By Walter Greene
Whether you’re reading John’s writing, listening to one of his stories (check out “Is There a Doctor in The House,” streaming now), or lucky enough to speak with him yourself, one of the first things to draw you in is his sense of humor. The guy is funny. But there’s more to it than that. John brings a structured yet casual approach to storytelling that brings on an instant sense of familiarity and engagement. From the start, you can tell that John wants you there, and with language that marries precise, natural structure with a tenacious sense of humor, you can’t help but want to be there too.
While talking with John, he attributed his writing style to the influence of some of his favorite writers: Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, and Flannery O’Connor, as well as American columnist Mike Royko and writer Nelson Algren, both of whom hail from John’s hometown of Chicago.
“I was thinking about it, and all of them could discuss something very important with their themes. But they could also boot up a really good, funny scene, and it’s kind of through the laughing fit that you make more of a connection, and at the other side of your laughing fit you understand that there’s something that they expose to you, that you learn from. It’s almost like you’re more open to learning after the barriers are dropped because you’re laughing . . . I aspire to that. When I read some great scene by them, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what I want to do’.”
By balancing humor with the seriousness of day-to-day life, John’s writing comes off as incredibly sincere without compromising the warmth and humor that brought you in at the start. As a writer who primarily addresses life in a wheelchair and the subject of disability, John argues that having a sense of humor is essential: “In the disability space, I think we could use more humor, because a lot of the time our subjects can be pretty intense, with a lot of struggle. We’re dealing with very serious topics. And it’s a fight. It’s a fight to live with a disability oftentimes. So if I can put humor in there–because there is a lot of humor where you want to find it–then I feel pretty blessed that I am able to get that across.”
For John, humor has a larger role to play than just soliciting laughs, as well-equipped as he is to put it to that aim. Like the writers who have influenced his style, John employs humor as a way to drop his audience’s guard, creating a space where entertainment, learning about disability, and, crucially, the development of empathy, can all take place in unison.
“If [the audience] can understand what you’re going through, just like if you can understand what they’re going through, then things might be a little better. There could be a lot more empathy these days.”
Confronting the realities of living with a disability head-on and looking for the jokes within is certainly no easy task, and it’s with great skill and vulnerability that John takes on this effort for us, his audience. Listen to his latest story, “Is There a Doctor in The House” now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever else you stream, and don’t miss his blog, Wheelie out There.