Comedian Reclaims Smile Taken Away by Facial Paralysis - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
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Comedian Reclaims Smile Taken Away by Facial Paralysis

Facial paralysis robbed Brian Apprille of his smile and career, but he reclaimed both after he found self acceptance through comedy

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    Comedian Reclaims Smile Taken Away by Facial Paralysis

    San Diego comedian Brian Apprille's condition changed his life. NBC 7's Monica Dean has the details. (Published Friday, Dec. 14, 2018)

    On any given Thursday night at the Mad House Comedy Club in downtown San Diego, standup comedian Brian Apprille takes the stage and makes people laugh.

    Apprille is incredibly animated on stage and is a master of impressions, but in May of 2009 viral meningitis and a disease called Ramsey Hunt Syndrome paralyzed half his face and nearly stole his smile.

    "I went into like a very dark place. I was depressed and I didn't want to die but I didn't want to exist if that makes sense,” he said.

    For Apprille, the physical impairment and its emotional impact were equally devastating.

    “Your sense of self dies,” he said. “So you're dealing with the loss of who you were and what your life was.”

    Embarrassed and self-conscious, his standup career came to a standstill.

    “I couldn't go on stage with my face drooping,” Apprille said. “My eye didn't close for over nine months. That's when I first started getting some healing. I had total hearing loss in my left ear and it just shattered my world."

    Apprille said he also struggled in public.

    “People thought I was drunk,” he said. “People thought I was angry. People think I'm antisocial. I just can't express myself with my face the way that I normally used to.”

    But with time, Apprille developed an ability to find humor in his challenges and quickly realized that humor was the key to rediscovering the zeal he had lost.  

    "I said I have to go out and make fun of this because there's no other way for me to feel better. I have to in order to remove the power that it had over me and get out of that depression,” he said.

    Apprille started testing out his facial paralysis jokes on family and friends. After some fine-tuning, he began incorporating them in his material. Finally, he said he was ready to get on stage again.

    “When I first start doing the joke it gets really quiet in the room because it's kind of a serious topic. But when everyone sees that I'm OK with it and I found a positive twist to it, everyone kind of laughs and goes along with it,” he said.

    The ability to joke about his disability has helped Apprille heal emotionally and now he's now using his platform to create awareness and support.

    His friend and fellow comedian Lisa Gilbert said he is inspiring people everywhere.

    "It's anywhere from 50 to 2,000 people that are looking at you,” she said. “And if it's a big audience then you're on a big screen with your face with paralysis and all on that big screen. Yeah, that's very vulnerable. But Brian does it with grace."

    Friend Matin Atrushi, also a comedian, said he admires Brian for his talent and courage.

    "He just lets people know what is happening in his life. And that it's OK. He's doing OK. And he’s making people laugh, which he loves," Atrushi said.

    Apprille is currently in the process of auditioning for "America's Got Talent" and was even considered as a replacement voice actor on "The Simpsons."

    Off the stage, Apprille attended a support group near Los Angeles for people suffering from facial paralysis and Bell’s Palsy. The experience connecting with others who could relate to his situation was life-changing.

    “I saw this big community of people who could just walk into a room and look at somebody and go, ‘I know,’ without saying a word,” Apprille said.

    The experience was so meaningful that it inspired Apprille to start a support group for people with facial paralysis and their loved ones, the first of its kind in San Diego.

    “I've been able to touch so many people's lives with my story, and those relationships and those comments and those hugs -- you can't really put a price on that,” he said.

    Apprille has also launched a podcast called Unique Smiles, to reach out to an audience he uniquely understands.

    "I remember what it was like when I first got Ramsey Hunt Syndrome and how low I was and how sad and how alone I felt and to find those other people and just have that human connection of kindness, it makes all the difference in the world," he said. “I also want to encourage people that they can still chase their dreams and still live an amazing life and still be great no matter what you look like as far as that or how you feel about yourself,” he said.

    Rediscovering laughter has also helped him restore his health. He's lost 152 pounds. He jokes about that too.

    “I think in life if you can laugh at whatever is causing you pain you remove the power that it has over you,” he said.

    Apprille's facial paralysis and the daily pain he suffers will likely never go away. And while his condition may have partially stolen his smile, finding the humor in his reality has helped him rediscover the joy of living.

    "If you'd told me ten years ago that I would consider this a blessing I would say you're crazy. But it really has been a blessing. It's changed my life tremendously," he said. “And if I can help be that face of facial paralysis and raise awareness for people then I'm so happy and so blessed to do so.”

    To join the San Diego Support Group for Facial Paralysis, send an email to facialparalysisgroupsan@gmail.com.

    You can follow Apprille on Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook.