It’s the season finale of Crip Times! Buckle up for lots of LOLs and too many puns. This week, Kayla, Kristina, and Drew are joined by Ryan O’Connell, creator, writer, and star of Netflix’s Special. He’s done other stuff too but ughhh, who cares?
We talk about cerebral palsy, the power of authentic disability representation, pushing the envelope of gay and disabled sexuality on screen, pandemic challenges specific to disabled people, and the ‘well-meaning’ ableism that can show up when we’re just trying to live our lives.
“I will be obsessed with anything queerness and disability ’til the day I die. Like, I am just getting started. I will tell as many stories as I want about that. I will be given the space to do it”
We move into a conversation about storytelling as activism, and the challenges of learning and growing in your disability politics in a very public way. How do you tell authentic stories, without catering to an abled audience? How do we deal with internalized ableism, and the feeling of ‘needing to do more’? How do we push back against societal messaging that one marginalized story is enough?
CRIP TIME’S FAVOURITE QUOTES:
“Well, I think the power of representation cannot be underestimated. Like, growing up I never saw anyone that looked like me, ever, and that kind of implicitly told me that I did not matter. So, I was like okay! Message received! Off to therapy I go.”
“If I had seen a show like this…if I had known this kind of life was possible for me it would have, you know, saved me a lot of years at the ‘I hate myself’ fair. I just think that that’s the power of TV and film, is being able to introduce people to stories and lives that they wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to and creating empathy for them. And then for the people that you are exploring, it’s giving them this message that they matter. That they are important. That their story deserves to be told.”
“Hollywood is addicted to profiting off the pain of marginalized people. Being able to be like, ‘Get that Oscar honey! Get that award season baby! We are so brave! Omg look what we did. We are so good!’ And then you are like, actually look at the liner notes. Wow. Like literally no one involved in the creation of this thing actually is part of the community that you are portraying. Great job! Dot. Dot. Dot. So, I think we’ve moved past like, it’s just enough that you make a movie about it or there’s a tv show about it. No, no, no honey. You need to employ the people from the community that you are portraying. You need to advance them. Give them power, money and jobs.”
“I feel I’m always racked with this guilt and this feeling of like, I could do more, I could do more. Because Special is a very scrappy show with not a lot of money. And we don’t have a lot of resources. And so, for example, we shoot on location. We don’t really build sets. We are shooting in real apartments which are of course, spoiler, not handicap accessible. So that already limits who we can have for crew. I wish I had Ryan Murphy money and Tyler Perry money where I could just build an accessible compound where people could go and film and do whatever, whatever. But I’m not there yet. Hashtag goals.”
Ryan: Well, I think disabled people make these small calculations a million times a day.
Kristina: A hundred percent.
Ryan: And by the way, I feel like I have always been so addicted to routine and structure, and I feel like it’s so hard with disability. Like what came first, the chicken or the egg kind of vibes. Where it’s like, I live my life in such a way where I do the same thing every day. I eat the same thing every day. I go to the same coffee shop every day. And I wonder if that’s not so much an obsession with routine as so much of as an aversion to any kind of surprise. Because I don’t like navigating anything that I don’t know what will pop up. I remember when I went to Europe, LOL, when I was 23, post-grad vibes. I was just like, every day there was some kind of new troll that I had to navigate with like, a door or a key. I just couldn’t conceptualize what was in front of me because it was all new. I think that’s when my brain has a hard time processing things a little bit. It takes me a second to orient myself. So, that was a really stressful experience. I feel like I’ve set up my life in such a way where there are no surprises. It’s like, I know how to do every single thing. You know what I mean?
Kayla: I think it’s a type of energy calculation that non-disabled people will never understand.
Drew: Its Crip Tax, is what it is. You really have to over-think about what you can do and what you are able to do. Do you have the energy? Will you have the energy to do these things?
“People have this weird sense of entitlement over your body if you’re disabled. Like they feel that they can say anything, they feel they can ask anything. And as someone who is always making mental calculations into how I’m being perceived and how I’m coming off, it really blows my mind that people just have no shame and just do whatever they want and say whatever they want, without any kind of thinking.”
“I think I have this anxiety because I don’t see myself and an activist, per se. I think my form of activism is through storytelling. That’s the medium through which I do. I’m a disabled person who, like, goes through the world with the confidence of Rob Schnieder in the late 90’s and I think that’s like my own form of activism.”
“People should question why they are getting so emotional and why it’s so important to them that Ryan knows how to walk. Why is that so fucking important? Like, why are we not holding the world to task to make it so that’s not the end goal? That people can live within the confines of their ability and not have to suffer and not be left out. Not be left behind.”
“It’s so hard because I feel like Cerebral Palsy has gifted me with a lot of amazing qualities in terms of being productive. In terms of being kind of scrappy and being like, ‘Let’s fucking figure this out!’ Like MacGyver vibes. But I also think I wish I could be kind to myself and let myself take breaks. I’m even triggered when I get a cold. That’s also another reason why I don’t want to get Corona even if it’s mild. It will wreck me for weeks because I know I’d be taken out for a few days. We talked about me getting injured on the airplane being all hunched over and stuff. Those events are deeply, deeply triggering because they symbolize a loss of control. I feel like so much of my energy is like, I was born into a body I could not control, so now in every other aspect of my life I’m going to exert control where I can. That’s where I find solace.”
Ryan: But it was a really eye-opening experience of like… a reminder that I’m still not able to take up so much space as like, a straight white guy who can literally tell the same story over and over again, and still be like, Give me more! Give me more! You know what I mean?
Kayla: Like straight white people kissing dot com.
Ryan: Or another show that like, humanizes cops? And you’re like, LOL.
Ryan: You know what I mean? You are like, Honey! You gotta stop doing that.
Ryan: Again, it’s this obsession with only taking up the bare minimum of space and if you get any space at all, then you should feel lucky and grateful that that happened at all.
Kayla: Yeah, you should roll over and die now in your thirties. You did it! That’s it.
Ryan: I’m obsessed. I will be obsessed with anything queerness and disability ’til the day I die. Like, I am just getting started. I will tell as many fucking stories as I want about that. I will be given the space to do it, and everyone else can go fuck themselves. Is how I feel!
Watch Special on Netflix [captioned and Audio Described]
Listen to Ryan’s episode of the ‘Yo, Is This Racist?’ podcast on Apple Podcasts [in our episode he refers to it as the ‘That’s So Racist’ podcast]
Narrator: You are listening to a Wheels on the Ground production.
[Jazz music playing]
Yousef: Hi and welcome to the tenth and the final episode of the first season of Crip Times. Today we will be listening to Ryan O’Connell. Ryan is a writer, actor, and activist as well as the creator and star of the Netflix series Special. Kick back and laugh with your hosts Kayla and Kristina, as well as our guest host for the episode, the creator of the Wheels on the Ground podcast network and host of the Disability After Dark podcast series, Drew Gurza.
Kayla Besse [KB]: Hey everyone. Welcome back to Crip Times. It is Sunday afternoon. It is a January pandemic Sunday. So, we are doing what we can. This is Kayla. I’m here with Kristina and the one and only Ryan O’Connell. Hi Ryan!
Ryan O’Connell [RO]: Hi! Every day feels like Sunday in a pandemic. Don’t you think?
KB: Yeah. Did you see that tweet that was like, ‘We all feel like shit because it’s like every day is the Sunday Scaries, but like for the rest of an indeterminate amount of time.’
RO: I haven’t seen it, but I feel it and I relate to it. [laughs]
KB: Yeah. That’s real. So, for listeners or transcript readers who don’t know you, could you introduce yourself?
RO: Yeah. Uh, I’m Ryan O’Connell. Um… I have Cerebral Palsy. I made a show called Special on Netflix which I wrote, created, and starred in. And I… Yeah. Season two is coming out sort of soon and blah blah blah blah. [laughs]
KB: That is quite…
RO: Is that good? I don’t know how to introduce myself. I’m bad at this, babe.
KB: I’m sorry. It’s all good. You said what you needed to say. Also, want to mention we are joined by Andrew Gurza today. In part –
Drew Gurza [DG]: Hello!
KB: Hi Andrew.
KB: So, this is the Cerebral Palsy episode. Myself and Ryan and Andrew all have Cerebral Palsy so it is a CP party on this day.
RO: The most gentle of parties.
Kristina McMullin [KM]: I feel honoured to have been included as an honorary CP party member…
DG: It’s a cozy party.
RO: Come on in baby. The water’s warm!
KM: Love it. Thank you!
KB: If it wasn’t, my joints might dislocate. So… uh…
DG: I would probably stop breathing because cold is real. Cold water and CP is a dangerous game.
RO: I guess warm water is ableist.
KB: Are you saying cold water is ableist?
RO: Cold water… Coming into water… It’s all fucked up! And we don’t talk about it! But we are talking about it today!
KM: We are talking about it today.
DG: You live in LA. What is your experience with like hot tubs? Going into hot tubs in like really hot water? And CP is also… it’s too much.
