Comedy Acting with Steve Way

March 24, 2024 00:45:24
Comedy Acting with Steve Way
Disability Empowerment Now
Comedy Acting with Steve Way

Mar 24 2024 | 00:45:24

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Show Notes

Steve Way is a 33-year-old actor, comedian, writer, and speaker. He was born with Muscular Dystrophy and is an activist for disability rights and universal healthcare.  Steve can be seen in the Hulu show Ramy and the HBO stand up special Ramy Youssef: More Feelings. Disability Empowerment Now is produced by Pascal Albright. Find the transcript here.
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Episode Transcript

Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Welcome to Disability Empowerment Now, Season three. I'm your host, Keith Murfee DeConcini. Today I'm talking with comedian and actor from Hulu's Ramy, Steve Way. Steve, thank you so much for coming on the show. Steve Way: Sure, thank you for having me. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So, for those listeners and viewers who unfortunately may have no idea who you are, please begin by telling us what got you into acting and comedy. Steve Way: Yeah man, thank you. I actually started, you know, public speaking when I was about nine years old. So that made me really comfortable with being on a stage in front of groups of people. I always used comedy as a way to kind of cope with my disability. I was born with muscular dystrophy, and as I got older, I guess I became funnier, and, you know, I thought, why not? Keith Murfee-DeConcini: I hope I can relate to that. Steve Way: Absolutely, yes, yes. And so a couple friends of mine, in high school, we started making YouTube videos together. It was right when YouTube started taking off. And we got better and better. So, I started doing stand up when I was nineteen, and then my best friend Ramy Youssef got his own show on Hulu, and he wrote a part for me. So I've been acting now for about five years. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: And so you've been acting for five years now. So what made you nine years old want to get up and do public speaking? Because I've gotta tell you, for a nine year old, that's pretty damn impressive. I know people in their 40s and 50s who are terrified of the dickens of public speaking. So, how did you, as a nine year old, get imbued with confidence, enough to tackle public speaking? Steve Way: Yeah, it's definitely not for everybody. You know, just like stand up comedy. You really have to have no fear. When I was nine, I started doing a lot of work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. And there was one fundraiser that we went to and they asked me if I wanted to talk. You know, just say, whatever. And I didn't really think anything of it, you know, I was just like, yeah, okay. I was aware of my disability at a very young age. I was about four. When I was four years old, I realized that I was not your typical four year old. You know, just looking at me you wouldn't know because I was still able to walk. Yeah, I think that helped a lot, you know, being so young, I had a better understanding of who I was and what the world was like around me. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So what is the process of transitioning from straight up public speaking to stand up comedy, and then also transitioning to being an actor? Is there any linkages there? Steve Way: Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, there are a lot of similarities, you know, with my stand up, I write everything out before I speak. You have to have certain delivery techniques. You have to really know, you have to really know your audience. And doing stand up after public speaking, I think, made me a better comedian because it made me a better writer, it made me a better speaker, and I was able to know my audience better. And because of that, I was able to read the room better. You know, if I wasn't doing a good job, then I'd be able to pivot right away and try to win my audience back. If I didn't do public speaking, you know, for years before that I don't think I'd be that good of a comedian. I would have just ran away. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: That's a very deep insight. What made you wanna become an actor and not stick to stand up comedy? Steve Way: Well thankfully I was able to do both. I just, I had to go back a little bit to give more context. When I was 14, I almost died. I had pneumonia from back surgery. And it almost killed me. So, when that happened, my doctors told me that if I got sick again, I wouldn't make it. And, that I probably wouldn't live past 18 years old. So, for the next eleven years of my life I lived thinking my death was around the corner. Right? I always, I always thought, thinking that I would die tomorrow. But tomorrow never happened. So when I was 25, my doctor was like, oh Steve, you're good. You're gonna live a while. You know, and I'm just like, what? Now I gotta figure out a life. And between those eleven years, I never really took anything seriously. I never started anything because I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to finish it. So one of my doctors told me that I was gonna win I said, okay, I guess I need to get a job, you know, like a real job. You know, what am I good at? Well, I'm good at making people laugh, right? I'm good at telling jokes. So I just, I dove in, you know, I took stand up seriously. That evolved into acting. And, yeah, here I am. