Laughter is the Best Medicine

Introduction to Humor and Disability

My name’s Cecile Purtez,
and I am the Access and Community Engagement
Manager here. I am absolutely thrilled
that you are all coming out on this beautiful Sunday
to hear some comedy for “Humor and the Disability
Experience,” a stand up comedy show and
panel discussion. This program was curated by
the very fabulous Nina G. [applause, cheers]
Yes! In partnership with
Access programs at the CJM. Nina wears many hats
in the community. I’ve had the amazing opportunity
to work with her as a MC with the Superfest International
Disability Film Festival that we hosted here
a few years in a row. She is a stuttering stand up
comedian who’s known all across the country
for her work. She is also an educator,
a children’s book author. Her book is here on
the table, and it’s called “Once Upon an Accommodation.” It’s actually
illustrated by Mean Dave whose illustrations
are really mean! [laughter] So that’s available
for purchase today. I’m really excited to say
that we’re adding that to our children’s book
library here at the museum. [applause] Nina uses comedy as a way
to confront and understand social justice issues such as
disability and diversity. When we were
planning for this program, Nina felt that it was really
important to bring together an amazing group of comedians
here who are going to be challenging us and pushing us
and opening our mind. So some of our
comedians include Mean Dave, Loren Kraut, [applause] Mike Beers, who comes
all the way from Montana and is getting ready
to go on a tour in a bus with a group of comedians.
So, really exciting. And then we have a moderator
for today’s panel discussion, Jim LeBrecht.
[cheers, applause] Jim is an acclaimed
Bay Area sound designer, author, and producer and a
disability rights activist. So we’re thrilled to
have you here today. I just wanted to say a
couple introductory notes. I think it’s really powerful
that we’re coming together as a community to
laugh together, right? We’re living in times that are
so depressing and devastating. [laughter] And laughter
can actually be the farthest thing
from our mind. So I think there’s
something really powerful in coming together as a
community in laughter. It feels like a small but
mighty act of resistance. So I wanna thank you all for
being here to hold that space. Comedy, as I was
mentioning earlier, is also like no other art form
in that it really breaks down barriers and attitudes
and stigma and stereotype. And it pushes up against
our comfort zones. So here at the museum,
we’re more about thinking about accessibility and how
wide our doors are, and that we have ramps. Of course
those things are important and that we’re providing
effective communication. But we’re also really interested
in creating maybe subversive spaces where we can have
conversations that maybe we aren’t having in
mainstream art institutions. So also just want to acknowledge
that we want to create platforms for promoting more disability
art and culture and the artists that are producing some really,
really important work that needs to be seen and
heard in the Bay Area. So today’s program is also in
conjunction with two exhibitions that we currently have on
view, one that opened yesterday. You may have noticed as you
came in there was a decal on the wall, and it’s Roz
Chast’s “Cartoon Memoirs.” She’s a well-known woman
cartoonist who’s most well-known for her graphic memoir “Can We Talk About
Something More Pleasant?” And that exhibition
is on view upstairs. Through her work, she talks
about challenging topics around death and dying and
her aging parents. And so she uses
cumor– humor (and cumin). [laughter]
Turmeric. She uses humor as a vehicle
for addressing those issues. Also on view is the
Cary Leibowitz exhibition, “Museum Show,” which is on
view right outside of this room. There’s lots of
pink on the walls, and his work really delves into
using comedy as a way to address identity politics and
being bullied as a child for identifying as gay.
That exhibit is on view. So we felt that that was
really a nice connection. A couple of housekeeping
notes: Because today is comedy, there is going to be some
strong language and references that may make people
uncomfortable. So you’re welcome at any
time to leave the room, and we hope that
you’ll come back. [chuckles] And so just in terms of
exits, most of you entered through the front door. We will be using
the backdoor entrance. There’s volunteers who
are stationed at the end of the aisles who can
assist you at any time. We also, I mentioned bean bags,
but if anybody wants to get up and stretch and
feel comfortable, you’re welcome to do that. Today’s show is actually
in honor and dedication of Michael O’Connell. Anyone heard of
Michael O’Connell? [applause] Michael O’Connell’s actually
a really important person behind today’s comedy show. He was the founder of The
Comedians with Disabilities Act. And he passed away last year. So Nina felt that it was
really, and the other comedians, felt that it was really
important to honor his legacy and memory. The Comedians with Disabilities
Act was a comedy show that originally featured self-described wheelchair
comedian Michael O’Connell, Little Person comedian Steve
Danner, Nina G.–who stutters– and blind comedian Eric Mee. As a way to honor his legacy,
we thought we would start off with a video–the
video is captioned– with a short sketch of Michael. Let us give a
warm round of applause to welcome Michael O’Connell.

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