Hey there! A lot has happened this week, the highlight being that my boyfriend Chris started a new job in New York. I’m super proud of him, and I know that he’ll do amazingly well there. He’s very interested in the work he’s doing, which is the key to any great career. This, of course, got me thinking about my own future career and jobs in general. While I’ve never experienced discrimination because of my disability (I work as a writing tutor and as an intern for NBCUniversal), I know that it’s a very real possibility for many people. So to get a better perspective on the matter, I decided to interview Indiana-based comedian Ryan Niemiller. Here’s what he had to say (I color-coordinated it for you because I’m thoughtful like that):
Me: Has your disability ever been the reason why you didn’t get hired for a job you applied to?
RN: Certainly. It comes with the territory. People see me and since I have a fairly obvious disability, it’s much easier to assume I can’t do something without giving me a shot than it is to give me the opportunity and see what I can do. I used to get really mad about it, but it’s a natural human defense mechanism for some. But really, as frustrating as it is, do I really want to work for a place that assumes I’m incapable?
Me: I understand that you’re a professional comedian. Do you view your disability as an advantage or disadvantage in your stand-up career?
RN: I’d say it’s 80/20 advantage to disadvantage. My arms make me unique. I can guarantee there are no other comedians just like me in the world. I’m not just a late 20’s single white guy comic. I have something that helps me stand out, a hook if you will (pun intended). I have something I can immediately bring the audience in on. At the same time, there’s the fear of me being a comic who ONLY talks about his arms. Plus, a lot of times I have to over prove I am actually funny and not just a gimmick. There’s certain bookings I probably don’t get because people assume I’m a novelty act. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often.
Me: I know that you work as a barista at Starbucks. What’s the strangest reaction a customer has had to your arms?
RN: A little girl screamed in terror once, which was fantastic for my self esteem. But really, there’s not a lot of strange reactions. Most people just stare at most. I’ll get the occasional, “Wow, you’re such an inspiration!” line, which is irritating, but really, most people just want their damn lattes. 🙂
Me: Would you say that your co-workers treat you differently because of your arms?
RN: Not at all. Anyone who gets to know me and sees me operate doesn’t worry about my arms anymore. Once I am given the chance to prove myself, I take care of business and it’s a non-issue.
Me: So let’s say you were born with two “normal” arms. Would you still be in the profession you are now?
RN: I’d like to say yes, but honestly, I doubt it. I developed a sense of humor as a defense mechanism – I’d make all the jokes before anyone else had a chance to. If I was “normal,” I doubt that would have ever developed the way it did. I’d probably be an accountant or something equally lame. Ha ha.
Me: Let’s take that question a step further: how do you think your life would be different if you had “normal” hands?
RN: I’d probably be happier, as unpopular of an answer as I’m sure that is. Not that I’m necessarily miserable right now or anything, but my arms do lead to a lot of issues that I wouldn’t have to deal with otherwise. Getting jobs wouldn’t be as difficult, it would be easier to find someone to date, etc. But really, that’s just speculation. There’s no real way of knowing. Maybe I’d be even worse off.
Me: How do you respond when someone asks you about your hands?
RN: It depends on tone. If it’s a child, I try to be patient, because as irritating as it is, they don’t know any better. If it’s an adult who I don’t know well, usually with annoyance. Because I rarely get asked simple questions about it. I know some people are just curious so I try to be patient, but I’m almost 30 years old – I am a little tired from answering questions.
Me: What’s the best way to own your disability? By that, I mean: what do you do to feel confident when the world gets you down?
RN: I make money off it. I travel the country telling jokes about it, and then they hand me a check afterward. For me, it’s hard to get much better than that. And recently, I’ve just started cutting out a lot of the negative energy in my life. So if you’re not with me, you’re against me. That’s how I own it.
Me: Now I’m about to go all college-application-interview on you: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
RN: Not a damn clue, and that’s half the fun. 🙂
Thanks so much to Ryan for his time and honest answers.
If you’ve got comments or thoughts or ideas or anything else you feel like sharing, comment below!