Ryan O’Connell on Netflix’s ‘Special’

10th June 2022

Content warning: This interview contains some explicit language and graphic, frank talk about sex that some listeners might be sensitive to. Ryan O’Connell is the creator and star of the Netflix show Special. It’s a semi-autobiographical sitcom about Ryan’s own life – his experience as a gay man, and coming to terms with his identity as a disabled person. Ryan has cerebral palsy. It’s a congenital disorder that can affect someone’s movement, muscle tone, or posture. For Ryan, that means CP mainly manifests as a limp. The show’s depiction of disability is groundbreaking. It shows the intersection of disability and sexuality in a way that is rarely ever seen on screen. These days, Ryan is currently starring in the new reboot of Queer As Folk. On the latest episode, we’ll revisit public radio veteran Ray Suarez in conversation with Ryan from last year.

Episode notes

(Photo: Beth Dubber / Netflix)

The creator of ‘Special’ on telling stories that are often overlooked in media

Content warning: This interview contains some explicit language and graphic, frank talk about sex that some listeners might be sensitive to.

Ryan O’Connell is the creator and star of the Netflix show Special.

It’s a semi-autobiographical sitcom about Ryan’s own life – his experience as a gay man, and with coming to terms with his identity as a disabled person. The show is loosely based on a book Ryan wrote in 2015 called I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.

Ryan has cerebral palsy, he calls it CP for short. It’s a congenital disorder that can affect someone’s movement, muscle tone, or posture. For Ryan, that means CP mainly manifests as a limp.

When Ryan was 20, he left his hometown and started college in New York. He got a chance to start over: instead of telling folks he had cerebral palsy, he said he was hit by a car – which was true, he was. Ryan felt it was easier, and more relatable to chalk his condition up to a car crash rather than explain his CP.

He’s often said in interviews that it was harder to come out of the closet as disabled than it ever was to come out of the closet as gay. So Ryan wrote about it: first in articles, then the book and Special the TV show.

The program’s depiction of disability on screen is groundbreaking. It shows the intersection of disability and sexuality in a way that is rarely ever seen on screen. 

We’ll revisit our conversation with public radio veteran Ray Suarez and Ryan O’Connell on the latest episode. During this delightful conversation they talk about the making of Special, and Ryan chides Ray for just about everything – including Ray’s close reading of the show.

Ryan has a new novel called: Just By Looking at Him. He’s also starring in the new reboot of Queer As Folk. Ray is hosting a new podcast: The Things I Thought About When My Body Was Trying to Kill Me.

This interview originally aired in June of 2021. 

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Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

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