I’ve previously written about how TV shows and movies offer me a world that doesn’t revolve around my rare disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). However, in my opinion, this medium too often isn’t inclusive of people who look like me. This adds to a sense that I’m alone in my experience of life. That’s why I was excited to recently interview Shannon DeVido, an actress with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and a comedian who is not afraid to tell it like it is.
DeVido already had a passion for acting when she was in elementary school plays. After graduating college, she was entrenched in an art career path but wasn’t sure where it would lead when she had trouble getting jobs. That’s when she had to improvise, and of course that ended up being improv.
“I auditioned for this improv group, and I didn’t really know anything about it. But I knew I liked being silly and having fun,” DeVido said. “I got in, and it was life-changing. Then I just fell in love with improv and sketch, and I was like, ‘Oh no, this is it. This is what I want to do forever.’”
Over the years, DeVido has had guest roles in popular shows such as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, The Other Two, and Manifest. In 2020, she had a bit of a break with the musical film called Best Summer Ever, directed by Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smiteli.
DeVido leads as a high-schooler named Sage with a crush on the star quarterback Tony, played by Rickey Wilson Jr. It has a High School Musical type of atmosphere to it, featuring DeVido in several songs. What stands out is that the cast primarily consisted of actors with varying physical and mental disabilities. Furthermore, it’s noticeable that disability is not really used as a plot device.
“I think that was a big conversation with the musical in that they didn’t want to mention [disability] at all,” DeVido said. “They wanted to bring together disabled and nondisabled people working together behind and in front of the camera, and create something that was just a movie.”
DeVido says there is still room for a portrayal where disabilities are more integral to the plot.
“We live in these bodies . . . I think that you can make jokes or just bring awareness to it,” she said. “You can be put in a situation where you have to use the ramp on the side of the building. So I think there are ways to include it and have your whole person encompassed in the art versus just totally ignoring it.”
Another recent splash for DeVido was a frequent role on the AMC series Lucky Hank, which premiered in March. It stars Bob Odenkirk, who is of course probably best known for his role as lawyer Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. He is also well-known in comedy circles. In the new dark comedy series, he is William Henry “Hank” Devereaux Jr., the English department chairman at a seemingly lowly Pennsylvania college called Railton, and he is in the midst of a mid-life crisis.
DeVido plays one of his colleagues, Emma, who is pretty authentic to her real-life persona.
“She’s a professor who thinks that she’s the smartest person in the room, but also respects the people that are around her,” she said. “I think she uses sarcasm kind of as a defense mechanism. So I’m basically just describing myself to you minus the professor part.”
Read more about Shannon DeVido
I particularly enjoyed it when Emma made dramatic moves with her power chair to exit awkward moments. My favorite episode was “The Clock,” where Hank hosts a department dinner party that goes off the rails.
The series was filmed in Vancouver, Canada, for 3 months. In situations like this, DeVido is thankful for individuals who can deal with travel arrangements and offer assistance when needed. In this case that included friends and even her parents.
“You’re asking someone to give up their time for your weird career. And it’s a lot to ask of people. But I’m internally indebted to the people that are helping me make this career happen.”
I can relate most to DeVido in how her characters use humor in what can be described as tough circumstances. I have had my share of them, and I figure I might as well have some fun.
“I think life is too dumb not to joke about it,” she said.