RO: Wait, I love them. I’m actually getting a hot tub installed. I’m addicted to hot tubs!
KB: No! I’m so jealous!
DG: I’m so jealous! Fuck right off.
RO: They soothe my muscles. They make my achy muscles feel better.
KB: Me too.
RO: Is that… Is that…
DG: Me three.
RO: Okay. Yeah. So that’s the thing.
KM: So, you are getting your own hot tub that you can just like, use whenever the fuck you want?
RO: Yeah! Because I got a house and so a house needs a hot tub. Do you know what I mean?
KM: I might… I am so loving that for you.
KM: Maybe one day when I have my own Netflix show I’ll get my own hot tub.
DG: I’m loving that for you but I’m also high key hating you right now because Kayla, Kristina, and I are in the throes of Canadian winter right now. Which means…
DG: That it’s fucking cold. And I want a hot tub at my house! It’s not fair.
RO: It’s okay. LA is on fire four months out of the year and the air quality is so bad that you shouldn’t go outside. So, I’m sure there’s some tradeoffs. Do you know what I mean?
DG: Yeah, okay.
KB: Yeah, I felt really guilty enjoying that it’s been so warm. Warm being like zero degrees Celsius here. Because I’m like good for me, bad for the earth. But like, mmm… [laughs]
DG: Yeah. It was plus four yesterday here and I was like… this is weird.
DG: But I’ll take it.
RO: Yeah, we’ll have to pay for it. That’s going on the credit card of experiences. Do you know what I mean? We’re charging it now but we’ll pay it off later.
DG: The credit card of experiences. That’s a new one.
KB: Um, so Ryan this is a ridiculous question. But, how are you? It’s been almost one year of doing this pandemic.
KB: Isolation, quarantine. Is anything making it suck less? What makes it suck the most?
RO: Oh my god. I mean… yeah. It’s like Herbie Fully Loaded. I mean I’ve been having a really hard time I think in the last month. Because I felt like in my brain was like, ‘Okay. If Biden gets elected and there’s a vaccine, things will get better.’ And then so it’s like Biden got elected. But he is not president yet and obviously I feel like I don’t want to be like scary Jerry. But I just feel like there’s some shit brewing and it doesn’t feel safe. Etc. Etc. So, you are like, Okay this is obviously not a light switch that goes off and on. Whatever. And then the vaccines are here but they are kind of not here and they are hard to get and blah blah blah. So, it’s like I’m being like emotionally blue balled. Where like there are things on the horizon that I’m like excited about and it feels like it could be the dawning of a new era. But it feels very like, so close yet so far away. And I don’t know about you guys, but like I don’t really know how like CP and Rona get along. I’m guessing they don’t get along.
DG: They really… They don’t.
RO: Yeah, I’m guessing they don’t get along. They’re not BFFs.
RO: They are not like, you know, whatever. So, the anxiety of like getting Coronavirus and not knowing how it’ll interact with my Cerebral Palsy is like just a new fun added layer of torture. Um, and then LA county is like the epicenter of infectious [laughs] virus caseloads. They are estimating that one in three people in LA have had Coronavirus. So… anyway. TL;DR It’s been weird. [laughs]
KB: Is there anything that you are like, ‘This helps right now’? Or are you just like one terrible minute at a time.
RO: Working! I’m a productive bitch from Virgo hell. So, like I’ve been like I think… like here’s the thing. The world is literally like a garbage can, so I feel like the way that I deal with it is that I create my own world that I get lost in through my work. Like, I’m just like, “Wow! This reality is literal hell. Let’s create a more utopian world that’s like fun to spend five hours a day in.” So, like I have just been the most productive I’ve ever been work-wise. And so that has been really amazing and I’ve been really grateful to be able to work throughout the pandemic and make an income and all that stuff. So, that has been like the Silver Linings Playbook. But, um, yeah. It’s like you know. “Every Day Is A Winding Road” by Sheryl. You know? Sheryl said it best.
DG: Yeah. Throwback.
DG: I love Sheryl Crow. Maybe it’s a gay thing? Growing up Sheryl Crow was my jam. “Strong Enough” was my favourite song when I was like ten.
RO: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s kind of iconique for sure. So yeah. Anyway, so we’ll see. I mean I think you know; the vaccines are going to be here short… I don’t know what’s going with Canada, I’m sure you guys have a gorgeous situation going on there.
KB: You would think.
DG: No. If by gorgeous you mean great? No.
RO: No? Ugh.
DG: The vaccines. What have you guys heard? I heard today the rollout won’t start ‘til like summer, maybe September? Maybe December if we’re lucky?
RO: I don’t… Wait, why? I don’t understand. You guys have your shit together. I don’t get it.
DG: Trudeau is pretty. But he is not…
KB: So, Doug Ford is the Premier of Ontario and they were like okay… okay. Lockdown number two. Definitely stay home but like, choose your own adventure if you stay home? Like we are not really sure.
DG: But like, you can go out. But you can only have five people if you are out. And if you are outside, you shouldn’t be outside. But you can go outside if you need to. But don’t go outside… It’s really confusing.
RO: But wait? What are the case numbers? Because LA just for reference, LA County has fifteen thousand cases a day. [laughs] Which is… say it with me. A lot!
DG: Ugh, you would probably feel like there was no pandemic then, if you lived in Ontario somewhere. We had… what was today? Three… just over three thousand in Ontario. But I mean, we had three hundred last August. So, three thousand is like a huge jump.
RO: Wow. Three thousand. I would be like raw-dogging the air. I’d be like literally—
RO: At a brunch with forty people. Literally like Caligula style. I… like that sounds like heaven.
KB: Speaking of utopia and creating new worlds [laughs] I don’t know how to segue I have not…
KM: Literally Kayla, I was in my head trying to find a segue and that was literally the only one I could get. So, great minds think alike.
DG: I love listening to you try to segue though. It is officially my favourite thing right now. So, keep going.
KB: Thank you. Kristina, do you want to take this one?
KM: Yeah. Sure. So, speaking of creating our own utopias through our work: You mentioned that you are the producer, actor, writer, of your Netflix show Special. Um… we created this podcast essentially to talk about folks who are working in like arts, academia, and activism that are living in like the disability, Mad, Crip sector. Oftentimes like, Hollywood and film and television are kind of seen as separate from like the quote unquote ‘arts.’ So, like how do you see your work specifically impacting the broader art sector? Kind of outside the confines of Hollywood and film and television.
RO: Well, I think the power of representation cannot be underestimated. Like, growing up I never saw anyone that looked like me, ever, and that kind of implicitly told me that I did not matter. So, I was like okay! Message received! Off to therapy I go.
RO: So, I think what’s great about being in a place like Netflix is that the platform is truly so huge. Do you know what I mean? It’s not like, I mean, now I’m like dragging other places. But it’s not like… You know what I mean? The reach of being on a Netflix show versus like, a free-form show or whatever. It’s just like apples and oranges. So, I feel like when it comes to like niche content. Usually, we are used to like airing as a web series that like five people have access to via a DNA sample and then it’s literally like, Indiewire writes about it and then it gets called a day.
RO: And so being able to kind of be at the Top Forty of platforms. You know? Having my show be an Ariana Grande pop song and be able to reach the masses I think is extremely valuable. Because if I had seen a show like this….if I had known this kind of life was possible for me it would have, you know, saved me a lot of years at the ‘I hate myself’ fair. So, I don’t know. I just think that that’s the power of TV and film, is being able to introduce people to stories and lives that they wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to and creating empathy for them. And then for the people that you are exploring, it’s giving them this message that, you know, that they matter. That they are important. That their story deserves to be told.
KB: And representation beyond, like, inspiration porn. Right? We talked earlier how you are like, ‘My character is allowed to mess up and be an asshole sometimes.’ Not be this like perfect thing handled with kid gloves. Which, yes.
KB: About time for that!
RO: Well yeah, and that’s because… I also think it’s because an actual disabled person is creating it. And I’ve talked about this before but it’s like, Hollywood is addicted to like, you know, profiting off the pain of marginalized people. Being able to be like, ‘Get that Oscar honey! Get that award season baby! We are so brave! Omg look what we did. We are so good!’ And then you are like, actually look at the liner notes. Wow. Like literally no one involved in the creation of this thing actually is part of the community that you are portraying. Great job! Dot. Dot. Dot. So, I think we’ve moved past like, it’s just enough that you make a movie about it or there’s a tv show about it. No, no, no honey. You need to employ the people from the community that you are portraying. You need to advance them. Give them power, money and jobs.
KB: Yeah. What’s your experience been like in the industry in terms of hiring other marginalized folks? Having other disabled people on sets? Things like that. Has there been push back?
