Using Comedy To Improve Inclusivity Of ‘Others’

Pamela Schuller knows what it’s like to be “othered.” As a teenager, her Tourette Syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder were so bad that she was kicked out of her school and synagogue. What that’s done for her as a grownup was help her help others.

Schuller is now a professional standup comedian and inclusion advocate who will be in the Twin Cities this weekend as part of Jewish Disabilities Inclusion and Awareness Month (JDAIM). She’ll be the scholar-in-residence at Mt. Zion in St. Paul Feb. 3-5, and will speak at the Sabes JCC on Feb. 6.

“I went on a journey to connect to the idea of inclusion and what it means to me,” said Schuller, who travels the country to discuss the topic of inclusion. She said that the boarding school she was at put her in an improv comedy workshop and helped her channel her Tourette’s thanks to the principle of “yes, and,” where participants accept the situation presented and build off it.

“They would ‘yes, and’ me in the middle of an attack,” she said. “You learn to respond instinctively when you have a disorder where people stare at you. You can’t change who someone is at their core.”

Schuller said that her Tourette’s isn’t identical to someone else’s because everyone presents differently. As an adolescent, it manifested itself with loud noises and big, physical movements.

“Instead of trying to know me, they’d try to figure out a label. As an adult, it’s clear that someone isn’t listening to what I’m saying,” she said. “I felt othered. There’s a lot of unpacking as to why someone felt othered. I felt different, and not in a good way.”

Schuller tackles difficult topics with students and adults and adds that there’s nothing they can ask her that makes her feel uncomfortable.

“I like to get to know people, and I feel like when I speak I hear so many stories of people who are othered,” she said. “Maybe it’s a disability, maybe not. But I want to keep building community in a more positive way. I love being different. I love my disability, which I didn’t say that as a kid. My brain has Tourette’s, but it’s also funny, inappropriate and quick witted. I made a decision to love the whole thing.”

Events Around The Community For JDAIM

Adath Jeshurun Congregation: JDAIM Shabbat on March 4, with speaker Jeff Sherman, executive director of JHAP, who will be discussing Cornerstone Creek, the new apartment building for adults with disabilities.

Bet Shalom: During February, a copy of the JDAIM Reads book will be donated by the Inclusion Committee to Bet Shalom’s library. On Saturday, March 18 at 6 p.m., the Inclusion Committee will be hosting a Havdalah service for congregants, Caring Connection members and interested guests. Dinner and a musical program will be served after the service.

St. Paul Jewish Community Center: The Cultural Arts Department is hosting a JDAIM event featuring Liane Kupferberg Carter, author of “Ketchup is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism,” as part of the Twin Cities Jewish Book Series. The event is Thursday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 ($8 Advance Member Value Price).