Neurology Now:
Feature: Josh Blue

Laughing with Him

KRECK, DICK

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Dick Kreck is a television writer for The Denver Post who enjoys laughing with, not at, his neighbor Josh Blue.

He twirls and bounces around the stage like an unstrung puppet and, sometimes, not even he knows where he's going to wind up.

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Comedian Josh Blue exploded out of nowhere this summer to win the NBC reality series “Last Comic Standing.” But what sets the 27-year-old Blue apart from the 11 comics he beat in the TV laugh-off, other than his smart jokes and delivery, is that he has cerebral palsy. In fact, he boldly describes himself as the man who “put the cerebral in cerebral palsy.”

Blue doesn't care if you laugh with him or at him. Either way is fine by him, as long as you laugh. He often opens his act with this exchange: “People ask me if I get nervous before coming up on stage. I say, ‘Heck no, I got this many people staring at me all day!’” And then this: “I realize people are going to stare, so I wanna give them something to stare at.”

Such stares have fueled his stand-up comedy career, providing a constant source of material surrounding the condition he was born with. Cerebral palsy, caused by damage to brain areas that control motor function and muscle coordination, has left his movements awkward and his speech sometimes slurred. But most strikingly, it has left him with an arm that angles away from his body and ends in a hand that's permanently curled.

Onstage, he'll wildly swing his right arm during his act, slapping and chastising it as “Bad arm! Bad arm!” He even titled his debut CD “Good Josh, Bad Arm.” And he jokes about perfecting what he calls his “Palsy Punch,” noting that it's so effective in fighting foes because, “first of all, they don't know where the punch is coming from and, second of all, neither do I.”

Blue charms audiences with his self-deprecating humor and its serious message. He doesn't shy away from his disability. He makes a point of putting it out there, front and center stage. Always has. He discovered as a child that laughter was a good defense mechanism. “It was a way to defuse the situation,” he recalls. “If someone made fun of me and I could come back with something, it works out to my benefit.”

It's become such a benefit that he's made a career of shattering stereotypes and disarming those who might be inclined to laugh at him. “Yes, what I'm talking about is a very touchy subject, but somehow I've found a way to make that situation comfortable,” he reflects, turning serious in interviews. “You can't help but laugh. I guess I put people at ease. If I can make someone laugh while sending a message, that's the best lesson.”

Here's how he's done both: “I was hoping you'd laugh good and hard tonight,” he tells audiences. “This is my ‘Make-A-Wish.’” After a two-beat pause, he continues, “If I had another ‘Make-A-Wish,’ I would do things differently.” Another pause before he says to a woman in front of the stage, “It would be you, ma'am.”

He delivered that punch line to millions of “Last Comic Standing” viewers and a studio audience that included his parents. Which led to this joke: “My mom's great. She's the only person in the world who can tell when I'm drunk. She's like, ‘Josh, are you walking straighter? I heard you come in and put the key right in the door.’”

If only everyone else could tell the difference. “People always think I'm drunk,” he tells audiences. “I was walking down the street one day and the drunk tank picked me up. I said, ‘Wait a minute, fellas, I'm not drunk-I have cerebral palsy.’ The cop said, ‘That's a pretty big word for a drunk.’”

Though many regard him as an overnight success, Blue had toiled for seven years honing his stand-up act on college campuses and at comedy clubs in his hometown of Denver before he hit the TV jackpot. His triumphant punch line to the fourth season of “Last Comic Standing”-he got the most call-in votes after reminding viewers that the phone number on the bottom of the screen wasn't for telethon pledges-has earned him a half-hour special on Bravo and a development deal for a sitcom on NBC.

In addition to his passion for comedy, Blue is addicted to soccer. He was a member of the U.S. team at the 2004 Paralympics for athletes with disabilities in Athens, Greece. The team was so bad, he quips, that “we didn't have to worry about getting tested for performance-enhancing drugs.” Adding injury to insult, he got hurt while playing-which led him to crack in mock outrage, “The coach had the nerve to put me on the disabled list!”

His website is awash in grateful e-mails. “I've always hated having CP due to the cruel people who live in this world,” one fan writes. “But after seeing what you are able to do and hearing how you don't let your CP bring you down, it has made me rethink my feelings about having CP. I realize that if I just ignore the stares and shoot for my dreams, then I can do anything.”

Blue says he doesn't consider himself a poster boy for CP. But at the same time, he recognizes that his appearance on “Last Comic Standing” has shown the world “that people with disabilities can make an impact.”

Which just might be Josh Blue's best punch line.

©2006 American Academy of Neurology

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