Subject: Greg Walloch
Disability: cerebral palsy
Even though this is only the second interview I have done with a disabled person, the mood of the project has already taken an unexpected and surprising turn. In this interview, I am talking to Greg Walloch, a successful entertainer who is actually starting to become quite famous (you can read all about his ongoing career at his website: www.GregWalloch.com). Greg has cerebral palsy that affects his legs and he has to walk with crutches. As Greg is a performer who is getting recognized more and more for his talents... I found that my questions were less about how his disability affects his life in general, and more about how they affect his quest for "fame" and becoming famous, and his outlook on the media and how disabled people are portrayed in it. How would the character Eve Harrington have been treated in the film "All About Eve" if she'd had cerebral palsy and was on crutches the whole time? Greg's opinion on the subject, amongst many other subjects, is disclosed below.
Mark: You have said in your act
"It's my goal to become the most beloved disabled performer in America.
I'm going to kick Christopher Reeve's ass!" Do you really think this? In
a fight with him, what would you do first?
Greg: I would stay low and move fast, well faster than him and how hard is that? Somebody who works with him came to one of my shows and told me that he knows about my work and is flattered by the reference. But seriously, I'm pretty sure I could take him.
Can you get around without your crutches?
If so, how?
I can walk around and do walk around my apartment without them, stopping here and there to balance.
Can you run?
No, although people swear that they have seen me running for the subway, there's also a rumor floating around that I'm not really gay.
When you saw the September 11h tragedy,
did you have any special feelings like "Whoa, I'm glad I wasn't in that
building or near it when it was going to collapse, I can't run." Do you
ever think of people with disabilities when you hear of disasters like
that? Do you have a special fear of situations like that?
I kept hearing about the man who stayed behind in the building with his friend who was disabled and couldn't get out. That was truly a gallant act and I have to believe that those men honestly cared for each other. However, the way the news media packaged that story and reprocessed it was so offensive. Like we're supposed to feel a certain syrupy way and if we don't then we are terrible people. The news already chewed and digested it for us, but it makes it cheap and not only dishonors them, it cheats us out of how we honestly feel about actual events.
I'd like to let my friends know that if some serious disaster is going down, you're free to run ahead, just remember to feed my cat. My best friend, (and fellow solo performer) Rob Nash said that when he heard that story, he thought of me and himself in the same situation and talked about how he would wait for me or pick me up and try to carry me to safety. That's sweet, but this is the same man who can barely wait for me to finish tying my shoes.
Do people act maybe a little awkward
when greeting you? Do they stick their hand out to shake it when you have
your crutches? I imagine all kinds of funny things might happen in this
In a social situation, people almost always extend their hand and I have no problem shaking hands. Though I never get offered flyers for Peep World or Burlington Coat Factory when walking down the street, that's great!
I think it's interesting that in most
of your photographs, I cannot tell at all that you have cerebral palsy.
Is this something that comes up ever when you are being photographed? Have
you ever thought "OK wait, this is a full body shot, I should show my crutches,
wait no, that would be forcing the issue, wait, no, wait I don't know?"
Have you ever struggled like that with your image?
There are a few half/full body shots of me. I think that a head to toe picture of an actor isn't the typical shot, but it's not something I'm trying to hide or accentuate in terms of my image. A very well known gay publication did a photo session with me where I was shirtless and standing on crutches. I thought the photos were really strong, but when the image was published the crutches were cropped out of the frame.
What do you think of Geri Jewell? The
comedienne with cerebral palsy who became really famous after being cast
as Blair's cousin on "The Facts Of Life" in 1981?
I met her once at a comedy festival that we both were booked at with Steve Allen and Sid Caesar. She was very complimentary of my work and seemed genuinely kind.
Which word is more annoying? "cripple"
Geri Jewell went on to be in a couple
of movies and made some other appearances on TV, but her character was
always a disabled person. Is it weird for actors or celebrities with disabilities
to rise above being exploited for their disability? Be honest.
