- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Drew Lynch could have pinched himself. He was living his dream.

Lynch, who grew up in Indianapolis, was 20 and living in Los Angeles. He had hit the mother lode in Hollywood - a callback for a second audition with the successful sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”

Then, in the split second it takes for a softball to take a bad bounce, Lynch’s life took a turn. A dream-shattering turn.

The day before the audition in 2011, Lynch, who worked as a ticket taker in a comedy club, was playing softball with a team from work.

He was playing shortstop. The batter hit a ground ball toward him that took a wayward hop and nailed him in the throat. He fell to the ground.

The hit dazed him. He went home - and instead of reporting to the comedy club for work that night - he slept.

“I woke up talking much slower,” said Lynch, now 23. And it got worse. Talking slowly turned into a severe stutter.

He missed the audition for “How I Met Your Mother” and a tryout that week for a Disney show.

“Then I called my agent reps to tell them what happened,” Lynch said. “They dropped me.”

Call us when you get better, he was told, and only if you get better.

Doctors assured Lynch and his family he would recover. The stutter was temporary, he was told.

“I waited for that, thinking it was going to be better,” Lynch said in a phone interview, choking up. “This would get better.”

But as he took to the stage in New Jersey earlier this spring for an audition for “America’s Got Talent,” the speech impediment was still there. The nerves in his vocal chords had been irreparably damaged, paralyzed.

Lynch, the little boy from Indianapolis with acting dreams, was now a stuttering comedian. Two weeks ago, a national TV audience watched his audition, many feeling uneasy about whether it was OK to laugh.

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On that stage, he cried. It’s still hard for Lynch to talk about his injury. But he dazzled the judges on the NBC variety show with his comedy routine.

In his act he talked about the trials that would come if he worked at a fast-food drive-through. He imitated what it would be like if his voice was the voice on a driver’s GPS system.

“Re-re-re-re routing. M-m-m-ma-make a U-u-u-u-u turn,” he said.

The bit got a standing ovation from the crowd and judge Howie Mandel.

And at the end of his routine, Lynch became the first contestant to earn a Golden Buzzer from the judges. He will get to skip more audition shows and go straight to the live show at Radio City Music Hall.

“It is such a hard thing to get up on this stage when you’ve got everything going for you, and everything’s clear,” judge Howard Stern told Lynch. “And to go up there with your situation and to pull this off and to get the crowd with you is almost impossible.”

Judge Melanie Brown praised Lynch for taking a devastating event and turning it into a positive.

“I was laughing even more at the fact that you were laughing at your own jokes,” she told him.

And Mandel, who pressed the Golden Buzzer, said he had an unexpected emotion.

“Because comedy usually comes from a dark place,” Mandel said. “What you did is you looked for the light at the end of the darkness. That light is your comedy, and I’m telling you I haven’t been moved by an act like this up until this moment.”

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The moment was awesome for Lynch. But it wasn’t his dream.

“I always wanted as a kid to be an actor,” he said. “And I still want that.”

He was born in Indianapolis and went to Robey Elementary School in Wayne Township. He remembers little about the city, but some things stuck in his mind. His teachers at Robey. And a Pizza King he went to as a little boy where a train brought drinks to the table.

His love of acting started inside a house at 21st Street and Country Club Road where he and his dad watched Jim Carrey movies.

When he was 8, his family moved to Las Vegas where he went to performing arts schools as a teen. He had parts in musicals and dramatic plays.

“He wanted to be an actor since fifth grade,” said Drew’s dad, Tim Lynch, who lives in Avon with Drew’s mom, Chris, and his siblings. “He had just moved out of our house to L.A. to chase his dreams when the accident happened.”

The person who moved out of that house, Drew Lynch admitted, would never hang out with the person he is today.

He thought he was untouchable.

“I was so incredibly self-involved,” Lynch said. “I didn’t empathize with anyone.”

But life is funny. He says the people he comes into contact with at Starbucks or Subway were just like he was before the accident. He sees his past self in them.

“I’ve developed a thick skin. Life kind of puts things in your life for a reason,” he said. “Now I don’t really have that option of thinking that I’m perfect. This injury sparked a whole new perspective for me.”

There have been plenty of moments of anger, said Chris Lynch.

“The only thing he really wanted to do in life, that he was really good at, got taken away from him,” she said.

But her son has been amazing.

“He’s taken that and done what he needed to do,” she said.

Drew Lynch says he had two choices after the injury.

“One was to just do the ticket taker job, probably for the rest of my life, and continue to be this person who lets it eat away at me,” he said. “Or I could do something about it.”

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After the injury, friends suggested he give comedy a try. Go on stage and talk about what had happened. Lynch had never done comedy. His focus was acting.

But he took the leap. And that first night, he felt some relief.

“It was kind of cool. I don’t know how good or funny the jokes were really,” he said. “It worked because the moment was emotionally raw. It felt good for a second because I was so down about everything I had lost.”

People were laughing - and not because they felt badly for him - because he was funny.

With that, Lynch started on his road to comedy.

He lives in Sherman Oaks, outside of L.A. and does comedy shows year round, performing every night, multiple times a night if he can. He does his act in grocery stores, libraries, book stores and coffee shops.

Lynch will be live on “America’s Got Talent” later this summer. The show airs at 8 p.m. on NBC Tuesdays. But, for now, he’s focused on his daily acts - and his new perspective on life.

“Sometimes we just forget that every person is going through something,” he said. “If they’re not today, then tomorrow they could have the worst day ever.”

Lynch knows about that worst day ever but is making the best of it.

“I was so focused on me getting to my goal of being this successful actor,” he said. “What happened to me was maybe the world’s way of saying, ‘You can still get to where you’re going but you need to understand life.’”

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Source: The Indianapolis Star, http://indy.st/1MMIuq3

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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