“My brain is really funny and inappropriate, and I don’t think that’s not connected to Tourrette’s,” said comedian, storyteller, and advocate Pamela Schuller. “I think that Tourrette’s has added to my comedy, to my weirdness, to my humor.”
In observance of Jewish Disability, Awareness, and Inclusion Month, the Center for Jewish Life (CJL) hosted Schuller on Thursday, Feb. 9, and Friday, Feb. 10.
Over the past few months, the CJL has hosted events focused on mental health, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and refugees. They also hosted Sally Frank ’80, one of the activists who fought to have the eating clubs become coed. According to the CJL’s mission statement, the center’s values are “to be welcoming and inclusive, nurturing and inspiring, vibrant and celebratory, innovative and student driven.”
Through performances and workshops, Schuller works to bridge humor with education. She speaks about disability, mental health, and inclusion, drawing from her own experiences with Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“There’s nothing scary or overwhelming about [the word] disability,” Schuller said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ “What we need to do is get people to realize that. It’s not an us-and-them situation. We will likely all be touched by disability or mental health challenges if not in ourselves, then in someone we love.”
She started her week at Coffee Club’s Prospect Avenue location with a show that mixed personal anecdotes with stand-up comedy. The event was open to all Princeton students and faculty regardless of religious affiliation.
“I love having the opportunity to perform for college students, and this campus is stunning,” Schuller said. “I think college is where a lot of self-discovery happens. We know mental health struggles are through the roof right now and it can be really hard to feel different.”
Schuller was diagnosed with Tourrette’s syndrome in first grade, a struggle she talked about throughout her set.
“As a kid, I was ashamed, nervous, and scared, but I remember more feeling like the world was suddenly putting me down,” Schuller said. “People were more condescending. Suddenly, people were not asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up … the doctor gave me a book called ‘God Made Me Special.’ I tore every page out and put it in my cat's litter box.”
Schuller opened by explaining her early education. She was sent to a “weird kid” boarding school in Burlington, Vt. because she needed additional support. There, she received the highest number of detentions of any student and consequently wrote many apology letters for her misbehavior.
She read three of these letters aloud, telling the audience they introduced her to the world of comedy.
“I think [my teachers] realized that maybe my snarky, inappropriate wittiness would lead to something better than getting in trouble all the time,” Schuller said. “I also tell the story that the reason they had me try comedy is because I finally admitted that I had nothing about myself that I loved.”
Other topics included the years she lived in a New York City studio apartment, her work as a comedian during the pandemic, and her activism.
Naomi Frim-Abrams ’23 helped to organize the event.
“This event is just such a positive step towards fostering a more inclusive campus and raising awareness about the meaning of Jewish Disability, Awareness, and Inclusion Month,” Frim-Abrams said.
Reflecting on the event, she said, she enjoyed watching audience members engage with the show and felt she personally grew from listening to Pam’s stories.
“I learned so much about the way Pam has embraced her own identity and disability and how that’s become such a comical tenant of something that she celebrates. I also learned about her experience within the comedy world and the challenges and tribulations that it takes to be a comedian,” she said.
“Last night I watched students laugh and cry,” Schuller said. “One student said ‘I laughed a lot, and then I felt really empowered,’ which is my goal.”
The following day, after Shabbat service and dinner at the CJL, Schuller led an improv workshop. She introduced students and faculty to improv games and explained her creative process during a Q&A.
“The improv experience was an opportunity to let loose in this climate of stress,” Fletcher Block ’25 said. “It was fun to be able to hone in on each of our individualities. There was no script and there were no writers, so everything that came out of everybody’s mouth was right from them.”
After the event, Schuller also explained that her work constantly evolves. She conducts interviews before performances to understand her audience prior to cracking jokes and changes her set based on responses. She also watches the world around her to write new material.
“I have a file in my phone called funny shit,” Schuller told the ‘Prince.’ “I am constantly taking notes and writing things down. I also have a file of moments that just need to be remembered.”
“I always make it clear that I’m not laughing at disability, I’m finding humor within my experiences with it,” Schuller said.
Rebecca Cunningham is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’ Charlie Roth is a head Data editor for the ‘Prince.’
Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.