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Cerebral Palsy is a laughing matter
Josh Blue recently found himself in the familiar setting of an airport in Illinois, where he had finished a five-night stand at a Peoria comedy club, as he talked about the impact Cerebral Palsy has in his life.
Josh, who is most recognizable to Americans as the winner of the NBC reality competition “Last Comic Standing,” spends most of his time on the road; that’s what it takes to be successful in an industry that often hands would-be funny men and women more disappointment than success. But for Josh, 34, success is at hand, between his appearances on television, recordings, and live shows.
“A life of pursuing my dream and rocking the microphone every night, and receiving a standing ovation is not a bad way to live your life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
– Josh Blue
“Even growing up I knew that more or less my condition is a really small issue in terms of the rest of the planet. I’ve enjoyed food on my table and shelter for my entire life, and a lot of people don’t have those things. My Cerebral Palsy is a miniscule issue for most of the planet.”
– Josh Blue
It’s a break-neck pace for the most determined, but for the 34-year-old St. Paul, Minn., native who was diagnosed with spastic Cerebral Palsy as an infant and has limited use of one of his arms, it’s exhilarating.
“It’s an incredible way to make a living but it can be hard because of the amount of time I’m away from home,” said Josh. “Regarding having Cerebral Palsy, I know realistically that I can’t go up there on stage and ignore it. But the feedback that I get after a minute or two has nothing to do with Cerebral Palsy.”
His shows – like Josh’s life – more than touch on the fact that he has Cerebral Palsy, but he’s not dwelling on it.
“Even growing up I knew that more or less my condition is a really small issue in terms of the rest of the planet,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed food on my table and shelter for my entire life, and a lot of people don’t have those things. My Cerebral Palsy is a miniscule issue for most of the planet.”
Every comic has a serious side
Josh was born to Walter and Jackie Blue, in Cameroon, West Africa, where Walter was a world language professor. He suspects the genesis of his Cerebral Palsy was the fact that state-of-the-art medical facilities were not available in Cameroon when he was born. He describes his overall condition as mild to moderate; he does experience trouble with his fine motor skills and with spasticity.
Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at about one year old, Josh said his parents and his sisters did not bestow special treatment on him because of his condition.
“My parents treated my disability like a normal thing; that I have some special needs,” he said. “It’s something that exists – I’m going to do things a little differently than others. It wasn’t a big deal.”
What was a big deal is that Josh, who attended special education classes until the fourth grade, was cut from his kiddie soccer team because he had Cerebral Palsy – a fact he would remember even as he competed on the U.S. Paralympics Men’s Soccer Team in Athens, Greece, in 2004.
“I was allowed to go to practice, though,” he said.
Soon, Josh’s wry sense of humor became a coping mechanism, and a way to break the ice with his peers that began in high school, and carried him through college at Evergreen State University in Olympia, Wash., where he earned a liberal arts degree.
It was the smoke-filled open mic nights around Olympia that Josh began honing his act, and after a few fits and starts, he began building a following.
“I was focused on performing and writing all through college,” he said. “I was encouraged to go for it by my friends, and I just kept at it.”
For the next several years, Blue worked on his timing, improvisational skills and overall performance as he pursued his dream of a life in the limelight. He said the end result is a routine that is, well, a little spastic.
He said humor, if employed properly, can be a force that can break down barriers and pre-conceived notions about religion, race, economic status – and yes, disability. “I believe people who come to see the stand-up show will leave my show with a different understanding of disability. My goal is to change people’s perceptions, especially before people say something stupid to a disabled person.”
The stupidest of comments, Josh said, is actually meant to be a compliment. “The word ‘inspiration’ is actually a swear-word for disabled people,” he said. “You’ll run into situations where someone will tell you you’re an inspiration just for walking around out there.
“What if I told them that I was on my way to the liquor store?” Josh jokes. “How inspirational would that be?”
