Ryan Niemiller is an impressive man and, in this author’s opinion, an inspiration to others in and out of the special needs community. Ryan, known professionally as The Cripple Threat, came to my attention after I saw him on NBC’s flagship summer series, America’s Got Talent. I was impressed by the way he joked about his disability in such a positive way. Talking with Ryan, it became apparent that he never let his disability hold him back from anything.
A Stand-Up Guy
Growing up, Ryan played baseball and football and enjoyed his self-selected role as class clown. When I asked him if he was ever bullied because of his disability, he said not really – primarily because he made jokes first and got out in front of potential comments. Although he liked the attention, he admitted that it was a double-edged sword because self-deprecating jokes had a way of hurting his self-esteem by constantly reminding him of his disability. He found it somewhat hard to deal with unwanted attention due to his disability and therefore focused on other things.
He grew up in a small farming town in Indiana. He didn’t want special attention, and although it was offered in school, he preferred to work things out on his own. He took less assistance than was offered. He is a genuine, nice guy. He talked about the common practice of people offering unsolicited help because of his disability. He explained that assuming someone wants or needs assistance can be insulting. He suggested asking rather than assuming.
Ryan’s entertainment career began when he was a junior at Indiana State University and took a course called Intro to Theatre. He wanted to be a professional wrestler and he thought his theatre experience would contribute to that aspiration. He found professional wrestling too physically challenging and stressful on his body, though he said disability was not a factor. After college, Ryan moved to Los Angeles where he took a class at the Ice House and learned about stand-up comedy as a possible career. That course gave Ryan the impetus to give stand-up a shot. He performed wherever he could. He stayed in L.A. for three years to hone his craft. After that, Ryan moved back to Indiana where he continued to promote his act. He worked as a stand-up for 12 years, frequently driving 12-15 hours for a gig.
Ryan found audiences to be accepting, while bookers were reluctant due to his disability. He didn’t want to be labeled a disabled comic but rather thought of as a comic with a disability. His time on the road showed him that he was genuinely funny, and audiences liked him. During most of his time as a stand-up, he had to support himself with what he describes as boring day jobs. He tried to get on America’s Got Talent (AGT) for five years and finally got his break in July of 2019. The rest is history.
His tenacity is admirable. There is no quit in Ryan. His five years of calls to America’s Got Talent took him to various locations, but it was a video submission that got him his first at bat. Interestingly, it was a video he did for a Fox show called Laughs. Ryan describes auditions on AGT as different for him because he was used to working off the energy of a crowd. The AGT audition had no audience but clearly, he impressed the casting director. Aside from being talented, he is an extremely positive and likable guy.
A Dream Realized
After his first show aired, his life changed. He became famous overnight. Ryan is proud to say that his family supported him throughout his career, so sharing the AGT success was that much sweeter. Ryan managed himself until AGT but with his new found fame, agencies and managers sought him out. He signed with an agency and hired a manager who was a long-time supporter. The AGT family image is real, with Ryan describing it as a family of sorts.
Ryan now performs all over the country and in Canada. He says being on the road is tough but rewarding. It is his dream come true.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Len Harac, PhD, is the Publisher of EP Magazine.
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