Andrew Justvig was born with cerebral palsy (CP). A lifelong brain condition, it currently affects around 764,000 people in the United States. Long neglected and shunned by normative narratives, stories of those living with CP have been ignored by the film industry for decades. As cinematic representations prove scarce, portrayals of these lived experiences become increasingly crucial.
Acknowledging this lack of inclusion, Fujifilm recently teamed up with Justvig and the Disability Media Network to produce a film adaptation of The Anxiety of Laughing – a play Andrew penned while studying for his MFA at University of California, Riverside. The movie explores how humor and harmony inform the domestic lives of stand-up comedian Joey and his fiancé Leah, as they struggle to navigate the obstacles of a tumultuous marriage.
We sat down with Andrew to hash out the themes of his first filmic foray, and how living with cerebral palsy has shaped both his creative process and his world view.
“All the scripts I write deal with cerebral palsy in some way,” Andrew begins. “For my MFA thesis project, my professor Robin U. Russin (who would later go on to direct the film) encouraged me to explore my stand-up material in more detail. So I took his advice.” An established comedian in his own right, Justvig drew upon his experiences to construct an autobiographical tale – but ultimately felt there was a piece missing from his vision. “I plunged through a year of drafts, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get it right,” he recalls. “Then I had something of an epiphany. My church screened this video of an elderly couple using silliness to deal with their respective disabilities while on a date. The bell rang in my head, and I blended these two concepts together: the human need to laugh, and the drama inherent in a marriage that deals with disability. That combination was where the idea originally stemmed from.”