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Disabled Lives Matter

Season 1, Episode 22

Co-Hosts: Nadine Vogel & Norma Stanley

Guest: Nic Novicki

Intro: [Music playing in background] Disabled Lives Matter… here we go!

Voiceover: Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the disabled lives matter podcast with co-hosts Nadine Vogel and Norma Stanley... yay!

Nadine Vogel: Hello everybody, this is Nadine Vogel coming to you with another episode of disabled lives matter podcast joining me is my partner in crime Norma.

NORMA STANLEY: Hi everybody.

Nadine Vogel: And we are joined today by someone I think, Nic, I think you nd I met maybe, four years ago now, five years ago we kind of knew of each other but we met in person, Nic novicki so Nick is a comedian and actor producer, I think you perform now on six seven continents that's right I go yeah you know I think I’m busy until I see what you're doing and then I’m like oh my God I’m exhausted let's just start with if we can talk to us about just life as an artist as a producer with a disability right because that doesn't take away from you being this amazing artist and producer but it adds to it so talk to us about that a little bit.

nic novicki: Yeah, yeah Well, first of all thanks so much for having me on and for those of you that don't know me I’m as you said, an actor comedian and producer. I’m also a little person so I’m three foot 10 and I would say in terms of my career as an artist and producer and having a disability they definitely intersect. But for me it's always about you know the art first you know, creating writing doing the stand-up producing creating my own content. I think part of that you know went side by side because of the fact that I am a little person, I am a person with a disability. So, to you know, have the kind of career, I wanted to have I learned pretty early in my career that I have to be in charge of all aspects learn how to write how to produce how to market how to get myself out there how to connect how to bring people together how to help other people, rather than just ask them for help. So, and then ultimately that's where you end up building a network and then from that network, you get hired but you hire other people, and then it just sort of just all goes you scratch my back I scratch yours, but it's this kind of beautiful community that I’ve you know worked with and I just feel honored to be a part of people with disabilities that are working comedians, singers, producers. You know, a step further, is eight and a half years ago I created the disability film challenge, which is a weekend film competition where you need to have somebody with a disability in front of or behind the camera. In 2017 I partnered with Easter seals southern California, the nation's largest disability services organization. Or now that Easter seals disability film challenge, we've had hundreds of films created from all over the world, so it's kind of another layer to that you know connection with artists with disabilities, because now it's not just me as a working artist with a disability, but I’m also somebody that in many instances ends up referring people and becomes a facilitator that helps others get jobs but.

Nadine Vogel: Well first of all I have to say thank you because the Easter seals disability film challenge is amazing, I have had the opportunity to actually be there in person. I know many of your award winners and oh my gosh I don't know what well, you should be aware of our foundations, Springboard foundation, we had a fundraiser and what we did we worked with a Carl right and what we did was we actually showed award winners from the film challenge.

nic novicki: That was awesome that was so cool.

Nadine Vogel: And it was it was a way for us to introduce your filmmakers your actors to a much, you know casting a much wider net, right, so people know about who they are, I think it's really important because, just how you open Nic I mean it just sounds like as someone with a disability, you have had to work that much harder. Do that much more to just get to that same playing field as others, would you say that's true.

nic novicki: To an extent, you know I think in some senses, as a person with a disability, to be honest, I got in the door really quick. Because I happened to be a little person, when I was you know, only a couple years in the acting I was on the sopranos so that doesn't happen for most people with disabilities. But with that being said I got on sopranos I got to work with all these other people and then all the sudden I was limited with the kind of roles that I was able to get because they were like well you know we have this kind of role for you it's a non-speaking thing and it's bad and I’m like well I’d rather be the romantic lead so I’m gonna write down to produce that and I’m going to be the gangster you know that's what I want to be so. That way, you know, so I think in some senses the doors can actually open up a quicker if you haven't disability. And so, if you're listening in and you're thinking well it's going to be harder for me with a disability, I actually disagree. Because right now I mean, even if you look at the sponsorship that we have for the Easter seals disability functions response by Sony pictures and you know, universal pictures and you know Viacom CBS and all these studios and networks and Warner media and adobe and they're all actively trying to include more people with disability, so I think now is like the best time to get your foot in the door, and I think whether you have a disability or not, or you don't have a disability it's a very difficult industry so you're gonna have to work hard. And you know, depending on what your disability is there may be other things that you're going to have to learn about in terms of what you need for accommodations. How, you know what your talent is honestly, you know as a little person I’m probably not going to be the best key grip and daring like heavy stuff. You know, you got to find your place in the industry and what you're passionate about. And what you are able to do the best and utilize your disability, because I also think is people with disabilities, we’re used to being kind of entrepreneurs in a certain sense. You know as a little person I can never reach things like public restroom sink; I have to move the trash can stand on it. So, the fact that I can do that in real time that's Problem Solving and that's what I needed and most you know TV sets film sets because they usually don't go 100% the way that you plan you know and location it rains. You know somebody gets sick; you know it's a very fluid process. So, if you have that ability to kind of roll with things, and you know you're better off, and so I think as people with disabilities, we bring a lot to productions with having that sort of you know, entrepreneurial spirit, but also just that willingness and experience and adapting.

