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Comedy is not a crutch: disabled comic and performance artist Greg Walloch talks to author Kenny Fries about turning his life and work into a film and--waking up with seven guys in his bedroom. (performance).

"A person who walks the way I do has an intense physical presence. Somehow this calls things into question," Greg Walloch tells me, recounting the time he was confronted by an audience member after performing his one-man show, White Disabled Talent. "This guy said, `Oh, my God, you actually walk on those,'" meaning Walloch's crutches. "He thought he'd seen an hour-long show about a character who is gay and disabled. Because it was a piece of theater, he thought he was watching a created myth."

Perhaps, I suggest, the audience member simply wasn't used to seeing an actual disabled performer--after all, in the movies, disabled characters are usually played by actors who are not disabled (and who then often win Academy Awards for doing so). "Possibly," Walloch muses. "People always ask if I write my own material. I like my writing when I'm the most real. That's what I love about theater--the protection of `Is it real or not real?' It feels safer."

Walloch, the focus of the new film Keeping It Real: The Adventures of Greg Walloch, sees himself in a tradition of performance artists rather than stand-up comedians: "people like Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, soloists like Spalding Gray, Sandra Bernhard, Lily Tomlin."

Some of White Disabled Talent, on which Keeping It Real is based, started with material Walloch performed at Highways, the Santa Monica, Calif., performance space cofounded by Tim Miller. "He was a real important person for me as a queer performance artist," Walloch says. "And when it was a time for a change of scene, I found a home at Dixon Place in New York," moving to the city in 1992. "[Dixon Place founding director] Ellie Covan was just so encouraging."

By 1994, Walloch was performing more fully developed excerpts of White Disabled Talent at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. "That was a breakthrough," he tells me. "So much was going on with my career at that time. I was getting encouragement from people like Mr. [Jerry] Stiller and Steve Baldwin, which led to the idea for the film. In the last three years I've turned more to comedy venues--it seems more accessible to people."

How does it feel to be known as the gay disabled comic? I ask.

"Is that how I'm known?" Walloch asks, laughing. "I do use the material. One day when people go to see something I do, I'd like them not to say, `I just saw this gay disabled guy.' I'd like them to say, `I just saw Greg Walloch.' That's a unique way for them to shed these labels. I hope it doesn't take a lot of time.

"Comedy gives people a way to understand," he continues. "I think that when I first meet people, my disability certainly stands out to them. When people get to know me intimately, they realize it's a part of me, not all I am."

Making that point was important in committing his work to film, Walloch tells me. "I wanted to make sure the film didn't move in the direction of hanging labels on people; I didn't want it to objectify or be sentimental. I kept things on the straight and narrow. I guess sometimes I could have been called difficult--I was very vocal about my opinions, especially when the director would say things like `Make sure you get a shot of the crutches.'"

Ultimately, Walloch is satisfied with Keeping It Real. But he admits, "I didn't enjoy being filmed offstage. It was an intense experience being followed around by the camera, this film crew following me around for three months. When you wake up in the morning and there are seven guys in your bedroom, it doesn't feel like real life."

And does the film present him as he really is? "I'm not a sweet guy, though that's the way it comes across in the film," Walloch says. "Things were left out, like my dating life. Maybe that was a good thing--maybe I don't want to look back and see what was going on datingwise. To be confronted with your life on film, it makes you feel really vulnerable, don't you think?"

Fries is the author of Body, Remember: A Memoir (Dutton) and editor of Staring Back: The Disability Experience From the Inside Out (Plume).
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Article Details
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Author:Fries, Kenny
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 4, 2001
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