#Fun4thedisabled’s Vanessa Harris interviews Chicago comedian and writer Nate Woogen, who is involved in Chicago’s Second City and lives with cerebral palsy. They discuss how his disability has affected his life, and in what ways he adapts his comedy.
[Transcript with visual descriptions: On-screen text reads: Coming Up Next. Strategy for Access. Can TV. Vanessa is seen sitting with Nate Woogen on a professional set.]
Vanessa Harris: Hi!
Nate Woogen: Hi!
Vanessa: This is Vanessa Harris, founder of #fun4thedisabled.com and president of Strategy for Access foundation. I’m here today with Nate Woogen, local Chicago comedian and writer. Hi Nate!
Nate: Hi Vanessa!
Vanessa: How are you today?
Nate: I’m doing great.
Vanessa: Great, great. Well let’s get cracking! Nate, tell me how you got involved in comedy?
Nate: I took a break from college for a bit after some medical issues and I decided I wanted to start writing. So, I looked online for a screenwriting class and I found Second City.
Vanessa: Ok. Ok. So how did you get involved at Second City?
Nate: I started taking a writing with the onion class and then I took the sketch writing and improv programs and I just fell in love with comedy.
Vanessa: Really? So what is the onion class?
Nate: The Onion, the satirical newsletter —
Nate: I took a beginning class where we learned the structure of how they write Onion articles.
Vanessa: Ok. So, I didn’t know The Onion was a newsletter?
Nate: It’s now an online —
Vanessa: Ok, oh yeah! Ok, ok. Alright. So you also took a sketch writing class?
Nate: Yes, there’s six levels that ends in a show.
Vanessa: Ok. So you did all six levels?
Vanessa: Ok, great! Ok. So, what are the different kinds of comedy that you do?
Nate: So I do stand-up, improv and sketch writing and a little bit of acting.
Vanessa: Can you tell me about each of those?
Nate: So, stand-up is probably my favorite. I do mostly disability and wordplay. And I’ve been doing it for about two years. It’s very rewarding. It’s probably the most rewarding form of comedy for me.
Vanessa: Ok. Why is that?
Nate: Because you’re up there by yourself and you just have to rely on yourself and the audience.
Vanessa: Ok. Ok. So when you’re up there by yourself, how do you interact with the audience?
Nate: So, I have my material memorized pretty, pretty exactly. But I do occasionally riff when the audience reacts in a way that I don’t anticipate. And you just have to trust yourself and your memory.
Vanessa: Ok. Why do you like stand-up the most?
Nate: It feels like when you succeed, you’ve done it by yourself.
Nate: Yeah and it feels much more rewarding than when you’re in an improv or sketch, not that those aren’t rewarding.
Vanessa: Uh huh.
Vanessa: Why? Do you prefer to work alone or would you prefer, is that why you do it that way?
Nate: It’s more fun to work in a group but it’s more rewarding to work by yourself, I think.
Vanessa: Ok, ok. You get more kudos that way.
Vanessa: Yeah. Ok, ok. Nate, what is your disability?
Nate: Mild ataxic cerebral palsy.
Vanessa: Ok. Can you tell me what that is?
Nate: It’s some oxygen deprivation at birth and it affects most things, but mostly my energy level and fatigue. And I use a crutch mostly for energy and so people don’t bump into me. It’s, I was taught that it’s a delay between the brain and the muscles, but that’s obviously a simplification.
Vanessa: Ok. So when you say a delay between the brain and the muscles, what does that mean?
Nate: I learn that it means my brain sends out the signal and it takes longer for my muscles to react.
Nate: But that’s from when I was young and it’s a huge simplification of it.
Vanessa: Ok. So, does it really affect your balance coordination?
Nate: Yes, more so when I was younger.
Vanessa: Uh huh.
Nate: I think a lot of therapy has helped me.
Nate: Yeah, and after… I thought that my health would decline more now, but I’ve been pretty lucky.
Vanessa: Ok. So, you think the therapy has helped a lot?
Nate: Yes, definitely.
Vanessa: So what kind of therapy do you do?