NORMA STANLEY: Resourcefulness

Nadine Vogel: Yeah, absolutely. Do you think people know that readily though or is that something we have to educate.

nic novicki: You know, I think that people learn it through working you know, it's work gets your work, so a lot of times it's still the process of you know people being exposed to the talent within the disability community and so that's what I’m really proud of you know, we do screenings around the country and workshops and seminars and you know we're able to have not just you know referral but we're able to show films. So we're able to show the people doing the work not talking about what they want to do, but seeing that their work as a writer or their work as an actor and so I think the more that people are familiar with and get to know, then they see that talent and they see that work ethic and yeah that resourcefulness so you know it's a process, and I think the more and more we're able to be in the same room together doing in person workshops, obviously with the last year that's been a little difficult because nobody's been in the same room. At all been you know, in a zoom or you know Microsoft team’s meetup event so.

Nadine Vogel: So, I’m hearing that the doors are open more readily now. Do you think, though, you know, like you said early on about you want to be a romantic lead me like well no that's not the roles here for you. So, while the doors have opened, which is great, we need to start somewhere, do you think it is still limiting in terms of how people in the business view individuals with disabilities, relative to roles, whether in front of the camera or behind the camera.

nic novicki: I think to an extent, but I also kind of think that just in general, you know I know so many up and coming actors comedians writers that don't have disabilities, you know that are from other marginalized communities or just you know view quote unquote the stereotypical you know and it's very difficult, you still have to find your own path to an extent. You know, I think a lot of times people are expecting you know networks and studios and the Academy award winners to kind of be the person that just breaks everybody in when in reality it's you know from my experience it's been people that you're starting out with the end up hiring you, and then they you know you climb the ladder together. But I think sometimes you know the to be able to work with the High-Level Martin Scorsese’s the you know P, you know Farley brothers people that I’ve had the honor of working with. I don't think that would have been a possibility, had I not done a lot of other things, to get started, and so I think, really there was no such thing as the dslr camera or a smartphone when I started, I mean I’m getting old.

Nadine Vogel: You’re getting older to.

nic novicki: 20 years 20 years ago, you know I got started in 2001 you know. Doing stand up and doing things that but literally the technology wasn't there that's before YouTube that's before you know you would have to shoot something and put it on a little tape and then the tape to a competitor.

Nadine Vogel: You know you're a new daughter will never believe that when you tell her.

nic novicki: Yeah, and honestly, by the time she gets to be you know college age there's going to be new stuff that we don't even know about you know technology's always kind of just you know shaping in a way.

NORMA STANLEY:The jetsons you know with the flying cars.

Nadine Vogel: Oh I love that show.

nic novicki: I love the Jetsons. I love it. I mean it feels like we’re there though.

Nadine Vogel: It does. It definitely does and I think that that's important, I think technology is the great equalizer right and but, again, we have to know how to use it. And how to use it for us and not against us. You know we're talking with someone I don’t know if you know John Kemp, you know we were having a conversation with him, you know these companies say that are using technology in a discriminatory away when it comes to talent acquisition right. Using ei to make determinations and that doesn't work well for people with some disability types, so I think technology is fabulous but, again, we do need to know how and where to use it.

nic novicki: And I think even beyond that it's also just a balance of you know not everybody's going to be great at everything I’m not the most technical person I’m better at kind of putting people together, so I think you know it's about you know learning how to kind of build your network, you know and that's the way that somebody's going to be better with certain technology. With interpersonal skills somebody who's going to be smarter or better writer, you know somebody's going to be the comedy person somebody be the straight man person you're like acting you know you got to have Laurel and hardy you know or the Alec.

