Oh I’m so happy you’re reading this first sentence and not just taking that headline at face value. Really, forget faces. Let’s talk masks.
Let’s go to the theatre.
Think about the most common image representing theatre. Can you picture it? Are you seeing those iconic two masks, the one with the smiling face and the one with the sad face?
You’re seeing the comedy and tragedy masks. Now, have you ever wondered why there are only two? Like, what about action? What about suspense? Where’s the science fiction mask?
The limited duo of theatrical genres dates back to the start of Western theatre, when Thespus, portraying the God of wine, literally stepped out from the crowd and opera-like sang the first monologue. When I studied theatre in college, I myself never thought much of the comedy-tragedy binary. It was later, when I was teaching high school English and theatre and really getting to know Shakespeare, when I raised the question mark and discovered the answer.
Comedy, in ancient theatrical terms, didn’t necessarily mean laugh-out-loud funny. Seeing a comedy was not a guarantee of a raucous knee-slapper. “Comedy” meant you’d get a happy ending.
Likewise, seeing a tragedy didn’t demand you pack a hanky. It just meant an unhappy ending. Typically, especially from old Bill the Bard, at least one person was going to die an untimely death.
So comedy and tragedy aren’t actually genres in this sense, but an indication of how the story is going to end.
That’s why I think disability comedy is awesome. I love having a happy ending for my (and your) disability story.
I have a number of chronic, lifelong conditions that affect me physically, emotionally, and cognitively, but I am resolved to live a story of joy, resilience, inspiration, and prosperity.
Teaching wasn’t my immediate career after college, by the way. First, I went on the road for a few years, touring 30-some states performing stand-up comedy. It was later when I became a high school teacher, and then a copywriter, some other things in between, and finally a professional speaker and author.
Take it from me, disability is no joke. But obviously, I have a sense of humor, or I never would have made it on the road those years, and I maintain that sense of humor with anything I do and everything I face. I do laugh and (intentionally) make others laugh about my disabilities.
And when you think about it in those historic either/or terms of theatre, I can still and always legitimately call myself comedian. Because while I can’t control the disabled circumstances of its main character, I do wholly get to write my own story. When my story ends at its timely time, we will look back upon it and declare it a comedy.