Nate: Physical. I used to do physical therapy. I’ve stopped once I got older but I’m still very active – walking and doing improv. And physical therapy, when I was younger, helped me when with stretching out my tight muscles and doing basic strength – not basic – doing strength exercises.
Vanessa: Oh, ok. Ok. So, does ataxic cerebral palsy also affect your energy?
Nate: Yes, I think that’s my biggest issue. I get fatigued easily. It’s getting less prominent as I’ve gotten older, for some reason. But when I was younger, I used to get fatigued incredibly easily.
Vanessa: Ok. And how do you think you’ve combated that?
Nate: I do, I make sure I have long breaks in my schedule. I think I have trouble when I do too much at once.
Vanessa: Ok, ok. Alright. When you were doing sketch, acting, and improv, how does your cerebral palsy affect your ability to perform?
Nate: With improv, I have an interesting problem where I assume the character I’m playing doesn’t use a crutch, even though I’m using a crutch. And it’s no different from, say, wearing glasses, you assume your character isn’t wearing glasses even though you are. And it’s usually the person, or people, I’m playing with are good at adapting and they don’t expect me to, say, use both hands to do something.
Vanessa: Ok, ok. What techniques do you use to get through your disability in your comedy?
Nate: I’d say more adapting rather than getting through. For example, in stand-up, it’s sort of a plus because I don’t have to worry about what I’m doing with my other hand. I can just hold on to my crutch. I try to incorporate it more than I try and work against it.
Vanessa: Ok, alright. What advice would you give to young comedians to help them get started?
Nate: I don’t really, (laughs) I don’t really like giving advice because I think everyone is different and at different places in their life. But in general, I’d say the most important thing is to keep connections. When you meet someone at a mic when you’re with an improv troupe, keep in contact with them and make sure to go to their shows so that they’ll go to yours.
Vanessa: Ok. So you follow the people that follow you and then you expand your reach.
Nate: Yes. You never know when something’s going to lead to more.
Vanessa: Yeah! Absolutely, absolutely. That happens in a lot of different ways when people network.
Vanessa: Yeah, ok, so how do you make and keep connections throughout your journey?
Nate: It’s all on Facebook now, honestly. Right now, people use Facebook, I think, more for the events. And post all of – go to all the shows that you can that your friends post. And when you have an event, post it and they’ll come to yours. And keep looking for auditions and opportunities and just keep at it.
Vanessa: Ok, you keep doing that until you get an agent, right?
Nate: I’m not that far yet.
Vanessa: Ok, eventually you will be.
Vanessa: Ok. Well, Nate brought one of his sketches that he wrote. Let’s watch.
*IMPROV THERAPY GROUP “DANCE THERAPY” CLIP*
Simon: She stopped talking to me completely. She’s wasting all our money on these therapy visits.
Therapist: Remember to use “I” statements and address your partner by name.
Simon: Sorry. I feel that Holly has stopped talking to me completely and I feel that Holly is wasting all our money on these therapy visits.
Therapist: I understand where you’re coming from Simon. Holly, what is your perspective?
Holly: (NO VERBAL RESPONSE)
Therapist: Holly, do I have your consent to inform Simon about our one-on-one sessions? Simon, Holly has informed me that she would be more comfortable expressing her feelings through interpretive dance.
(Laughter from audience)
Simon: What?! Why would she do that?
Holly: (GETS UP AND DANCES TO THE NUTCRACKER THEME SONG)
(Laughter from audience)
Simon: We’re paying for dance lessons for that?! Sorry… you’d rather dance than talk to me?
Therapist: Let me help you through the first one. Holly feels that she has to tiptoe around you rather than talking.
Simon: That’s clever. She’s not “tiptoeing,” she’s literally just not talking to me.
Therapist: I feel that..
Simon: Yeah, that. What are you afraid I’m going to do, huh?
(Holly gets up and dances to suspenseful music)
Simon: Do you think I’m going to be angry at you?
Therapist: Very good!
(Holly gets up, plays the music again and dances)
Simon: Oh, you’re angry at me. I’m getting better at this!
Simon: Wait! You’re angry at me?