RO: No. But it’s… but it’s complicated. I mean first of all; I feel I’m always racked with this guilt and this feeling of like, I could do more, I could do more. Because Special is a very scrappy show with not a lot of money. And we don’t have a lot of resources. And so, for example, we shoot on location. We don’t really build sets. We, I think, we had one set for season two, meaning that we are basically shooting in real houses. We are shooting in real apartments which are of course, spoiler, not handicap accessible. So that already limits, you know, who we can have for crew. I wish I had Ryan Murphy money and Tyler Perry money where I could just build an accessible compound where people could go and film and do whatever, whatever. But I’m not there yet. Hashtag goals.
DG: I mean you have ‘Ryan’ in your name so maybe one day. An empire. Like Ryan Murphy does! It’ll be like the O’Connell files, or something. I don’t know.
RO: I’ve heard that’s all it takes. Sharing a name. For sure.
RO: No, but you know. So, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. But, um, you know. Sets are not designed with handicap people or disabled people in mind. Because they are like, it’s like when Ali Stroker won the Tony. She couldn’t even get on the fucking… She had to go another way. It’s like they never – the Tony’s never imagined a disabled person winning a Tony.
RO: And again, I really don’t think it’s this malice of wanting to keep disabled people out. I just think that we’ve been pushing to the fringes of society, entrenched in systemic poverty. All these things working against us. They never imagined that we would be a part of things. Well guess what, bitch? We are. So, it’s overwhelming because it’s such a systemic problem that it can’t be solved in a single season of television and it requires a lot of money and resources of people getting on board. Like I can’t move mountains necessarily [laughs]. Which is ableist anyway! Am I right ladies?
RO: Let’s get to the bottom of that! Okay!
RO: Ugh. So anyway. Like this is a long-winded way of saying like I would… for season two I was able to do some things that I was proud of. But I was also left with feeling like, ‘Okay. There’s so much work to be done.’ Like, it’s overwhelming. It is. I’m being like very frank. It’s very overwhelming. Because I want to do all the things.
RO: You know what I mean. It’s such a deep-rooted issue in our culture and our society. And it goes way beyond just like, making sure there’s a ramp on a set or whatever. Do you know what I mean?
KB: Definitely. Yeah. But when we talked earlier you were really excited and all of us are really excited, about your push for an inclusion of disability and sexuality on your show.
KB: I think it’s so powerful. That’s such a cliché word. But it really is! It’s not, I had never seen that before. Like you said, growing up… never. So, I screamed when I saw that in season one and maybe you could break down that scene a little bit? When your character, also named Ryan, meets with a sex worker for the first time.
RO: Yeah. Just even to rewind the tape a little bit. When we were shopping Special around there was a bidding war between like four studios that wanted to produce it, and then take it out to networks. Okay? I was very… I was like a little story editor on Awkward. I had only been working in the business for a year. I had no power whatsoever. I was also twenty-six or twenty-seven. I had no idea what I was doing. But what I really was sure about was that I wanted this show to explore sexuality. I definitely, you know, wanted to push the envelope. Cum all over it. Etc. Etc.
RO: I also knew the landscape of Hollywood was like…I knew that like CBS would be like, ‘Disabled? Gay? Cool! We love it!’ And then they would buy it and be like, ‘Wait what? What did we just buy? I don’t understand.’ And then we could never show his sexuality…whatever whatever. So I just knew that was the road I didn’t want to go on. I remember like certain studios actually backed out because like, “If he doesn’t want to go to Network, then we’re not interested.”
RO: Because for some reason, even though literally no one cares about network television and they are forty years behind. No offense. But they just are. Like who cares? They still have this weird power because they weirdly have so much money. Still. And so anyway, I’m proud of twenty-seven year old silly me that was still like didn’t know anything. But was like ‘No, I don’t want to go to Network.’ I really, really think this show should explore sex in a really honest way. I want to make sure that I’m in a place that can support that.
RO: So, we ended up at Netflix. Which literally like, anything goes. Which I love. It was really, really important to me that we show Ryan as a sexually viable person with desires and with agency. And um, I also wanted to destigmatize sex work which is something that I’m very passionate about. So, it was almost like killing two birds with one very woke stone. I… It was really important to me that the sex feels authentic. That, like, I looked at like GIRLS which really portrayed straight sex as kind of messy and weird and awkward and funny and all the things. It was like revolutionary to show sex in an honest way. I was like, Oh, I want to do that. But for gay people! Because that’s the same experience as well. Sex can be, you know, sexy. It can be awkward. It can be humiliating. It can be empowering. All within the span of two minutes. So, I really, really wanted to kind of showcase that reality and um, shooting the scene was so weird. Because I could feel…very rarely do you feel in the moment that you are setting out, you are achieving what you set out to do. It’s usually like, ‘I hope that fucking worked out! I’ll see you in the edit!’ You know? That was like the scene where I was like, ‘Oh, shit. This feels like something. This feels like we’re tapping into an energy that we have never seen before. And it feels organic and it feels real and um… It was a terrifying scene to shoot because, you know, I was like naked the entire time. Blah blah blah. Honestly, from the CP perspective the hardest part of that scene was, I had to get undressed from a suit. I didn’t know acting. I didn’t know how acting works. So I didn’t realize that you like, have to do a scene forty different times. So, when you are seeing me get out of my suit, it’s not that we just did that once and it’s like, ‘Anyways!’ We shot that like forty different ways, forty different coverage. We shot that…we shot that on Brian’s coverage, meaning that I wasn’t even like in the shot but I had to get undressed. Do you know what I’m saying? My CP ass was like, exhausted. So, by the time that I was like—
RO: By the time that I was like, naked and on my back, I was like ‘Honey. Let’s party, I’m at Club Med.’
RO: I truly felt that I was just like, you know, being able to like sit back and relax. That was the easiest part in the world. Getting through that suit undressing scene was pure hell.
KB: Oh my god. Yeah. Or um, it’s such a small moment right before that scene. But it stood out, for me, Ryan gets to… I forget the other characters name.
KB: Shay’s apartment and looks up the staircase and is like, ‘Fuck.’ Doesn’t say anything but that just half second shot of like, Now there’s stairs too? Like I came here to…
RO: Yeah. It’s like, UGH! The obstacle course to lose my virginity. Like here we go at the Amazing Race! You know what I mean?
KB: Yeah. It’s just another fucking thing.
Ryan: Well, I think disabled people make these small calculations a million times a day.
KM: A hundred percent.
RO: And by the way, I feel like I have always been so addicted to routine and structure, and I feel like it’s so hard with disability. Like what came first, the chicken or the egg kind of vibes. Where it’s like, I live my life in such a way where I do the same thing every day. I eat the same thing every day. I go to the same coffee shop every day. And I wonder if that’s not so much an obsession with routine as so much of as an aversion to any kind of surprise. Because I don’t like navigating anything that I like… because I don’t know what will pop up. I remember when I went to Europe, LOL, when I was 23, post-grad vibes. I was just like, every day there was some kind of new troll that I had to navigate with like, you know, a door or a key. You know, whatever. I just couldn’t conceptualize what was in front of me because it was all new. I think that’s when my brain has a hard time processing things a little bit. It takes me a second to orient myself. So, that was a really stressful experience. I feel like I’ve set up my life in such a way where there are no surprises. It’s like, I know how to do every single thing. You know what I mean?
KB: I think it’s a type of energy calculation that non-disabled people will never understand.
DG: Its Crip tax, is what it is. You really have to think about, you really have to overthink about what is… What you can do and what you are able to do. Do you have the energy? Will you have the energy to do these things? I can only imagine, for you Ryan, doing that scene 40 times. Yeah, you had to do it. But your poor CP body doesn’t know you are acting. Doesn’t know like, all it is, is it has to do it again!
RO: I really honestly did not. I think the hardest part of that job is just the gruel. The physicality of it. How grueling it was, because that’s what no one talks about when they talk about acting. But obviously it’s not that big of a deal for someone who doesn’t have cerebral palsy. But like, you know for example when I had to… I trip a couple times in the show. And that was a stunt double, obviously, they weren’t going to risk this precious cargo.
RO: But, I had to… I had to like get up, you know, each scene. And that was really hard! Having to like get up from the ground over and over and over again. Season two, we shot four episodes and then we shut down because of the pandemy, and then we came back. You know, I stayed physically active. Momma went on her like, hour and a half Hillary Clinton wandering in the woods sanity walks every day—
KB: Every day, yeah.
RO: I needed to move my body it felt like, so it didn’t get too stiff. I was really into keeping things loose and fun and fancy free.
RO: So, I was kind of like, I’ve done a good job like keeping in shape and duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. I went back to shooting and it was like truly, like, getting hit by a Mack truck. It was like I remember one of the first things we shot was this, um, was this dance that we shot over two days. It was just me dancing for two days straight. It was like crazy. I felt like I was 85 years old. I had insane lower back pain. It was just wild! But what I’ll say—this is like, spoilers. Whatever. Who cares! The dance was full of other disabled people.
