Ryan O’Connell on his now Emmy-nominated Netflix comedy series ‘Special’

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Ryan O'Connell, Punam Patel and Augustus Prew in the Netflix series 'Special.' Photo courtesy of Netflix.

In the Netflix comedy series ‘Special,’ Ryan O’Connell plays a version of himself. Ryan Hayes is a gay man beset by millennial angst, who also has cerebral palsy.

‘Special’ is the first time Netflix has done a short-form series--the 8 episodes are just about 15 mins long each. O’Connell would like them to be longer, but he still tackles a lot in the time allotted--from dating to sex to a new job to an evolving relationship with his mom. The series is now up for 4 Emmys in the short-form category.

As O’Connell did in real life, his character in the show finds some writing success at a website that runs on clicks generated from deeply personal, first-person blog posts.

Again as in real life, the fictional Ryan hides the fact that he has cerebral palsy. Instead, soon after he’s hired, he takes advantage of a moment when his boss finds out that he was hit by a car--yes, as O’Connell was in real life.

O’Connell wrote about being gay and disabled--and staying in the closet about his cerebral palsy--in his 2015 memoir, “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.”

When he then started pitching his book as a TV series, he found that no one wanted to touch a gay disability comedy, despite the backing of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ star Jim Parsons. He also didn’t originally envision himself...playing himself. He tells us about the 4-year struggle to get ‘Special’ into production and screen testing to play himself. Spoiler: he got the part!




Kim Masters


Kaitlin Parker