During a recent stop in Marion County, the young comedian talked with Ocala Style Health about his other plans—world-team soccer, fiction writing, and film directing—none of which are limited by the fact that he has cerebral palsy.
Millions of Americans saw Josh Blue for the first time when he was a contestant on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. If people can’t remember his name, they sometimes identify him as “that comedian with cerebral palsy.”
Of course, what he calls his “crazy right arm” and involuntary gestures do immediately distinguish him from other comics. But it’s fun to watch him win an audience over with his likeability. Part of his appeal, no doubt, has to do with his triumph over physical challenges and his courage to be so upfront about how they have affected his life. But mostly, people respond so enthusiastically to Josh Blue for another reason—he’s naturally funny.
This past fall, Josh had the audience laughing practically non-stop as the guest speaker for the United Way of Marion County’s campaign kickoff breakfast at the new Holiday Inn. Ocala Style Heath had an opportunity to speak with Josh following his well-received performance:
What do you do to get ready for a show?
“People ask me if I’m nervous when I’m getting ready to go up on stage,” Josh says. “I tell them, ‘Heck, no! I have this many people staring at me all day long.’”
That’s a typical slice of Josh Blue banter. It’s the kind of observation that makes all but the most uptight audience members know it’s okay to laugh along with him when he talks about his life with cerebral palsy.
The road hasn’t always been easy, but long ago this young man realized that his wry sense of humor gives him a unique tool to connect with people. He says that when people respond to his comedy they begin to look at him—and perhaps at other people with physical challenges—in a new way.
Have you always been funny?
“Even when I was in junior high, I was quick with the comeback,” he remembers. “I just talk until people laugh.”
He says it was while he was earning his degree at The Evergreen State College in Oregon that he started doing standup comedy, first in the dorms and then at open mike nights at a local coffee shop. Before too long he was making audiences laugh in comedy clubs and on other college campuses. In 2004, he won a $10,000 grand prize at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival. Then he was discovered by comedian Carlos Mencia, who made him part of his Mind of Mencia show on Comedy Central.
The first time he auditioned for the NBC reality show for young comedians in 2005, he didn’t make it. The failure made him determined to hone his skills and land a spot on the show the following year.
As we now know, he not only made it in 2006, he was declared the winner of the competition.
“I really love doing standup comedy,” Josh says. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m having fun.”
He recently turned 28. He now lives in Denver, but doesn’t seem to spend much time there unless he’s booked for a local concert or for one of his performances at the city’s top-drawer Comedy Works. His schedule keeps him moving a lot, traveling to engagements at other comedy clubs, college concerts, benefits, and private parties all across the country.
He sees his comedy as something of a calling, a way of teaching people about differences and “breaking down some doors,” he says.
He has recorded both a CD (Good Josh, Bad Arm) and a DVD (7 More Days in the Tank), which was recorded during a live performance in Denver a few days after his LCS win. The DVD title comes from what happened after he was in a bicycle accident some years back. The police that responded thought he was drunk because of his demeanor. He even works that into his act.
Tell me about the incident.
“I told them I have cerebral palsy,” Josh says. “They said, ‘That’s a pretty big word for a drunk.’”
He embroiders the story a bit, saying they put him in the drunk tank so he could sober up. After a few days he wasn’t acting any differently and they asked him, “Man, what did you drink?”
He also likes to tell audiences that his mom is the only one in the world who can tell right away if he actually is drunk. “She says, ‘Josh, are you walking straighter? I heard you come home and put the key right in the door.’”
What do you say to those who criticize you for talking too much about your CP in your comedy?
“The brutal truth is I have cerebral palsy,” Josh says. “I can’t live my life from any other point of view.”
He adds that even the response to his comedy from the disabled community has been nothing but positive, and he feels good about that.
What was your life like growing up?
“I was born in Africa, the youngest of four kids,” he says. His father was a language professor who spoke 13 languages; Josh himself is fluent in three: English, French, and Wolof, the national language of Senegal.
His athetoid form of cerebral palsy wasn’t diagnosed right away, despite his parents’ concerns about his development.
Where would you be right now if you weren’t doing comedy?
“I’d probably be on welfare,” he says, going for a laugh. “No, actually, I think I would be a park ranger. I love being out in nature.”
He also tells us that he likes the idea of helping people, even though he’s personally not one to ask for help or over-use help that’s offered.
“I think I’m this way because I’m the youngest of four kids. By the time I came along, my parents were tired and they encouraged me to do whatever I could on my own.”
That emphasis on what he could do, rather than a preoccupation with what he couldn’t do, seems to have set the stage for a life of accomplishments.
Josh is not only a comedian, he’s a talented athlete. He started playing soccer as a kid in his Minnesota backyard. After graduation, he joined the U.S. National Paralympic Soccer Team and competed at the World Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004 and at the Parapanamerican Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2007. He hopes to make the 2008 team to be able to take part in the next World Paralympics in Beijing.
He’s also a part-time artist. Many of his paintings are colorful abstracts, but some—including one particularly haunting face—are quite different.
After awhile, we worried that we might be keeping him in the interview too long.
“Nah,” he says, a bit impishly. “They just tell media people that the interview session will be a short one so if it’s awful I have an excuse to get away from them.”
He admits that all the travel does “take a toll on one’s body” and says he doesn’t think he’ll be doing standup for a long time.
“Maybe a few more years,” he guesses.
His shows do require physical exertion on his part. He paces constantly when he’s on stage and doesn’t mind taking a pratfall or two for laughs.
He often regales his audiences with tales about his “crazy right arm” and demonstrates what he calls his Palsy Punch. “You never know where it’s coming from. Furthermore, neither do I!” He had demonstrated his “trick move” on stage that morning, nonchalantly knocking over a wall of cardboard bricks set up to carry out the United Way’s “Building Lives” campaign theme.
“Oops,” he says, watching them tumble. Then he does it again.
You mentioned your girlfriend earlier. Do you think you’ll be getting married anytime soon?
“I have a fear of commitment,” he confesses. “And I know when I need to be afraid,” he says, cryptically.
“Oh, who knows what’s ahead?” he adds. “I’d like to write a book someday. Do a film, maybe direct.”
Based on his track record, we figure there’s a good chance he’ll do all those things—and more. Certainly nothing has stopped him yet.
Cerebral Palsy 101
- A chronic condition affecting body movement and muscle coordination
- Caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain
- Was first identified by English surgeon William Little in 1860
- 764,000 children and adults in the U.S. manifest one or more symptoms
- No known cure
Want To Know More?
If you would like to see clips of Josh Blue on stage, visit www.joshblue.com.
The site also includes photos and videos of him on the soccer field and samples of his colorful artwork. Be sure to check out his calendar for upcoming performances in Florida in the near future.