Nadine Vogel: No, I agree completely, and you know it's interesting because there's so much to think about and so much to consider, and I think you touched on earlier, you know. I’ve talked to people with disabilities to say you know they're tired of always being the ones who must educate and train, and you know tell the companies what to do and how to do it, but at the end of the day, if not us then who. Right and who's going to tell the story correctly right in a way, because I’ve seen many organizations try but not succeed. And sometimes it's just because they haven't really engaged with people with disabilities to really understand exactly what's needed You know.

NORMA STANLEY: It’s the same thing with the African American Community and companies who don't really have like an advertising, and they don't have people making decisions who understand the Community and they're putting out ads that just do not, they don’t connect. They don’t know the messaging because it's not their experience.

Nadine Vogel: Right. Absolutely.

NORMA STANLEY: So those kinds of things you must have the people limiting the lived experiences to talk about it.

Nadine Vogel: Absolutely, and we must go to commercial break when we come back Nic I would love to touch on that this is a big discussion around people who do not have disabilities playing roles of disabled individuals. So, let's go to commercial break, because I know that's a hot topic important one, so I think we should go to commercial break first and we come back let's touch on that, so everybody don't go anywhere we'll be right back.


Nadine Vogel: Okay, so this is Nadine Vogel back at you with disabled lives matter podcast with my co-host Norma Stanley and today's guest Nick Novicki. So Nic before we went to commercial, I brought up a topic that I know is always controversial but so important to address, which is this issue of individuals who do not have a disability visible or invisible playing roles of disabled individuals. Can you talk to us about that.

nic novicki: Yes, during the whole commercial break I was screaming. So I mean this is it's a controversial topic, but look, you know, for me, as my goal and kind of the mission of what I do with the film challenge and in my work it's about creating solutions for future things. It's about putting the keys in people's hands themselves to tell their own stories so that's generally what I focus more on I focus on you know the bigger problem, which is how do we get more people to be further in their career. You know I think sometimes as a whole, we do focus on that a lot and look, we want an authentic portrayal and that's you know a lot of that too is not just in front of the camera that's behind the camera. And that's about who's telling the story who's writing it who have you consulted with but certainly. You know I always feel personally that the most authentic performance is when you have somebody with that disability portrayed that is that character. But, but again I think sometimes it's interesting that this ends up being in the press a lot, you see a lot of articles and they want to point it we've got to fix this one and it's like one You know film or one TV show when it's like we have all these networks, all these studios all this talent out there, you know I think sometimes that we need to focus on uplifting those that are doing it right. More so than you know attacking those they're doing it wrong. But I don't fault anybody for that frustration, and you know as a consumer myself I would like to see a story of a little person portrayed by somebody there's a little person. You know me, I think you know it's about authenticity, so I think the other kind of problem is, I think now audiences with them with and without disabilities are getting smarter and they're starting to see oh well, I don't know that's just doesn't feel like that's coming from a place of truth or authentic, so I think you know, really that's something to think about. And then, on the other side from our studio network independent film production side you need to think about that huge 61 million Americans that have some form of disability. One in four roughly according to the CDC. And that translates around the world, you know, a huge demographic of people with disabilities. So we haven't been marketed to enough. You know, so I mean, I think you know, think about you know all those attack ads but think about all the uplifting ads and the like, embracing you can get you know, and we've been honored to have gotten you know a lot of press with the film challenge you know, last year, there was a New York Times article that. featured me talked about the challenge Forbes a couple times CNN variety, we’ve been in the Hollywood reporter. You know, during our awareness campaign people have been picked up on, you know people magazine and all these other things, so the community loves embracing these positive stories. But you know if you're thinking about you know hiring somebody that doesn't have a disability and one of these roles. You have to know what you're getting into to that there's going to be people that are not going to be quiet online and it's a hot topic, and you know it stems to from there has been a lack of access, you know, historically, for a lot of people with disabilities and it's not like hey this wheelchair user with cerebral palsy is getting you know 25 auditions a week. So, when a big role comes or for somebody who's blind or deaf or little person or would you name it autism any fill in the blank disability there's a lot of talent out there with disability and I think you know there's more and more opportunities that are coming now where the casting society of America has been unbelievable and supporting the film challenge and the disability community as a whole and they're reaching out on a weekly basis with roles and trying to authentically cast so there's a lot of people doing a lot of great work and I just want to point that out, you know that there's so much collective.

