When I got the ok to interview Lou Ferrigno as part of a promotion live video for RI Comic Con I was ecstatic. As a fan of both his iconic character in the 1970s Incredible Hulk show and his non-stop role modeling for those who are differently abled, I was eager to ask burning questions about his life, his thoughts, and his future. But as I started my usual routine of researching any individual I interview, I came upon several articles in which he stated that he had been corresponding with President Trump because he wanted to head up the Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Council. He referenced getting to know the President during his stint on Celebrity Apprentice.
This gave me pause. As a parent of two lgbtq children and a child with a non-verbal learning disorder who is capable of attending standard classes, I’m firmly against this administration’s policies. They affect us as a family.
I was torn on whether to do the interview. I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know if it would compromise my own beliefs—and since I have children to set an example for, no interview or childhood idol is worth compromising my morals and giving them the idea that their well-being is worth less to me than a chance to interact with an “important person.”
I reached out to my mentor, the editor of the All Things Geek column on the Good Men Project, Alex Yarde. Alex set me straight: “Look, there’s nothing wrong with fitness. And he also does amazing things for kids who are deaf.”
He reminded me the story wasn’t about me, or about politics, it’s about Lou Ferrigno being a geek icon. He encouraged me to go do my job.
I didn’t think I could do it—I don’t hide feelings well. And I don’t “shmooze” well. But I decided I’d go to Rhode Island and do my job because, well, it’s my job. I didn’t expect to like it, and I certainly didn’t expect to come away with an optimistic outlook.
My very first impression as I walked toward him was that Lou is HUGE. The physical reality of him lives up to the legend. And he’s a really, really sweet guy. So nice. He could tell I was a little nervous and did his best to put me at ease by being personable and friendly. The fact that he was so warm and encouraging both before and during his interview, coupled with his comment when I said I heard he wanted to head the fitness council that “I’m not into politics it’s all about helping this country…” prompted me to wait until after the camera was off to ask my most pressing question.
Because during our on-screen conversation, which you can watch here.
in between the conversations about his acting roles and his desire to get America healthy, it struck me that “All politics is local,” a catchphrase attributed most often to former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil, correlates well to “All politics is personal.” You can’t change a mind you don’t engage. Mr. Ferrigno, like many other people, doesn’t enjoy discussing politics, and my job is not about “gotcha” journalism, but about geek news. I didn’t want to ask him a question on a live feed that might make him uncomfortable.
But, given that Mr. Ferrigno has been a personal hero for so long (do you know he’s a volunteer sheriff? The incredible Hulk is a volunteer sheriff!), and that he is an advocate for children of differing abilities, I kept in my mind that this opportunity presented itself. It was probably the only time I would be close to anyone in a position to help, and I would be going against my own principles if I didn’t make the best of that.
I turned the camera off, and paused, my heart lifting up into my throat, and told Lou Ferrigno that I wanted, as a person who is a huge fan and a person who has a child in standard education classes who is incredibly bright but who has a learning disability, to ask him a question off the record. He agreed, and later gave me permission to use a portion of this conversation here.
I won’t tell you everything we discussed because, although Mr. Ferrigno gave me the okay to use our conversation, it was so close to my heart that I’m going to respect his privacy. I disagree vehemently with this administration’s education budget proposals
and policies, but the biggest part of our conversation revolved less around politics than around how we both feel about inclusive classrooms, the IDEA, and whether or not he felt he could still advocate for children with differing abilities in a position as head of the Fitness, Health, and Nutrition Council.
I asked if he would still commit to the kids who look up to him so much—the kids who he has always been a role model for?
He told me two things—first, that he has always worked hard to advocate and raise money for kids with differing abilities, especially muscular dystrophy. But he followed that with a very personal story of himself in the classroom—how, when he attended one school and wasn’t doing well in school, the principal wanted to send him to a school for the deaf. His father refused and instead moved him to a Catholic school where they talked to the teacher, who made accommodations in the classroom and he was able to learn alongside his hearing peers—so he “was that child. That was me.” He talked about how being able to learn in a standard classroom helped his self esteem. He told me his biggest desire for running the Fitness, Health, and Nutrition Council has to do with a job he thinks he can do well, and that healthier kids learn better—and that he has always been and would always be a voice for those kids who were born differently abled. He could do good for people in this position, could make a healthier America. That helps students of all abilities.
Sincerity rang in his words. I thanked him, reaching out my hand. He hugged me instead, and he graciously allowed me to take a selfie.
And I could be comfortable with idolizing the Hulk once again. Here was a man who would actually be qualified for the position, cared about the people it would affect, and cared about students being able to learn in an inclusive atmosphere.
Had I chosen not to have the conversation, I would have missed an opportunity to connect with Mr. Ferrigno, to ask him to think about this issue, to ask him to be the advocate he always has been.
In other words, “all politics is personal.” Reach out. Have the conversation. Do your job.
Mr. Ferrigno will be hosting his annual fitness and nutrition convention, Flexpo,
Nov 18th and 19th at the Palm Springs Convention Center.
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Art and photos: Author/ Ferrigno Legacy