“What’s Your Story? Why Are You Up Here?” An Interview with Kayla Brown and Dan Hurwitz

Hi Kayla and Dan from The Disabled List. Welcome to the Lonely Arts Club! What is your favorite thing about comedy?

Kayla: I have been doing comedy for only about 6 months. Our first variety show was my first time doing comedy. I’ve always liked comedy, I never thought I would ever go on stage. But what I’ve always appreciated about comedy is that it gives a voice to people that traditionally aren’t heard when you go away from mainstream comedy. I think that laughing about things as long as it’s coming from a person that is affected by that joke is incredibly empowering. I think it’s a good way to heal. A lot of activism I’m interested in is focusing around restorative justice. There’s a lot of space in activism for comedy. It’s a good way to come together. 

I think there’s something about digesting things with jokes that makes it easier. 

Dan: I’ve been doing comedy almost three years now. I like the vulnerability. I think there are things you can’t say otherwise that you can express through comedy. Coming off of what Kayla was saying, you can really get to certain truths through comedy. You can use humor to get to the heart of the issue. 

We live in a world that is so saturated with nonsense. Social media adds a white noise of bullshit. You can say things through comedy, or dance, or other art that can just cut through the noise. All good art can do that.

Kayla: That brings up a good point. Comedy isn’t always joyful. Perhaps the most talented of comedians can weave that story together. Nanette from Hannah Gatsby wasn’t always joyful, but it was powerful and I can appreciate that about a lot of comedy.

Photo of Kayla Brown by Greg Raab
Photo of Kayla Brown by Greg Raab

What inspired you to create the Disabled List? How has it changed from when it started? 

Kayla: I’ve known Dan for a while, and I knew that Dan was doing comedy and we kept talking about how people with disabilities aren’t being represented in different places especially the stage. A couple of years in we were like, “We should have our own show with disabled performers!” We know they’re out there.

Dan: It’s still forming. The response has been really positive. We’ve had sold out shows. So that answers the question of “Is there a need for this?”. It’s been really fun to meet new performers and put this together.

What has been your experience working in the Seattle comedy scene? 

Kayla: I think queer comedy is the best type of comedy. One of my professors would make queer-focused events and that was my first introduction to Seattle comedy. I realized then that there were a lot of queer people out making jokes.

Dan: Seattle is not the most diverse city in the world. I think there are a lot of really good comics of color in the Seattle area. Pretty much all of my favorite local comics are people of color. 

Also, compared to us, people from outside of Seattle are super high energy. They’ll do a lot of rapid fire jokes. Seattle comics are mostly like, “Hi, I’m depressed, Kurt Cobain…”

Photo of Dan Hurwitz by Greg Raab
Photo of Dan Hurwitz by Greg Raab

What would you like people to know about the Disabled List? Either people who want to participate or be an audience member?

Kayla: To the people that want to participate, I would say from experience, we’re not looking for super professional – we’re looking for people to come on stage and speak their truth. They don’t have to be veterans of the industry. We want to be that show that gives people that first taste of someone always wanting to do something.

Dan: But you should be more talented than the average white person. 

Kayla: We want all disabilities, visible or invisible. It’s not just for people in wheelchairs. We embrace people of all disabilities and identities. In an intersectional way we want to make it queer and people of color friendly. 

In regards to people who want to come as potential audience members, this is an invitation to come and laugh at disabled people with disabled people. This is their chance to learn while laughing. Disabled comics and performers are just as funny and talented as anyone else.

Dan: Funnier and more talented.

I agree with everything Kayla said. One of the cool things about Seattle is that there are a lot of niche shows. This is a corner of the market that hasn’t really been catered to. This creates a real sense of community for people who show up. 

Photo of Gretta Gimp by Greg Raab
Photo of Gretta Gimp by Greg Raab

You are actively community building.

Dan: The problem with so much comedy is that you’re hearing so much of the same. You’re hearing the same 15 white guys making the same comments. My world is not being enlarged by watching this. 

And for nondisabled people who want to get involved: Bad things happen. You might be disabled in the future. So, keep us in mind. 

Kayla: That’s a great pitch. 

What’s the best comedy advice you’ve ever received?

Kayla: One of the things I’ve learned in the last 10 years is that it’s okay to take up space. Being on stage is the ultimate “I am taking up space” because people are here and forced to listen to me. A lot of marginalized communities need to be reminded that it’s okay to take up space. 

And for myself, giving myself advice, even three years ago I would have never imagined myself on stage. I have let go of a lot of my insecurities. I fully embrace that I’m a fucking idiot. I’m going to do stupid shit, and why not tell people about it? I learn more about myself once I make fun of myself. 

Dan: Be authentic. Let the audience get to know you. I think people see a show and they want to be entertained and laugh, but they also want to know “What’s your story? Why are you up here?” 

Photo of Cheri Hardman by Greg Raab
Photo of Cheri Hardman by Greg Raab

They want to connect.

Dan: It’s also super important to really value the audience. I do better when material is less rehearsed. It’s more in the moment. Once a month, I do the Beacon Hill News at the Clockout Lounge, and I do jokes specifically for that show. I often really feel connected to that crowd because my jokes are not just rote memorization. Comedy can sometimes feel like that. The comedians I most enjoy are the ones that connect with their audience and I try to emulate that.

The next Disabled List is this Saturday, February 22nd,2020. Click HERE for event info!

Comedian Amin Lakhani, Dan Hurwitz and Kayla Brown
Comedian Amin Lakhani, Dan Hurwitz and Kayla Brown

Kayla Brown is a Seattle-based activist and amateur comedian. She uses her voice as a disabled, queer performer to show others that people with disabilities are just as funny, depressing, and awkward as everyone else.

Dan Hurwitz is a Seattle comedian and producer who has called the Northwest home since 2007. He produces a monthly comedy show, Beyond The Tippe, and a variety show, The Disabled List, which features comics, storytellers, and other performers with disabilities. Dan was a semifinalist in the NBC Standup Competition in May of 2019, and a semifinalist in the Laugh-Off comedy competition in June of the same year. Follow Dan on Instragram, at @hamiltonandthewhale, and the Disabled List at @thedisabledlist

Interviewed by Sarah E. Miller, Editor-in-Chief of Lonely Arts Club

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