RO: So, whenever I was feeling like, “Oh my god. I’m going to have to like, lie down. My body is on fire. This is insane.’ I would see other people with more severe disabilities than me who were just trucking along. I was like ‘Okay, bitch. Get your shit together. You are the fucking captain of this team. Put on a fucking face and go dance to fucking, you know, Rihanna. Do what you gotta do.’ But it was, it was really wild though. I just wasn’t… my body really was shocked back into having to be this like productive worker bee again. It was intense. And then also, I’m like not getting body work done because of the pandemy, and that’s something that has been kind of a moment too. Because my body needs to get re-tuned like, once a week for sure. Otherwise, things get a little Scary Jerry. And I’ve been unable to do that. I’ve been doing what I can myself to mitigate it myself, but it’s a full-time job keeping this body running to the best of its ability. That’s been a challenging part of it too that I don’t think people really understand. I’m not going to like, Bliss Spa and getting like fucking, you know what I mean. It’s not like, ‘Ah! Relaxing.’ It’s literally someone breaking my body and putting it back together so it can run more efficiently.
RO: Anyway. That’s also been a hard part of the pandemic, I think.
KB: Oh my god, totally. Have you ever done cupping?
RO: No. But like, I’m addicted and kind of want to try. It feels very Goop-y.
KB: I… Okay. I was so terrified because, if people don’t know, it’s literally a glass cup that gets lit on fire and then plopped on your back. Then you have these perfectly cylindrical like, hickeys for a week on your back. But it fixes my life.
RO: What does it do?
KB: It fixes my life. It’s a type of body work. It’s like massage but rather than someone pressing into the tissue it like, pulls the tissue up and it just like, it helps my back. So much.
KB: Like, I feel like I could dance for two days in a Netflix scene afterwards.
KB: And then I get cocky because I’m like, ‘I feel awesome!’ And then I overdo it and then I crash. But it’s my favourite thing. Yeah.
RO: Wow. I need to try that. You know, it’s funny. Getting older, the rumors are true, your body doesn’t run the way it used to. I remember, like, I had to go do a talk in New York and I was on deadline because was writing the first episode of season 2. I wrote the pilot. The first episode, like, on the airplane back to Los Angeles. I was like hunched over, just on my little whatever in my airplane. I didn’t move. I was so engrossed for like six hours and then we landed. I looked up and my body was just like, ‘Bitch! What did you just fucking do?’ For six hours! I like, couldn’t move.
RO: I literally was like, frozen. And then I was truly in the most excruciating pain of my life. I had all these things planned. I was like pitching a show the next day. I did all the stuff, and I had to just wipe the slate clean and be like, actually… I truly hurt myself. My body is in such excruciating pain. I’m sorry, I can’t. That triggers so many issues with me that I… Truly I’m like I need to deal with. Because this is a sneak preview of what it is like to get older. I feel like I still have this ableist issue of needing to be like, bigger, faster, stronger. I feel like people, when they see me and they think of me, they are going to think of someone who needs to like, take a day off because they hurt their like body.
KB: From sitting for too long. It sounds so insane.
RO: Because of working! Because I’m fucking sitting here working and I’m trying to like, do— Because I had the genius idea of flying to Syracuse when I was on deadline to write the first episode of season two. I was like, I can do both! It was like this total like, obsessive overloading of work that I have as an issue. It obviously like, caused problems. And then guess what? Because of that, because I bit off more than I could chew, I had to cancel the next three days of work commitments that I had because I couldn’t keep it chill. But then I felt this deep amount of shame. I think anytime that I’m physically compromised is deeply, deeply triggering to me. Because of my CP, but also because I got hit by a car when I was twenty, and I developed Compartment Syndrome which was like another disability which was very traumatizing. It’s like, I need to be okay with accepting my limitations and I have a really hard time with that. I feel like I fight against that all the time.
DG: I think that’s also partially, because in the disability community we are not allowed to talk about our limitations. We are supposed to…and even with all the work we’ve done in like disability justice, we are still not allowed to talk about ‘there’s this thing that stops me,’ and its okay to talk about that. We are supposed to, as disabled people, push through no matter what the fuck is happening to us.
DG: We are not allowed to say Hey, this sucks today! I mean, especially for you being such a public figure. If all of your Instagram was like, My body hurts today because of CP. Hollywood would be like, What the fuck is happening with Ryan?
RO: Yeah. It’s like, exactly. I feel like, You think disabled people can’t do anything? Well, I’m like a show runner, I’m an actor, I’m doing this, I’m doing that, dah-dah-dah. And by the way, luckily like I’ve been so blessed like to not have chronic pain. By the way, this is such a funny thing, every time I have like bodywork done by someone who’s never met my body, they are literally the whole time being like, WOW!
RO: Oh my God! Woah! I get to have fun with you! And I’m like uh… It’s actually deeply insulting. First of all, I’m like there. I’m like Please work on me! But they are like, ‘Wait! So, like, WOAH! Woah. Your muscles are so tight.’ They’re like, ‘Are you in chronic pain?’ I’m like, ‘No?’ They’re like ‘WHAT!’
RO: [still imitating a massage therapist or similar practitioner] You’re not?!
KB: [also imitating] How are you functioning?!
RO: How do you even do anything? I’m like Honey, I’m just trying to like fucking get my work done. I’m here for my oil check, just do what you gotta do. You are making me feel really not great about myself. I sort of got… I can put a timer to it. It happens all the time. I’m like honey, like God. Keep your comments to yourself! Also, I’m sorry I’m not in chronic pain. Hashtag blessed. But the way you are assessing my body right now is like deeply insulting [laughs].
RO: Yeah, it’s shocking what people feel. It’s almost like I guess how a woman would feel if she’s pregnant. When they are like, “Let me touch your body!” Like your baby belongs to them. People have this weird sense of entitlement over your body if you’re disabled. Like they feel that they can say anything, they feel they can ask anything. And as someone who is always making mental calculations into how I’m being perceived and how I’m coming off, it really blows my mind that people just have no shame and just do whatever they want and say whatever they want, without any kind of thinking.
DG: And it’s hard because you can tell that they, not all the time, but a lot of the time you can tell they were trying to say something nice.
DG: They were trying to be empathetic. They were trying to, like, get into your world and they didn’t know how. That’s the hardest part because, yeah, we can put them on blast. I can be like Fuck you, you are the worst. But I’m trying so hard to now be like, ‘Okay. Why did you say that thing you just said?’
DG: Let’s unpack that, because I don’t want to cancel you. That’s almost worse. So, you feel like you have to use your platform to teach people all the time even when you are like, I don’t want to today. I want to just be disabled and be happy but I feel like if I don’t correct you, you are going to keep going on with this. How do I do that in a nice way, so you don’t feel like I’ve done something wrong by telling you how I feel?
RO: Yeah. It’s always like, yeah. I don’t want to play teacher today. Why is the onus always on me to educate but it like, kind of is? You kind of have to like… I remember at an Emmy event where basically you have to meet… The whole thing is weird. You have to meet Emmy voters. It’s just like, a lot. Anyway, one person came up to me and was like, ‘I had no idea you were even disabled. I had no idea!’ I was like okay… She was saying as a compliment. Like, I should’ve —I pass as—which, by the way, I don’t. I have a limp that’s clear as day, but God Bless.
RO: But I’m like, actually LOL. But it was like, honey that’s not a compliment. I don’t… The goal is not to appear as able-bodied. That’s not… But you think you are doing a nice thing. You think this is a compliment because we live in an ableist society, so I get it. But you shouldn’t say that. It’s offensive.
DG: Did you pull her aside at this Emmy event and be like, Here you go?
RO: NO! Because I was meeting like 80 people.
RO: And I was overwhelmed. There’s no handbook how to deal with this shit because it’s very relatable.
RO: You know, so I was just like ‘No, thank you so much!’ Pose. And then moving on. Do you know what I mean? Like, what are you going to do? You make note of these things because it just shows how pervasive this ableism is and how it seeps into the crevices. You know what I mean? It’s wild.
KB: We talked… So, Ryan and I first met like four years ago now, I think? I was in LA.
RO: Over La Scala chopped salads. Get the setting right.
KB: Over La Scala chopped salads. It was very important. We were in Beverly Hills.
RO: Did you? Did you? By the way, did you track the La Scala controversy that just happened? Did you see that?
KB: No? Oh yeah, no you tweeted about it right?
RO: Well I, first of all, I deleted Twitter.
DG: Yeah, W T F. I was looking for you the other day and I was like, Where did he go?
RO: I have transcended the space of twitter. It’s the ultimate power move. I hate Twitter so much. I was like, there are so many more interesting ways for me to feel bad about myself. I need to exit this party that I never liked and was never having fun. Yeah. I’ve been off of it for months. I’m truly addicted. Highly recommend. 10/10.
RO: But La Scala underwent some backlash recently because they were basically pitching in their takeout containers, they were slipping a note to their customers saying Hey, we are taking the temperature. We are thinking of throwing a New Year’s Eve dinner. Iconicly the last line was Be discrete and tell everyone you know. Well, those two things don’t make sense.
