As a stand-up comedian with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair, Joe Eurell has perhaps the toughest job when it comes to being a disabled person. But when it comes to telling jokes, he sees his unique traits as a way to stand out from the crowd.
“I don’t want people to feel bad about me because I’m in a wheelchair because if I wasn’t in a wheelchair I would be stealing cars,” he joked. “And I know that because I stole that wheelchair.”
In his performance, Eurell belts out playfully confident lines like these in rapid succession, edging through moments when his voice cracks to deliver jokes with the cadence of a seasoned comedian. Recounting his story at a coffee shop one afternoon in Huntington Beach, he made such quips periodically.
“I was born in Cocoa Beach, Florida. When I was 10, my biological family placed me in foster care and I was adopted by a family in Huntington Beach when I was 12. My mother adopted 60 children with her nonprofit organization. Kind of a hoarding problem.”
While honing his skills in stand-up comedy, Eurell managed to earn a master’s degree from Cal State Long Beach.
“It gave me context for a world outside of being a — talking roaster,” he said. “It was great; I was able to take the city bus directly to and from school. It sounds cheesy, but being able to ride the bus and look out at the sea for the entire ride improved my grades, I think. It was really relaxing.”
After his bachelor’s degree in political science, Eurell completed his master’s degree in public administration.
“The graduate program was extremely frustrating and I really wanted to quit, but I pushed through,” he said. “My idea was that I could have a public administration job by day and do comedy by night. I like public administration because politics is the theory of politics and public administration is the application. It’s applicable to anything other than just two people having a debate.
“I became a comedian in part because I asked myself as a kid, ‘What am I going to do for a living?’ I would check out Live at Dangerfield’s, the series that kick-started the careers of Kinison, Hicks, and all those comics. I thought these people just speak into a microphone. It was very low labor intensive work. I can do that!”
Eurell said he was 26 years old before he felt he had the emotional maturity to try stand-up. “For a long time I thought, ‘This is my disability and I don’t want other people to laugh about it.’ Then I realized I take myself a little too seriously,” he said.
The biggest hurdle to overcome was his pronunciation difficulties, which the comic affectionately refers to as his “cerebral palsy accent.” Although this has improved dramatically through years of performing.
“It was hands-free therapy that I would never have gone to under any other circumstances,” he said.
Because of Eurell’s modest stipend from Social Security, he must report any income earned over $65. This is a regular part of benefits, known as “means testing,” and makes it very difficult to top up with regular gig earnings. Last August, Eurell ran a successful “Go Fund Me” campaign to raise enough money for a van to go to concerts. Unfortunately, the celebration was cut short by disappointment. Although all proceeds went straight into the vehicle and Eurell submitted all necessary paperwork to document the transaction in a timely manner, five months later, in January, he was notified that his Social Security stipend would be docked for three full months.
“Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it,” he said seriously. This is the only brief window he opens to show the struggle he is going through. His impact is in stark contrast to his bubbly nature and steady stream of jokes, which he almost involuntarily offers as he tells his story.
His grim expression quickly shifts back to optimism as he recalls the excitement of watching the campaign climb towards its target.
“It was amazing. Our goal was $31,000, which was the cost of the van. We raised $33,500. Not to brag, but I put the price on point because we got exactly what we needed “After the cost of registration and fees I had $250 left and I used it all on gas so every penny went in the car. We had 456 supporters. I emailed every one of them back one by one. I fought.” resisted the urge to joke with them, releasing a mass email that read, “When I started comedy 10 years ago, my whole goal was to raise enough money to buy a van. Now that my dream is realized, I can finally quit!’”
Eurell has come an impressively long way since starting almost 10 years ago, which he attributes to tireless gigging.
“At a point before that [pandemic], I went to an average of three shows a week. April 14, 2013 was the first mic I ever made. It was at La Cave in Newport Beach. Then I started doing Anchor Bar in Costa Mesa every week for almost five years. The regiment of it was huge for me. I would always try new things. My rule was: if it bombs three times, it’s gone.”
The comedian sadly revealed that the venue where he spent so much time honing his craft has since closed.
“I miss Anchor Bar very much, but life goes on. Don’t get too nostalgic.”
Eurell’s consistent performances caught the attention of Comedy Central, which gave him the chance to star alongside comedian Nicole Becannon in Roast Battle.
“It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. It was at the Fonda Theater. The best part for me was that they let us do a gig, so I hired a bagpiper to go out with me.”
Most recently, Eurell has worked with The Comedy Store in Hollywood to make their stage more accessible. After a particularly difficult time getting on stage during a “roast battle” last fall, he took to social media to air his grievance about management.
“The owner heard about what happened and was very open to what I had to say,” Eurell said. “They asked me to make a list of recommendations. I ended up giving them something more detailed than I think they wanted haha.”
A video on YouTube of Eurell’s episode of Comedy Central Roast Battle has nearly 1,000 comments from people who respect its achievement. When the conversation hit the idea that he’s probably an inspiration to a lot of strangers, he said it came naturally.
“I didn’t think about it before, but I’m starting to realize that there’s more to life than just myself. A big inspiration for me, before I even started, was a friend of mine from middle and high school named Nick Waterhouse, who eventually became a very successful musician. I remember thinking, ‘If someone I know could get a song in a Lexus ad, then I can do anything,'” he said. “I like the idea that I could be that inspiration to anyone who feels like they can’t do something for some reason.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2023-01-10/joe-eurell-comedian-cerebral-palsy-comedy-store Weird and wild, roaster Joe Eurell uses laughter as a cheer