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 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 it manifests mainly 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 now, on Special the TV show.
Season one of the show tackles Ryan coming to terms with his disability. In the latest season Ryan learns to become more accepting of himself.
He dates. He hooks up. He writes for a blog called “Eggwoke” where he writes listicles and personal essays. Pretty standard fare for a sitcom about millennials in LA.
But Special‘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. And it does it in a way that is funny, lighthearted and relatable.
Public radio veteran Ray Suarez interviews Ryan on the latest episode of Bullseye. During this delightful conversation they talk about the making of Special and the dialogue the show has about sex and disability. Plus, Ryan chides Ray for just about everything – including Ray’s close reading of the show.
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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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