RO: Listen. Listen. La Scala is my church so ultimately, I, like so here’s how I feel about that. I love how they are like ‘Let’s talk about disability!’ and I’m like, ‘La Scala let’s weigh in.’
RO: Give the readers what they want. Basically, the government in America has left everyone high and dry with no kind of road map on how to deal with things. A lot of restaurants are closing because they have no support. I feel like, in the pandemic, there is a lot of misdirected anger towards the source when I’m like, we should be mad for being orphaned by this government that has forced restaurants into compromising positions to make ends meet.
RO: But I feel like we feel so powerless because the government is this huge entity that we can’t quite grasp so we try to throw our rage hoes towards the local level. To me, it’s very misdirected. Anyway, that’s—
RO: Um, but yeah. Anyway. So, we were at La Scala. Kayla, sorry. So that’s La Scala.
KB: Yes. I feel like it’s the beginning of every cliché magazine profile. Like, he delicately took a bit of his La Scala salad. We were talking about how Uber drivers love to ask you what’s wrong with your body [laughs].
RO: Yes. They do. Five stars.
KB: You call Uber and especially when you’re alone…it happens to me all the time, it’s always men. And they’re like, ‘What happened to you? Wait, are you okay? Let me get the door.’ I don’t know if they think you are injured slash drunk. It happens all the time and that day, another thing that happens and I think happened to us right afterwards. We went to Crate & Barrel. I think it was Crate & Barrel?
RO: Iconic. What were we doing there? I was like Here’s a fun time in LA. Here’s the Crate & Barrel in Beverly Hills that I know from Canada that you’ve been dying to try! I feel like such a bad host.
KB: No, you were like ‘Hey. What are you doing right now? I need a wine rack. Do you want to come?’ I was like, Of course I do!
RO: L O L! Forcing you to get a wine rack with me.
DG: This is some hardcore foreshadowing for when Ryan and I hang out. I know where we are going.
RO: Oh my God. So on-brand!
KB: It was really glamourous. So, we are shopping for a wine rack and it was just so…people don’t know what to do when there’s two disabled people, visibly disabled people together. The store person is like looking you up and down, like are you good? It’s very funny to me.
RO: And I’m very Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I’m like, ‘I got money to spend here!’
DG: Did they think you were dating because you are two disabled people? I’m sure somebody must’ve walked up to you and been like, ‘Oh. Are you together? Good for you!’
RO: No, I think they thought we escaped from like, the disabled factory. We needed to like go back to our home.
RO: You know what I mean?
KB: And then the only other anecdote, we can cut this, it’s not important. The only other anecdote from that day is that you were like do people say, ‘Can I pray for you?’ I was like that hasn’t happened to me. The very next day I was walking down the street and this woman was like, ‘God Bless!’ Tries to touch you and it’s like, please stop!
RO: Oh my God. I take full responsibility for that. I summoned that into your life.
RO: Also, it might be regional thing. It might be an LA thing.
KB: Maybe. Maybe.
RO: Yeah, I’ve gotten that. I’ve gotten that from people on the street. I’ve gotten that from an Uber driver saying, ‘Oh, I can heal you through my tinctures.’ You are like, honey, what… People are truly just so fucking wild. It’s like, they all need to seek treatment in my opinion [laughs]. Yeah.
KB: The ableism is the virus.
KB: For sure.
DG: Is that shirt yet? Can it be a shirt? Ryan, you know people. Make that a shirt!
RO: Yeah, oh my god. I’m very inept but I’m sure I can find a way to get that out there.
KB: Kristina, do you want to toss us another, like, actual question or do we want to continue talking about salad? I mean, I could go either way.
RO: I know, right? Oh my God.
KM: I mean, Ryan this is your episode. A question, or just like more salad stories? Up to you.
RO: Um, we can do a question and then I’m sure that will turn into another salad story.
KM: Okay, cool. So, in kind of like other interviews and writing that you’ve done you’ve described your relationship to your disabled identity as a process of coming out that was almost more challenging for you in terms of coming out as gay. So, with where you are at now in your life, what is your relationship to a Queer-Crip identity in terms of your activism and representation in the world?
RO: Oh my God. Again, such a Herbie Fully Loaded question. First of all, I feel like I have such anxiety because I feel like there’s still so much I have to learn about disability. I feel like my brain is always being expanded in terms of disability. I just read this book called Sitting Pretty by Rebekah… Oh my God. I’m blanking on her last name.
KB: Cockly maybe?
DG: No… Rebecca Tolvison?
RO: Yes, something in that area.
KB: I’ll link her Instagram because it’s really good [note: it’s Rebekah Taussig, and I’ve linked to her account in the show notes].
RO: I read that book like two months ago and my brain just expanded. It was just like, it was so… She’s like, smart. I identify spiritually and intellectually as like a bimbo. She has a literal PhD. So, you are like, Okay! I get it! You know what I mean? But her book is so smart. She just talks about these kind of intense subjects and ableism, blah blah blah. But she does it in a really succinct, thoughtful, easy to digest kind of way. Just even reading that was like okay. Brain expansion a little bit more. Brain expansion a little bit more. But I think I have this anxiety because I don’t see myself and an activist, per se. I think, in terms of knowing so much more about… like Kayla. You’re an academic. You went to school for a million years. You know your shit, capital S.
KB: Thank you.
RO: And I don’t. I think, I guess if I was to say, my form of activism is through storytelling. That’s the medium through which I do. I’m a disabled person who, like, goes through the world with the confidence of Rob Schneider in the late 90s, and I think that’s like my own form of activism.
RO: Do you know what I mean? I think I have this sort of inadequacy, or like imposter syndrome that I don’t quite have it all. I don’t know it all. That gives me, you know, that does give me anxiety, but I also know that everyone’s road is different. There’s many different forms of activism.
DG: There’s something really, and I’ve said this to you before, but there’s something really refreshing about the fact that you don’t claim to know everything. That you don’t come off as this hyper-knowledgeable person on everything disability. Because I think a lot of the times when it comes to disability justice, we are expected to know everything right away, and if we don’t know everything right away, then we have somehow failed. What I appreciate about your work and the way you position yourself is that you don’t claim to know everything. You are just learning. I think there’s value in being a disabled person and being brave/confident enough to say ‘I don’t know this. But I’m willing to learn.’
RO: Yeah. I mean, even like okay. I’m going to be like totally real. So, like, there… Okay, so there’s something in season two, this is like spoiler alert, too. Whatever. I’m being so bad. I feel like I shouldn’t say any of these things. There’s flashbacks to Ryan as a baby, which by the way I’m truly addicted. Love. The kid was adorable. It’s beyond. He had CP.
DG: Yes! [cheers]
RO: Well, by the way, of course! You think I’m going to fucking hire an able-bodied— like, LOL.
RO: But you know. By the way, CP actor babies don’t grow on trees. Let’s put it that way.
RO: It’s not like going to the Galleria and picking something up. Anyway, he was amazing. It was all amazing.
RO: But the episode ends. Whatever. Like, there’s a moment where Ryan is struggling to walk and Karen, my mom, doesn’t know if he ever will because that was so much of my parents growing up. They did not know what my case was going to be like. So, the first three years of my life, first of all everything was delayed. Obviously. I wasn’t reaching milestones when I should’ve or whenever. But they really didn’t know where I would plateau. They did not know what my case was going to look like. I always thought about what a really intense, stressful thing not to know, you know? So, anyway. At one point, Ryan does walk, and he takes his first steps and it’s seen as this really emotional thing. There’s this gorgeous score and Jessica [Hecht, the actor who plays Ryan’s mom, Karen] hit it out of the park. It’s really beautiful and it’s emotional. I actually really get teary eyed. But then I think, Why am I so emotional? Why is it so important that Ryan is taking his first steps? Why is this such a thing that we’ve seen of like, Yes. Let’s unpack it. So of course, like, Jessica, my mom Karen is excited for Ryan to walk because she knows his life got just this much easier because we live in a world that is not as hospitable to wheelchair users as it is to people who can walk. She already knows that by walking he is going to have an easier time just baseline existing. But when we, but… that’s fine. But when you are doing a TV show you can’t have these like subtitles of like, ‘JUST FYI! This is…’ You know what I’m saying?
KB: Wait. Can we do a director’s cut where we break it down? I can be like this disability theory says actually…
RO: Well see when I made it, when I wrote it and we shot it, I wrote it as this really important emotional moment. Which, again, it was. This is where it gets confusing. Again, for the mom it was, but now we shot this…because of the pandemy I wrote it fucking a year ago? We shot it almost a year ago. Now I’m like, Oh I don’t want to see a beautiful moment of a disabled person learning how to walk ever again. Because I think it’s really harmful and I think, again, it’s ableism. It is. Just like in its purest form. And I think if you are going to show it, you should question why it’s so important. Like, people should question why they are getting so emotional and why it’s so important to them that Ryan knows how to walk. Why is that so fucking important? Like, why are we not, you know, holding the world to task to make it so that’s not the end goal? That people can live within the confines of their ability and not have to suffer and not, you know, be left out. Not be left behind.