Nadine Vogel: Yeah, I think you're right the negative stuff is what you know sticks and is out there you know, but we do hear things like well you know we need to watch the box office right and the revenue, but you know there could be a major box office hit with an individual with a disability if we give them the chance, so we find out their just as talented as the other lead that you had right. So, it's tough and Norma you know I mean, in some ways, now I’m going to get really controversial, but in some ways, you know think back all those years ago to blackface.

NORMA STANLEY: Exactly I was thinking the same thing you know, and I didn't realize what was really going on. And that was definitely you know not something that we would ever do today or anybody who has any sense would do today and that was something that they thought was somehow appropriate way back then. But again, who are they listening to they weren't listening to anybody who really knew it was inappropriate anywhere.

Nadine Vogel: And now look, I mean look at all the roles, you know award winners, who are from the black and brown Community right but another I you know I seem to be in a controversial mood this afternoon. Another topic I’d love to hear from you on is this issue of movies that has been out where the person with the disability, you know gives up on life. They would rather just you know die and not live, and it is all these questions that come out about quality of life. And I’d love to hear what you think about that, because there was a study just recently, not the entertainment community, but in the medical community. Where doctors admitted that they actually felt that people with disabilities had lesser quality of life and therefore it impacted their diagnoses their recommendations for treatment things like that so I’m just curious from an entertainment industry standpoint, what are your thoughts.

nic novicki: Well, you know I think a lot of times you're hearing stories that were not written by people with disabilities, you know you're not going to hear you know somebody who's a little person talking from that standpoint of I’d like to you know get rid of my child because they're a little person or something so it's like I think a lot of times it's you know it all goes back to authenticity. And yeah, just saying you're going to end your life because of your disability, I mean that's an awful portrayal of somebody with a disability. I think that it's about telling our own stories, you know it all boils down to who's writing this, who's it for. Because generally that's not for the disability community and generally that's not written by the disability Community if you're talking about my life isn't, yeah.

NORMA STANLEY: They both pass the disability Community it's from the perspective of you know, whoever it is this writing it and whoever it is so who's even doing this study in that they're assuming about a community as to what think can’t be any good, because of whatever the situation is. And so, prescribing whatever they're prescribing and diagnose what admitted diagnosing and not giving that community an opportunity to decide for themselves.

Nadine Vogel: And you know, look if someone would ask me, you know 35 years ago, you know if you had a child with a disability, who couldn't do this this this this and this you know what would you do and I’m almost 100% sure that what my answer would have been then not having that experience would have been very different than what it was after my girls were born and what it is today. So Nic I think it goes back to what you were saying about authenticity. And experience right and bringing that to the forefront, and I think that certainly would be Easter seals disability film challenge you've done that. So, my next question and no pressure here. Well maybe some pressure. Where does the film challenge go next right, what's next on the horizon, maybe the next you know, three to five years for the challenge.

