Niek Theelen was convinced four years ago by his college professor to show off his comedic skills at an open mic night in Lethbridge. Little did he know the affect he would have on those who heard him as today he travels around Alberta bringing laughter and smiles to different communities.
Theelen, who suffers from cerebral palsy, faces many challenges as most comedians do. However, he wants people to know that his disability does not slow him down.
“My challenges aren’t any different than most other comedians. I take a little bit longer to get on stage because of my disability, but once I’m up there I make some jokes about it to get people comfortable with it,” describes Theelen. “It’s a matter of managing the highs and lows. I wouldn’t say that my challenges have been more difficult because of my disability, if anything it’s something it talk about and puts me apart from other comedians, so I kind of take advantage of it and make people laugh and educate and inform people too.”
Before going to university Theelen says he struggled a lot with his disability and how people perceived him.
“My whole life, I got pretty used to people looking at me differently, people staring at me in the grocery store and stuff. It’s something I’ve always grown up with since I was young.
“Initially, comedy was a way for me to blow off some steam and point out those things that bothered me but it’s also allowed me to make it less weird. Sometimes people think that people with disabilities just have to stay home and are incapable of as much but when I get out onto the stage I’m just as capable as anyone else.”
Theelen is one of five Alberta comedians chosen to participate in CBC’S Next Up Comedy Challenge. The contest requires contestants to compete a series of comedic challenges and upload a video of it online. From there, members of the public can vote on which contestant they feel is the funniest. There are 100 contestants from across Canada.
The winner of the challenge gets to expand their career by performing at this year’s Halifax Comedy Festival. For Theelen, this would be a dream come true.
“You know with comedy you’re always nervous about how people will react,” he says.” I’ve been doing this for years now and not every show has given me the outcome that I hoped for, but overall it’s been very positive and a lot of fun.”
Theelen is urging the community to help him by voting for his video on cbc.ca/nextup people can vote once a day and it wraps up on Friday. Anyone who wants to watch Theelen in action can catch him at the Penhold Multiplex on March 22.
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