DG: Wouldn’t it be just as awesome to see a similar scene in the next show that tackles disability where, you know, little baby person gets their first wheelchair?
RO: Right. So that’s where I’m going. In my new show, which who the fuck knows what will happen, it’s much more about that. But it’s an interesting thing where I have grown now as a person, as a disabled person, where I don’t… and I’m not trying to throw my own show under the bus. It’s such a beautiful moment and I don’t want to also undercut what Jessica did, like what the whole operation is. I think it’s beautifully done, but it’s definitely one of those moments where I’m like, mmm-mmm. We need to challenge why this is so… why you are getting teary-eyed about seeing a disabled child learn how to walk. You know what I mean? Why is this so important?
KB: The mommy bloggers love those videos. Kids learning to walk. Babies learning to hear. The cochlear implants, things like that.
DG: People learning to see for the first time once they get those things in their eyes. Once they have surgery to fix their eyesight or whatever.
RO: And I get why they are so excited! It’s because their life is going to get easier. Again, our world is not structured to support them. So, but it’s like why are we trying to bend ourself? Why is that the end goal? Again, it needs to be… I don’t know. It’s like—
DG: It’s so hard. And I agree with you. I think it’s really hard and so nuanced. I think when that happens to the parents and when they see their disabled child walking for the first time, or they see the disabled baby hearing or the Deaf baby hearing for the first time they shouldn’t be robbed of that joy. Of course not! But I think my problem with videos like that, not the one you shot, I mean videos we see on YouTube all the time. Is that it’s then produced for like, the abled gaze of consumerism.
RO: It is! But my show, I mean it’s not out yet. But it feels like that was my, it was for that consumption. It just shows that in my work I’m evolving in real time, in a lot of ways. And like, by the way, season two to me is so incredible and I’m so excited for you guys to all see it and I really think you’ll love it because I think it really goes there. It’s just, I don’t know. I’m very proud of it. It’s that one moment that I’m like Hmm… okay. Why is that in? Why did we do that? What is that doing? That’s not saying… We’ve seen that before… We are not. But it’s, again, my brain wasn’t there yet when we made it. And now I am. It’s like, There you go! In real time you are seeing me figure things, out which is an interesting way to be processing things, let me tell you.
KB: Yeah, like, Oh you want to do this in public? In front of Netflix? Here you go.
RO: Yeah. By the way, I will say the disabled community, you know, knock on wood because who knows what the season two perception will be. But they’ve been really supportive of everything that I have done. Which is amazing because sometimes you can eat your own.
DG: They like to do that a lot.
RO: Yeah. And so, I just… I mean I’m sure someone will eat me for breakfast lunch and dinner. I’ve just been really… All I can do, with everything I do, is lead with honesty. I just like need to be completely up front and, you know, I wouldn’t even feel comfortable showing that and not commenting the way I’m talking about it now. I think you should be able to just grow in real time. I think that’s called being a human.
DG: You’ve spoken a little bit about perception and I’m curious, just curious, because so many of the non-disabled people that I have come across who’ve watched your show have immediately gone to ‘It was so great! And in the first two minutes I started to cry! And it was so amazing! And it was so powerful!’ And I get that. But also, like okay. Did you watch it for its comedic value or were you just shocked to see a disabled person enjoying themselves? What’s happening here?
RO: Yeah. I mean I don’t know, it’s interesting. I think sometimes when I think about the positive reception the show got, I’m like ‘Are we just woke-proof? Can you not take down the gay disabled show?’ Like, what’s happening? Do you know what I mean? Cause there has been some shows I’ve seen where I’m like what’s going on? Because that’s not… Yeah. But like, I… Yeah, no. I don’t know. It’s so… I’m sure it’s so personal that you can’t even tease apart what you are enjoying about it. Is it because of the storytelling or is it because you’re finally seeing someone that looks and acts like you?
KB: It’s the Old El Paso meme, like why not both?
RO: Yeah. Exactly.
KB: The girl with the taco. That’s how I feel. It was both for me. Like, the fact that the first episode was called cerebral LOLzy, I never thought that I would see that on this earth. But the fact that the other jokes make me laugh anyway.
DG: I thought that was so funny because Ryan and I had talked before and he had used that terminology with me before I saw it. So, I saw it and I went yeah. That’s peak Ryan O’Connell right there. That tracks!
RO: Punning is a disability that I would love to be cured from, actually.
RO: I’m sorry! Problematic! But I actually would like to live life pun-free, okay? It’s been a huge detriment to my world and like, I would love to live without it!
KB: It’s a disease! I share. Maybe it’s a co-morbidity with cerebral palsy.
DG: I share it too! I have the same thing! I also love alliteration really hard!
RO: Me too. I love alliteration.
KB: I think it’s a CP symptom.
RO: Yeah. Exactly. LOL we just come up with our own. We’re like doctors. We’re like, ‘So, if you have cerebral palsy you might experience this thing called punning.’
DG: Side effects of CP might include…
RO: It’s going to be really scary. Oh yeah, you are going to be alliterating things. Honey, I mean it’s like, wish we could do something but there’s no cure. It is what it is. It’s your body figuring things out through your mind.
KB: Yeah. Yeah. Going to have to live with that. I know, I have a couple friends who have CP and we text each other. It’s like, does this happen to you? It’s like those infomercials, but we’re like, Do you think this is a symptom?
DG: How do I get on that text chain?
RO: Oh my God.
KB: I will text you. I just feel like I get so sweaty all the time. And I’m like, is this a CP thing? I don’t know.
RO: No, I don’t think so.
RO: But the thing about CP that is so crazy is that it really does affect everyone differently. That’s a thing that I’m like, that is so crazy. That someone could have CP and have experienced none of the things that you’ve experienced. It’s such a… it catches such a wide swatch of symptoms and side effects and all that stuff.
DG: And I also love that if you have CP like, when I was watching the first season, you know. There were so many markers of like, yup. Yup. That’s a CP thing. Like, yup. His gait. I can tell.
DG: I think for the CP viewers watching, there were so many moments of like, I’m included here!
RO: Yeah. No, absolutely. There’s a lot of commonalities. I think it is… What people can relate to regardless of the severity of your case or whatever, is the mental gymnastics that you have to do to navigate the world on a daily basis.
DG: I should say, I am severely sexy all the time.
RO: Yes. Exactly. Be the PR firm for CP that you wish to see in the world.
KB: That’s also a symptom. For sure.
DG: Severely sexy? Yes.
RO: It’s so bad.
KB: It’s really hard. It’s really hard to be…
RO: Really, really, really, hard.
DG: That’s what they said?
RO: Oh my God. LOL.
KB: All righty.
KM: I got a few more questions.
KM: Yeah! And then we’ll have to go live out the rest of our Sunday afternoons.
KB: It’s like dark out here, so it feels like night time.
KM: Um, so we talked a little bit, yeah, I mean we talked a lot about ableism in society. We talked a little bit about internalized ableism. What’s next for you in this like unlearning of internalized ableism in your life, and how do you see that being represented in your work moving forward?
RO: Well, internalized ableism I like to think of as a poisonous gas that is everywhere that you can’t necessarily see or smell, but it’s just there. You don’t even know when you are inhaling it until you’re like, ‘I feel kind of lightheaded. Weird! Anyways!’
RO: So, I don’t think it’s necessarily like, when it’s a byproduct of the culture that you live in, I don’t necessarily think there’s a version where you are like, ‘I’m done!’ Like, do you know what I mean? It’s always going to be, for me at least, a very complicated journey. The only thing that I can do is really just be cognizant of it, and be able to check myself before I wreck myself. You know? Like we talked about earlier, my obsession with productivity and wanting…
RO: I also just feel, as a disabled person, I just feel like I’m on this time clock. Not to be morbid because I don’t think I’m going to die early or whatever. Cut to tomorrow. It’s like, His last podcast.
RO: But it’s like, I just feel like I have so much I want to get done and there’s so much I want to do. There’s so much I want to say. I feel very like, man on a mish.
RO: I don’t necessarily know… It’s so hard because I feel like Cerebral Palsy has gifted me with a lot of amazing, like, qualities in terms of being productive. In terms of being kind of scrappy and being like, ‘Let’s fucking figure this out!’ Like MacGyver vibes. But, like, I also think I wish I could like be kind to myself and let myself take breaks and like… like you know what I mean? I’m even triggered when I get a cold. That’s also another reason why I don’t want to get Corona even if it’s mild. It will wreck me for weeks because I know I’d be taken out for a few days. I really, really… we talked about me getting injured on the airplane being all hunched over and stuff. Those events are deeply, deeply triggering because they symbolize a loss of control. I feel like so much of my energy is like, I was born into a body I could not control, so now in every other aspect of my life I’m going to exert control where I can. That’s where I find solace.
