In a surprise move, OWN awarded both Anner and co-finalist, Kristina Kuzmic-Crocco, their own series. Anner, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, is now poised to unveil Rollin’ Around the World with Zach Anner, a humorous travel show that will see him cross the globe. Anner won $100,000 from Kohl’s (sponsor of Your Own Show), as well as a new car. ABILITY’s Chet Cooper caught up with Anner before his move out to Hollywood.
Cooper: Congratulations on the new show! Are you going to be filming out of Austin or Los Angeles?
Anner: Thanks! I think we’re going to be based out of Los Angeles, but we’re going to be visiting a lot of different places because it’s a travel show.
Cooper: So you’ll be living out here in California while you do the show?
Anner: A lot of things are still up in the air, but it would seem to make sense to do that. I’d be open to it, because Los Angeles has In-N-Out Burger. That really is a big draw for me. I could float through space in an In-N-Out Burger and that would be cool with me.
Cooper: (laughs) Tell me about your new travel program. What can we expect to see?
Anner: We want the show to offer a mix of the places, the people, and the logistics of travel, with humor overarching it all. And a good amount of heart, too. I think it’ll be fun.
Cooper: You’ve already proven you have the gift of humor.
Anner: My parents and my brother instilled in me my sense of humor. That’s kind of the way we communicate with each other, and it’s always been a way for me to get to know people. Depending on where my self-confidence was, growing up, I would use humor either to bring people closer, or to keep them away from certain feelings I had.
Humor disarms people. It opens them up to starting a dialogue about things they wouldn’t normally talk about. I don’t understand how people who don’t have a sense of humor get through life. Even when something sad or tragic happens, I find a way to look at it in a positive light. People who don’t have a sense of humor must be so sad all the time.
Cooper: Were you considered a problem child in school because you were such a joker?
Anner: Sometimes. I remember a time when my first grade teacher wanted us to tell her the classroom rules—like sharing and no fighting and that sort of thing—and I raised my hand and said, “No French kissing the teacher.” I got in trouble the first day of school. I had to be on my best behavior the entire year, because I’d made such a horrible first impression!
Cooper: You’re saying your teacher actually didn’t want that to be a rule?
Anner: I thought it was a pretty safe rule, right? And I think she agreed with the principle—just not with my expression of it.
Cooper: I don’t think I knew what French kissing was in first grade.
Anner: I didn’t know, either. I’d just assumed you weren’t supposed to do it with your teacher.
When you’re growing up—and occasionally when you have a disability—a lot of embarrassing things sometimes happen to you, and it’s really great to be able to say, “This will be so funny later! This is all great material that I have, this life that I’m living.”
Cooper: I’d forgotten about your disability.
Anner: If we don’t talk about it, that’s awesome, because that means we’ve got other things to talk about. But yeah, it’s definitely part of who I am.
Cooper: I think one of the reasons I loved your YouTube videos is that you don’t do disability-specific humor.
Anner: A lot of times people expect me to make jokes solely about my disability. My perspective is: what would I really want to do if I weren’t in a chair? There are a lot of things I love to do that have nothing to do with my cerebral palsy (CP). I define myself as a goofball first. That really opens people up. They say, “This guy’s making jokes that really don’t have anything to do with him being in a chair.” So that was always the key. I don’t wake up and think of myself as somebody who has CP.
I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker. I want to be a comedian. I don’t see the need to dwell upon elements of my life I can’t control. Cerebral palsy is just one of those things I was born with. We’re all born differently, and this is my difference.
Cooper: The guy who writes our “Humor Therapy” section happens to be a quadriplegic. Every so often he does some disability-related stuff, but most of his work is just straightforward humor.
Anner: Talking to other comedians is always nice. Arsenio Hall was on the Oprah show with me and was the funniest guy. It made me wonder why he doesn’t still have a show of his own. It was so cool to be able to riff off of him and feel the rapport.