Sound and fury
After a handful of years working the comedy club and college circuit, Josh won the $10,000 Grand Jury Prize at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival. But in 2006, Josh’s career received a major boost when he won NBC’s reality series “Last Comic Standing.” On the show, fans responded to Josh’s self-deprecating brand of humor.
The show led to a flurry of television appearances, most notably as a recurring character on Comedy Central’s “Mind of Mencia” starring fellow comedian Carlos Mencia. He also performed his routine on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” and on “Live With Regis and Kelly,” and has been featured in reports on CBS, ABC, Fox and MSNBC news programs.
Cable TV has also been Josh’s friend. In 2009, “Comedy Central Presents: Josh Blue” first aired on the eponymous network and was well-received by audiences. This year, Showtime followed suit, presenting Josh’s latest special called “Sticky Change.”
But his biggest success was in 2009, when “Seven More Days in the Drunk Tank” was recorded at the Gothic Theater in Josh’s home-base of Denver, Colo., and featured in theaters nationwide. “Seven Days” was later edited into a 30-minute format and show in Bravo.
“Seven” touches on some of the perceived issues people with disabilities face, as does Josh’s work. The 60-minute film version is available on Amazon.
Today, Josh performs five to seven shows per week, and travels from city to city. This week, it’s Peoria, Ill., and before jetting to Illinois, he completed a five-show engagement in Seattle, Wash. The toughest part of his schedule is being away from his wife, Yuko, and his 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter back in Denver.
“It’s rough on a family when you’re working at this level,” he said. “But you can be a good husband and father.”
In the near term, Josh plans to keep touring clubs and colleges to continue, as he calls it, “put the cerebral in Cerebral Palsy.” Over time, he would like to branch out into film as a performer and a writer and director. He’s also about a third of the way through writing his autobiography, tentatively titled “The Palsy Punch.”
Josh remembers that he had many naysayers that told him a career in comedy would not be an option for him. But he said that other people’s opinions about what is acceptable or not, or what is politically correct, need not apply.
“Living with a disability, I do find I have to prove myself a lot,” he mentioned in a “Last Comic Standing” introductory clip. “I think that’s why I’m funny. I’m not naturally funny, I’m just trying to fit in.”
“If you want to do something, you should do it, no matter what it is,” he advised. “Sometimes people make a lot of excuses for not wanting success – it has nothing to do with a disability. If I don’t accomplish what I want to, it’s not because of my Cerebral Palsy. It’s because I’m being lazy.”
He said the fact that a life in comedy has its ups and downs is an essential truth faced by all funny men and women, no matter what their physical condition is.
“A life of pursuing my dream and rocking the microphone every night, and receiving a standing ovation is not a bad way to live your life,” he said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
For more information on Josh:
To learn more about Josh, visit Josh Blue’s website.
To find Josh Blue on Facebook, visit Josh Blue’s Facebook.
To find Josh Blue on Myspace, visit Josh Blue’s Myspace.
To purchase Josh Blue’s Comedy Tapes, visit Josh Blue’s website.
To book Josh Blue, email Mike Rafferty at [email protected]
To enjoy some wonderful YouTube videos of Josh Blue’s “Last Comic Standing” performances:
Painting is a popular pastime with an end result that’s as precise as the skill required to compose and execute images on canvas. Artists with Cerebral Palsy, however, know that the most intricate brushstrokes are often not made by the hand or fine motor skills alone.
- Anne Abbott – Painter
- Zach Anner – Comedian
- Josh Blue – Comedian
- AJ Brown – Painter
- Zach Fenell – Inspiring Writer
- Mark Giovi – Singer
- Rick Hohn – Motivational Speaker
- Hank Holland – Painter
- Geri Jewell – Actor and Comedienne
- Dan Keplinger – Artist
- Gregg Mozgala – Dancer
- Andrew Pilkington – Graphic Artist
- Ron Sapinoso – Filmmaker
- Paul Smith – Typewriter Artist