DG: That is so a CP thing. Kayla, I don’t know if you experience that?
KB: Every day.
DG: Literally what you just said, it’s like oh my God. It’s me! I have to control every single detail of what I do because I can’t control anything else.
RO: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s like, it… but like in a way that need for control has given me a lot of amazing things. But to me, it’s always a double-edged sword. It’s always like playing a game of whack-a-mole. It brings me a lot of gifts, but it can also bring me a lot of heartache. I just don’t know how to tease those things apart. I think they come in the same package and you just have to learn to deal with them and be mindful. It’s not, again, it’s never going to be a journey where like I’m going to be, ‘Okay, I conquered internal ableism. I crossed it off my list.’ I think it’s gonna always be with me. It’s always really important to understand like why am I doing this? Why is it important that I, you know… even exercising! I got really into exercising like 5 years ago because I never had a relationship to my body. I was very disconnected, which I think was rooted in self-loathing and denying my disability. My body would call me. I would never call it back. It would text, I’d be like I got a new number. XOXO.
DG: Oh, you were that guy. I hate that guy.
RO: Well, no! I was just like… Oh my God. LOL. But it was like, I just really… I felt profoundly disconnected from my body because I hated it, and I saw my body as something that…all I could see it for were its flaws or its deficits or whatever.
RO: And then I started exercising and I felt, for the first time, profoundly in my body. In touch with my body. Connected to my body. Which was incredible! But I also was floored by what my body could do because I feel like, having CP, I was just resigned to a certain level of mobility. Blah, blah, blah. But by exercising and moving my body I felt like I was conquering the things that I never thought were possible, so that was empowering. However, again, double-edged sword time. It’s like, I also felt like part of me was like, the more I was working out was trying to achieve this able-bodiedness. Like, if I run five miles maybe the CP will magically fall off of me. So that’s what I’m talking about. It’s such a tricky thing because it’s not one thing! It can be both positive and negative. Because of the ableism that exists in our society, it’s really hard to tell when one ends and the other begins. Does that make sense?
KB: A hundred percent.
DG: Completely. One million percent.
KB: That’s so relatable.
DG: Relatable content! Ding, ding, ding!
RO: That’s what I aim to give. A hundred percent relatability. Chopped salads, people harassing me at Emmy events…
RO: You know. I just really am, I’m a man of the fucking people. You know?
DG: A man of the C-People, if you would [punning on “people with Cerebral Palsy”]
RO: Oh, that’s good. Again, we are not okay. You are not okay. Again, punning is like, check yourself. Take an ointment. Take an ointment.
DG: I’ll take a tincture.
RO: LOL. Exactly. I’ll cure you.
KB: Yeah. No. It’s so hard because then people, like, people don’t see the behind-the-scenes mental gymnastics. They only see what you put out. Right? And then they are like Oh my god. You’re amazing! You’re like, so inspiring! It’s like okay, I’m just trying to live…
RO: Yeah. Totally. Yeah. I know.
KB: It’s really bizarre and I don’t think, like, I don’t know. If you find a metaphor to make people understand, let me know.
RO: Yeah, it’s hard. It’s really, really hard. Also, I think there’s a certain mind fuck with having CP where you feel on both… You feel this insane sense of hyper-visibility and sense of wherever you go people are going to stare at you. Then it’s met with also this hyper-invisibility. So, you see people see you and then make the decision to un-see you in real time. So, it’s this really, really, insane mind fuck contrast of being. Like, walking around like you’re this glow in the dark sticker, but then also feeling like no one sees you and that you are just completely ignored. So that’s fun too.
KB: Or like, have you ever experienced where maybe you only talked to someone over the phone or, nowadays, over Zoom so they only see your face and they don’t know. Then you meet them in person, and they see you or you are sitting at a chair or something and they come in the room. Then you stand up and stumble out the door, they are like…you can see them try to figure it out. They are like I didn’t… I didn’t… Oh.
RO: Totally! But I have a fix for that. I think you should just star in your own Netflix show and then everyone will know that you are disabled, so then you don’t have to deal with that ever again.
KB: Oh my God. Why didn’t I think of that?
RO: I actually don’t know, and I don’t want to call you out. It’s like hello, the solution is right there Kayla. It’s like hello.
DG: Kayla, let’s start production on that. Can I be your co-star?
KB: Yeah. Maybe there’s someone who already has a show that could… [laughs]
KB: That could pull some strings.
RO: Who? I want to kill… What bitch!
DG: This O’Connell person we know.
RO: I threaten, I’m like Who! I’ll take him down. Yeah, it’s weird. It’s weird because I was closeted with my disability until I was twenty-eight, it has been really, really crazy to go from someone who was trying to like push CP out of his life. You know, no one really knew, to just now the whole world knows. It’s much better on this end. We talked, like, last weekend when we had this pre-call. About how… I was in Provincetown. I told you this story last weekend, right?
KB: Yeah. Yeah.
RO: Okay, so now I’m retelling.
KB: It’s for the listeners.
KM: It’s for the people!
RO: For the listen – yeah. It’s for the people!
DG: The C-people.
RO: But I was in Provincetown, which is this gay mecca at the tip of Cape Cod. I highly recommend. It’s incredible. Anyway, we went to the gay beach. I was like, initially triggered by it. You know like when, like, your friends are like, ‘Oh. It’s a little bit of a hike but it’s so worth it!’ You are like, okay. A little bit of a hike for you is literally, we are climbing Mount Everest. I’m fully Reese Witherspoon in Wild. What do I need to do? You always adjust. You are always like, Hey what’s happening. Anyway, we go to the gay beach which is truly unpleasant and hard to get to. I truly was like, I hate you all for doing this to me. Fuck you, you have no idea how hard this was, but like God bless. We go to the gay beach, we live, we laugh, we be gay, whatever. It’s fine. And the on our way back I was really tired. It’s a lot of walking, it’s a lot of being in fucking sand which is just my nightmare. Trudging through..
KB: Sand is super ableist.
RO: Sand is not CP-friendly at all!! I’m like—
RO: I’m like, Wow. Sand came down to the earth and was like, Oh I know what I can do! I can make walking more complicated and insane. You’re like, Great. Thank you.
KB: Thank you so much.
RO: Thank you, sand.
DG: Try rolling a three-hundred-pound chair through it. That’s fun!
RO: Oh my God. Oh my God. It’s so… so we were doing that and like, in the last stretch we had to climb up this embankment or whatever. It was really difficult for me because I was fatigued as all fuck. I couldn’t really get up, so I was really struggling and my boyfriend was having to help me up. Again, this experience, I have experienced this so many times in my life where my CP has felt like it’s on display and I’m struggling physically, and I feel deeply embarrassed, hot with shame. Etc. Etc. But and then while this was happening a gay walks by and was like, ‘I love your show!’
RO: As I’m like drenching, as I’m like drenched in sweat. Again, full Reese in Wild. Like Les Misérables. It was like this hysterical moment where I was like you know what? This would… Back in the day this would embarrass me. Delete years off my life. I would be cringing. But it’s like, this guy saw my show. He’s seen me faceplant in the first two minutes. This is just on brand. You know what I mean?
RO: This is like, what else would I be doing other than struggling to go up an embankment? You know what I mean? Like, hello! Like this is like, Blurred Lines baby!
RO: And, uh, and so I felt this like, remarkable sense of just peace and acceptance with myself. I was like, all these people saw…every person that sees my show and like celebrates it and accepts it is like Wow! All the years that I spent being so deeply ashamed. Thinking no one would understand me. Blah blah blah. By the way, there are a lot of people that don’t. But like, having those people have that warm reception, it’s just so validating on such a deeper level. You know what I mean? It’s like, wow. It really wasn’t the big monster I made it out in my brain to be. You know?
KB: And it’s definitely like, Please take that energy and apply it to other disabled people in your life.
RO: Yes. Yes. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. So…
KM: Well and also, going back to you being controlling in as many aspects of your life as you can. This show is essentially just you, your ability to broaden the reach of what you can control. Because you have agency out of what has been shown. Then you kind of have the control of people’s perception because you don’t have to explain anything in the moment. You’ve controlled what people know about you. In a much more intimate way that’s broader reaching, than just living as Ryan in LA without a show.
RO: That’s true. Putting the troll in control.
KB: That’s the dream. Um… should we do our like, last question now? Do you think?
KB: I guess I’ll say, Ryan, is there anything that you’re like burning to talk about or say, that we forgot?
RO: Um… No. Other than obviously I’m excited for all of you to see season two and I’m just like, obsessed. And I just hope you guys are obsessed. I want everyone to be excited.
RO: I know it’s been gone a long time. We are very much doing the Fleabag thing where we are gone for two years and being like, JK.
KB: Listen, if you do the Fleabag thing with season two like, honey, you’ve got it made!
RO: Oh my God. I know! But you know what, there’s one fatal flaw. There’s no Hot Priest.
DG: Ugh! So close.
KM: Now that’s ableist!
