The first time I saw him do standup at Comedy Mix Tape at Talbott Street, he appeared to have an entourage, fans hollering as soon as his name was announced. Lucas Waterfill rolled onto the stage in a wheelchair, handsome and confident, with another person in tow carrying a microphone. He proceeded with a hilarious bit about what he calls "crippled porn," a rant about the low quality of its production value.
"I have done standup with a headset and I prefer it," Waterfill said before his set, "but I haven't bought one yet." So, the 24-year-old Plainfield native performs with a friend or fellow comedian sitting next to him, holding the microphone up to his mouth. Waterfill has cerebral palsy which prevents him from holding his own microphone.
"It's not awkward having someone up there with me," he said. "They don't distract me. I sometimes talk shit about them."
It appears Waterfill has been talking a lot of shit for quite some time. Born the second of four children to Mark and Melissa Waterfill, a lawyer and a teacher, he said he learned early on how important it is to be able to talk to people and hold your own.
"I grew up in a very sarcastic family, and if you weren't on top of it, you got crapped on," Waterfill said. "They were cutthroat. They didn't baby me."
He quickly pointed out that his family has been nothing but loving and supportive, and it's their lack of sympathy for his condition that did him a favor, teaching him to defend himself. Waterfill learned how to spot when someone was pitying him and deflect it with his quick wit.
"That's a big part of my day-to-day life — that condescension, and I would imagine that is the life of many disabled people," said Waterfill. "You realize you're just as smart as, or maybe even smarter than, the average population, so you either find humor in it or you get so angry that it eats you up. That used to be me, so I had to make a choice."
He made that choice when he was only five years old. He remembers how it felt when his preschool teachers and aids were talking down to him.
"I didn't like it," said Waterfill. "It didn't make sense to me. When you're disabled, you fight for the respect you get. You have to constantly prove to people that you're with it."
Comedy gave him a way to voice his opinion. His first foray into standup came around age 12. He got one joke out of his mouth at a church youth group talent show before freezing up, unable to continue. By the time he got to Plainfield High School, he had the courage to be the lead singer in a hardcore punk band. After a while, he grew impatient waiting for people to get the band and equipment together for their next gig.
"I was ... a bad singer anyway. I might as well do comedy."
Waterfill started regularly booking club gigs a year and a half ago and is always working on his material, mostly in his head since his disability makes it difficult to type or write. He said, like any comedian, he has bombed before, but never lets the audience's reaction discourage him.
"Because you're the one up there. They're not up there, so even if you suck, what can they say?"
It appears this doesn't happen often. His "crippled porn" bit, for instance, had me and everyone else in the room in stitches.
"I have done sets where I don't mention my disability at all, and I've done sets that are all about my disability, and the jokes are just as genuine, so I don't think there's a difference," said Waterfill. "It's about human experience."
Although he graduated from high school a six years ago, it appears he's had plenty of that. Currently unemployed, the former intern for U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly said he has considered a life in politics but sees comedy as more accessible to him, so he will pursue it for the time being.