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Comedy Preview: Josh Blue at The Funny Bone

Grant Walters Grant Walters Comedy Preview: Josh Blue at The Funny Bone
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The "Last Comic Standing" winner comes to Columbus this weekend for a special five-show engagement at the Funny Bone.

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Like much of the country, I became acquainted with Josh Blue as his humble, disarming humor propelled him into the national spotlight as winner of season four of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. His affability and winsome wit made him easy to root for, and he would eventually best an impressive list of comedians who auditioned for the show that year, including now-veterans Doug Benson, Tig Notaro, and Gabriel Iglesias.

Similar to many stand-ups who have appeared on the series, Blue had been a working comic for several years before he arrived on set as a contestant. He first began appearing at open mic nights while studying at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in the early 2000s before making his way through the club circuit. While his prime-time stint certainly afforded him an advantageous platform from which he could build his career, he insists the growth he’s achieved since has been the most transformative.

“Just overall as a comedian, I’m, like, a thousand times better than I was on Last Comic Standing. I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of shows since then, and I’ve just grown as a voice. Obviously, the disability thing is a big part of my persona, and it was what I talked about a lot in the beginning. But now that I’m established I don’t have to explain as much, and I can just go into the humor of things and it doesn’t have to be disability-related stuff. But it all still comes from the perspective of a disabled person.”

Blue was born with cerebral palsy, which absolutely gives his stand-up routine unique physicality and, often, a level of unpredictability to which he responds with expert comedic timing. His willingness to self-deprecate has made difficult topics like disability easier to broach with audiences and gives him the capacity to allow them to laugh at subjects they might otherwise consider off-limits – even if it means taking the crowd for a little bit of a ride in the process.

“I’m eager to throw myself under the bus for your entertainment, you know? (laughs) That also gives me some leeway to say certain things. I like the idea of making people think I’m going one way with a certain topic, and then just making it ridiculous. The old bait-and-switch! I do ’em all day. If you guys haven’t caught on by the end of my set, man – shit!”

Cameroon-born and Minnesota-raised Blue has appeared as a regular guest star on Comedy Central’s Mind of Mencia, and his story has been featured on Fox, ESPN, CBS, ABC, and MSNBC.  He was the first comedian to perform stand-up on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and he was also the first comic to debut a stand-up special on the big screen when 7 More Days in the Tank was shown in theatres across the country.  Blue is a repeat guest on such nationally syndicated radio programs as NPR’s Talk of the Nation and The Mancow Show, and has been featured in numerous print publications including People Magazine and The New York Times. He has also performed at the prestigious HBO-Aspen Comedy Festival, Comedy Central’s South Beach Comedy Festival, and The Comedy Festival in Las Vegas.

Blue was also a member of the US Paralympic soccer team, and competed alongside his teammates in the 2004 games in Athens.

Lately, Blue has continued to sell out comedy clubs across the country, and he serves as co-host of the groundbreaking new unscripted digital series High Cuisine on Verizon’s go90 mobile network – a cooking competition that focuses on plant-based recipes with a twist: the chefs enter their kitchens high on cannabis before they prepare their dishes.

This weekend, Blue will perform a special five-show engagement at Columbus Funny Bone at Easton Town Center, beginning with a 7:45 p.m. show on Friday, and concluding with a 7:00 p.m. show on Sunday. At press time, the 7:45 p.m. show on Friday and 7:00 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. shows on Saturday are sold out.

I had a chance to watch a few episodes of High Cuisine this week, and they were rather entertaining. You’ve long been a cannabis advocate, especially since you use it for medicinal purposes to manage the symptoms of your cerebral palsy, but I’m curious how they pitched it to you?

“They actually came to me and said that I was the first person they thought of to do the show, and they were just, like, ‘we hope he smokes weed!’ They didn’t even know that. And I’m, like, ‘well, you just happened to get a goddamned professional!’ Basically, I get two chefs high as hell and they’re then challenged to cook something in 45 minutes.”

And following the plant theme of the show, the food has to be vegan as well?

“Yeah, that really throws a wrench in there for those guys!”

Are you currently involved in any of the show’s writing or production?

“None of that at this point, but I definitely can see there being more seasons of that – and I would love to get more involved, you know?”

In your latest special, Delete, you talk about disability and how it’s often seen as inspirational. And I really loved how you framed that because I just finished teaching a course at Ohio State multicultural identity, and two of our classes were focused on ability. There was a lot of discussion among my students about how society views people with disabilities – and how completely different it is to see someone as inspiring versus having respect for them and being inclusive of them. 

“Well, thanks. You know, it’s true – we’re such an underrepresented minority group. We need a voice, and the best way to give a voice to that is by saying the fucking truth.”

