Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

The Disabled List takes spotlight at NWFF

Share this Post:
Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

There was a packed house at the Northwest Film Forum Friday and Saturday as comedians and fans from across Seattle gathered for the Pacific Northwest's first Disabled List Comedy Festival, which finally premiered after a year of sold-out bimonthly shows in a series of the same name.

Kayla Brown and Dan Hurwitz — Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

The festival was hosted and produced by local comedians Dan Hurwitz and Kayla Brown, who had originally brainstormed the idea back in 2018.

Before the show, Hurwitz said he was feeling both "nervous and excited," as he greeted patrons and fellow comedians on the red carpet. "It's the first time we've done something on this scale but it's exciting. We sold out. What more could you ask for than that?" he said.

Important funding
The Disabled List was made possible by a generous grant to Hurwitz and Brown from 4Culture. "We got the grant in June of last year, but we'd been thinking about doing something like this since even before that, since even before the pandemic," Hurwitz explained. "The grant gave us the funds to do something on this scale. Kayla and I have been planning this for the last seven months, but also about three years."

The grant provided them with the necessary funds to produce a full two-day festival with proper accessibility features and compensation for all the performers. Some of the accommodations included live captioning on a screen behind all the performers, a sign language interpreter, and two rows of wheelchair-accessible seating in the theater.

Of course, some accessible technology still has a long way to go. The live captioning program had a built-in filter, and would not display any expletives on the screen, which made some of the sets more difficult to understand for those who depended on the captions.

The Disabled List also asked all audience members regardless of vaccination status to mask up to accommodate those who may be immunocompromised. Audience cooperation on that end allowed all the performers to do their sets unmasked for the benefit of lip readers.

"Un-clamming" the room
The show started strong, with a hilarious set from local comedy big shot Andy Iwancio. Right away, Iwancio had the room cracking up with her jokes about life as an epileptic Trans woman. She performed with a sense of ease and comfort, as if sharing inside jokes with a room full of friends.

"Normally, I have to start my sets talking to folks without disabilities by breaking the ice, saying, 'I've been having health problems,' but this crowd understands that isn't what has to be said," Iwancio shared after her performance.

"People like [fellow Queer comedian Gretta Gimp], me and her will buddy up when we're in spaces, because we're traveling in spaces where people with disabilities aren't as often," Iwancio continued. "So once we start talking about it and people clam up, the idea is to try and 'un-clam' them. Sometimes it means we double down, but I try to make that distinction with that line. ...It's the most important line I feel that needs to be said about the humor we're trying to convey."

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Iwancio was immediately followed in the lineup by Gimp, who delighted the room with her unfiltered stream of consciousness on topics from wheelchair jail to her sexuality. Often cracking herself up in the middle of her punchlines, Gimp was an immediate crowd favorite. After she finished, murmurs of "I wouldn't want to follow that performance" could be heard.

While following Gimp and Iwancio was a difficult task, the third comedian on the Friday lineup, Michael Bellevue, hit a home run. Much like Gimp, Bellevue shared anecdotes, jumping from one topic to the next. His set felt like a conversation with a very funny friend as he shared his musings about social interaction as a person on the autism spectrum. The only groans that could be heard all night came when Bellevue finished his set, not from a joke gone wrong but from a room of people wishing he could have kept going.

Rappers, roasters, and race
After intermission, Hurwitz and Brown riffed with each other and warmed the crowd up with their special blend of dry and sarcastic humor. A highlight of the night came when Hurwitz roasted the South Seattle Emerald's coverage of the event.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Local rapper King Khazm performed a mini-concert to kick off the second half. His music combined rap beats with nods to the '90s and 2000s, with poetic lyrics about the ways disabled people are treated by society.

Following Khazm was the always hilarious Cheri Hardman, who brought the house down with jokes about wheelchair sex, married life, and what it's like to be a boomer. One of her bolder moves was to spend several minutes roasting Gen Z, something that not only paid off but even got the youngest fans to laugh at their depreciation.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

The final comedian of the night traveled from New York City to perform at the Disabled List. Gibran Saleem, who rose to fame after being selected for both the NBC Late Night and StandUp NBC programs, took to the stage and killed it. His set was perfectly polished, transitioning from jokes about his mother and childhood growing up to jokes about racial stereotypes of Pakistani Americans. Saleem was the perfect closer for an unforgettable first night.

A fun spotlight
The first-ever Disabled List Comedy Festival offered a fun reprieve for disabled comedians to freely joke about topics that able-bodied crowds often don't get. The show also offered a space for them to perform with proper accommodations, something most comedy venues in the city don't do.

"I just hope we can spotlight all of these great local comedians, and we have a musician as well who is local," Hurwitz had said before the show.

Not only did the festival spotlight some amazing local talent, but it also showed that the lack of disabled comedians in the scene is not due to a lack of fans, but a lack of accommodations and opportunities.

The performers all had a great time and basked in the unique energy of the room.

"We're trying to make fun of ourselves, and we're trying to take away from the scariness and anxiety that disability has over our lives," Iwancio said. "To be in a space where that's understood and spoken by all the comics means we don't have to say it in a preachy way. We all know that we're doing it. We try not to feel like we're a burden on people without disabilities. It's, like, why we get funny sometimes. To be on a show where we all understand that puts us all at ease and more comfortable."

The next Disabled List Show will be on April 14. Tickets can be found at https://www.nwfilmforum.org/.