St. John's comedians smashing assumptions about disabled people one gig at a time
Being disabled can be funny, the duo says, and they're getting the laughs to prove it
Camron Warren's mom spelled his name without an E to set him apart from the rest of the Camerons in the world. Her son was going to be something special.
"Little did she know," Warren jokes, gesturing to his arms and legs. "Here I am, plenty special. But alas, I don't have my E."
Being born without oxygen did a lot of things for Warren. For starters, it meant the first 13 minutes of his life were more like death — flatlined, a newborn baby with no vitals.
It also gave him cerebral palsy. He can walk short distances without a walker or wheelchair, but his arms and legs sometimes move with a mind of their own. His speech is slow and monotone.
Not everyone expects the disabled person to have a funny story about drinking downtown- Camron Warren
Most of all, the unfortunate circumstances of his birth left him with a wicked sense of humour.
Against all odds, Warren is bringing his jokes to stages around the city this summer as he takes a leap into standup comedy and making people question their assumptions about disability.
"I'm 20 years old and I've done quite a bit. I've just been in a lot of stupid scenarios — that comes with a part of being someone who explores but also someone who is disabled," he said.
"So my comedy is based largely on the principle that not everyone expects the disabled person to have a funny story about drinking downtown. But we have more than one."
Warren was inspired to get on stage after his friend Josh Menchions, who lives with the effects of a brain stem injury, decided to take the same chance earlier this summer.
"My focus is on me misusing my disability to make people feel uncomfortable," Menchions laughed. "It's kind of a thing I naturally do."
Menchions was in a car accident when he was only 10 months old. His mother died in the crash. He was comatose, but survived.
Now 27, he lives on his own but has limited use of his legs and one arm. He gets around with the help of a wheelchair and also has a slow and low speaking voice.
"Because of my speech and because, I guess, of people's ignorance … sometimes people don't approach me as a normal person," he said.
Instead of being angry about it, Menchions turns it into material for his standup.
During a performance last week at the Braxton Comedy Festival in St. John's, Menchions told a story about an elderly woman who nearly ran him over in a grocery store parking lot. She then walked up to him, spoke to him as if he was mentally disabled and offered him money.
Just when he was about to tell her where to go, he changed his mind and said, "Well, I do need money for weed."
It's the everyday situations that fuel his humour, rather than bring him down. Like when people can't understand him and just nod along instead of listening closer.
"I can say something ridiculous, like I'm a trapeze artist. And they'll say. 'Oh yeah, good for you.' I don't look like a trapeze artist, do I?"
Comedy is therapy
Both men have been comedy fans their entire lives, and had always wanted to try it out. Being nervous about exposing their speech impediments, however, was one of the biggest obstacles they faced before finally going on stage.
"I mean, how can I make you laugh if you don't know what I'm saying? That's what my philosophy was," Warren said.
"One of the reasons I got into comedy was to work on my speech," Menchions said. "What a better way to practise than in front of a group of people you don't know?"
Menchions has now done five shows, and Warren has done two. Both men say they've seen improvements in their speech, and it's inspired Menchions to go back to go to speech therapy to see how much better he can get.
"Between that and my comedy, I think I can really improve on my speech."
One of the biggest obstacles? Getting in the door
The concept of standing in front of a room full of strangers and putting yourself out there was hard enough, but when it came to physically getting on stage, there were more hurdles than expected.
Very few bars in St. John's are wheelchair-accessible. Even if the bar is, the stage might not be.
For Menchions's first gig, an open mic night at Boca Tapas Bar organized by local comedian Chris Dunn, two steps stood between him and the inside of the bar.
"But Chris, God love him, he went out of his way and rented a ramp for the night so I could get down in there and do my comedy act," he said.
Dunn was the MC at the show last Tuesday where Menchions and Warren performed. Between performers, he spoke about how easy it was to rent a ramp from the health authority and how much value it brought to their show.
"Seriously people, this wasn't hard," he said. "It's really easy to be accessible."
Funny future ahead
Menchions is heading back to school soon, studying to be a biomedical engineer. He said he's "along for the ride" when it comes to comedy, and will keep doing standup gigs when he can.
Warren has been so inspired by his first few gigs that he is committed to comedy. He dreams of having an hour-long special — whether it's for an international audience or a local one, his goal is the same.
"Just have an impact," he said. "Make someone who was sad, smile, or make someone who is happy, happier. That's my dream. That's what I want my comedy to do."
Their journey — battling disabilities, conquering speech impediments and overcoming fear — is inspirational. They get audiences to change the way they look at people with disabilities.
But those are unintended side effects of doing what they love most: making people laugh.
"There's always points in life where you're dealt a hand that will hold you back. I'm a firm believer that we all get different cards, but with those cards there's always a way to win the game — whatever you define that as," Warren said.
"For me, it's just having fun. If I'm having fun, if I'm happy. If I'm laughing, smiling, that's me winning life. In a sense, that leads me back to comedy."