BYU alum’s movie highlights disabilities in LA film festival

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BYU alum Andrew Justvig with cast and crew members of his film “The Anxiety of Laughing.” The film will be screened at the Dances With Films festival in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Justvig)

When Andrew Justvig was in middle school, his mom took him to a local production of the musical “Forever Plaid.” During intermission, Justvig, who was born with cerebral palsy, turned to his mom and said, “I want to do this.”

More than a decade later Justvig, a writer, actor, comedian, husband and father, is making room for people with disabilities on the big screen. 

Justvig wrote and starred in “The Anxiety of Laughing” which was recently accepted into Dances With Films, a prestigious film festival in Los Angeles. The film will premiere at the festival on June 14. 

“The Anxiety of Laughing” follows Joey, a stand-up comedian with cerebral palsy and his able-bodied fiancée, Leah, as they navigate their relationship, Joey’s career and life’s plot twists. 

Justvig said his dream has always been to write for Disney theme parks but “The Anxiety of Laughing” showed that God had a very different plan for him. So far, the experience has been “miraculous,” he said. 

Justvig on set for the film “The Anxiety of Laughing” which he wrote and starred in. He said the experience has been “miraculous.” (Photo courtesy of Andrew Justvig)

“The Anxiety of Laughing” will play in the TCL Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, where blockbusters like “Star Wars,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Wizard of Oz” premiered. As a film enthusiast, Justvig said sharing the screen with these legends is a dream come true.

“It was and will be emotional,” he said. 

Justvig and his family were preparing to move to Southern Utah when the Disability Media Network reached out to him about putting some of his comedy routines on their streaming platform. In a meeting with founder Jennifer Price, he mentioned he had scripts he would love to make into a movie and the process “snowballed” from there. 

Two months after that first message, the cast and crew shot the film in just five days.

Justvig’s own experiences as a performer with cerebral palsy closely mirror those of Joey, the film’s main character. By writing himself into the script, Justvig said he wanted to give the audience a more realistic and positive view of life with a disability. 

“How I make light or even give thanks for my disability is jarring to people,” he said. “So many look at me and want to feel sorry for me, but they soon discover I am one of the happiest people out there.” 

Justvig and his crew on set for “The Anxiety of Laughing.” The film was shot in only five days. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Justvig)

Justvig hopes “The Anxiety of Laughing” will push for better disability representation on the screen. Instead of the token “inspirational” character in a film, Justvig said people need to see the individual, nuanced personalities and lives of people with disabilities.

As a romantic comedy, Justvig said his film “might be the first time some may see a physically disabled man being romantically intimate with a partner.”

According to Justvig, the festival could give him and his film the visibility and connections he will need to dive into the world of cinema. With the projects and ideas currently kicking around in his head, Justvig said he wants to bring characters with disabilities to life in new stories.

No matter what the next career step is, Justvig doesn’t want to stop dreaming big.

“I have a son and I think the most important thing I can teach him is not to be afraid of big dreams and risks in life,” he said. “You have to dream, trust God, and hang on tight!”

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