Like much comedy, Joe Eurell’s humor was born of difficult beginnings.
Bound to a wheelchair due to spastic cerebral palsy, Eurell grew up in South Carolina and was abused as a child. He was later separated from his four siblings and placed into foster care at age 10.
Two years later, a family from Huntington Beach adopted him.
“Even after I came out here and my adopted parents gave me this great life, I couldn’t enjoy it,” Eurell said. “It felt like I abandoned the people I loved.”
In 2005, while searching online for information about his oldest sister, he found out she had been looking for him for several years. Eurell was able to finally reconnect with his siblings.
“It was such an emotional block to be separated from them, not knowing where they were or how they were doing,” said Eurell, now 32. “These were people I spent every day with for 10 years. Then I spent the next 10 years without them. I felt incomplete. Reconnecting with them helped me find the artistic voice I needed to do comedy.”
Eurell dreamed of becoming a comedian since he was a child, when he saw the famed Sam Kinison perform, though he didn’t start his own comedy career until about six years ago.
“I sort of thought I don’t want to live my life with regret,” Eurell said. “I decided to try and overcome this speech impediment, the anger problem and the mental problems, and try comedy.”
While earning a degree in political science at Cal State Long Beach, Eurell performed every Monday at an open mic show at the Anchor Bar near Costa Mesa.
Eurell’s brand of “insult comedy” quickly endeared him to audiences and the comedy community.
However, it took a while for him to get used to comics poking fun at his disability. Eurell has some difficulty enunciating words, what he calls his “cerebral palsy accent.”
“Even after I got into comedy, I didn’t like the idea of other people laughing at my situation,” Eurell said. “People would make jokes about my disability to my face. For a very long time I took myself too seriously for somebody who wanted to be a comedian.”
Eurell developed a thicker skin after he started taking part in roast battles at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. His regular performances eventually led to his appearance on the Comedy Central show, “Roast Battle.”
The show pits comedians against one another as they lob insulting jokes. Famous comedians judge the contestants.
“Being on the show was like an out-of-body experience,” Eurell said. “I was afraid I was going to screw up. I think the best part of the experience were the fajitas. We had them before the show. They calmed my nerves.”
Eurell ultimately lost the battle.
Comedian and judge Anthony Jeselnik’s commented: “Joe ... didn’t understand a word.”
“Contrary to what people thought, I wasn’t bothered by what Jeselnik said,” Eurell said. “What makes him great is he can insult you using as little words as possible.”
Evan Cassidy, an Orange County comedian and show organizer, said taking part in the roast battles transformed Eurell’s comedy.
“When a crowd sees someone who is disabled, as long as they have some element of humanity in them, they are going to be empathetic,” Cassidy said. “But I think he takes people out of that. People aren’t feeling pity for him once they hear him talking. He’s got that swag.
“I have seen him deal with hecklers where he’ll tell them off like he’s going to beat them up after the show. He’ll say it with a seriousness where you’re like, ‘Is he really going to attack this guy?’ ”
Comic Robin Tran said Eurell offers a unique perspective.
Tran and Eurell received a Battle of the Year award for a roast battle they competed in against each other at the Comedy Store.
“I think he has this amazing will and resilience,” said Tran, who is transgender. “I know personally that it’s hard to just leave the house and perform, and I don’t have the disability Joe does.
“He has these dreams of traveling and performing all over the place. The thrill of performing, there is nothing like it. Once you really embrace that, you’ll do anything you can to get on that stage. And I think that’s what Joe is going through right now.”
Eurell performs about two shows and a few open mics a week. He also recorded a comedy special, “Not Special,” last year at the Rec Room in Huntington Beach.
Eurell also recently attained a master’s degree in public policy and administration from Cal State Long Beach.
While there, he wrote a paper about issues with the public transportation system in Orange County. He called it “probably one of the most boring papers ever written.”
“I am blessed to say I am doing the thing I’ve always wanted to do with my life,” Eurell said. “It’s not something everybody gets to say, especially people who are severely disabled.”