Standing on the small stage above the crowd, Pamela Galvez couldn’t see. Blinded by the spotlight, goosebumps rising on her skin from the chilly February air drifting into the narrow bar every time someone opened the door, she picked up the microphone and felt a rush of power unlike anything she had experienced before.
“It felt like a lightning bolt,” Galvez told Upper East Site in an interview. “I felt like a queen.”
After starting performing stand-up comedy only the year before, this was her first time ever producing and hosting a show, and already, she was hooked.
“The energy, it was a new feeling,” Galvez, 40, said. “I loved the power.”
This power motivated her to found the Don’t Dis-My-Ability Show, what she calls the ‘world’s first’ lineup of only comedians with disabilities, inspired by her own experience with bipolar disorder.
As a disabled woman, Galvez, who spent much of her adolescence and adulthood on the Upper East Side, now living in Yorkville, saw a future for herself as an entertainer but never imagined it would come so soon.
“It was so far away that it looked like a dot,” she said, remembering the dark times before finding an effective treatment plan — when she didn’t even know if she wanted to continue living.
Pausing, Galvez took a moment to collect herself, her mind racing — this indecipherable jumble of thoughts, she explains, is a hallmark of her illness — and talked about the years she lost to depression and emotional emptiness. She couldn’t bear to speak the word aloud, only saying that she “attempted S-U-I dot dot dot,” multiple times.
Even in those moments, she saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I still knew there was hope, even if I couldn’t really see it or feel it,” Galvez said.
Her career as a nurse has been marred by episodes of unemployment, often due to feelings of inadequacy or becoming professionally overwhelmed.
The constantly moving, high-pressure environment of home health care wasn’t working for her, so she transitioned to a job as a school nurse and, most recently, a health-care worker at a children’s day camp.
She is able to take frequent breaks as children with scraped knees and mosquito bites come and go.
It was this structured schedule that also drew her to hosting comedy shows.
“As a host, you get to chop up your set,” telling jokes in between acts, Galvez said. “You still get to experience deep comedy.”
The first comedy series Galvez has created, organized, and hosted, the Don’t Dis-My-Ability Show, has been a labor of love since she started it in December 2022.
After seeing the inaccessibility of most comedy clubs — underground venues without elevators, cramped and dark theaters, stages without ramps, and narrow bathrooms — she noticed disabled comedians’ voices were not just unheard; they were visibly unwelcome.
Tired of her community being shut out of spaces where they could be honestly and openly themselves, Galvez launched the Don’t Dis-My-Ability Show not only to highlight disabled comedians but to give them a platform to build their confidence and express themselves wholeheartedly, just as she had learned to at her first show.
“I want to show that disabled people are cool, normal, and like to have fun,” she explained. Generally, when represented, disabled people are only allowed to occupy certain roles, she said.
“Disabled people are usually looked at in a very medical model, and I want to change that.”
All disabled experiences, she suggested, deserve to be shared, not just the ones that fit the stereotypes.
“I want us to tell our stories our way,” Galvez said with a smile. “It doesn’t have to be tragic.”
It is especially important to Galvez to include all forms of disability in her shows. On the show’s flyer, she lists sensory, physical, psychiatric, and invisible or undiagnosed disabilities, as well as neuro-diversity, as categories of representation.
Though Galvez is not visibly disabled, her bipolar disorder affects every facet of her life, from thought processing, to focus, to her very understanding of herself.
Diagnosed after a sudden depressive state tore her life apart 10 years ago, Galvez has spent the decade coming to terms with the changes her disorder had brought. Though she is healthy and happy now and has figured out the right mix of self-care, therapy, and support, other people’s comments still get to her.
“So many people don’t see it,” Galvez told Upper East Site. She’s had people tell her that she’s fine, she doesn’t look ‘sick,’ that she should just snap out of it.
“It’s very dismissive of my experience,” she lamented.
Having every type of disability represented in her shows is crucial so that “we can all open our eyes” and “see everyone’s truth,” however they choose to present it, Galvez added.
Upper East Site attended the most recent iteration of the Don’t Dis-My-Ability Show, hosted at Broadway Comedy Club on the West Side on July 29th.
The lineup included a man missing half of one arm; a woman with autism; a man with a stutter; a woman with depression; two men with cerebral palsy, one using a crutch and the other using a wheelchair; a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder; a man with panhypopituitarism, a condition that inhibits growth; and a woman with several autoimmune disorders who uses walking sticks to improve her mobility.
Some performers based their entire sets around their experiences with disability, some made it the focus of only a few jokes, and some didn’t mention it at all.
After staging seven Don’t Dis-My-Ability shows, five in New York City and two in Los Angeles, Galvez is committed to continuing the all-disabled comedian lineup and possibly expanding to other cities.
Hosting these shows has allowed Galvez to fight the stereotypes plaguing her as a mentally ill Latina woman while giving her the power to fight the shame she feels within herself.
“Crazy how much society can shame us, especially women,” she contended. “They say, ‘be quiet, don’t celebrate that.’ I want to celebrate it. I want to celebrate women, disability, people of color, sexuality, all of it — every corner of it — because we’re all here together.”
Even speaking to Upper East Site, she struggled to articulate the realities of her illness. As the interview went on, she seemed to learn just how deeply held her self-hatred has been.
“I feel shameful right now, saying this,” Galvez said, spicy margarita in hand. Taking another sip, she continued, “Saying it out loud for the first time, I feel dizzy.”
Creating a space for disabled people in comedy has been cathartic and, she says, has helped her grow like nothing else. “That’s why I’m doing comedy, to free myself.”
Learning to embrace her bipolar disorder as not something to be hidden away and minimized but as an integral part of her identity to be celebrated has been an unexpected but welcome outcome of the show.
“My gut and my heart tell me to go for it,” Galvez laughed, giddy with the excitement of voicing a truth she had long silenced. “Speaking into a mic is so powerful and fun and exciting and thrilling.”
Hosting the show has not only improved her confidence, thickened her skin, and taught her to stay organized but also given her an unconventional coping mechanism for her anxiety.
Galvez’s illness often causes her to doubt herself, getting stuck in a mental loop of destructive thoughts. Stand-up comedy has given her a safe space to experience stage fright and worry about whether she’ll get any laughs, which has made day-to-day anxiety much easier to handle.
If she can stand on a stage and make people laugh, she can deal with the stresses of work and life.
“When I hear people laughing, that’s the sweetest sound to me,” she giggled.
Galvez looks forward to continuing the Don’t Dis-My-Ability show and continuing to grow as an entertainer and as a person.
“[Hosting] the show has really shown me the true beauty of life and that things get better.”
The next installment of the Don’t Dis-My-Ability show will be at Broadway Comedy Club on September 23rd; the time is yet to be determined.
Anyone seeking support with their mental health or contemplating self-harm can connect with trained counselors by calling 888-NYC-WELL, texting ‘WELL’ to 65173, chatting online at nyc.gov/nycwell, or by dialing 988 for The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.