nic novicki: Well we've grown every year, so every year we've had more films more partnerships more screenings. We get success stories every week so honestly, it's grown more than when I came up with this idea eight and a half years ago, I never would have thought is going to change people's lives it's people would literally do what they wanted to do. Because of you know, entering this and that they would build lifelong you know mentor ships and get to work with Oscar winners and work multiple years in another country from you know, taking part in the challenge so it's the Community is building. And so, I think you know I'm optimistic that we're going to continue to grow. I’d love to see you know we already have projects that are being turned into feature films and TV shows in development, so I’d love to see one of those you know go full force into in the movie theaters you know into on TV. You know, documentaries are being made from last year's every year to different genre so, which is also kind of cool so it's not the same type of film. The film's change in a different block every year, so last year's documentaries are being turned into features, right now, some of those. Some you know films from five years ago, six years ago, are still in development and really close and people are winning grants and you know getting jobs, so what I’d like to see is the continual growth in that it's you know, creating opportunities for people with disabilities in front of him behind the camera and ultimately building people's networks and giving them a chance to screen to be proud of their art and themselves and also families, people with disabilities have just so much pride. The amount of pride from the communities, you know, we have an awareness campaign where it's a 10 day campaign where people are trying to get as many likes views and shares for their films, but they're bringing in their local network their local news their you know their families work everybody and so they're sharing and getting kicked off of Twitter and Facebook, because you know getting themselves out there, so much so. That’s just continuing to build, and I want to see that you know happened more, but you know even going back to what you were talking about before. You know all this space it's interesting because you know I’ve met you know parents that are you finding out that their child is going to be a little person and they're so scared about certain things where I’m like I don't even think about what you're like concerned about like that you know as a 38-year-old man like. I you know my wife's a little person, you know we don't know if our daughter is a little person or have a type actually because of my kind of dwarfism we won't know for a couple of years, but that's not even something where I’m like scared oh it's you know it's just that a lot of it is to just coming to terms with look it's going to be different, but accepting the situation. Because in reality many times, I think from a medical standpoint and just in general, from societal standpoint people really get nervous and it's just a lot of fear I think that kind of drives why they want to change things I don't want to have this because what will others think or they won't be able to live a normal life when reality is yeah, we will be able to live in normal life and, yes, we're going to do everything. Some things may be done a little differently, but you're still going to be able to you know, do whatever you want to do, including in the arts and so going back to what the film challenge what I hope is over the next three to five years. You know, we continue to see just great stories they've never been seen before, to which is something I’m really proud of with these films. Where we have like love stories of people with down syndrome and you know they never talked about having down syndrome or things that are a part of their downstream from it's just them, you know living their lives or you know, being a gangster being the you know romantic lead yeah just like everybody else, and so that's what I want to see more and more of. And because honestly and I think that's where we're going to see a breakout hit come from, because you know generally TV shows and movies. You know they haven't you haven't seen some of these stores or haven't seen these kinds of portrayals. So, the fact that we can do it and it's all volunteer driven, and you can use Union talent, so we've had Oscar winners take part in the film challenge. I think that we're going to see a real breakout calm and I encourage everybody to go to our YouTube channel and check out all the films, we have hundreds of films, this year we had 93 films shot from all over the world, including India, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland UK Canada. You know so it's all kinds of different interpretations. Of what disability is and many times, never addressing disability you're just seeing it. From a different accent or different way of talking or looking.

Nadine Vogel: Well, you know, Nick I always say it's not about what happens in life it's about what to do with it, that the counts and certainly you have done and continue to do amazing things and I just I can't wait for your daughter who was only five weeks old to grow up what an amazing dad she has and all the info that you are doing, I can't wait to see over the next three to five years how the film challenge grows. Because I have watched it and you’re right it's grown tremendously. And you know look you illustrate better than anyone disabled lives matter that's what this is about, first and foremost so Norma I don't have any other things you want to add but.

NORMA STANLEY: One question. Drop that is one of my favorite shows, how did you get to play in that I thought I saw every episode remember I didn't know it was you.

Nic Novicki: Yeah yeah yeah well what was funny was I played like a kid lawyer. So, there was a whole episode about how my mom, it was funny because like this is the how Hollywood works for those of you that don't know, I was almost 30 years old, and I was playing like a kid yeah and they just kind of you know and shaved and I kind of got that kind of face. Without the beard you know if I shaved and. But this is, you know from 10 years ago or. Nine years ago, and so, basically, it was a whole episode, where I think it was called dream big or something I can't remember the name what it was it was it was all about me I kind of be in like a kid lawyer and I was like a teenager. And it was funny because one of the leads, you know we're talking, I was like yeah you know so when I was on the sopranos and they're like the sopranos how old, are you waiting to you're supposed to be like a teenager that's been off for six years.

NORMA STANLEY: Yeah, yeah, no doubt. I’ll have to go back and check that episode out.

nic novicki: Yeah yeah it was it was such a fun show to work on and josh Berman, the creator of that show he's just an unbelievable guy and really kind of created an awesome role for me and he's been supportive beyond drop dead diva he's you know, creating and working on all these other awesome shows.

Nadine Vogel: Great well this was just so amazing Nic Thank you so much for your time today and for our listeners, I know you have enjoyed this as much as Norma and I did we have big smiles on our faces although you can’t see us.

nic novicki: If you guys want to know more about what I’m doing follow me online at Nic novicki you could go at this ability film challenge or disability, some challenge COM to learn more about some of our upcoming screenings workshops, seminars.

Nadine Vogel: Excellent and, yes, you all should follow him for sure. So, with that this is Nadine Vogel another successful episode of disabled lives matter Norma Stanley my co-host.

NORMA STANLEY: Another great show.

Nadine Vogel: And Nic Novicki again Nic thank you so much, we will definitely want to have you back and hear what you're doing.

nic novicki: Arlight well, thanks so much for having me.

Nadine Vogel: Thanks, bye-bye.

NORMA STANLEY: Be blessed everybody.

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40 episodes