Well, I recently worked on this concert/documentary film "Keeping It Real" and I was so amazingly pleased with the concert footage, that major portions of my live show "White Disabled Talent" made it into the film. I felt that the documentary section was sentimental in its focus and at times even reinforced some of the very stereotypes about disabled people that I am trying to disarm with my work, which was disappointing. While writing, acting in and co-producing that project, some of my concerns were listened to and many were ignored. It was a difficult experience, because you are literally giving strangers license to rewrite your personal content and life experience and then call it "truth" as they see it, this made director's eventual title choice for the film "Keeping It Real" mortifying for me. I did my best to get my work out there as honestly as I could. I loved working with Stephen Baldwin, Anne Meara, Deborah Yates and Paul Borghese, they are gifted actors and I gained so much from the experience of working with them, I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Is Geri Jewell like a kind of legend
to people with CP? To other people with CP, is she like a real groundbreaking
kind of legend that people really and truly admire. Or is she someone that
others with CP kind of make fun of all the time but actually secretly admire
because she's had such a unique experience, like Gary Coleman.
It's difficult not to make fun of "The Facts Of Life" in general, but at the time a disabled character was new for television. I'd like to see a remake of "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" with Geri Jewell and Gary Coleman. C'mon, you'd totally check that out!
I once saw Geri Jewell on an episode
of the Geraldo show (this was sometime in the mid-90's, when his daytime
talk show was still the chatty, exploitative type where people would come
out on stage and tell their stories and then the audience would ask all
kinds of questions and tell them where to get off, or cry and say they
were really brave or whatever). Anyway, the theme of the show was something
like "Performers Who Have Overcome Great Obstacles" or "Stories Of Great
Inspiration" or "Get Your Cryin' Hankies Out! These Brave Performers Are
True Heroes!" or something of that nature. On the panel was Geri and about
six other performers who had different disabilities. It was weird to see
Geri after all these years. Anyway, Geraldo kept talking to each person
and as soon as they told their story he just automatically said "You are
so brave and an inspiration to us all!" after every one. Like he didn't
even mean it or even know what he was saying or why. Then when it came
time for Geri's story he introduced her as a successful comedienne who
is best known as having been on "The Facts Of Life", and before she could
say anything he just blurted out to her "I understand you have a joke for
us Geri!? Why don't you tell us a joke." and then Geri kind of awkwardly
told this joke and the energy in the room was all wrong for a stand up
routine (they had just come from a model who had one leg or something and
everyone had been crying) and before Geri had even finished the joke Geraldo
kind of blurted out "Hahaha!" like a robot and said quickly "You are a
very funny lady and an inspiration to us all! Now moving along." It was
horrible!!! In my opinion it was 1,000,000 times more exploitative than
anything Howard Stern would do. What do you think about this kind of situation?
Do you think it's more empowering to laugh at stuff that is obviously funny
or to all hug and cry and say, "This is such an important, inspirational
moment! No laughing!"
Well, we all already know that Geraldo Rivera is going to hell. That is such a sad tale. I hope your money keeps you warm Geraldo, you whore!
Speaking about Howard Stern, I understand
you actually WERE on The Howard Stern show. What happened?
Howard Stern was great! He gave me the opportunity to present my work and was extremely supportive. He wasn't too scandalous with me on the air, but I was wearing a thong under my leather pants just in case. I was struck by how charming he is, by his kind spirit. He has stunning eyes behind those sunglasses. I was astonished by how attracted I was to him?!? I'd do his show again anytime.
If you were in front of an audience
and they were roaring with applause after one of your shows and you knew
that they were clapping really hard because you had a disability and not
because of your act, how would that make you feel? Has that ever happened?
Yes, once when I performed at this very P.C. and stuffy, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Open Orientation conference. The audience was falling over themselves laughing extra hard, clapping their asses off at the end and coming up to me saying things like 'The community thanks you for just being you.' I got so sad, these are supposed to be my peers, the place I fit in? This is completely fucked?!? The fact that it was a conference should've tipped me off.
I've also had wonderful experiences where the exchange with the audience is so truthful, whoever they are and whatever their reactions may be. That is what is so great about laughter or tears when it's honest, it shakes something inside of you. That's what I go into a theater or film hoping to find, some transcendent or ordinary moment of truth, a shared experience of connecting with each other as people.