(Holly gets up and dances to the same music again)
Simon: Fine, fine, fine. You’re angry.
Therapist: See? We’re making progress through communication. I’m so proud of you two!
Therapist: Would you like to ask Holly directly why she’s angry?
Simon: Fine! Holly, why are you angry at me?
Holly: I feel that whenever I try to tell you how I’m feeling you just get defensive and interrupt —
Simon: NO I DON’T!!
Holly: So that’s why we’re paying for dance lessons and therapy because playing charades is easier than talking to you.
Simon: Holly, I’m really sorry. I didn’t know you were having so much trouble communicating to me.
Therapist: Ah, actually you did two weeks ago.
Holly: Or at least you said you did.
Simon: Maybe I lied! I’m just really sorry.
Holly: I still want to take dance lessons, though.
Simon: As long as you start talking to me again.
Therapist: Well, I feel you two have made great progress. See you next Thursday?
(Music plays as Simon and Holly dance together)
Vanessa: Nate, that was really funny! (Laughing) And it’s found on YouTube!
Vanessa: How did you come up with your sketches and your stand-up jokes?
Nate: This one, in particular, is based on a therapy program I was in. And it was an assignment in Writing III where we took a skill and had to write a sketch about it. And I got dancing so I just combined the two.
Vanessa: Ok. Have you ever taken dance therapy?
Vanessa: Ok, just got that idea.
Vanessa: Ok, yeah. There are a lot of dance therapists.
Vanessa: Well, what other things have you been working on?
Nate: I’ve been working on a horror screenplay that’s all disabled people and it’s called “Physical Therapy Massacre.”
Vanessa: “Physical Therapy Massacre?”
Vanessa: Ok… (laughing)
Nate: It started as a stand-up joke and then I turned it into a screenplay.
Vanessa: Oh really?
Nate: It’s being read at a cold reading, weekly cold reading event and it’s been a lot of fun.
Vanessa: Ok. Ok. So what is a cold reading event?
Nate: It’s something where you bring in 10 pages of something every week and then people read it.
Vanessa: Ok, ok. Well that’s pretty cool. How long have you been participating in the cold reading event for “Physical Therapy Massacre?”
Nate: Oh, probably a year.
Nate: Because you get yours read like every two to three weeks and I have like nine parts so it takes a while.
Vanessa: Oh, ok. That’s great, that’s great! Wow. What else have you been working on?
Nate: Um, I’m in another sketch/improv group now and I have just been trying to get into the audition cycle where you just keep auditioning for everything you can and assume you’re not going to get things but hope that you do.
Vanessa: Yeah! Well, you will.
Vanessa: And you’re going to be in a charity show soon.
Nate: Oh, right. I’m going to be in a charity show, I’ve done them before, at the end of February. It’s at the Irish Oak and they’re a lot of fun.
Vanessa: Ok, ok. Alright. Well, do you have a mantra or something that you say to yourself that keeps you going?
Nate: I used to compare myself to a lot, to other people and I realized that’s not going to work. So now my mantra is “everyone goes at their own pace and don’t try to compare your progress with anyone else’s… because you’re not gonna get anywhere if you do.”
Vanessa: That makes a lot of sense.
Nate: And it looks more profound because there’s three dots and it’s spaced out.
Vanessa: Yeah, ok, ok, ok. Alright. So, Nate, that’s been a very interesting talk we’ve had today.
Nate: Yes, thank you.
Vanessa: Thank you for visiting with us. I really had fun and I hope you’ll come back!
Nate: Yes, so did I.
Vanessa: Yeah. Um, well, for details on Nate’s upcoming shows and scripts check out the fun4thedisabled.com website and sign up for a newsletter. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our handle is @fun4thedisabled. Thanks, Nate, writer and comedian, for visiting with us today to talk about your life, your comedy, your writing, and your disability. That’s it for now! We’ll be back soon with another interesting guest. This is Vanessa Harris with fun4thedisabled signing off. Thanks a lot, Nate.
Vanessa: Ok, bye-bye.
[Video fades to black. Transcribed and captioned by aslcaptions.com.]