In many ways, Josh Blue is an old-school showman.
The 33-year-old Denver comedian, best known for winning Season 4 of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” cares more about getting people to laugh than opening their minds — which is often a side effect of his act.
Blue plays fast and loose with his cerebral palsy and the reactions it gets from people on the street, and while he’d like to think he’s changing people’s assumptions about the disability, he knows that a lot of folks are just there to be entertained.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m lucky that I can just laugh about it because I know a lot of disabled people who don’t because it hurts them,” Blue said over the phone this week. “And you leave my show with a different perspective on disability, whether you realize it or not — maybe not better, but a different one!”
We caught up with Blue before the premiere of his first one-hour Showtime special, which airs at 11 p.m. Wednesday, April 18.
You’ve built a solid fan base by touring the country since winning “Last Comic Standing” in 2006, but do you still get recognized from it?
I do, but usually these days they don’t get the name right anymore. “I saw you on ‘American Idol’!” they say. And I’m a great singer, since palsy is known for being very musical. But definitely there are more and more avenues people are finding me through. YouTube has just been blowing up. I’ve got a couple clips that are pushing 2 million (views), and quite a few have a million.
And yet a lot of your act deals with people thinking you’re homeless or inebriated because of your cerebral palsy.
It’s just so weird that some people recognize me from TV and then other people say, “Get away from me, you drunk!” Either way, I ask for change. I’m throwing myself under the bus for everyone’s entertainment, but you get to a different perspective on my life. Obviously, I can’t get away from having a disability, but sometimes when you have a beard and long hair, people can’t figure it out.
It seems like a deep well for material.
I love it. People have no idea. I was walking down Colfax and pushing my daughter in a stroller the other day, and someone offered me their leftover food. I went to a hot dog stand in Knoxville (Tenn.), and I got out of the car and they said, “Man, it looks like you need some soup!” They didn’t even serve soup.
How big of a deal is it to have an hour-long special on Showtime?
It’s definitely the biggest thing I’ve done so far. I have a half-hour special on Comedy Central, but so many people have half-hour specials now, and it’s not so “special.” Showtime is a whole different market, and you don’t see many stand-up specials on there either.
How did it come about?
We had someone approach us about producing it for us, and then we shopped it around. It was shot last April in (my hometown of) Minneapolis at the Varsity Theater, this cool little venue.
Did you already have a new hour of material ready to go at that point?
No, but I ended up writing a new hour. The thing with comedy is that it’s easy to get stuck in a routine and not write new stuff, and it was just a good, firm kick in the (butt). Ever since then, if I say a joke more than 30 times, I just get bored and move onto the next one. And I think the crowds really appreciate that. I just got back from Sacramento yesterday, and I had people come all six times I’ve been there, and they say, “Every time you come, I come and bring my friends.” It’s amazing the staying power I’ve had, too, just with people coming back.
I’ve heard you’re also working on a book.
It’s a mixture between telling my story about stand-up and then just some of the stuff I’ve had to deal with just getting to this point. The publisher’s ready when I’m ready, I just have so many other things going on. We just qualified again for the summer Paralympics in London (for soccer). I still have to actually make the roster too, so that’s the other thing. And then being a father and a husband and a touring comic. I’m pretty much booked every weekend for the next three months.
John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and digital media editor for The Denver Post and the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum). Follow him @johntwenzel and @beardsandgum.