Humor — I’m Okay, You’re Okay

Circa 2010

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since the ADA was put into law. I remember the day when George Bush signed the legislation. Wow, that was 20 years ago?

This milestone gave me cause to look back on how far I’ve come as a person with a disability and what I’ve learned. Life teaches us many things, and hopefully we grow (I know my belly has). Having gone through the majority of life’s journey with a disability, I’ve gained some important insights I’d like to share.

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Yeah, we all know it sometimes sucks to have a disability, but come on, I’d be a fool if I didn’t admit there are some perks. The most obvious one is the handicapped parking spot, but we all know about that, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse. What I like most about having a disability is, I don’t have to do anything and people still find me inspiring. “My God, you’re unbelievable the way you, you, you… talk!” My reply, “Lady, you think that’s amazing, you should see me brush my teeth. It’s breathtaking, not to mention minty fresh.”

If you’re a person with a disability, there are plenty of times when you can easily play the sympathy card. I always like to use the old “my spasms are acting up” routine. “No, I wish I could watch your kid for you, but it’s my legs—they’re going crazy. I don’t want to kick your brat in the face by accident.” But be careful not to abuse this power, or when you really do need help it won’t be available, because you pissed God off by taking advantage of your disability and He just might teach you a lesson by healing you. Use your disability wisely, my little squirrels.

That said, I do use my disability to get out of things I hate doing. “Yeah, I wish I could write you a check for the landscaping you did on my front yard but, unfortunately, my hand is cramping up. Damn disability. How ‘bout we call it even?” My disability has even gotten me out of jury duty—which is a good thing, because I tend to think everyone is guilty (except Heidi Fleiss, who was railroaded for offering a noble service to appreciative men).

Want another perk? Two words: amusement parks. When you use a wheelchair, you get moved right to the front of those long lines. To see the look on the disgruntled line-waiters’ faces as they wish, “Why? Why can’t I be crippled?” (Little do those fools know that, deep down, we are all crippled in some way.) As people often request my services, I have made a lot of extra money allowing families to bring me to Disneyland just to help them bypass the exhausting wait in line. (Incidentally, I’m listed in the phone book under RENT-A-GIMP.)

It’s not easy out there in the cold world, which is why I suggest taking advantage of your disadvantage. I would really hate for you to do more than you really need to. If this bothers you, just think about the snakes who park in our handicap spots. Angry yet? That’s what I’m talking about.

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One of the greatest qualities a human being can possess is a sense of humor. Humor is a means of opening the door and allowing others into your life. As a guy in a wheelchair, I’ve found that humor breaks down barriers and provides brief moments of connecting to others. It may even lead to a date. I know a girl likes me if she calls me. So, when I see someone I’m attracted to, I go up to her and bang my wheelchair into her shin and run over her feet. Athough I roll away quickly afterwards, on the back of my chair is a sign reading, “HOW AM I DRIVING? CALL (626) 446-77…”

A sense of humor is important for everyone, but is certainly an asset for someone with a disability. Laughter puts people at ease. It’s a wonderful disarming mechanism when confronted with someone who is uncomfortable being around people with disabilities. (And we’ve all met those types of folks!) When you can make fun of yourself, others realize you are well-adjusted to your situation and they are more likely to loosen up. “I tell ya, I get no respect. I use a wheelchair, and everytime I go out with my friends they put my wheelchair in the front seat and me in the trunk.”

I have been a professional “sit-down” comedian for over 20 years now, and part of my act deals with disability-related issues. “A lot of people ask me if sex is still the same as it was before my injury. I say, ‘Hell no, the prices have gone way up!’” When people come up to me after a show and want to tell me a joke rather than ask what happened to me, I know they’ve looked past my disability, because they were focused on my humor.

Humor helps me get through the day—and days are rarely easy for people with disabilities. Some unforeseen headache always arises, such as falling out of your wheelchair, getting a flat tire, a punctured seat cushion, a busted leg bag. Come on, a 30-year-old man pissing his pants? That’s funny! Believe me, I’ve seen it and it’s not pretty. But then again, neither is Tory Spelling and we’ve somehow dealt with her.

Humor is equally important when in a relationship. It’s funny to look at the other person’s face when you’re making love (or in the mirror if you’re alone). Humor is the backbone of a relationship—and if you don’t have a backbone, then you’re going to have trouble standing up. If your wife gets mad at you, cut her hair while she’s sleeping. That stuff cracks me up, and it’s fun for the whole family. Laughter is the best medicine. I always laugh when my date wants me to pick up the dinner check.

Sometimes I will write about topical humor. Recently, a person with quadriplegia was thrown out of his wheelchair by a Florida law enforcement officer. The story made all the news stations and papers. To vent my frustration, I blogged about it and used humor to make a point. What follows is my blog entry:

I believe we we’re all given a sense of humor. Some of us use it more than others, some not at all. Don’t be afraid to use your funny bone—there is nothing more beautiful than a smile or the music of laughter. I know first-hand…and I’m not half the man my sister is.

