VANCOUVER â€” "Hi, my name is Ryan and I have cerebral palsy. I’ll just get that out of the way. And don’t worry, I don’t know what the f*** it is either. That’s what Google is for."
The crowd at Yuk Yuk’s comedy club roars with laughter on a wet Wednesday in Vancouver. The place is packed for pro-am night, with more than a dozen people taking the stage over the course of a couple hours, and White Rock resident Ryan Lachance is closing the show with eight minutes of edgy jokes, mostly about himself.
"I hope hell is wheelchair-accessible because I’m going there," he says during his performance.
"I hate stairs and escalators, all that s***," he tells the audience at one point. "One day you’ll break your leg and you’ll be like, ‘Hey, that comedian guy was right!’ But don’t clap for that, you guys are a**holes for hoping that someone breaks a leg."
Earlier in his show, Lachance gets big laughs with this bit: "One thing that pisses me off about being in a wheelchair is that when I get angry, I can never slam a door because people are always trying to help me by opening them for me. So what I do to release that anger is, I go on Youtube or Facebook and find the most adorable kitten video and dislike the s*** out of it! So if there’s 3,000 likes for a video and one dislike, that’s me when I’m angry."
Lachance’s act is filled with F-bombs and crude humour, and that’s just who he is. It’s funny stuff, in a conversational way, and he seems at ease in front of a crowd. And Lachance really should be, because he’s been performing as a comedian for more than a dozen years, sometimes as a self-described "sit-down standup" at local venues and also on tour in other parts of Canada.
It’s not always easy, though. Lachance needs a couple people, at least, to help lift him and his wheelchair to the stage at Yuk Yuk’s, where he’s hoping to score a regular gig as part of a "fast track" group of performers. He also asks someone to hold his microphone while he’s telling jokes, as a way to involve another comedian in his act.
Since birth, Lachance has had to deal with his quadspastic cerebral palsy, which limits the use of all four of his limbs and also his speech. He’s not always easy to understand when speaking on stage, but he’s working on it with breathing exercises and efforts to not rush his delivery.
"I don’t do this to win approval, I do this because I love to make people laugh," Lachance says in an interview following his latest Wednesday-nighter at Yuks.
"Everybody needs something in their life to make them feel alive. Standup comedy has given me a chance to see places and work with really cool people and do something I love. People spend their whole lives wondering what they’re going to do with their life. And when I’m on stage, I know why I’m there, and that’s to take stereotypes of people with disabilities and turn them on their f***ing head, to prove I’m just like you, like everyone else. I have the same insecurities and I’m as mentally screwed up as the average joe."
Lachance was born in Winnipeg but soon moved with his family to Leduc, Alberta. He lived there until age 15, when the family made the trip to Surrey to live closer to his grandmother, around the time his father died. To help him laugh a little in the face of grief, an uncle of his gave Lachance some CDs and DVDs featuring comedian Billy Connolly. He’d click on one of the discs every time he needed to cheer up. The jokes made him laugh, alright, and also gave him inspiration to perform comedy for a living.
"Growing up, I was the kid who’d get kicked out of class for making people laugh too much," he says.
(Story continues below video of Lachance performing)
The first time he told jokes in front of a crowd was a way to get a date with a girl from high school. Lachance was 19 and the girl, a friend who cut his hair and liked his sense of humour, dared him to do an amateur night at the old Yuk Yuk’s at the Plaza of Nations. The club’s stage wasn’t wheelchair-accessible, however, so they put a mic stand on the floor in front of the stage and adjusted the spotlights.
"I was only supposed to do four minutes but because of where I was (performing), I couldn’t see the red light that’s used to tell you that your time is up. I ended up doing 22 minutes. Nobody had the balls to do anything about it. I guess they thought it was a Make-A-Wish thing for me or something."
For the first few times on stage, mostly because Lachance wasn’t sure he’d be doing the gig long-term, he used a stage name: Sir Gimpy. Soon enough, though, he was performing under his real name at restaurants on Commercial Drive and pubs closer to the condo he owns on Winter Street, including Sawbucks and the old Slainte by the Pier, which is where Lachance met and befriended fellow White Rock-based comedian John Cullen.
"I think Ryan has always been a pretty great comedian since I’ve known him, he just has the personal battles he has to fight through in order to maintain a high level of success," says Cullen, who now lives in Vancouver.
"He goes through stretches where his body isn’t strong enough to do comedy that often, but when he is out doing shows regularly and flexing his comedy muscles, I would put him up against any comedian in this city. He’s also in a constant battle on-stage
between his brain and his body, and he often can struggle with remembering jokes properly or getting his timing right. I would say that’s the biggest improvement I’ve seen recently, now that he’s doing a lot more shows. The more shows he does and the more regularly he does them, the sharper his brain stays and the better he performs."
Doing shows with a comedian who has cerebral palsy always leads to something interesting, Cullen recalls.
"I’ve seen women come up to him immediately after a show, sit on his lap and ask him for wheelchair rides. I’ve seen him destroy hecklers…. And his joke about his friends hiring him an escort â€“ one that I helped him write – is still one of my favourites ever. Watching the glee in his face and in the audience, as he explains the story, is phenomenal."
According to Lachance, people either love his act or are offended by it.
"Some people don’t like to hear the things I say, but screw those people," he says. "Those people need a f***ing hug, because they’re just oversensitive or something. I love what I do, and I don’t go out there and intentionally make fun of people with disabilities, I talk about my own life, like every other comic does. I just happen to be in a wheelchair. I mean, I’ve had other people with disabilities thank me for being a voice for them. I do appreciate that, but it’s hard for me to understand because I don’t see myself as doing something good like that, I’m just being me."
Lachance gave up performing comedy for a couple years, circa 2007-08, due to bouts of depression and anxiety, but a trip to Halifax inspired his return to the stage. A friend set it all up, and organized to have Lachance do a 30-minute show at a club there, three nights in a row.
This Friday and Saturday (April 10 and 11) at Yuk Yuk’s, located on Cambie Street near Vancouver City Hall, Lachance will be "middling," along with Shane Clark, during four shows by featured comedian Sean Lecomber. It’s a big break for Lachance, who will celebrate his 36th birthday on Saturday night.
As always, Lachance will write only a few jokes before his performances, and not plan for it much.
It’s just how he rolls. "I’ve always wanted something in my life where I could go up there and just be in the moment," he says. "I’m just really comfortable up there, and it gives me a boost of confidence. Standup comedy has given me confidence in everyday life, too. People ask me if that’s the real me up there on stage, if I’m the same person off the stage, and I’d say it’s about 70/30. I swear, I get angry and I’m full of tattoos, I talk about s**t that makes people uncomfortable. That’s me."