Santa Monica author, athlete and motivational speaker Josh Sundquist’s comedic tale of finding love on one leg
By Sarah Davidson
When looking for love, people tend to project into the future. We browse for potential partners online, set up dates, and pick apart correspondence for even the slightest hint that a stranger might catapult us headlong into a whirlwind romance.
Motivational speaker, Paralympic athlete and author Josh Sundquist has been busy looking to the past. For his comedic one-man show “We Should Hang Out Sometime,” continuing its run at the Santa Monica Playhouse, Sundquist tracked down a handful of girls who didn’t end up falling in love with him to ask them what went wrong.
His findings are more than just a recap of dating mishaps, however. They’re also a chance for the Santa Monica resident to share some wisdom about loving yourself for who you are.
“We Should Hang out Sometime” isn’t Sundquist’s only claim to fame. He’s written three books, competed as a skier in the Paralympics and has nearly a quarter million followers on Instagram. People magazine has featured Sundquist for his creative Halloween costumes that riff on the loss of his leg to cancer as a child. One year he dressed as the Winnie the Pooh character Tigger; his leg was Tigger’s bouncy tail. Another year, he was a gingerbread man who had partially become someone’s snack.
Rather, the show has been an opportunity for Sundquist to flex a new muscle: stand-up comedy. He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve to make the show feel surprising and silly. When audiences file into the Santa Monica Playhouse, they might find a Halloween-style plastic foot, severed at the ankle, on the floor near their seats. When they sit down, they’ll look up and see a text message conversation between Sundquist and an audience member unfolding before their eyes on a drop-down screen. When the show begins, Sundquist might use his crutches to imitate a foosball figurine.
But “hanging out” is a better descriptor than stand-up comedy. Sundquist has an easy stage presence that makes audiences want to get to know him, and they will. He describes growing up in a conservative family, surviving cancer and growing into an awkward but observant teenager with the candor and humor of a good friend who just plopped down across from you at brunch. By the time he gets to the love stuff (and its satisfying conclusion), there is the sense that the story delivered on much more than its premise.
Sundquist’s roots in motivational speaking express themselves through the show’s feel good vibe, but he says he likes doing the show because it allows him to break out of that formula. Comedy, he says, isn’t as focused on a practical message for the audience, and it allows him to get more personal and do crowd work that can make each show feel unique.
“I feel very free to search for these spontaneous moments in the show and, when I notice one, to chase that rabbit down the hole as far as it wants to go,”
There are many different ways into Sundquist’s story; audiences might relate to his upbringing, experience fighting cancer, or befuddlement around dating. What’s most remarkable about him, though, is his tendency to respond to setbacks with humor — in the show he recalls a stranger asking, when she saw that he uses crutches rather than a prosthetic leg, why he didn’t “have a prostate.”
Lest you get distracted by Sundquist’s explanation of what life as an amputee is like, his narrative stays its course as he lays his embarrassing dating stories bare. He goes into great, hilarious detail about a first date he went on in high school at a par-three golf course. At the time, Sundquist was wearing a prosthetic leg, and explains to the audience that such devices are virtually guaranteed to malfunction at the least convenient time. He describes his prosthetic leg literally tripping him up, and the way he landed on the ground with his foot splayed out unnaturally underneath him — the only way to fix it was to hobble over to a nearby tree and try to kick the foot back into place.
Sundquist said he likes to laugh about the little things — it’s easier to respond with humor than anger. It’s the bigger calamities, like getting sick, that are harder to predict. The best way to prepare for those, he said, is to surround yourself with the right people. By the end of the show, it’s clear that this is something Sundquist has done himself — his beautiful wife Ashley Sundquist, a travel blogger, might take your tickets at the door. After the show, she and Sundquist usually greet the people she’s invited from all walks of life, including, at one show, the man who scans her groceries at Trader Joe’s.
“We become like the people in our lives,” Sundquist said. “It’s very important to surround ourselves with the sort of people we want to become, because it’s inevitable that we will.”
While Sundquist’s show is an investigation into the mysteries of love, it is also a celebration of it — this isn’t a show about how hard it is to date in a big city or Tinder mishaps. It’s a reminder, from someone who learned it firsthand, that it’s O.K. to be who you are.
“I think deep down we suspect or hope that we’re already O.K., or we’re already enough, but we doubt it sometimes,” Sundquist said. “So I hope that for audiences it is a revelation or a reminder that they themselves are also O.K. or enough, and nothing disqualifies them from love.”
“We Should Hang Out Sometime” continues a Friday night run at Santa Monica Playhouse (1211 4th St., Santa Monica; 310-394-9779) at 8 p.m. on Nov. 16, Dec. 7, Dec. 14 and Dec. 21. Tickets are $10, or $25 for a signed book and VIP seating, at joshsundquist.com.