It’s 70 percent comedy, 30 percent drama, and 100 percent real.
That’s how Mike Berkson, who has cerebral palsy and almost no movement in his limbs, describes his two-man comedy routine “Handicap This!” with his one-time school aide Tim Wambach.
The Chicago-based pair played 55 different shows and workshops in 2013 to audiences who don’t know whether to just sit back and laugh or stand up and cheer.
“If they made a movie about us, it would be a feel-good movie,” said Mike, now 25, sounding disappointed. “I love movies, but I’m not a fan of the ‘feel good.’ My three favorite movies of all time are Pulp Fiction, American Psycho, and Natural Born Killers. I might not want to go see a movie about us.”
Nevertheless, Mike and Tim have set a goal to have “Handicap This!” morph into a stage play and a motion picture. Then, they’ll be awaiting the invitation they’ve decided will crown the pinnacle of their success: To host NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
Tim was an aspiring motivational speaker “between jobs” when, on a whim, he stopped by the office of a local school district and submitted an application to become a substitute teacher.
The school district hired Tim to assist 12-year-old Mike with things like note taking, feeding and toileting. Mike has always had a sharp intellect and a quick wit. (He has an identical twin brother, who is able-bodied. Mike’s guide for telling the brothers apart is: I got the brains, the looks and the humor. David got the walking.”) Mike’s “mission” in middle school was making Tim laugh, and Tim’s great joy was riffing off Mike’s jokes.
The friendship was more than fun. With Tim, Mike got to participate in a class trip to Washington, D.C. – the first time he’d been away from his family. With Mike, Tim got an up-close-and personal look at how a disability complicates life.
Mike’s optimism is infectious. Despite his problems, he says he has no complaints. He dwells on possibilities, not limitations. It’s a message Tim takes to heart.
“I’ve been with Mike 14 years now, but the relationship has not always been exclusive,” Tim says with a chuckle. He was Mike’s assistant in seventh, eighth and ninth grades, but had to bow out for higher paying work. Their friendship endured, though. They’ve published a book “How We Roll: 2 Friends, 1 Wheelchair and a Lifetime of Lessons in Perseverance.” Tim also ran from Orlando to Chicago to raise public awareness about living with disabilities. He and Mike joined forces to establish the Keeping On Keeping On Foundation to help people living with severe disabilities.
They put together the comedy routine in 2010, after Mike graduated high school. With help from Mike’s dad, Denis, and another man, the show first hit the road three years ago. David, now a high school history teacher, also appears when his schedule permits.
Tim grows the show’s fan base through social media. Handicap This! has more than 48,500 Facebook friends and more than 5,500 Twitter followers. Mike and Tim post short videos of their escapades on their website.
Soon to debut, a new podcast titled The GIMP Show. (Lest anyone get their underwear in a bunch, that’s an acronym for Gifted Inspiration Motivating People, Tim says.)
Mike says Handicap This! gives the physically handicapped a voice. Tim, 40, says he does the show to educate and enlighten the able-bodied community. Both hope the show inspires everybody to make a difference.
Of course, entertainment is at the top of the list.
They hope to perform at LaughFest 2015. This March, during the Grand Rapids comedy event, they are committed to bringing their stage show to Abilities Expo in Pasadena, Calif.