INTERVIEW: Comedian Greg Walloch talks LGBT identity, cerebral palsy, and eating his words

(Greg Walloch. Photo: Robyn Von Swank.)

Greg Walloch is a gay comedian with cerebral palsy who gained attention as a guest on "The Howard Stern Show" during a three-part episode that ultimately led to Howard's show on E!, "Handicapped Star Search." Greg hosts a monthly live show at The Standard in Hollywood where people eat and laugh called "Eat Your Words." Greg's story, "About To Eat Cake," is currently featured in the Peabody Award-winning-series, The Moth Radio Hour, on National Public Radio.  
 

After our phone interview, Greg emailed me with a brief description of how he got started. He wrote:

"I began my career as a writer solo artist in the late '80's at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica -- a home to many LGBT artists and audiences alike in CA. I continued developing my writing, storytelling and live stage shows when I moved to New York in '92 and lived there through 2012 at places like The Knitting Factory, Joe's Pub at The Public Theater, The Cutting Room, Dixon Place and PS122. It wasn't until Howard Stern dubbed me a comedian -- when I appeared on his TV show for E! a few times -- that people really started regarding me as more of a comic. I'm still basically telling stories, but the venues are more varied now and my work has gained a much wider audience. Comedy was not my primary aim at the start, it's just that some of the stories I was telling happened to be really funny."

Here's our phone interview:

Q: Why comedy? Why did you decide to do stand-up comedy in front of an audience?

Well, initially, I started out as a writer and a storyteller and comedy wasn't the goal at first but when I kept getting up to tell stories, people would say, "Oh my gosh, the stories you're telling are so funny. You're like a comedian!" So the more I told stories about myself, being a gay guy with a disability, people would react to because the stories were very funny stories, so what I really do is a hybrid of comedy and storytelling, and I just decided to embrace what people were seeing in my work.

The reason comedy is so great is because I think it can touch on very serious issues but in a funny way so when I'm talking about gay issues or issues about my disability, I never want it to be like medicine, I always want people to have a great time, and I think comedy is a way that we can connect on important issues but if we're laughing, it's easier for us.

(Greg Walloch at Hot Tub with Kurt & Kristen at The Virgil.)

Q: Can you tell us about "Eat Your Words?"

I started an evening called "Eat Your Words" with stories about food at The Standard Hollywood, and I started it mainly because everybody eats something and everybody has a story to tell so I wanted to create an evening that gives folks that feeling of community, kind of that moment where you take a break in your day and you sit around a metaphorical kitchen table and you share stories over some great food and a great bottle of wine and it provides people in Los Angeles a really great opportunity to meet some of their favorite performers , storytellers, local chefs and foodies on a personal level. That's something that's really unique about the show. It's the first Thursday of every month at The Standard Hollywood and, we have, along with storytellers and comedians, we always try to have a foodie, a bartender, a mixologist or a local chef come in and talk about their work as well so that's what makes the show really unique. Recently, we were thrilled to have Bryan Petroff from Big Gay Ice Cream. He was a really fun guest.

Q: Did the audience get to have free ice cream?

He did not bring ice cream with him! They're still getting their shop open here in Los Angeles, but as a New Yorker, I'm sure you know how excited we are to have Big Gay Ice Cream come in this direction. Then, on November 6th, we had the founder of Kombucha Dog. I don't know if you've heard of them. They brew kombucha and then the concept is really unique. On the label, there is a dog, a picture of a dog that you can adopt. So, it's serving a two-fold purpose. You get to have some great kombucha and then you get to read about canine adoption. It was fun.

Q: That's awesome! My next question is LGBT-specific. Do you consider your comedy advocacy?

That's an interesting question whether or not I consider my comedy advocacy because, my goal as a comedian is to be funny and to entertain people, and I think by virtue of the fact that I'm an out gay man with a disability certainly living my life is a form of advocacy. But do I endeavor to be an advocate with the material specifically? Not always. But I think just being an out gay member of society, a performer, is a form of advocacy in itself. But, the comedy, I don't always endeavor to be an advocate. I mostly endeavor to be entertaining. So I think the fact that I'm just out there living my life as an open gay performer with a disability and just setting an example for others, that, in and of itself, is a form of advocacy because I think it's very difficult to separate the political from the personal, even if your endeavor on the outset is not a political one.

(Greg with Chris Gorham of USA Network's Covert Affairs and his wife, Anel Lopez Gorham, on Spirit Day, GLAAD's day to support anti-bullying for LGBT youth.)

Q: I also want to know what your take is on why there isn't a ton of visibility with LGBT people with disabilities. What is your opinion on that?