Jon Stewart does a great job, too. What I love about The Daily Show is that each of the talents there thinks of himself or herself as a comedian first. They make really intelligent political points and people listen, because the audience thinks, “These guys are comedians.” So The Daily Show can make the sharpest points without having to, necessarily, own up to the responsibility of the opinion. That’s really smart. Also, they usually look at things objectively, rather than always being on the party line. That’s the way you make progress.
Cooper: You sound like you could be on your way to a political career with that comment.
Anner: I’d rather focus on what everybody has in common, instead of on polarizing issues.
Cooper: You made a polarizing comment when you said cerebral palsy is the sexiest of the palsies. We’ve got one woman here who has Bell’s palsy, and she’s really upset with you!
Anner: I stand by my position. I know some sexy people with Bell’s palsy and, while there’s room for both of us, I come out on top in sexiness. How many palsies are there? I don’t even know. I need to know whom I’m up against. Does Drew Barrymore have Bell’s palsy? I find her very attractive.
Cooper: We’ll have to check on that. Tell me a little bit about your vision.
Anner: You mean my vision for the show, or my wandering eye?
Anner: (laughs) Well, when I was born, my eyes were crossed. When doctors performed eye surgery on me, they overcorrected, and so that’s why my eyes all over the place. I don’t have much depth perception, unless I really focus. It’s something I would like to work on, actually, because eye contact is important during interviews, and I never have it with anybody.
Cooper: Do you have a driver’s license?
Anner: Oh, no. I wouldn’t want one! My startle reflex is really exaggerated. That means if someone pulled out in front of me I’d probably freak out and murder somebody’s lovely little grandma. It would be terrible.
I would want to sign a contract that said I wouldn’t be charged with criminal misconduct for the first five animals I accidentally run over.
Cooper: Five animals and one grandma.
Anner: (laughs) I did once go through a test to evaluate whether or not it would be safe for me to drive, and the answer was a resounding “no.”
Cooper: Have you gone on any amusement park rides?
Anner: (laughs) Yes! When you’re in a wheelchair, you get to go to the front of the lines, which is the biggest perk for me. I would love not to have CP, but when I’m in those lines I feel like the luckiest guy in the world because I get to ride the roller coaster 10 times! That would be a hard thing to give up.
Cooper: What hobbies do you have?
Anner: In Austin, my life is kind of consumed with film stuff. I make a lot of shorts, and my friends and I have a show called “The Wingmen,” which is a mocumentary web series that’s all improv. We’re just always trying to think of little movies or features to do. That takes up most of my time.
Cooper: Under your deal with OWN, will you still be able to do other projects?
Anner: I hope so. OWN has been really, really cool about letting me continue to do the silly things I do. This show is the opportunity of the lifetime, so I’m down for whatever.
I talked to somebody from NBC who said the network was excited because it had a pilot completely made up of people in wheelchairs. And I was like, “Well, you don’t really need to hit that issue over the head. Your show doesn’t need to be all people in wheelchairs. It doesn’t even necessarily need to have a character who’s there because he’s in a wheelchair.”..... continued in ABILITY Magazine
Excerpts from the Bob Saget Issue Apr/May 2011:
Bob Saget — Interview
AJ Green — The Wish That Made a Star
Ashley’s Column — Spring in My Step
Greg Mortenson — Schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Zach Anner — Oprah’s Globetrotter
Senator Harkin — Advancing the Civil Rights Movement
Dyspraxia — Real Emotions
Articles in the Bob Saget Issue; Ashley’s Column — Spring in My Step; Senator Harkin — Advancing the Civil Rights Movement; Moon Feris — Sounding Off for the Deaf?; Arts — The Craft of Education; AJ Green — The Wish That Made a Star; Humor — Fraying Genes; Dyspraxia — Real Emotions; Building Futures — Schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Zach Anner — Oprah’s Globetrotter; Bob Saget — America’s Funniest Philanthropist; Good Food — We’ve Got Taste; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe