After much effort and numerous grant proposals, a unique comedy show for the deaf community was finally funded and held at SUNY Oneonta. This was a special experience considering the difficulty for those who are hearing impaired to get together to socialize in large numbers and, furthermore, enjoy activities that have been catered to them, an opportunity others often take for granted.
The performance featured Keith Wann and Windell “Wink” Smith Jr., both children of deaf adults (CODA) who signed their jokes while an interpreter voiced them. Many are sensitive to the topic of disabilities and might be shocked to know that the situation was confronted quite bluntly through the comedians’ jokes. However, the act was by no means disrespectful and no one seemed to take offense. Actually, the room was filled with laughter and this only further validated the equality between those who are hearing and hearing impaired. After all, no one is safe at a stand-up show and everyone looks to laugh at themselves sometimes.
Wink took the stage first. He shared his experiences growing up as a child of deaf parents. He said that when he was first told that his parents had lost their hearing, he put signs up around his town telling people to contact him if they found it. The nature of sign language in his household was intimate since they did not always prescribe to the “standard.” He then brought a volunteer on stage to help demonstrate his tips for communicating with the hearing impaired; remain in close proximity, be bold in getting their attention, keep eye contact and practice safe signing. In other words, one should avoid stabbing themselves with their fingernails. Wink also demonstrated the animated nature of sign language by having the audience guess the meaning of his actions. He stomped and mimed screaming which was received as a representation of Hitler but was actually a joke about the strict behavior of speech therapists.
Wann had similar memories of his childhood. His father tried to show people with hearing that he was just as capable as they were. In the beginning, he was hesitant to believe that his parents were deaf, considering that the flick of a light switch or the heavy-handed closing of his dresser drawer would cause his father to complain.
This was, however, because deaf people’s other senses are heightened. He tested his mother one day by unplugging the vacuum cleaner only to witness that she angrily continued cleaning with no success. He recounted the story of his mother growing up as the only hearing impaired person in her household. She felt left out of family conversations but was one day brought to a school “for the deaf and dumb.” She was no longer lonely but joked that the dumb kids went to Wann’s school, often playfully inferring the inferiority of hearing people.
While Wink and Wann had to help their parents as children, they loved and understood deaf culture. They took fun in lying to others about what their parents were signing and played “Narrator,” a visual game much like charades where one acts out a story while those watching have to guess what it is about. The comedians invited over 10 volunteers onto the stage to participate in the game, some being deaf or CODAs and others being American Sign Language students or hearing guests. Wink and Wann’s performance revealed the nature of living with a disability, uniting for a variety of people and extremely entertaining!