Happy 10th Anniversary, Life at the Curb!
Happy 10th anniversary to Stroke Connection's humor column, Life at the Curb by comedian and stroke survivor, John Kawie.
Many of our readers think the only reason we publish Stroke Connection is so they can read John Kawie’s column, "Life at the Curb." This issue marks 10 years that John has succeeded at what seems impossible — making stroke funny. And it’s not just our readers who think so, his live show, Brain Freeze, won Best Solo Show at the NYC Fringe Festival in 2003 and in 2010 was produced as a DVD.
In observance of his 10th anniversary we asked John and his wife, Marilyn, to reflect on the past decade.
SC: What does writing the column mean to you?
JK: Since I was a kid I’ve always loved making people laugh. But face it, stroke is no laughing matter. However, my mantra has always been "humor is empowering." If you can laugh at the stroke, it doesn’t own you and that’s a big win. Writing LATC sort of exorcises my own stroke stuff. When something negative happens to me, I now think, "Hey wait, this would make a good story." It works for me and I hope my column does that for other survivors.
SC: Your email address is on every column, how does it feel to hear from readers?
JK: Coming from a standup background I was used to a live audience where you get an immediate response — laughter, heckles, whatever. But when I write my column it’s just me and my notebook, so getting feedback never grows old. Getting an email from a total stranger in another part of the country — or in some cases the world — is amazing. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing I’ve connected with someone. So keep it coming, I really appreciate knowing you’re out there.
SC: From onstage at the Fringe Festival in New York to stroke support groups in hospitals, you’ve performed Brain Freeze more than a hundred times, were there any memorable moments?
JK: One high point was when Brain Freeze was not only accepted into the Fringe Festival but won "Best Solo Show." I think my personal best was a glowing review by the theater critic of The New York Times. Imagine me opening the morning paper and there it was, a two-column shot of me in full performance mode on the cover of the Arts Section. It’s any performer’s dream, let alone a stroke survivor’s. I remember thinking ‘It wasn’t that long ago I was in a hospital bed."
I’ve experienced many touching moments, but this is one of my favorites. The first time I performed Brain Freeze was at the Mt. Sinai Stroke Group in NYC. There was an elderly survivor named Valerie who was keeling over in her wheelchair with hysterical laughter. A few months later I booked a downtown gig at the Bowery Poetry Club and stopped by the same support group to hand out flyers. Valerie said she would love to go but didn’t think she could manage the trip. So the night of the show I’m on stage, and right in the middle of one of the most poignant moments, where the audience is so still you can hear a pin drop, from the back of the room I hear a woman’s voice screeching, "John I’m here! I made it!" At first, because of the glaring lights I couldn’t tell who it was. Then I see Valerie slowly rolling down the middle aisle, her unaffected hand frantically waving, "I made it, I made it John!" I wanted to jump off the stage and hug her, but I had to finish the show.
Now, how many performers have fans like that? That’s what makes it all worthwhile.
SC: Your wife Marilyn has often figured prominently in LATC. How does she feel about that?
JK: I think of us as a team so I hope she enjoys it. In a way she’s been thrown into the line of fire. She’s in the foxhole with me and witnesses everything that happens — the good, the bad and the ugly. On the business side, an article doesn’t get submitted until she’s laughing.
SC: Last year Stroke Connection was in the running for an EDDIE Award for editorial excellence from FOLIO Magazine. Our editor asked if you would do the honor of accepting the award on Stroke Connection’s behalf. How was that experience?
JK: In its first-time entry, Stroke Connection won. When I was onstage the emcee spontaneously asked me what our mission was. At first I was thrown by the question, then I said, "Personally, my mission is to try to make stroke funny. But the magazine’s mission is to remind stroke survivors that we are people, too." This seemed to move the 400 editors and creatives in the room because they gave Stroke Connection a standing ovation. Pretty cool.
SC: Do you have a favorite column?
JK: That’s a tough question as they’re all my babies. But I’m especially fond of "Tracks of My Tears," which tells the story of when I worked with Robert DeNiro.
SC: What about you, Marilyn, any favorites?
MK: It’s hard to pick just one since they’re based on individual situations, each with its own particular humorous viewpoint, but these three stand out: "Only The Lonely" was visually fun with John surrounded by confused manicurists dying to apply nail polish; "Ticket To Ride" when we felt we had hit the parking jackpot; "Camarillo Brillo" was one of his earliest experiences in the hospital — another favorite.
John and Marilyn have been part of the Stroke Connection family since we first published his personal stroke story in 2003. And our team, the magazine and all of our readers are all the better for it. Happy Anniversary, John! Here’s to many, many more to come!
Celebrate with us! Send a happy anniversary message to John and tell us which Life at the Curb columns are your favorites. On September 10, 2015, five random messages will be selected and the senders of those will receive a free DVD of Brain Freeze, John’s one-man show. Need a refresher to remember your favorite columns? Wondering why we call it "life at the curb"? Visit Life at the Curb on the web for more about John and an archive of past columns.