Do you ever think things to yourself
like "Madonna exploited her sexuality to get noticed and carve a career
out for herself, I'm gonna use my disability to carve out a career for
I have a line in my show, "Every single one of us are disabled, in their very own special way." Madonna has done a breathtaking job of exploiting her disability on her own terms and has been extremely vulnerable and generous in sharing it with the public. That's the thing we're really staring at when we look at her, why we can't turn away. She is truly one of God's special little helpers.
Do you see yourself as a bloodthirsty,
ambitious performer who would walk over someone's grave to get more famous?
Like Eve Harrington in the film "All About Eve"?
I have this fear of the dead reaching up from their rotting tombs to grab me and pull me in by the ankles, so walking over someone's grave is totally out of the question!
Do you think someone like that who had
CP would get more or less respect?
You mean someone with aberrant and irrational fears?
If Courtney Love had CP and was on crutches
all the time do you think people would be less likely to criticize her?
Is it OK for someone with a disability to act mean and outrageously cruel
and be a troublemaker in the public eye?
Courtney Love is such a glamorous, flaming bitch that even walking with crutches couldn't diminish her special charm. Although, if Courtney Love were on crutches, may-be Kurt Cobain would've thought, 'Ok, but if I kill myself, who is going take out the garbage?' I absolutely do not think it's OK for someone with a disability to be a troublemaker...
Do you ever feel like you aren't allowed
to be bitchy or bitter? Like if you are people will jump to the conclusion
that your disability has gotten the best of you? Do you ever look at a
bitter, bitchy, queeny guy and think, "I wish I could act like that?"
Nobody wants to act like a bitter, bitchy, queeny guy! I mean sure we all totally love Michael Musto, but do we want to be like him? Yes, sometimes I can get so angry about something, like how slutty Britney Spears is acting and people will think, 'Oh, it's about his disability. He's angry at the world.' I think it satisfies something for them, it's like this weird emotional masturbation. Of coarse I get angry about many things, but I can tell a lot about a person from how they think I should be feeling about my life. I just wanted to say Britney Spears and masturbation in the same answer, I have no idea what I'm actually talking about.
Do you ever get introduced to someone
else with CP and think "Oh God here we go again." like you two are instantly
supposed to have tons in common or something?
That hasn't happened to me much in regard to being disabled. At a party people will make conversation by saying, 'Oh, I have an uncle who's gay and he loves fondue.' and they're right, what gay guy doesn't love fondue!
If you could tell someone who is growing up with CP one thing, what would it be?
1. Don't let anybody tell you who you are.
2. You will understand the gifts of illusion in this life.
3. Don't ever shave off all of your pubic hair even if it seems like a good idea at first... That's a helpful tip for everybody.
Do you truly think you will ever be
able to break out of your disability as a performer? Not have to make reference
to it at all?
It's part of who I am and the goal is to be all-inclusive in my work and life. I do hope at some point it won't be the thing that tips the scales so heavily when it comes to people's interest and the media. Remember how we couldn't stop talking about Sinead O'Connor's bald head? Then eventually we talked about how great her music was and now we just don't talk about her at all. You see Mark; it's like a flower...
Is there a disability performer clique?
Like a scene? What REALLY goes on behind the scenes? Give me the dirt!
A disability performer clique? Just the emotionally disabled performers and well that's everybody.
Do you have any special problems going
to the bathroom?
No, I'm a little pee shy if people are in line.
Do you play any sports?
I love the beach and I'm a great swimmer.
If you didn't have cerebral palsy do
you think you would be more famous? Less famous?
I'd be a different man, with a different life. Perhaps nobody would turn their head to look at me for any reason. I would have different dreams.
Do you like being the center of attention?
I like being on stage and working in film, but I'm not thrilled when a camera is in my personal space.
Do you have any actors or performers
you really are a fan of?
I really love music and have been performing with bands and musicians lately. I've recently appeared in shows with Patty Griffin, Swampbelly, and Erin O'Hara. As a storyteller, I'm so inspired by their beautiful words. I am also a huge fan of Neutral Milk Hotel, Kevin Tihista, and Bjork.
