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I'm a Disabled Comedian, but I Don't Make Disability Jokes

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My name is Martin Phillips. I am a stand-up comedian from Virginia. My performances are usually around the Washington, D.C. area. And I have muscular dystrophy.

One thing others often find interesting about my act is I don’t do too many jokes about my disability. It’s not because of some stand I am taking to be viewed as “normal,” or a strict goal to not do one, it’s just that I honestly don’t think of many disability jokes. Doing comedy for a little over five years now, I’ve found that really intrigues people.

Many disabled comedians do a lot of jokes about their disability, and their day-to-day life with it. There is nothing wrong with that. Comedy comes from a very personal place, and one’s disability can certainly be a source of humor. I just never wanted my entire act to be centered on one particular aspect of me. I have jokes about my disability. I use them sometimes because they’re good, but I have done many sets where I don’t acknowledge my disability in any way whatsoever.

In my early days of comedy I remember a comedian pointed out to me that I was a disabled person not making jokes about my disability. All I could think of replying was, “Because there is more to me than that.” I have my issues and do things differently, but I have always done things this way. I don’t think my disability is my defining attribute, personally.

People seem to expect me to make jokes about my disability. Not just the audience, but other comedians. Older industry veterans I’ve worked with before asked if I had any jokes about my disability. I was told once it was good to start out with a disabled joke to make the audience feel comfortable. I appreciate the advice, but I disagree with it.

I am sorry that the audience may feel uncomfortable. It sounds more like their problem if they cannot accept a comedian who looks different. Perhaps people may be worried about whether it’s OK to laugh, but I am on a stage at a comedy club, so I think it’s safe to say it is. I just don’t see why I can’t do a “normal” act like a normal comedian.

I am not trying to sound self-righteous, putting myself above other disabled comedians because I don’t make jokes about my disability. Again, I have those jokes, I just don’t use them all the time. I am only saying I don’t think certain jokes should be expected of me. My main objective as a comedian is to be funny — whether it’s telling jokes about my disability, the president, or farting.

I am a regular comedian; my disability does not change that.

Getty photo by KTS Images.

Originally published: March 15, 2018
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