Stuttering On My Own Terms

(I haven’t proof read this–so deal with it!)

As a stand up comedian who stutters, people make a lot of assumptions about me.  Fluent people think I am brave for public speaking.  After doing a presentation at a library (before my days as a comedian), a woman came up to me and said, “you are such an inspiration.  If I talked like you, I wouldn’t talk at all.”  With experiences like this, how do you not turn to comedy?!

People who stutter assume something else about me.  They assume that I am totally free of stuttering fear, shame, frustration and whatever else we feel when we talk.  It is as if I am immune because I tell dick jokes in a dive bar at midnight (which is much of what you do as a stand up).  For those who think I stutter through life without the stutter bug (the feelings we attach to stuttering) catching me, I am writing this for you.

Let me start the story backwards (dyslexic style).  This was the night that I won the Killer Laughs Comedy  Competition against all odds.  It wasn’t against all odds because I stutter.  It was against all odds because I was the very first comedian of the line up and the first comedian the line up in a competition NEVER wins.  With this in mind, I decided to do something different.  My parents were suppose to be in the audience to support me and event more importantly, VOTE for me.  Of course, they were late as they often times are.

Since I figured I wasn’t going to win I decided to get back at my parents for something they did to me when I was eleven years old.  When I was a kid I won a joke telling contest on the radio that was judged by San Francisco comedy legend Will Durst.  The prize was seeing him at The Other Cafe, a legendary comedy club that closed in the early 1990s.  I was a really big comedy nerd so I was way excited about going to my first comedy club, especially based off of my own joke.  I won’t mention that the joke was one I stole from Pee Wee Herman from his appearance on Letterman (“I don’t know his name, but his face rings a bell”).  We lived in San Leandro about 45 minutes away from the Haight Ashbury where the club was located.  Of course, we were late.  We drove by the club and saw through the corner window that the show was already underway.  My parents decided not to go to the show because they were afraid the comedians would make fun of them for being late.  I started crying and we ended up going to see the movie Innerspace.  Martin Short would have to be my Will Durst substitute.

As shows I usually stick to my scripted jokes, but I decided not to that night at the competition.  Instead, knowing that my parents were in the parking lot and on their way in during my set, I explained to the audience how they robbed me of my first comedy club experience.  That was when I asked a room full of people to turn around when I said “hi mom and dad” and then turn around to stare and boo my parents.  I made sure to tell the audience that I knew I wasn’t going to win anyways because I was up first.

At the end of the competition I came in first place.  I then went for 4 or 5 more rounds, beating out 120 comedians and ended up winning the whole damn thing (and I didn’t even bring an audience).  To all the comedians reading this who are saying to themselves, “your not that funny and competitions don’t mean anything,” you can go F’ yourselves.  I still won.

So that explains the end of the night.  Now let me tell you about the beginning of the night.

I carpooled to the competition with a car full of my good comedy friends who I would be competing against.  Apparently my car was clean that night because five of us were able to fit into my jeep.  Feeling the need for caffeine to get myself through the show, I decided to stop by the McDonalds on the way to the competition.  Before ordering my “large diet coke” I asked everyone in the car if they wanted anything.  They all denied my offer to order for them and I followed up with, “are you sure?”  They assured me that I was the only one ordering.  After I ordered my “large diet coke” my friends started barking out orders, “order me a Fillet-o-fish.”  “Get me a Big Mac with cheese and a Sprit.”  I literally froze.  I couldn’t do it!  I signaled for my friend in the front row to order and rolled down the backseat windows to yell out their order.  Afterwards my friends were pretty astonished that I couldn’t place the order, making the observation that I could talk in front of hundreds of people but could not place an order to a fast food worker. And I was like, “I stutter, we don’t always do drive-thrus.”

