The world may view them as physically disabled, but these Long Islanders make it clear that they are comically abled. The Crippling Comedy Circuit is where handicapped comedians overcome their physical challenges with laughter.
The new troupe’s debut is Saturday at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center in Ronkonkoma.
“It’s in our blood not to quit,” says Medford comedian Mike Dillon, a 64-year-old amputee who serves as the emcee of the event put on by his company, Gateway Comedy. “These guys go on stage and address their handicap right away, defusing the 800-pound elephant in the room, and they are hilarious while doing it.”
Here are three comedians taking the spotlight:
DOING COMEDY 32 years
When headliner Giannino rolls onto the stage, he comes out swinging.
“You are probably wondering how I got in a wheelchair. I was in a car accident when I was 5,” Giannino says, following with a dramatic pause. “I had no business driving that car!”
While dark and a bit edgy, Giannino says his joke gets laughs, which breaks the ice.
“I love to surprise people,” Giannino says. “I’ll say and do things that they would not expect from a guy in a wheelchair. I have no boundaries and will do anything for a laugh.”
Except for the punchline, the story is true. Giannino was 5 when his family car was hit by a drunken driver in Selden in 1971 a block away from his home. The accident took the life of his father and older sister and paralyzed him from the waist down. Despite his hardship, he maintains a positive demeanor.
“There’s a million people worse off than me,” says Giannino. “I’m blessed that I’m able to do comedy.”
DOING COMEDY 2 years
He may be blind and suffer hearing loss due to a case of Usher syndrome, but Shapiro, too, remains in good humor.
“I met my wife on Match.com,” he says. “On my profile I said, ‘If you go out with me, you’ll never have to worry about me looking at another woman.’ ”
Shapiro prefers his material to be clean and got into comedy as a way to enhance his motivational speaking career, and in the process fell in love with the art.
“Making people laugh is a privilege,” says Shapiro, who goes on stage with a guide dog. “I don’t take my vision and hearing loss so seriously. People understand that I’m real.”
Additionally, Shapiro runs a nonprofit organization called Foundation for Sight and Sound, which provides hearing aids for the less fortunate around the country.
“I want to inspire people to be who they are,” says Shapiro. “I believe anybody can do anything if they put their mind to it.”
DOING COMEDY 8 months
McGovern has a charm and rhythm to his act, which he is still developing. He grapples with Friedreich’s ataxia, a disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system and has put him in a wheelchair. But it hasn’t affected his spirit.
“Comedy comes pretty natural for me because I just make fun of myself,” says McGovern. “Plus it’s a good way to meet girls.”
In a recent set, McGovern had the crowd roaring.
“I come from a pretty tough place — the North Shore of Long Island. We don’t mess around. If you talk trash, you get unfriended,” says McGovern. “I do wheel-by shootings with my super soaker all day. There’s no stopping me . . . I’m straight outta physical therapy!”