Up-and-coming Denver comic Christie Buchele will make you feel uncomfortable with her wry, self-deprecating jokes about cerebral palsy.
“That’s how I classify my comedy,” she jokes, “Funny, but sad.”
It’s awkward at first for those who don’t know who she is, but she makes her disability work to her advantage.
“It is tricky because people can tense up. I just take a moment to acknowledge it – I’ll even stop in the middle of a joke if I can feel the crowd’s tension,” she said. “It’s a learned skill for sure. I have a few jokes that help break the tension, like, ‘If you want to treat me like a charity, wait until after the show. I will take your money.’”
Buchele is headlining the Next Best Comic Comedy Showcase, sponsored by DGO, at Henry Strater Theatre on June 8, her birthday. The soon-to-be 31-year-old got into comedy in 2010 after going to see a guy she had a crush on perform at an open mic.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I could do better than that,’” she said.
Buchele dated the unfunny “comic” anyway, and though the relationship ended, her stand-up career proved to be more long-term. She’s opened up for Josh Blue and Sean Patton, and is a regular on the Denver Comedy Works roster, where she performs twice per week and on the weekends in hopes of reaching professional status through the venue’s tier system. The popular basement stage has cultivated major talent such as Blue, who also has CP, and helped “set the blueprint” for Buchele. But Buchele said Comedy Works hasn’t promoted a woman to the pro level in the past decade, and she isn’t getting any free passes.
“I wish I got a pass,” she said. “I’d take any leg up I can get, really.”
The reality is her CP has been an obstacle for her professionally, especially when she first started out and was only allotted a few minutes to deliver her jokes. She’d have to cut into the little time she had to address her disability to make the audience feel comfortable enough to laugh, but not out of pity.
“I’ve seen comics with disabilities and I can tell the crowd is laughing, almost because they feel sorry for them,” she said. “I hate when someone is feeling sorry for me, so I’ve never made jokes that create that feeling.”
She said at times it’s frustrating to not be able to “put it down,” but she uses whatever she is feeling at the time in her set.
“If you lean into whatever mood you’re in, (the audience) will go with you,” she said. “As long as you are still up there performing instead of mailing it in, you can sell the joke either way.”
No matter her disposition, Buchele is happy to bring attention to her CP with complete honesty.
“That’s part of the mission of doing stand-up overall, to make sure people understand people with disabilities a little bit more, and realize that we’re people, too,” she said.
Buchele said personal comedy resonates most with her (“I like jokes that punch you in the gut a little bit.”) and that’s how she connects with the audience. Candor is one of her strengths as a comedian. Her upbringing formed a frankness most people don’t have.
“My dad has treated me like an adult since I was five,” Buchele said. “I have no gauge of what the appropriate boundaries are a lot of time. My writing can be very raw and real. I have no gauge on what is taboo or what is considered sad, even.”
Jokes about Buchele’s dad often appear in her writing. She chose to live with her father at the tender age of 10 because he was more fun. She jokes that growing up with a single father is like “living with a roommate who hates you.” Popcorn for breakfast was a common meal. Her decision created resentment from her mother, but as an adult, they’ve been able to move past it.
“A 10-year-old isn’t making that decision off of anything important. I’m like, ‘He has Nerf guns.’ It wasn’t a personal decision. We realize that now, but it took a long time,” Buchele said.
These experiences are now informing her new material (that we are hoping to hear on Friday night). Divorce is a topic that hasn’t been addressed much in pop culture, despite its prevalence in American culture. She said it’s her goal to bring a spotlight to this strangely overlooked topic.
“It’s something that shapes a lot of people’s lives, but we are not making light of it enough. In order to heal things like that, we have to laugh about it,” she said. “(Pop culture) doesn’t show the reality of it, and there’s a lot stuff that’s very funny there.”