I also read an interview you did with Psychology Today in which you said “it’s the only minority group that you can join at any time.” And we talked about that in class as well – that, even if it’s temporary, an illness or an injury can drastically alter anyone’s ability. That’s a concept most people don’t think about on a daily basis.

“And that’s a brutally honest way to educate right there. When I say that on stage, I can see people’s faces actually putting those pieces together, like, ‘oh my God! I’ve never thought of it like that before!’ And I think it’s time. People are ready.”

You’re an incredibly prolific comedian, so it was a bit mind-blowing when I recently heard you say that you don’t write any of your material down. So how do you create and then retain what you develop in your act?

“There’s definitely a pretty intense process to it. A lot of times, stuff comes from off stage just in conversation. Like, I’ll be talking to a friend about some topic, and then I’ll say something funny and think ‘oh, I could make that into a joke form or story form on stage.’ Then I hope I remember to say it again the next night. And that’s the thing – I feel like if you don’t write it down, you can’t fuck it up. But you can forget it! (laughs) So the key is every night that I go on, I say that story again and it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same place as the night before.

Where that then gets tricky is I have a lot of call-backs in my show, so I have to do certain jokes before I do other jokes. But it’s not necessarily set in stone where any of that’s going to go. And I feel like by doing that, it creates this element of being in the moment and everyone in the room is there with this thing that’s genuinely happening there.”

You’re a dad of two. What have your kids said or done recently that’s given you comedic pause?

“Last week, I had run around frantically buying them Christmas gifts – going to this store, and then driving across town and going to this store. And it had been a long morning of that. Then, they both come home from school and say ‘hey, Dad? What do you do anyway? What do you do all day – just sit around and watch TV?’ And I was, like, ‘you little shits! You have no idea what I just did all morning for you – and now you’re busting my balls?! What do you do, anyway?!’ You little bastards! Yeesh!”

I guess that’s a pretty typical kid perspective.

“I guess I can still return those gifts, man!”

It’s been a almost twenty years since you first started as a stand-up. Is it all that different in 2018 than it was when you got into the business?

“I feel like the thing about stand-up is that it’s always evolving – it doesn’t sit still, right? It’s always evolving and there’s always a new way to be funny. There’s always a new thing on the news to talk about. With the current state of the world, I’m afraid of what there’s going to be to talk about to be honest with you, man. I’m afraid what comics are going to have to do to make this shit funny. I mean, something’s gotta give, right? It feels like this whole worlds is…with ‘Rocket Man’ where it’s, like, ‘my button’s bigger than your button!’ Oh my God. I just wish that George Carlin and Bill Hicks were still alive to tell us what to do. We definitely need it. And to get a big cache of food and water ready!”

Bouncing off that thought, are there things you’ve decided you won’t riff about – either because you’re not comfortable doing it, or perhaps you think another comedian has already covered it sufficiently? 

“I’m not necessarily afraid of any topic, but some topics can be overplayed. But on the other side of it…politics is a great example. You’re going to instantly divide your room. I remember a time where you could say a joke and everyone in the room would laugh regardless of whether they were on the side of that or not. I mean, maybe not everyone, but a greater amount. (laughs) But then if you look at things like sexual misconduct – I’m sure there are jokes that could be made that are funny about that, but I don’t feel like it’s my place to talk about that.

It’s one of those things where every topic you touch on will affect somebody. Every topic can be potentially hurtful to someone. So my thing is trying to find a way to say those things where I’m the fool or I’m not making fun of them, if you know what I’m saying? Everyone is disabled in their own way, so I try to be conscious of the words that I say.

You also paint and sculpt when you’re not on stage. How do you find the time and creative energy to pour yourself into other kinds of art when you’re a touring comedian?

“Well, it’s funny right now – as we speak, I’m in my yard shoveling leaves and junk into my new burn barrel that I got for Christmas, and I’m standing next to a new sculpture I’ve been working on, which is a giant log I’ve carved up and burned. But where do I get the energy? I probably only put two percent of my energy into my stand-up, and I say that if I actually tried at this, I might be really good.

As far as carving and sculpting, it calls to me – almost like being thirsty and needing a drink. It’s, like, ‘I’ve gotta paint something! I’ve gotta draw something! I wanna make something with my hands and I want people to see what’s possible!’ I don’t know, it’s weird to be doing art to show people something, but it’s kind of real. I’ve had people comment on my art or other things and say ‘well, I could do that!’ Well, the difference is I’ve already done it! You say you could, but here it is. And that’s what I love about art – when people look at this big African that I’ve carved, and then look at me and go ‘wait…you made that?! How is that possible?!'”

Josh Blue will be at the Columbus Funny Bone, 145 Easton Town Center, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tickets are still available for shows on Friday and Sunday as of press time. More information about Josh, including his latest stand-up special, “Delete,” can be found on his official website.

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