Comedian and author Zach Anner advised students to embrace each other’s differences Tuesday in a lecture that was part of Disability Awareness Week on campus.
The comedian has cerebral palsy, and he got his start in 2011 when he hosted a travel show on the Oprah Winfrey Network called “Rollin’ with Zach.” He currently hosts the YouTube sensation, “Workout Wednesday,” a video series that features Anner exercising and offering humorous motivation to viewers.
In the lecture, which was sponsored by Best Buddies UW-Madison, Anner showed clips from his shows, read an excerpt from his book, “If at Birth You Don’t Succeed,” and challenged the audience to expand their perceptions and expectations of people with disabilities.
As a student at the University of Texas, he said he found that he could take advantage of his humorous personality to engage people in conversations about disability.
"I realized I could use comedy to disarm people and almost subvert what the stereotypes were regarding my disability,” Anner said. “I realized, then, that I could also get away with being an ass, which I have been doing for my entire career."
He encouraged people to disregard inhibitions and talk to disabled people to find commonality rather than empathy.
“I think one of the things that I've noticed in trying to start conversations with people is that too often, people are afraid to make the initial contact and start the conversation because they're afraid to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.”
In “Workout Wednesday,” Anner pumps up viewers with footage of himself exercising while offering advice about life and acceptance. He said his experiences creating these shows and overcoming obstacles have allowed him to realize his overarching goals and inspire others to do the same.
“Whatever you're going through in your life,” Anner said, “if you feel like you don't have a direction, you probably have the seeds planted in you of what your passion is and you just need to listen to that little voice in your head that tells you which direction to go.”
Disability Awareness Week will continue with more events throughout the week and end Friday, with an online pledge to end the use of the “r-word.”