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I think it’s normal to feel a little self-conscious about your disability. Many people who don’t have a disability have something that causes them insecurity, whether it’s their looks, their intelligence or their singing voice. Let’s face it, none of us is perfect. We all have shortcomings. However, I fear that many of us look at our disabilities and feel as though we are not whole people—we’re unsure of how others may view us, often afraid it’s in a negative, helpless light. That’s why it’s important to keep our breath minty fresh.

What many of us don’t realize is that a disability is a badge of honor. It shows the world that we have overcome adversity, that we don’t hide ourselves from the population, that we contribute to society. Every day we are out there fighting for a full and active life—a life that has not been easy on us—although most of us probably don’t even think about our disabilities daily. Our disabilities are what they are, and we’ve learned to deal with them, making the best of our situations. We go about our daily lives overcoming obstacles and, though we may rarely recognize it, we are respected and admired by many. We set an example that life is what you make it (or Break It, as Peri Gilpin’s show suggests)

Do I like having a disability? No, but I am proud of the way I’ve handled the predicament. I am full of pride as I literally push through each day and, in many places throughout my journey in life, I have given hope and inspiration to others. So, if you have a disability, hold your head high.

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I’ve often wondered how people see me. For the most part, I’ve been pretty lucky over the years with the whole dating thing—I can usually tell if someone is attracted to me or not. But there have been times when I think I’m connecting with a totally hot babe, only to find that she’s really not interested in me at all. Of course, I always wonder if it’s me she’s not attracted to or if it’s the disability that turned her off. It’s not like she’s going to tell me. “Of course it’s not your disability, honey, you’re just ugly.” Thank God for that—for a second there, I thought you were shallow.

I’ve also been out with my buddies and been the one who gets the girl, only to hear my friends mutter, “Man, I gotta get me a wheelchair.” So, I hate to say it but, the disability has helped land me a chick or two (Not in the same night, but hey, I’m still young). Maybe women think a guy with a disability can be trusted. Fools, I say, but I’ll take it. Use whatever you got, baby. Damn right, I’ll take a sympathy date—as long as she’s buying.

I’ve got to be honest with you: I’m not attracted to people with disabilities. I mean, come on, what if I dated another quad? Somebody’s got to do the heavy lifting in the relationship. (I mean, the moving and grooving in the sack-wink, wink.) It would just be too difficult to be with another quad. What would we do? Lie in bed smoking cigarettes, talking about how good it could’ve been? Bump and grind wheelchairs? Besides, by the time either of us got undressed it would be morning. I’m sorry, I think it’s best if I stay away from my own kind.

So are people with disabilities attractive? Who knows? Who cares? My opinion is that a person with a disability brings a lot to the relationship table (besides, possibly, his own chair). There’s somebody for everybody out there. Yeah, you might not get that hot babe or that gorgeous guy, but who knows, you might get something better: someone who loves you for who you are.

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Let’s face it, we’ve changed. We are not the same people we once were before we acquired a disability. Our circumstances have changed us, and many times, it’s for the better. We understand life more fully. We deal with the challenges. We learn to be more patient. We have most likely become attuned to life’s trials and tribulations. We might long for what could be, but we accept the here and now. We understand our limitations and do our best to move forward. We shall overcome.

Occasionally, however, people move in the opposite direction. They become bitter or depressed and turn on life, as if the disability has hardened their souls and sucked the life out of them.

How can this be changed? Well, it’s difficult to change from the inside-out. I mean, you can’t just tell yourself you’re going to be happy. The best way to change your attitude is through your behavior (the “outside-in” approach). If you don’t feel happy, act happy. If you don’t feel loving, act loving. In short, act the way you want to feel, not the way you feel. And yes, I am saying put up a façade around others. You’d be surprised how behavior can affect your attitude. Eventually, you’ll find you’re not pretending anymore. Fight for your well-being.

No, it’s not wrong to feel bad, unhappy, sad, disappointed, depressed or any other detrimental emotions. Those are all parts of life. But feeling these things all of the time is a problem. People don’t want to be around someone who’s a downer. Be upbeat! And when people around you are infused with your positive energy, they’ll be lifted up, and in return you’ll be elevated. Over time and through your actions, the unhealthy feelings you were feeling will be suppressed. When you get used to the “habit” of being happy and the notion that you are loving, that you are good, those feelings begin to come more naturally on their own. I know this may seem radical, but why not try it? You deserve the best. (Or, at least, I do.)

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Whether black, white, Hindu, ugly, or with or without a disability, we all have specific talents. Some of us are good at writing. Some are technically minded. Some are artistic. Others are mechanical and can fix stuff (I can’t even change a light bulb). No matter what type of disability we might have, we also have many gifts.

Find your talents, then do your best to develop them. You always want to be prepared for when opportunity appears. I know people who want to be singers, and yet they don’t even have a demo CD to hand out. You never know who you might run into (or over!), so keep a portfolio of whatever you do. Then you can proudly say, “This is what I can do.” Things typically don’t come to you, you must go get them. Create those opportunities in your life. Get out in the world. Meet people. Be proactive. This is your life and you’re steering the ship.

We’re not ordinary people, we’re extraordinary people. Each of us has something great and wonderful to share with the world. But if you need help, don’t forget I’m here—RENT-A-GIMP.

“Ham on a Roll’

Jeff Charlebois

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