Ali Murphy interviewed Steve Lee on October 2, 2014 at StoryCorps San Francisco. Below are a few approximate excerpts from their conversation.
On being born with a disability in Hong Kong in the 1970s
Steve: After my dad moved and my mom moved to Hong Kong, we were staying at a refugee camp. I was born and that is another problem, I was born with the disability. At that time, because they just moved to Hong Kong, they did not really trust the doctors over there. The doctors…they did not do what to do with me. Then they thought my disability could heal if I take some medicine or that kind of thing but it is not that case.
So they [parents] took me back to China and see what the doctors or nurses would say. They pretty much just told … my parents…just put me next to a trash can or the humane ones [told them] to put me in an orphanage.That has been a very common practice back then but my mom really did not want to do that so she decided to really raise me and I am so lucky to have her.
Growing up and going to school in Hong Kong
Steve: When I grow up, I was growing up in Hong Kong and there were many schools that did not want to take me because they did not want to take the responsibility…At that time, it was in the mid-early 80’s, there was social worker that kind of my mom got in touch with her and she told us, “Oh, there is some schools for the disables.”
There was a few schools that my mom looked at. The first one, my mom did not like it. But then, the second one is a school that was funded by the Kennedy family. Our school’s name is called John F. Kennedy Center…The principal was very enthusiastic about helping the kids with disability at that time. Because it was not the beginning of the school year, it was in the middle because there were no school wanted to take me. It is like, if they take me, they will have to add one more seat for me which is not easy for them.
I remember, the principal was kind of like talking to us, talking to me… I like to draw so my mom told me, “Hey, do something cool.” So I drew a pig, I remember. I do not know if that picture really helped me to get in, but I got in.
The thing is, the school was really far from my house. It would take like two hours at least to go back and forth. Two and a half or even three hours sometimes which is really far for people who live in Hong Kong. I had to take the subway and then the school bus. There was a few years the only way I could get upstairs was my mom helping me lift my arm up and then help me to get up, walk up stairs. But after a while, [she] told me that you can move on by yourself or you get tougher.
Topics for Steve’s comedy
Steve: Yes. I talk about my disability. Also talk about racism. That is a big part of my comedy and also other one or two punch to get people attention if I perform in a bar when they are really drunk…I perform off the crutch, sometimes not, but they are looking at me and like, “Oh is this guy disabled? Can I laugh at him? Is it okay?”
I just loosen up and say, “I am not disabled. It is just that all my arms and legs are made in China.” Alright, I got a laugh here. That is good. That is how I relax people. It is okay.
We are here to talk about real things and I love stand up because…this is direct communication with real people. That is what I love about it…so far, this is like the best art form I found. I would [rather] use my art work to change people’s mind. I will change people minds one [mind at a] time.
Steve Lee is the only Asian Disabled Comic in America performing all over the USA and China, delighting audiences both in the States and China (Hong Kong). His comedy blends humor from his disability and cultural roots to break barriers between people, quickly becoming one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s fastest rising comic gems.
He performed at Cobb’s Comedy Club, the Punchline SF, San Jose Improv, Purple Onion, Rooster T. Feathers,Tommy Ts, Takeout Comedy Club (Hong Kong), and many comedy clubs in both continents. He also opened for stand-up comedian/actor Brad Williams (TV show Mind of Mencia) at the San Jose Improv and stand-up comedian Brent Weinbach (winner of the Andy Kaufman Award at the HBO Comedy Festival) at the Herbst Theater.