What happened was I felt a lack of control when orders were being barked out at me.  When I am on stage, I have the mic and usually I am the one in control.  I say what I want.  My friends had no idea that requesting a Fillet-O-Fish would make me throw in the towel at a drive in.  So many times we, as people who stutter, blame ourselves for not living up to perceived expectations.  I think we internalize the expectations that we need to be fixed and talk like everyone else.  Even if we stutter openly, many of us put pressure on ourselves that we need to be self-accepting and courageous at all times no matter what.  People perceive my ability to talk in front of hundreds of people as a evidence that I stutter confidently and without stigma 24/7.  How would this be possible when we are socialized in the world we are socialized in?  We aren’t always going to be able live up to others or ourselves and we need to be kind to ourselves.  Sometimes asking our significant other to order the pepperoni pizza after a long day at work isn’t a stuttering sin and a sign of our lack of pride or self-acceptance.  If you stutter, awesome and if you want to sit one out, it doesn’t mean you’re lesser than anyone else.  Stutter with as much pride as you can but on your terms and no else’s.  And if you are ever in a car with me, know that I will throw my Diet Coke at you if make me order a F’n Fillet-O-Fish.

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10 Tips For Marketing Your Next College or Community Event

This post is the third in a series to help guide you in planning your next college or community event. I will reference Disability awareness because that is where I have most of my experience, but the tips can work for any event.  Please feel free to share your own marketing tips by commenting at the end of this post.
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1.  Make the event “A Thing”
Sometimes community events are held in the basement of a church or library at a time when no one will want to come,  It is your responsibility as the promotor of an event to make the event cool.  Include music, wine, food or whatever is needed to build an ambiance.  Be sure to include a photographer to take photos so that they can be included on your website post event.  People will share them on Facebook and that is when people will say, “I wish I knew about this event :(.”  Building a brand that your event is for “cool people doing cool things” will help to build an audience.  In all your marketing materials advertise that refreshments and music will play before the entertainment or speaker begins.
2.  Make your event accessible and advertise that it will be accessible to everyone
When I say accessible I don’t mean a couple spaces in the back row in case a wheelchair user happens to come by.  I mean really consider access for everyone including interpreters for the Deaf, captioning, integrated seating, and other basic Disability accommodations.  For Disability Awareness events this is essential because they should be held to a higher standard and model what accessibility looks like for an event.  Once you have these things in place, advertise this to communities who might be interested.  It is nice to not have to think about an interpreter because you already know the event will be accessible.  Remember, if you build it they will come.
Video from San Francisco’s Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park.
3.  Invite Big Shots 
Something I learned from corporate events is to invite big shots.  At corporate events, CEOs and vice presidents because people want to be seen by people in authority and perhaps rub elbows with those who might promote them.  Colleges and community based organizations should learn from this.  Inviting the president of the college to introduce your school event will ensure that some people come, especially if you advertise their participation it in your marketing.  I did my one person show for an independent living center and the president of the local community college was invited to introduce me.  It was amazing to me that he would show such support to the Disability community!  It made the school look supportive of students plus it brought in people from the school to the event.  Inviting mayors, community leaders, etc… can help to increase interest and legitimize your event.  Plus it can be an awesome opportunity to get the media involved if the person is high profile.
Video: I hosted the 25th Anniversary of the ADA for the City and County of San Francisco where I introduced the mayor.  Every time the mayor speaks it is filmed and posted online so the celebration lives on.
4.  Collaborate across departments or community agencies
Sometimes including too many partners in an event can be difficult to navigate.  Taking in everyone’s opinion and preferences can be time consuming, but there are benefits.  Having different entities cosponsor events can cut costs or add benefits.  Asking a local winery if they would donate wine or offer it at cost can a swanky element to your event.  Plusnaming them as a sponsor in marketing materials is great advertising for the winery.  Community agencies can partner with you by assisting in outreach.  The value of an email list of people who are the exact demographic you are looking for is worth more than free wine!  In colleges, it is important to have events co-sponsored by different departments because you need as many people as possible to be invested.  If your Disability awareness event is sponsored by the Disabled Student Programs and Services office as well as student life, student government and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, then you have three times the audience to pool from and promote to.  Plus, regarding Disability events, I think it is important for the event not to be ghettoized.  Students with disabilities are EVERYONE’S students and represent multiple ethnic backgrounds, genders and sexual orientations.  Every department should see themselves as having a stake in all students, not just one office.
5.  Do a good job on your flyer
This seems obvious but it is vital in outreach!  If you work at a college, use your schools graphic artist to create an effective flyer.  If you work at a community agency, see who in your agency might be able to assist in the creation of marketing materials.  Some entertainers may have a flyer that can be used or modified for your event. For my one person show, Going Beyond Inspirational, I hired a graphic artist who did an awesome flyer with a professional photograph.  If the speaker or entertainer you are hiring for your event already has a flyer, then use their materials and be sure to ask them if they have these kinds of resources for you to build on.
Flyer by Abe Cruz.  Photo by Josh Denault Photography
Flyer by Abe Cruz. Photo by Josh Denault Photography.
6. Using press releases to promote your event
Press releases help to promote your event and depending on what kind you write, you will use them in different ways.  Some press releases are basic who, what, where and when kind of information.  Some of your organizations will prefer this style.  Some press releases, and the ones I have had the most success with, are the ones that read like a web-based article.  They can be easily adapted to news websites to produce content.  If you work at an institution that has a marketing component, it is important for you to work with them and attempt to have your press release posted on the school or organizations website as well as news wires.
I have personally worked with Valerie Branch for my press releases, especially for the opening of my one person show.  She helped me to develop my ideas and then she emailed it to websites who list events or who might be interested in featuring a story about me.  Additionally, we were able to get the press release on to California Newswire which then multiplied like a wet gremlin.  It was soon adapted to over 10 websites and was even featured on CBS’s San Francisco site under the title Meet ‘America’s Only Female Stuttering Stand Up Comedian’.  
You can get a lot of mileage out of a well written and promoted press release.  Know what you will want to convey to your audience and the uniqueness of your event.
7.  Promote here, there and everywhere!
Social media is a free and SOMETIMES effective way to promote your events.  Here is a list of ways you might use social media:
  • Establish a Facebook invite and invite your friends and encourage others to do the same.
  • Give updates on your invite page and your organizations Facebook site.  These can include selfies taken at committee meetings, posting flyers, and whatever else might be a fun and engaging way to involve people in the event.
  • Posting or tweeting out the press release or other articles where the event is featured.
  • Consider a #hashtag to help promote the event.  This might include a challenge to the community you are trying to appeal to.  What about the “disability awareness challenge” where students commit to ways to educate their college community and increase access?  Hashtagging will help to raise awareness to your event through additional marketing you might do.
  • Create videos about your event.  These might be interviews or movie trailer style videos which can then be shared on social media.
  • Remember that it just isn’t you who should be posting!  What other departments or partners could be assisting in this process?
  • There are plenty of ways to promote online and usually the best way to do it is to ask the advice of someone 25 years old or younger (so remember to engage all communities who might be a resource for your event).

