Lucas Waterfill Stands Up

A man in a wheelchair outside

Photo by Candice Connor, courtesy Lucas Waterfill

A man sitting in a wheelchair outside
Stand-up comedian Lucas Waterfill

LUCAS WATERFILL LOVES the thrill of telling a new joke.

“That reaction, whether it’s a gasp or a laugh, just feeds you until you get another one,” says the Plainfield native. “That’s why you write new shit. When you get that reaction to a new joke, it’s better than anything else.”

For most comedians, coming up with that new material is their greatest challenge professionally. But Waterfill has some additional burdens. He was born with cerebral palsy, which confines him to a wheelchair. That hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his passion, however. Having worked stages across the state and beyond for the past several years, Waterfill won the “Indiana’s Funniest Person” contest at Helium Comedy Club in August, advancing through multiple rounds to take home a $1,200 prize. On November 26, he’ll appear at the White Rabbit Cabaret as part of a local stand-up showcase. At Helium Comedy Club the weekend of New Year’s Eve, he’ll perform as a featured comic.

Before giving stand-up a try, he was the vocalist of a punk band in high school. “I grew up a hardcore kid,” Waterfill says. “That’s what got me into performing.”

Like many kids, Waterfill dealt with his fair share of bullies growing up. But his charisma helped him fit in despite being wheelchair-bound. “I’ve just always been able to make friends, and I think that insulated me from harassment,” he says. “A lot of people don’t have that skill.”

It wasn’t until he graduated college that Waterfill decided to give stand-up a try, taking part in his first open mic night around 2013. “I couldn’t get a job, so I tried an open mic and was like, ‘This shit is awesome,’” he recalls. Early on, he learned from comics known for their storytelling prowess—most notably Norm Macdonald.

“Once you get into Norm, he’s going to have an influence on how you tell jokes and your timing,” Waterfill says. “He’s like discovering the Beatles for the first time.”

From the beginning, Waterfill never shied away from jokes having to do with his disability. “That has always been a part of my comedy,” he says. “It’s a big part of my life, so it’s a big part of my set. My comedy is very autobiographical, and I think not talking about my disability would be hard.”

Rather than simply poking fun at himself, however, Waterfill finds thought-provoking ways to touch on his disability through humor. In recent years, for example, he’s incorporated a story into his set about a stranger who approached him on the street and started audibly praying for him. “I tell stories where it’s more about me, and I think of the disability as a character,” Waterfill says.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been a factor. Over the years, Waterfill has run into hurdles when it comes to booking shows at inaccessible venues. “The Comedy Attic in Bloomington, for example, is one of the best venues in the country,” Waterfill says. “I’ve been a comic for six years, have all this experience, and can’t work one of the best clubs in my home state because it’s not accessible.”

In addition to inaccessible venues, another obstacle that has kept him from moving up the comedy ladder is that it’s not easy for him to relocate—or even travel.

“I love Indianapolis, but if you want to be serious about a career in comedy, you have to either A) travel every month or B) move to a bigger city, which is unrealistic for me because of Medicaid, healthcare, and having a network of people when that healthcare falls through,” he says. “It just gets hard because you’re expected by the industry to make this next step, but there’s no one to explain, ‘Okay, here’s the blueprint for how severely disabled people do it.’”

Nevertheless, Waterfill plans to keep on making the moves he can. Next March, he plans to record his first stand-up special at the White Rabbit Cabaret, titled Public Inconvenience. In reflecting on where to go from there, Waterfill sees the success of Ryan Niemiller—a fellow disabled comic from Indy who finished third on America’s Got Talent—as an inspiration.

“I think the goal right now is just to do as much comedy as possible,” he says.  “Hopefully, someday, I can do what Ryan Niemiller has done—get a break and make enough money where I can move to a bigger city and it makes sense.”