A man with cerebral palsy was walking down a street and, about 30 paces behind him, walking at the same pace with a similar halting gait, along came comedian Josh Blue.
“You’re a jerk for making fun of that guy,” several bystanders told Blue, not realizing he too has cerebral palsy.
Relating this story to an audience — and perhaps embellishing it a bit — the comedian explained how he coped with the undeserved criticism. “I caught a cab and went a couple blocks in front of (the other guy.) Let him deal with it for a while.”
If you attend Blue’s show, set for 8 p.m. tomorrow in the Chandelier Lobby of the F.M. Kirby Center, you’ll hear more of the self-deprecating style that helped him win NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” in 2006.
“I’m very open about my life. There’s not much that I keep hidden,” said Blue, whose stand-up routines have included such lines as “I’m aware that I look homeless,” or “I think the (stiff) arm acts as an antenna” or “I got injured and my coach (on the U.S. Paralympic soccer team) had the nerve to put me on the disabled list.”
During a telephone interview earlier this week, Blue, 39, reflected on an incident from his youth that served as a preparation of sorts for life as a stand-up comic.
While serving a three-month internship at a zoo in Africa, he decided he wanted to experience an animal’s typical day, so he spent eight hours in a cage, interacting with visitors.
“That was ultimate performance art,” he said, adding that, while he didn’t realize it at the time, the cage was a metaphor for his condition. “I’m stuck in this disabled body, and I put myself on display. A day in the cage equals a life on stage.”
Blue calls himself “a white African-American” because he is a Caucasian who was born in Cameroon, where his father was a teacher. “I don’t remember Cameroon,” he said, “but I do remember the year I spent in Senegal.”
“A lot of people stared at me, not out of malice but more out of ‘oh, they have that too,’” Blue said. “I was the first disabled white person they saw.
“When you’re a kid there’s a lot of the ‘woe is me’ kind of thing, but living in Africa, seeing how other people live their lives and have to struggle to get food, clothes and shelter, I realized I at least had a roof over my head.”
Blue’s humor can touch any topic, from his annoyance at the way his then-preschool-age son used to call him “Josh Blue” instead of dad or daddy to his suggestion that “hatred of ham” could be a common ground for bringing Muslims and Jewish people together.
Each of Blue’s shows is different, he said, because there’s always a generous portion of ad lib.
“Jokes are the bricks and ad lib is the mortar,” he said. “My job is to fill in the pieces.”
While many people credit Blue for destroying stereotypes about people with disabilities, he said he’s just doing what he likes to do.
“I really enjoy laughing, and I enjoy making other people laugh.”
When the comedian turns 40 in November, he expects he’ll have a new topic to address: how “getting older really sucks.”
“Forty is definitely one of those milestones,” he said. “Once I get there, I’ll see what it’s like.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.