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‘Ramy’ star, Steve Way, Talks Disability in Entertainment

Welcome back to the Heumann Perspective! Today, I have the honor of being able to interview Steve Way. Welcome to our
program, Steve! *Steve: Thank you for having me! *Judy: So, Steve is a comedian and I wonder if
you could you share a little information with us about what got you into comedy
and into theater? *Steve: Growing up, I’ve always used comedy as a, I guess, a coping mechanism for my disability, you know, I’d always try to make fun of it,
make light of it, um, you know, always try to find the humor side of things, um, and my
friends and family were always in on the joke, so it was never like offensive or anything like that. So, uh, one day about nine years ago, uh, during the summer, right around now actually, um, my friend, Ramy Youssef, at the time was producing a comedy show in our hometown, Rutherford, and he told me to just write a stand-up set. So, two weeks after that, he came over and I said, “Okay, here it is”, and he read it and said, “Great, you’re going to perform it at the show!” And that was really just the beginning
of my stand-up career. *Judy: Were you nervous when you did your first performance? *Steve: No, not at all. I’ve been public speaking since I was 10 years old, so being on
stage is something that just feels natural to me at this point.
I’ve always, I’ve always been comfortable making fun of my disability, so to
combine the two, it really felt right, um. *Judy: Have you found that the way you talk about
your disability enables people to engage and ask you questions that they might
not otherwise ask, but helps facilitate them seeing you as an equal person? *Steve: Absolutely! It definitely makes them more comfortable about me and my conditions, and really just people with disabilities all together, you know, I, I could tell
that whenever I perform in front of a new audience, I, I can sense how uncomfortable they are because they’re not really sure if they can laugh or not. And really, you know, because of how negatively the media
portrays us, so they’ve never heard my approach of a disability
speech like that or say things like that. So, on top of being uncomfortable,
it’s also a shock to them, but once they, you know, get over that,
then they’ll loosen up. They open up and they get it, and they understand, and you
know, they realize, “Oh, I can laugh at him, he’s telling jokes about his wife and his problems, just like every other comedian, you know. *Judy: So… *Steve: It’s just, “Even though I don’t have a disability, doesn’t mean that I can’t relate with him.” *Judy: And so it’s really, I would imagine also, laughing with you and not necessarily at you. *Steve: Oh yeah, they’re always laughing with me. Definitely. *Judy: Yeah, I think stories around disability are very funny, and not obviously always,
but with someone like yourself, you know, who can tell things in a comedic way, I
think it, for me it’s always felt like the disability community is laughing for
one reason and the non disability community is laughing for another reason. *Steve: Yes, absolutely. *Judy: So, um, you’ve been in this field now about seven, eight years, and
we’re seeing a slow number of people with disabilities who are performing.
What do you see as some of the barriers that we still need to overcome? *Steve:
I really, I think we still have to overcome every barrier. I don’t think any barrier has come down. Um, I think a few of us have just finally been given a chance that we
should have had all along, you know. Casting directors still won’t cast people with disabilities just because of their preconceived notions of, you know, who we are as performers. We still have non-disabled writers write in disabled roles and
we’re still having non-disabled actors play disabled roles. So, until we can stop
all of those things, that’s just the bare minimum
of what needs to be done. Because we still need to have disabled directors, disabled producers, um, more marginalized people need to have the opportunity, you know,
because yes, I’m a performer, I’m on a TV show, but I am a straight white guy, you know.
I don’t know what it’s like to be disabled and black, disabled and gay, disabled and trans, but there are those people out there, but they are not given
the opportunity. And until that happens, then we should have true change in the
industry. *Judy: Congratulations that Ramy is going into its second year! Are you… *Steve: Thank you, yes. *Judy: It’s great, right? Are you going to… *Steve: No, yes. That job security feels really good! *Judy: Um, are you going to be playing a bigger role in the next year’s production? *Steve: I hope so. I really do. Um, just going off of
the show’s reviews, um, I think my character was important, you know, because you’re
seeing a disabled character, but we don’t talk about my disability. I’m just there
as Ramy’s friend. I don’t even think the words, muscular dystrophy, are ever said, or if it is, it’s only once, um, you know, so, I think it’s a great example of how you should have a disabled character as just that. You know, it doesn’t matter what he has, how it affects him, you know, he’s still going to live his life the way that he wants. *Judy: But, one of the scenes where you and Ramy, well, he gets stoned, and you go home and meet with your mother, um, was pretty raw, and I’m wondering what, first of all, did that experience ever
really happen with your mother, um, and what did you feel about it? *Steve: Well, you know, I think the best way to describe it is that the situations are
not real, but the emotions and the feelings are. So, you know, obviously, that never happened, but of course, we’ve talked about it. You
know, of course we’ve talked about my death. I mean, you know, I’ve, I’ve almost died a
couple times, so how would that not come up? *Judy: Mhmm. *Steve: Um, when I first read it, I was horrified, absolutely horrified. Uh, it made me so uncomfortable, and then about an hour later, I read it again, and I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is
absolutely brilliant.” And what I really liked about it was just the absurdity of
the situation, you know, how we’re talking about my death, which as, you know, as a disabled person, it’s very real, you know. We lose friends all the time. We cannot not talk about it, but to do it in that way on Ramy, and having that experience for the first
time, I think in the perfect way to pull that off. *Judy: I hear that you may be involved in
another production, something that you’re writing. Can you talk about it at all? *Steve: Yeah! Basically, I just tried to get a show made about my life, my experiences, just
to show what is life being disabled in America
and, you know, just dealing with all the struggles that we go through, but from my
perspective. *Judy: Do you envision a day where you may be supporting yourself
completely as an actor/comedian? *Steve: I mean, that’s the ultimate goal,
you know, it’s hard, but, um, if I can pull that off, I’d be extremely lucky
and, you know, I think it would really then be up to me to try to make that the norm for people with disabilities and disabled performers because, you know, it’s something that we all should be able to
experience. *Judy: Do you ever speak with children or
adults who have disabilities or don’t have a disability about the arts, and what
messages do you, I think in particular, both to parents who have children with
disabilities as well as disabled people who are thinking about becoming more
engaged in theatre? *Steve: Yeah, I always tell them to just do it, you know, just have fun
with it, um, find your voice, you know. If you can’t find something out there, then
make your own, you know. It’s very hard for a wheelchair using comedian to do
stand up comedy in New York City, um, you know. There are very few comedy venues where I can perform at. *Judy: Because of the accessibility. *Steve: Yes, exactly. But that never stopped me, you know.
I always tried to find every accessible venue that I could, and perform there. Um,
and whenever there weren’t times I could do that. I would try to make my own show and perform on that. So, you know, I think it’s really important to create, not
just your own work, but your own situation that you can control and they
are not at the mercy of stairs. *Judy: Well, I can’t believe it, but once again we’re
finishing up this interview, but I really, we’ll put information up about you that
people can link into, Ramy’s on Hulu, and I really encourage people to look at
this and to share it with your friends. And it has been great for me to get an
opportunity to speak with you again and to share the great work that you’re
doing, and you know your humor is quite cutting, and I, I really personally
appreciate it. So, thank you very much. We’ll talk again
and have a good day. And thank you everyone for watching!


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