DG: I mean…
RO: That’s ableist! Oh my God. You know that… uh… there’s that podcast that I did. Oh, I talked about it with them. It’s called ‘That’s So Racist.’ I’m like, there needs to be a ‘That’s So Ableist.’ You know what I mean?
RO: Where everything is just ableist. LOL. I was even like, I was doing an interview the other day where I was like talking about how when you reach this position of power you want to bring down the ladder and give other people a leg up, and go up the ladder. I’m like, that’s an ableist fucking… God damn it! It’s just everywhere! God. Cancel ladders! Oh my God. Jesus Christ.
DG: Cancel ladders.
RO: Cancel fucking ladders! Oh my God.
KB: Yeah, no. It’s really ridiculous once you start thinking through like, most metaphors in the English language. They’re like ‘Oh, I’m so blind to that,’ or whatever it is.
DG: I didn’t see it coming…
KB: It’s just everywhere. I’m trying to decide. I think we can wrap it up! I was gonna say ‘What’s next for you?’ but we know. We know what’s next for you.
RO: Yeah. I mean yeah, season two [of Special], and I sold another show, Accessible, which I hope gets made but who the hell knows.
DG: Please make it. Please make it. It sounds so good. Please, please, please!
RO: I hope. I hope it gets made. If it does it will be a game changer, I hope. So, we’ll see!
KB: Fingers crossed.
RO: And then, oh! I wrote a novel. That’s coming out like, in a year because it’s novels. Everything takes forever.
DG: No big deal!
RO: I know, I’m telling you! I was really productive. I was the annoying bitch that wrote a novel during quarantine. Do you know that meme that was like—
KB: Shakespeare over here!
RO: Yeah. It was like Shakespeare wrote King Lear, so can you! Everyone was like ‘Fuck you! I was just trying to get out of bed.’ And I was like actually…. dot, dot, dot…. King Lear here we come!
RO: So, we… I just sold it so I’m doing edits on that. So that’s coming. I mean, that’s going to take forever because novels take fucking forever because of production.
DG: So, in two years when the pandemic… when it’s safe to go outside again.
DG: We can take your novel to the slutty gay beach and read it together!
RO: Yes. Yes yes yes. But obviously it’s about disability because literally everything I do is about disability. Oh! Actually! This is interesting to talk about. When I was submitting that novel to places, there was some feedback from publishing houses that was like… ’cause my character is gay and disabled and that. Obviously because I’m obsessed.
RO: Because I’m obsessed, and I’m addicted and who cares.
RO: And there were people, but it’s a different story, obviously. It’s a completely different world. Blah blah blah. There were a few people being like, We love this, we just think it’s similar to Special. I’m like, okay. Okay. No, no, no. No, no, no. Okay. Think about Sofia Coppola. Think about Noah Baumbach. Think about Spike Lee. Think about all these directors, writers that explore similar themes over and over again in their work.
RO: Like, I feel like as a gay disabled creator, it’s like I have been given this one little slice to explore disability. Blah blah blah. If I ever do it again, God forbid, I’m considered derivative of myself. I’m considered like… and I feel like it comes… If you are marginalized, you just check the box. It’s like okay, you did that. Dah-dah-dah-dah. It’s like no! You fucking Woody Allen LOL.
RO: RIP. But he made the same fucking movie about New York over and over again. Over and over again! And people were like Yes! Oh my God! Give me more! I’m like, honey! He made this movie! What are you talking about? We are seeing it again. They are like, we love it!! What a vision!
RO: I just feel like I need to be given the same leeway and space to explore like these themes. Without being seen as, you know ripping myself off. Also, by the way, sorry that I’m making the second gay disabled story that’s ever [laughs] Do you know what I’m saying?
KB: The market is just so saturated right now!
RO: Yeah! They are like Ah! Another show with… another story with a gay disabled person as the lead? And again, it comes down to this…you know what it is? It’s seriously this deep mentality where it’s like, well we gave you a show…
KB: What more do you want?
RO: Like you need more?
RO: We let you have that.
DG: We gave you that one piece of representation that you will never get again and you’re supposed to ride on that for the rest of your life.
RO: Exactly. Like how dare you have another? That’s just greedy. We gave you your one show and now you need to calm down. And it’s like, it really was shocking. I remember like my book agent was like, so furious. He, and he went out with a… uh… a novel with a trans author that’s about the trans experience, Detransition Baby. It’s supposed to be incredible.
KB: My friend just finished it and said it was the best thing she has read in years.
RO: No, and my boyfriend’s reading it now and is truly addicted. But he was telling me… maybe I shouldn’t fucking say. Whatever. He was just like, certain feedback they got was like, ‘Oh we already have our trans novel.’ Or like whatever. There’s this obsession with, again, they are meeting a quota. They aren’t even interested… and by the way, can I just say, storytelling is storytelling. Either it’s a good story or it’s not. Who cares if it’s this or that? But I just feel like there’s this like, you know, this obsession with just looking like, the bare minimum of woke. Being like, We did that! No, no. If you are actually interested in storytelling and what we have to say, it shouldn’t matter that, God forbid, there’s more than one. Like fuck off!
DG: And I mean, even if it’s that. We’ve seen Bridgerton. We know what could be made out there! Okay? So like…
RO: It’s just like…
RO: It really, really, made me like Steamboat Willy full of rage. And by the way we found an amazing home. A lot of people did… a lot of people did get it, and loved it, and wanted to do it. So, like, it wasn’t like I was, you know, left out in the cold. But it was a really kind of eye-opening experience of like… a reminder that I’m still not able to take up so much space as like, a straight white guy who can literally tell the same story over and over again, and still be like, Give me more! Give me more! You know what I mean?
KB: Like straight white people kissing dot com.
RO: And they are like, you know? It’s like… Or like another show that like, humanizes cops? And you’re like, LOL.
RO: You know what I mean? You are like, Honey! You gotta stop doing that.
RO: But it’s like, yeah. Again, it’s this obsession with only taking up the bare minimum of space and if you get any space at all, then you should feel lucky and grateful that that happened at all.
KB: Yeah, you should roll over and die now in your thirties. You did it! That’s it.
RO: I’m obsessed. I will be obsessed with anything queerness and disability ’til the day I die. Like, I am just getting started. I will tell as many fucking stories as I want about that. I will be given the space to do it, and everyone else can go fuck themselves. Is how I feel!
KB: That’s a mic drop moment right there.
DG: I was gonna say. That’s the end right there!
KB: Um… no. Yeah. Thank you. That’s so… it’s really, also, validating in a weird way to hear that like, that every industry is like that.
RO: Every industry. Yes.
KB: Academia is like…
RO: You think books? You are like, books. Okay, they’re smart! They are with the books! It’s not like Hollywood. It’s books! You know? No. It’s the same mentality. It’s the same like, checking a box. It’s the same kind of like, giving you this little crack in the doorway to slip through. But nothing more.
KB: Mmhmm. And I was just thinking too how like in the world of academia, which is also so ableist. It’s like…the education that can be done through one well-placed meme—Kristina and I were just having this conversation—can do more work to change people’s minds than like, a dissertation.
DG: A whole thesis.
KB: Yeah. Yeah. It’s fascinating. But that’s the world we live in!
RO: Yeah, it’s crazy. I have this great mentor, Greg Berlanti, who’s this producer and showrunner who is great. I was talking to him about it. He was like, ‘Ryan, I wrote high school shows for years. I was obsessed with teenagers. I just kept doing high school shows. That was my high school period. You are allowed to do whatever you want to do for as long as you want to do it. There are forty million different ways to tell a story that’s exploring similar themes. You are allowed to explore those themes however long you want to do them! That’s your right as an artist!’ I was like, Okay! I’m an artist! Addicted.
RO: You know. But anyway. I just like, it was very validating to hear that from another creator that was just like, yeah. You can do whatever the fuck you want!
KB: That’s sweet.
KB: So, we ask all of our guests as our last Q every time: What is bringing you, or what has brought you joy recently?
RO: Oh my God. That’s a really good… Okay, so my sanity walks are giving me joy because I just moved to a new neighborhood that I obviously can’t really participate in. So… [laughs]
RO: So… um… What I’ve been doing is I’ve just been going on walks around the neighborhood and exploring different kind of facets. It’s this really… like I live next to this really historical neighborhood called Angelino Heights that is full of all these Victorians from the early 1900s. My house is actually 120 years old. LOL. I’m fucked. I can’t even like, change a light bulb.
RO: That’s been really fun. Kind of exploring different parts of the neighborhood and feeling like I’m getting to know my new surroundings. Being in my backyard brings me joy and my work brings me joy, and stress. But mostly joy.
[Jazz music begins]
KB: Crip times is presented as a part of the Wheels on the Ground podcast network. This podcast is produced by us, and supported by Tangled Art + Disability and Bodies in Translation.
Yousef: Thank you for listening to Crip Times. We hope you have enjoyed listening to the series as much as we have enjoyed making it.