The path to success in Hollywood is often a circuitous one. For comedian and writer Zach Anner, that was certainly true.
Anner is now a writer on the ABC sitcom, “Speechless,” but his first big break came in 2010 when he submitted a video audition for a reality TV competition called “Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star”:
The video went viral and Anner won. He made a travel show on the Oprah Winfrey Network called “Rollin’ with Zach,” about what it’s like to tour the country and go on adventures when you use a wheelchair.
That success turned out to be short-lived, though. The show was cancelled after the first season.
But the exposure from his Oprah show led to a another travel show for the website Reddit, and a web series called “Have a Little Faith.” It also helped Anner build a strong following on YouTube, where he posts funny videos like this one from his “Workout Wednesday” series:
Anner also wrote a memoir called, “If At Birth You Don’t Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny,” and became what he describes as a kind of “disabled celebrity.”
When “Speechless” premiered on ABC last year, Anner was brought on as a consultant and played a small role in one episode. The show centers on a 16-year-old boy named J.J. who has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal. And in a rare turn for Hollywood, the actor who plays J.J. — Micah Fowler — has cerebral palsy himself.
Anner spoke with The Frame host John Horn about his career and about writing for Season 2 of “Speechless,” which premieres on Sept. 27.
On how that people with disabilities are usually portrayed in film and TV:
Often, characters with disabilities are either inspiring or they are an object of pity to make other characters look better. And I feel like with what “Speechless” is doing, we’re finally getting characters with disabilities who are complicated, they’re funny, sometimes they can be jerks. And it’s just great to see finally characters with disabilities that have depth and nuance, because that’s been one of my biggest goals is to teach people that people with disabilities and cerebral palsy can be a–holes. And I feel like I’ve done a really good job of proving that to people.
On how his role in the first season as a role-model-type figure for J.J. came about:
I didn’t know this until afterwards, but Scott Silveri [the creator of “Speechless”] had been kicking around this idea for a…