Are there any famous people with CP
or other disabilities that you are a fan of?
I love Cole Porter; he's the most amazing pop star that ever lived. He crushed his leg, (which had to be amputated at the knee) in a terrible horse riding accident. I read a story that he once pulled himself out of his wheelchair and dragged himself all the way across the room just to give Jack Cassidy a blow job. THAT is inspirational! Oh, and that drummer from Def Leopard with one arm, he's pretty cool.
When you were growing up as a small
child, at what point did you get crutches? I assume it was when you were
taking your first steps? How was it different with you?
I was in a wheelchair as a little kid and got crutches later, I don't recall how old. So no, as a child I didn't have cute little blue crutches, but I think it's an obvious hole in the market that Baby Gap has somehow overlooked.
Have you ever been talking to a cute
guy at a bar or somewhere and were sitting down and you were getting along
really well and then when you got up he saw your crutches and his face
dropped in shock and stuff and his opinion of you changed or whatever?
Yes, I met a guy and I'd been talking to him for almost four hours and when I got up to leave with him, I could tell he was surprised. He told me about this later that night, he said, 'You know, I already liked you at that point. It surprised me, but didn't change the way I felt.' We dated for many years.
Have you ever had a crush on a guy in
high school or something and secretly wished he had CP too?
No, but in high school I dated girls who I secretly wished were boys.
Would you ever date a guy who also had
Absolutely, New Zealand comedian Philip Patston is very sexy! Yet he is so far...
Let's talk about sex. Here's something
that I think you might have to deal with but I don't know, and I'm just
guessing here: During sex do you ever find someone is maybe making too
big a deal out of the fact that you have CP and maybe caressing your legs
and smiling at you like "Itís OK! I like you the way you are!" and maybe
they are really going overboard and you feel like they are doing it mostly
Once, in bed a guy did say to me, 'People must not touch you a lot, how does this feel?' and I was like, 'Huh? Um, yeah great... Suck harder.'
Are you a top or a bottom?
Sex with a Top or Bottom is always second-rate and if I'm sticking around with them at all, it's just to get off. I can't stand that beautiful, fluent, wet on the inside; sexy human beings would limit themselves with such hard-lined dynamics in relating to their own sexuality. I want to be free to explore everything with the people I'm sexually attracted to. People with guarded sexuality are terrible in bed.
Do you ever look at injured or handicapped
animals and have any particular feelings?
I don't go in for cheap sentimentality, but nothing is sadder in this world than a limping kitten, except maybe those bunnies who are blinded by cosmetics.
Have you ever met someone else with
CP and hated the way they were "dealing" with it and really resented them?
I resent and disapprove of the way most everybody is dealing with everything. To feel that way seems like a totally appropriate and sane reaction to what most people have chosen to do with their time. I expect a lot from people, I want them to do a better job and I want them to be nicer to each other. I'm sure my Buddhist, non-judgmental attitude is helping.
Have you gone through a lot of different
types of crutches?
Food, antidepressants and various drugs...
Are there different types of crutches?
Like really nice expensive ones and also really cheap crappy ones? Can
a CP person's crutches be a status symbol?
Yes, when I see that guy on the subway who has crutches made out of broomsticks, string and coffee cans, I always feel that warm rush of superiority.
Have you ever had a really bad day and
come home and thrown your crutches against the wall and fallen to the floor
and screamed "I hate it! I hate having CP! I hate the world! Why me!? Why
me?! Oh God AAAAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!" and then burst into tears? Have you ever
had a cathartic moment like that?
I've had moments like that over my career, having to work a shitty day job, or the guy who I loved or I thought loved me. I haven't really had that moment about being disabled. I was born with this body, I really like it and I feel like me. I think if I'd had some physical ability taken away from me in the middle of my life then I'd feel different. Though, that is a dramatic scene and we all play it out in some way in our own lives, I can see why people really long to see it acted out.