I think that's slowly changing. Josh Blue, who was on Last Comic Standing, or, but I don't think he's gay though, he's an out person with a disability. Yeah, you're right, I guess, let me think for a minute. Specifically performers, um, there have been a few of them, like Philip Patston in Australia is a comedian in a wheelchair, and he's a gay man. And there are some authors and different people but specifically, yeah, I think it's a new frontier to have out entertainers who are LGBT and disabled.

Q: Where does your material come from?

Most of my material comes from just observing life. I feel like specifically because I am a gay guy with a disability, that always makes for some interesting encounters with people because I think people have a certain feeling about disabled people and then they may have another feeling about gay people and in my comedy and my work a lot, it is interesting for me to see those two worlds collide because I think it's an unexpected thing for most people.

Most people I feel don't expect people with disabilities to have any kind of sexuality let alone a gay sexuality so when I talk about my relationships or my life in that way, I think it's still surprising for people or I think it's something that they haven't really thought of so it's bringing another part of the gay community to light that people don't always see all the time or don't always consider all the time so I think a lot of my comedy just comes from, you know, being present in my everyday life and paying attention to the experiences that are happening or that are around me. It's just funny. People come up and they are always just surprised by those two things. Because I think when you see a guy on crutches walk to a microphone, you're not sure what he's going to say, so I think that element of surprise in that I'm a gay guy and living as an open life, I think it's surprising to people, because they don't expect that.

Q: What kind of responses do you get?

I would say I get generally positive responses from people. I think that once people get past the idea people in the media say, which is " gay disabled comedian Greg Walloch" or "gay comedian with cerebral palsy" and yeah, those things are true, and I am defined to a degree by those things, but I think, what most people are surprised by when they're sitting in a club and they're watching my show, that those things fall away and they realize that my experiences and my life are a lot of times the same as their own and so I think that's the power in the comedy and the power in the work.

I've often had people say "Oh I didn't even think about your being on crutches after just watching you for an hour." Or "It didn't even matter to me that you're gay," and that's the goal really. It's sort of to just get up on stage and be a great comic and be a funny comic and have those things that initially defined me when I first came onstage fall away. And what's important underneath it all is the work.

Q: What advice do you have for LGBT youth?

Well, being a person myself, who is not only gay but who also has a disability, I certainly understand what it is to feel different, "different," in the world, and my advice would be that there is a place in the world for you and stay true to yourself and look to the people who inspire you and who elevate you and don't spend a lot of time on the people who bring you down. And I know that seems a little simplistic, but I'm learning in my adult years, I'm still learning that myself. You know? To be around the people who elevate you and celebrate who you are rather than the people who diminish who you are or don't believe in who you are, and I think that really helps.

Q: Is there anyone who you look up to in particular?

I mean, there are so many great performers who I really love who I look up to creatively and it's not so much whether they themselves are LGBT or even other disabled people but more that they have a good messages in their work and what they're doing. And that brings me to Hasan Minhaj, the comedian that I'm working with, I'm directing his one-man show and that's the show we took to The Sundance Institute's New Frontier Story Labs. What's unique about Hasan is that he is Indian and Muslim and he tells a lot of stories on his show about how he was outcast because of the color of his skin and not accepted in school and he talks a lot about his high school years in his work and so it's nice to be working with him because, even though he's not LGBT, his struggles as an Indian and a Muslim resonate and are just as relevant to me as an LGBT person because even though the struggle is different over the specific issue, I think, at the end of the day, the message is that we are all human beings in the bigger picture. We should come together and work together and realize that our struggle, no matter what, our struggle, is similar and we can join and unite in places even though our station in life may be different. So I think that the more that people of all types can come together and join forces, I think that's always a positive thing.

(Lea DeLaria and Greg Walloch at Spotlight on Diversity.)

Q: What's next for you?

We have "Eat Your Words" at The Standard Hollywood, the first Thursday of every month, and that is always a good time. It's free and open to the public. And I'm directing the show with Hasan Minhaj. People can always check out what I'm doing on GregWalloch.com and follow me on Twitter @GregWalloch as well as Instagram @GregWalloch. And I always love when people reach out and connect. Community is a very important thing to me, so I welcome it.

Plus, tonight, December 4th, is the end of the year show for Eat Your Words featuring special guests Jane Borden, author of I Totally Meant to Do That, Jacob Kear, owner of DINNER by KeAr, Peter Aguero, of The Moth, and David LeFevre, chef and owner of restaurants Manhattan Beach Post & Fishing with Dynamite, at The Standard Hollywood. See below:

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