by Vee Hua 華婷婷
Since 2018, disabled comedians Dan Hurwitz and Kayla Brown have been organizing The Disabled List, which is arguably the most boundary-pushing, irreverently joyful stand-up comedy showcase in the Puget Sound region. On Jan. 27 and 28, they will be hosting The Disabled List Comedy Festival 2023 at Northwest Film Forum. The two-day event will be their largest to date, and will feature New York-based headliner Gibran Saleem on Friday, Jan. 27, as well as many of their regular comedians.
“I’m Jewish, Black, and disabled,” said Hurwitz, who has done comedy continuously since 2017 — and “non-continuously” since 2011. “One of the things I noticed in the Seattle scene … [and] in general, is that you don’t see a lot of spaces — or any spaces, really — for people with disabilities, specifically, the way that you see spaces for LGBTQ communities or POC communities, etc. I thought it would be a valuable addition to the community just to start … a collective that is focused on the disabled community.”
Brown says she enjoys hosting and bringing communities together. “That’s kind of my passion — so this was just another way to do that.”
Brown and Hurwitz met after doing an AmeriCorps program together around 2007 or 2008, and they had many conversations throughout that period about how vital a disability-focused comedy collective might be. Still, despite being from the demographic they hoped to serve, they felt a lot of uncertainty.
“We didn’t really know if … one, there was an audience for it. [And] two … I didn’t really know that many disabled comedians,” shared Hurwitz. “That’s also been one of the beautiful things about putting the show on. … You kind of realize all these people who are part of the disabled community that you didn’t realize were a part of it.”
Today, The Disabled List features a combination of veteran and newbie comedians; its lineups also frequently showcase first-timers. Some of its regulars — who will also be performing at the upcoming festival — include Howie Echo-Hawk of Indigenize Productions, Cheri Hardman, Michael Bellevue, Gretta Gimp, Andy Iwancio, and Laura Lyons. Rapper King Khazm will also be performing.
“It’s a mixture of people who are kind of already in the Seattle comedy community, who I … either knew were disabled or learned were disabled,” said Hurwitz, who jokes that disabled Black and Indigenous comedians can only be “mainstream” in the comedy community to a limited degree. He adds that interested comedians sometimes also reach out to them.
The recruitment process has invited Brown and Hurwitz to deeply examine the nuances of what it means to have a disability. Brown notes that not everyone may identify as having a disability, especially if their disabilities are invisible or related to mental illness.
“[It’s] really a personal choice, whether you want to identify as being disabled,” Brown shared. “There’s that kind of difference between the disability community and other communities [of] marginalized identities.”
The Disabled List’s comedians come from a range of life experiences. Whether they have mobility issues, are deaf or blind, are on the autism spectrum, have mental illness, or experience other types of disabilities, all of them use humor and wit to present a worldview not often seen on stand-up comedy stages.
During the past five years of hosting The Disabled List, Brown notes that she’s received many positive responses from people with disabilities, who may have never gone out to watch comedy anywhere because it didn’t feel inclusive. She also notes that they’ve gotten people onstage who never thought they would tell jokes as a comedian.
“Laughter is healing,” she says. “Being onstage is taking up space that people don’t often get — especially minoritized groups. Just putting disability into the mix, since it’s often not considered as kind of a facet of diversity, I think, [has been] just really, really fun to explore.”
The Disabled List Comedy Festival is the culmination of what the duo has been working on for the past few years; the larger-scale event was something they wanted to do in 2020 or 2021, but the pandemic altered their plans. In the interim, the two received a grant from 4Culture and created a feature-length mockumentary called This Is Spinal Injury. In December 2021, they returned to in-person shows and hosted the majority of them at Northwest Film Forum, which allowed for a wheelchair-accessible space and other accommodations, such as Computer Aided Real-Time Transcription (CART) for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have certain cognitive and learning impairments.
“One of the problems that we have had from the start is … so many venues in Seattle, and everywhere, are inaccessible. There are so many … really cool spots that are in a basement or are just somewhere … that people with ambulatory difficulties cannot go, right?” said Brown. “[But] accessibility is more than that; there’s more than making sure people can physically get there. … It’s also making sure that if they’re deaf, they can have an interpreter or captions … both of which we’ll have at the festival.”
The Disabled List is about much more than showing patrons a comedic good time. Hurwitz and Brown fundamentally want to help shift the way the public thinks about entertainment, arts and culture, and access.
“If you’re creating something that not everyone in the community can access, then you’re … falling short of a goal that you should have,” said Hurwitz. “I’m not saying that our thing is going to be accessible to any conceivable person … but we’re giving it the old fucking college try. We’re doing more than most.”
Brown notes that while she has found a similar collective in the Bay Area and other disabled comics throughout the country, initiatives like The Disabled List are still few and far between. Hurwitz and Brown have goals to possibly make a second film, promote their comics, and continue to educate the public on the nuances of disability and access.
“I think our goal is to scream louder and give people an opportunity to join our community,” said Brown. “In the future, we would love to expand into other states … really facilitating some sort of a system where we can get more comedians out there with disabilities.”
“You have an ability to support the kinds of things that you want to see out in the world. … If you believe in a certain kind of art or artists or musicians or whatever, you can help will it into existence by showing up,” urged Hurwitz. “The opposite is also true. … If you stop thinking about us, then we disappear. It’s like Tinkerbell or whatever.”
The Disabled List Comedy Festival 2023 takes place Jan. 27 and 28, in-person at Northwest Film Forum. Events start at 7 p.m. both days. Festival passes are available, as well as sliding-scale, pay-what-you-can tickets between $0 and $20.
Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 01/24/2023 to change a word choice from “are in wheelchairs” to “have mobility issues.”
Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the interim managing editor of the South Seattle Emerald, editor-in-chief of REDEFINE, and a member of the Seattle Arts Commission. They are also a film educator at the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they previously served as executive director and played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences. Their latest short film, Reckless Spirits (2022), is a metaphysical, multilingual POC buddy comedy, for which they are working on a feature-length version. Follow them at @hellomynameisvee or over at veehua.com
📸 Featured Image: Seasoned comedian Cheri Hardman performs a stand-up comedy set and captivates audiences with what she describes as “hilarious tales about being a plus size, menopausal babe.” (Photo courtesy of The Disabled List.)
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