(image courtesy www.chelcierice.com )
Chelcie: My name's Chelcie Rice. I'm a stand-up comic, based out of Atlanta, and I am a type one diabetic. I've been wearing a CGM now for three or four months and I'm on an insulin pump.
Alissa: And what kind of insulin pump and CGM are you using currently?
Chelcie: I'm using the Dexcom CGM. I've been on a Medtronic insulin pump] since 2005.
Alissa: How old were you when you were first diagnosed, and what were some of the challenges?
Chelcie: I was diagnosed at 25. My symptoms were the usual – frequent urination and constant thirst. At the time, I was a musician in a local church along with my roommate. It was my roommate who noticed the symptoms first – noting that I was going to the restroom multiple times during service. Upon his suggestion, I went to see a urologist who diagnosed the diabetes. I spent five days in the hospital re-hydrating and learning about diabetes as I confess that I didn’t know much. I knew my grandmother was diabetic but that was about as it.
Alissa: And then after you were diagnosed, did you face any emotional challenges?
Chelcie: The biggest challenge for me was the carb counting. I’m not good with math. Growing up in the 1980’s, diabetes wasn’t discussed much. Therefore, I was dependent upon the doctor to teach me as much as possible.
Alissa: And was your family really supportive, how were they involved in your care?
Chelcie: My grandmother, a Type 2 Diabetic, was very supportive. My mother didn't want to accept the diagnosis until my T1D was confirmed.
Alissa: When did you decide to go into comedy and what made you decide to take this as your career?
Chelcie: In 2003, I started to get work performing in shows.
Alissa: How do you relate your comedy to diabetes? I read about your sugar free comedy and so I'd love for you to share all of that and what inspired you to do all of this.
Chelcie: I was performing in a comedy room that was next to a restaurant in Atlanta. The owners used to pitch to nonprofit organizations to hold their fundraisers at the club. We headlined shows to raise money for animal shelters and multiple sclerosis, among others. And then it hit me – why can’t I do this for diabetes? I contacted the local American Diabetes Association (ADA), who loved the idea.
I started to integrate stories about my own journey with diabetes. My mentor, at the time, was comedian Robert Schimmel. Diagnosed with lymphoma, Robert would often use his act as a springboard to talk about what it was really like to live with cancer. He would somehow manage to turn the ordinary – like going to the doctor and his family’s acceptance – into hilarious jokes. I began to emulate his style …
Sure enough, the more I talked about diabetes the greater response I got from the audience. Many times, guests would come up to talk after the show and show me their pump. And from there, “The Sugar Free Comedy” launched to raise funds wither for the ADA or any other diabetes organization. My goal is to start an annual Sugar Free Comedy Festival to increase diabetes awareness and raise vital funds for research.
Alissa: Have you ever had any close calls when you've been performing on stage with low blood sugar? If so, how do you treat yourself?
Chelcie: I usually try to avoid any risk. I don’t ever want to be on stage sweating, shaking or forgetting my material because of symptoms. Thankfully, I have never really encountered any issues while on stage. I know that I could grab a glass of orange juice from the bartender if my blood sugar was dropping quickly.
Alissa: Can you give me an idea of a funny comedy joke that you would use for people living with diabetes or educating others in the community?
Chelcie: A doctor re-posted a memo of a pair of toe shoes that had the toes missing, and the memo was "the only reason anyone should wear these toe shoes is if" ... basically it was a diabetic joke. And, in my opinion – a tasteless diabetes joke. That is why my humor is based on my diabetes, not trivializing people with complications. Other people’s amputations are just not funny.
So, my job as a comedian is take my life experiences and make it relatable. For me, my main complication is that I’ve lost vision in my right eye. Although I’ve had vitrectomies in both eyes – I regained 98% vision in my left. Unfortunately, Diabetic Retinopathy has stricken the right eye. The retina detached. Seven years ago, my physician inserted a silicone gel to hold the retina in place. While the complication is serious, and some would even say “not funny” – I did incorporate it into my act. For example … I set up the scene for the audience – asking them, “Why is it that I have to strip down to my underwear to lay on an ice-cold slab of steel to have EYE SURGERY?”
Alissa: That is funny. But all jokes aside – what has inspired you and who is your role model?
Chelcie: Robert Schimmel is obviously my role model. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, but meeting him inspired me. I want to help others who might be battling something tough, like an illness. I admit that losing my vision, and struggling for a time without health insurance in fear of how I would pay for my medication and supplies – sent me into a spiraling depression. I hope that my comedy is the hand that leads others out of despair, as it did for me.
Alissa: How long have you lived with this depression and do you still struggle with it?
Chelcie: I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that every single day is a struggle. It isn’t easy. I tell anyone who shares in depression that it is ‘human’ to be sad, but we don’t have to get stuck and stay there. You can't just lie in the sadness, you’ve got to keep moving. If you find something to laugh about, you have found something new.
Alissa: What do you do for physical activity, and do you have any dietary restrictions?
Chelcie: I'm getting better as far as being well regulated. Dexcom CGM has helped me immensely because it lets me know where I'm at all the time. I'm not really a big eater, but I do like to cook. I'm trying to keep up with my green smoothies, trying to work on breakfast a little better, incorporating Vega One protein powder.
Alissa: I would like to know a little bit about your Sugar Free Comedy
Chelcie: Right now, I'm still working on the Sugar Free Comedy Festival. I've been doing some shows at the music venue on Wednesdays. I'm all over Instagram hosting, and I produce videos on YouTube. You can find me on Instagram by searching for Type 1 Comedian, t-y-p-e and the number 1 Comedian. Facebook Chelcie Rice, Twitter I'm a Diabetic Comic basically at Chelcie Rice. My personal website is www.chelcierice.net or you can look up www.ilovebrownrice.com .