Mark, when Lifetime
Television makes the movie of the week of my life, will you play me? Linda
Carter would co-star as my mom, of course. I could see you playing the
above scene and if you could do it in your underwear that would be great.
I'm not exploiting you; it just keeps it real.
Well gosh Greg! *insert cartoon stars over Mark's eyes* Gee! Well... once I played a nightclub act manager with a horribly severe, spastic, near-mute stutter and a bad afro who always wore walkman headphones that were playing loudly so he could never actually hear anyone speaking to him, even his clients, and in the end of the film it was revealed was actually a deranged serial killer. It was in this low, low budget, bottom-of-the-barrel digital video film that I was in and had also co-wrote and co-directed - but the project fell apart midway through shooting. Anyway... so I feel like I have ample experience playing a disabled person. And me being in my underwear would of course make it more real. And Linda Carter? Well where do I sign? Wait... you're making all this up! *sob!* So cruel...
I imagine starting to become famous
and having the media write about your career and getting lots of attention
for your work might throw a new light on how you look at your disability?
Is this a correct assumption?
Somebody said to me the other day that being on TV is like going to heaven and makes everybody acceptable. Like I won't be seen as disabled, I'll just be on TV. That Camryn Mannheim doesn't have to be the fat girl, because she's on TV. That is disturbing and seriously funny at the same time. I think that to be a good artist and also have your work seen in a wide medium is sometimes challenging. Being disabled is a small part of the whole person that I am and balancing some sort of genuine identity or integrity with the fascination or angle of disability is a line in the sand I have to draw for myself. The title of my autobiography, "Walking Very Slowly All The Way To The Bank."
I understand you are good friends with
Marianne Sagebrecht (star of the movies 'Baghdad Café' and 'Rosalie
Goes Shopping') Tell me everything. I love her.
She loves you too! When she visited New York in '92 we were hanging out at Uncle Charlie's. You were dancing there that night and recognized her from atop the bar, it made her night and she tells that story every time she's in New York. She doing a lot of film and theater work in Germany. She has this avant-garde, crazy idea about doing the live porno-esque version of "A Christmas Carol" it would be called "Scrooge Me!" and she would have me play Tiny Tim. I don't know?!? She's joking, I hope. She seems sweet, but she's wonderfully twisted. We're supposed to work together at some point on this feature film project "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" I hope that happens.
I also understand that on the set of
the film "Keeping It Real", at one point Stephen Baldwin flashed his cock
at you and said "This is what you wanna see right?" Tell me everything.
Spare no detail no matter how small.
Definitely no small detail, 'nuf said.
Do you have any unusual facial movements
or twitches or anything due to you CP? If so, have you ever used those
twitches or movements to make special emphasis on anything you were saying.
I imagine that if you have those twitches and movements, it probably makes
most people who may be meeting you for the first time really stop and pay
attention to what you are saying. Is this true?
No, CP doesn't affect me in that way.
When you are talking on the phone with
people, can they tell you have CP?
I'm not really affected by CP in that way either.
What is the one question you are so
sick of being asked?
If you were riding on a train traveling at the speed of light and walked from the back of the train to the front, would it still seem like it's taking a really long time?
Have you ever been getting dressed and
thought "I can't wear this, it clashes with my crutches." Do you ever co-ordinate
outfits around your crutches?
That would just be so queer! My crutches are black - problem solved.
What are some of the frustrating things
about not having your hands totally free when you are standing or walking?
I can't eat and walk at the same time, everybody in New York does it and it looks great! The same thing has also kept me from taking up smoking cigarettes.
Have you ever used your crutches as
Yes, I broke somebody's finger. This man was drunk at a comedy show and after my set he bolted out to the bar and shoved me. Why? Who knows? He said that he immediately felt bad for pushing me down and was then just trying to help me up, but I saw this as another aggressive move and swung at him. Ugly drunkenness, I don't like giving that story a lot of airtime.
What is the one question you wished
people asked more.
So, when are you going to ask Mark Allen out for coffee?
Sure that sounds fun, and I'll make sure the place has an elevator...
here to visit Greg's website:
back to disability page
back to MarkAllenCam.com