8.  Use invite sites to track the number of attendees and email them updates

Websites like event bright can help to track who is planning to attend.  Eventbrite is free if your event is free.  If your event is free it is still important to get your audience to commit to attending.  Plus it will give you an idea of how many attendees to plan for.  You can then email attendees to remind them of the event or to give them updates.  It will help build anticipation and you will have an email marketing list for future events.

9.  What are local opportunities for promotion?

If you have a compelling event that is open to the public, then why not let the local news affiliates know about it?  Getting a spot on the morning news show or drive time radio can elevate visibility to the general population.  Plus it is great public outreach for your organization or event!  If you would like your entertainer or speaker to do this kind of promotion, you should discuss this upfront.  Some may request additional funds for their time, others will be happy for a radio or TV appearance.  For college campuses, the school newspaper and radio station can be a great way to promote.

Video from Good Day Sacramento:

10.  Explore nontraditional ways to promote your event
What if the library featured books and films on your topic as a partnership to promote your event?  Maybe the Lyon’s club would like to hear about your event?  It is important to see who your resources are and utilize them.  Make the most out of your contacts and see how you can plug in your event.  Perhaps it is with a local museum, high school or rotary club.  Explore all your options and keep an open mind. Involve the local or college library to feature disability related displays (books, videos, equipment etc) in the weeks leading up to your event.