for funny folks?