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Do you ever mention straight up public speaking, or do you feel like you've evolved half in a ball mixing kind of artistry? Steve Way: Yes. Yeah, it's all of it. It's all of it, you know, I combine all three elements whenever I do it. You know, I take you know, I just take it all seriously, right? I put 100 percent into everything I do. And I do this because I've been doing all of it for so long. So, when I do public speaking, I make sure to make it funny. Because we both know that when people look at us, they don't want to laugh, right? Keith Murfee-DeConcini: No, no, they, they really, really don't. They're holding the laughter in because it's socially and culturally unacceptable. Steve Way: Right, they're afraid to. So, when I do stand up, literally, the first words out of my mouth is, if anyone here goes, awe, you owe me 10 dollars. And I'm not kidding when I say that, they actually pay me. If anyone goes, awe, I stop what I'm doing and I say, okay, take out your phone, pull up Venmo, and send me 10 dollars right now. And they always do it. Because they feel so bad. But I realized that if I don't get my audience to be comfortable with me within the first few minutes, I've lost them for the rest of the show. Whether I'm doing five minutes or an hour, it doesn't matter. Those two minutes are the most crucial part of my entire set. And that's the same, that's the same with public speaking. I have to make them aware that I'm funny, it's not going to be totally sad, and it's okay to laugh. And if that doesn't happen within the first two minutes, that's it. I'm done. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: What is it like being broadcasted on a show on a major streaming platform? Steve Way: I mean it's something people dream of. You know, I have this amazing opportunity to create this beautiful art, with my best friend of over 20 years, and I have the opportunity to tell stories that have never been done before, and have never been seen before on television. It's such an honor, you know, like, truly I feel so blessed and so special, you know, that I'm the guy who's able to do this. And basically just go to the writers and say, hey, I want to talk about this. Like, hey, let's do this as an episode. Like, yeah, it's gonna make people uncomfortable, but it's groundbreaking. We're doing things that I've never done before. You know, let's be the pioneers. Let's do it. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Very well said. So, what is it like being a comedian with a disability? One that is more visible than most, but still, as you alluded to, people are. You're a stand up comedian and if you didn't know ahead of time, that people were literally, that you would have to pull the laughter out of them. If you didn't know that. I couldn't imagine what would be going through your head as a stand up comedian, so how do you approach that? Steve Way: Yeah, it's a blessing and a curse. I definitely feel like I have a bit of a disadvantage, because you're right, when I do go on stage, they're not expecting somebody who looks like me, right? And I'm not, you can't hide this, right? You can't hide. No, no, you can't hide my body. You can't hide the wheelchair, right? And you know, just the act of getting up on a stage is difficult because I know I live right outside New York City. So many comedy venues are not wheelchair accessible. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Which I could say I wasn’t shocked by that. Steve Way: No, no, of course not. Of course not. No, so that already puts me at a disadvantage, right? Because I'm not able to perform at the top venues in New York, simply because of my wheelchair. But, at the same time, when I do perform in front of an audience who has never seen me before, I'm giving them an experience they've never had. I'm not just telling jokes. I'm not just educating them. I'm not just making them laugh. I'm educating them about what it's like being disabled. You know, I've had so many people come up to me after shows and be like, you know, you're hilarious. I never knew about any of that. Right, so it feels so good to be able to do that for people, you know, to open their eyes in a way that they would have never had before, and that adds another layer to just how special it feels. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So, it's great that it feels like that now, but I wonder, starting out, how did you adjust or adapt to the knowledge that you would have to wheel onstage, and there would be silence, or gaps, or awe. How was it getting used to that, as a very real possibility that would happen on a nightly basis, or however frequently you performed? Steve Way: I made sure that that did not happen. You know, I would go up on a stage and say, okay, nothing but laugh. Right, so I had to make sure that I was good enough, that I was funny enough, that I would go above and beyond and make sure that those gaps, that those moments of silence would not happen. And I think that, I think I did it, you know? I think I've gotten to the point. You know, like I said, I've been doing this for almost 14 years. So, I think yeah, I think I got it. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So, you mentioned that you have known your best friend for over 20 years. Without me assuming how you met your best friend, how did you meet your best friend? Steve Way: Yeah, so, I had to transfer schools a year early, because when I entered the fifth grade, I started using a wheelchair full time, and the school that I went to was not wheelchair accessible. Now, I was the new kid in school, you know, and not just the new kid, but the disabled new kid. And then literally, less than a week later, on September 11th, 200l, and, you know, living right outside of New York City, it was all pretty hard. And obviously my best friend, Ramy Youssef, is Muslim, he's Arab. So, we both bonded over being with the outcast, you know, shared feelings of being different, right? So, oh no, you're muted. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Oh sorry, I was saying, I can only imagine what that experience was like at that moment in time. Steve Way: Yeah, man, it was heavy. It was hard. But, thankfully, we had the opportunity to basically retell that story in his show, season one, episode four, which honestly is one of the best episodes of television for like the last decade. It retells the story of what that time was like and basically having that. And, yeah, it's such an honor and a privilege to have that opportunity. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: You told a very delicate story in a creative space. Which not everyone gets to do and gets to do so often. It's your job, but it's also your passion. Do you have to still pinch yourself, so to speak, that this is my life? This is what I get to do for a living. This is what people pay me to do. Steve Way: Yeah, it absolutely does not feel real. Yeah just the fact that I can, you know, have fun with my friends, but, you know, at the end of the day, I just say to myself, I am so lucky to say that I love my job, but you know, yeah, it's stressful. The industry sucks, but we're all in it together. Right. And I have so much support around me. You know, I never feel left alone. I never feel forgotten about. And not everyone can say that. But it's so humbling. It really is. And I just, I can't wait to see what's next. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: What brought you to the outskirts of New York City? Were you born here? Steve Way: Born and raised in Jersey, man. I never left, never wanted to leave. I love it. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Why do you never want to leave? Steve Way: Jersey's great man. You know, I mean, from I guess like a political level, I'm taken care of. You know, sure, I still have to fight for what I need. But, I get it. You know, as opposed to like, my space in itself, where people like me only get like, ten hours a week of personal care assistance. You know, I don't have to worry about that up here. You know, and that's one less thing to worry about. But, you know, I got my family here. You know, New York City. The best city in the world. You know, it's where I got all my opportunities. And I feel so much freedom here because of how accessible it is. You know, I can go from my house to a bus stop in my wheelchair within 15 minutes. I can hop on a bus. I can go to Midtown New York, and I can go see a movie by myself. I can go see a Broadway show by myself. I could hop on a subway, go downtown, and see all the homies. You know, grab a coffee, grab dinner, whatever. And that all on my own. And that feels so liberating. And so why would I want to give that up? You know, and I'm only getting better at finding my freedom, you know, so again, why would I want to lose all that? Keith Murfee-DeConcini: That's a very important point that I want you to talk more about finding your freedom and not adapting to it, but embracing it. Having it empower you. When did you first discover your freedom in transportation around your home, and what was that journey like beginning to now? Steve Way: Yeah, honestly man, it didn't happen until last year. Wow. Yeah. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Wow. So tell me why it didn't happen until last year? Because last year is very recent. Steve Way: Very recent. Last year there were writers and actors strikes, right? So I was, yeah. So I was completely out of work and I was really depressed. You know, I wasn't making money. There was no. There was no hope of writing or acting, you know, so I was unemployed. The only thing I could do was stand up and stand up comedy during this time made me realize that that was the one thing I had that nobody could ever take away with me. You know, that was my agency. I was able to tell my story the way that I wanted to tell it and if certain people didn't like it, that's okay. Right? It's not for everybody. But, I'm not doing it for them. I'm doing it for myself. And that made me realize, okay, you know, I do, I have something here. Something that nobody can take away from me. But like I said, man, I was really depressed. And I didn't even want to leave my room. So, one of my closest friends, shout out to Zach, literally had to force me to leave my room, right? Not in a bad or malicious way. You know, I needed the sunlight. You know, it's important. It's important for our health. So, we would do it little by little, right? We would go out, pick up a coffee, and come back. And then that evolved to going out, getting a coffee, having it there, and then coming back. And then that would evolve to having a coffee there, hanging out, going somewhere else. And then I'm coming back. And then one day I was just like, screw it. I want to go to the movies by myself. You know, it's like, I know it's possible. So let me just figure out how to do it. And I did it once. And that was it, and it's such a rewarding and liberating feeling. And at the end of the day, man, I know this might sound weird to some people, but I go where the stars tell me. You know, I follow the starlight everywhere it tells me to go, right? And I feel safe, I feel comfortable, and I feel protected with that, you know? At the end of the day, the stars are always there, right? Even when we can't see them at night, the stars are always there. And when I look up at night and I see the starlight shining down on me, I know everything's okay. And that's all I need, man. That's all I need. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Wow that’s very insightful and very true. If there are any advocates, just starting out, self-advocates, what would be some action tips that you would give them in not only self-advocacy, but finding their communities to really nurture them and build them up. Because it does take a village to use that old phrase, no one can do it on their own, particularly in the disability community, at least not nearly as effectively. And so, what would be some of your tips that you would give? Steve Way: I would give two tips. First, have no fear. You can't be afraid to get out there. You can't be afraid to be loud. And you can't be afraid to make people uncomfortable. Because all that has to happen in order to make change. Right? You can't be quiet, and you can't hide. Right? You have to put yourself out there, you have to know what your message is, and you have to, you have to know your audience. You have to know the people that you're trying to reach, the people you're trying to get your message across. Without any of that, you're not going to succeed. Right, and again, you have to have no fear. You can't be afraid. You're going to fail, right? Even if you do all that, right. Exactly, but, and again, no fear. You can't be afraid to fail. Because that's how we learn, and that's how we grow. And the second tip I would give is to have solidarity, right? We gotta have solidarity with everybody around us. And, to me, solidarity means supporting, supporting a fight that you have no stake in. Because when we, when one person wins, we all win. When one group wins. When one group wins, every group wins. And that was a big part of the strikes last year, where the writers and the actors were on strike. But we had so much solidarity with the truck drivers, the hair and makeup people, the set designers, the directors, every other part of that industry, had our backs, because they knew that when we would win, everybody else would win, right? So, I'm a straight white guy, right? But that doesn't mean I don't have solidarity with the LGBT community. With the African American community. Right? With women's rights. Because when they all win, I win. And solidarity is so important because just like you said, we cannot do this on our own. We need support. And not just the support of our own communities. We need the support of every other marginalized community that we can get behind us. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Very, very true. So, as we wrap up, what I hope is only part one of several interviews we do together because you're very fun to talk to. Spoiler alert, he is a stand-up comedian. Ha! Did I give too much away there? Steve Way: Not at all, not at all. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So, I would like to think, this videocast and the podcast, which are both about the disabled community, people with disabilities and people who have yet to discover and embrace their disabilities. I'm not naive to think that both communities take away the same things from the episodes. So, as my guest, what do you hope that listeners with disabilities take away from what we've talked about? And what do you hope that those who have yet to discover or embrace their own disabilities take away from the episode? Steve Way: We only get one life, and that one life is really short. Probably shorter for us. Than most people. So, at the end of the day, just do what makes you happy. You can't please everybody. And, at the end of the day, all we have is ourselves. Right? We have ourselves and our maker. That's it. So we gotta do what makes us happy. And that's, that's not selfish. Right? There's nothing selfish about wanting to be happy and wanting to do what makes you happy. Pfft. Right? So, I don't know man, I know it's easier said than done, but once you take that leap, yeah, I think you'll feel a lot better. Yeah, it's, we got one shot at all of this. So, let's do it right, and obviously we're not gonna get there right away. It's gonna take just a bit, but, start that journey, you know, when you listen to this, if you don't feel like you're happy, or, if you don't feel like you're on the right path, to do what you want to do in life, make that first step, whatever it is, no matter how small that step is, just, just do it. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Wow that was very deep and profound. How did a stand up comedian get so wise, so damn fast? Steve Way: Well no, in all seriousness. To do stand up comedy, I've noticed in the comedy community there are two common traits. One, depression, and two, being very aware of the world and how the world works and how people work, right? It's not necessarily a pessimistic view of the world or society. It's very real, right? It's very realistic and I think that really helps us. You know going back to what I said in the beginning, you have to know your audience. And in order to know your audience, you have to know people. You have to understand the human condition. And I like to think that I do, and that's just because of my experiences. You know, the last 33 years of my life on this earth, and you know, it's a blessing and a curse, you know, sometimes I wish I wasn't so aware, you know, ignorance is bliss, but I wouldn't trade it for anything, you know, I really want to get better at what I do. My comedy, my acting, my speaking, my advocacy. So, being wise, I believe, comes with a price. And that price is just being very aware of how the world operates. It's beautiful, but it's also a bit scary. But again, I wouldn't trade it for anything. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So my friend, if a listener or a viewer wants to find out more about you, more about your comedy, where can they go? Steve Way: Yeah. Thank you. You can check me out on Instagram @steveway and my DMs are always open. You can check out my website thesteveway.com. The show Ramy is on Hulu, three seasons. March 23rd on HBO check out Ramy's second stand up special, More Feelings. I have a movie that I'm the executive producer of called Good, Bad Things. We are the closing night feature film at The Reelabilities Film Festival, New York City, Wednesday, April 12th, sorry, Wednesday, April 10th. So if you're around, check it out. It's a really wonderful film. It's about a disabled guy who falls in love and lets his disability get the better of him and ends up sabotaging the whole thing. That's something I think we can all relate to. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Yes we certainly can. My friend, I want to thank you for doing this interview. I very much hope that you will come back so that we can have a longer conversation because, as I teased just a few minutes ago. You are very wise, very funny, very easy to talk to, and it's been an incredible privilege and honor to do part one of our interviews together. I do wish you well, and I hope we stay in touch and that you come back on the show very, very soon. Steve Way: Yeah. Thank you brother. I'm back out whenever you want me. And thank you so much for this opportunity. You know, thank you for allowing me to tell my story. You know, give my philosophy on life, and yeah, I really look forward to talking to you next time, and solidarity forever. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Thank you my friend, my brother, see you soon. Keith: You have been listening to Disability Empowerment Now. I would like to thank my guest, You, our listener and the Disability Empowerment Team that made this episode possible. More information about the podcast can be found at DisabilityEmpowermentNow.com or on social media @disabilityempowermentnow. The podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts or on the official website. Don’t forget to rate, comment, and share the podcast! This episode of Disability Empowerment Now is copyrighted 2024.

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