Category Archives: comedy

A Stuttering-Dyslexic Brain Walks Into A Comedy Club: On writing and performing new comedy

NOTE TO READER:  In case you haven’t read my WordPress blog before, this is the raw deal.  I write in my full dyslexic glory without feedback from my regular editor.  It is likely that this will be a draft for another article or possibly one day a book, so please comment.  I would love to hear your differences in how your process speech or what science might say to explain my process.

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It had been awhile since I went hard on comedy.  I started working a full time job and a lot of my energy went into adjusting to my new duties and environment.  Luckily my job was with a college so in my winter break, and with an entering US president who offers so much richness to a Disabled comedian that I decided I needed to hit the open mics.  As my winter break ends I am reminded of the artistic process of doing comedy.  Developing material from the premises to bits, adding tags and experimenting with the intonation and timing of the delivered punchlines.  I am also reminded of how my dyslexia and stuttering interact with this process.  

 

As I stood in front of a small humble audience in Silicon Valley, that would eventually pay $8 for my gas money to drive 40 miles, I could see the juxtaposition of new and old material and how it interacted with my stuttering blocks and repetitions.  Old but trusted material was relatively fluent.  It reminds me of when I was religious affairs student government officer at Saint Joseph Elementary school.  The majority of my role was to saying morning prayer.  When I originally decided to run for the office I knew that the criteria of saying prayers would not be a problem because memorized and automatic scripts can eventually become fluent for me (this is not always the case for all).  I am sure when I was required to memorize certain prayers for my First Communion I may not have been fluent, but over time automaticity of speech takes over and bypasses the stuttering part of the brain.  Apparently my jokes about sexism in comedy and disability discrimination function similarly.  With enough memorization they become automatic and although I might stutter on some of it, I seem quiet fluent.  So fluent in fact that some audience members look confused about my stuttering material, as they did in the Silicon Valley bar for the first 3 minutes of my set.  Then we ventured into my new material and they quickly found out that I did actually stutter.

 

Most things having to do with language are processed on the left side of the brain.  Rhythmic prose seem to be processed from the right side of the brain.  Creating something that is language based and then speaking it tax the left side of the brain.  As a comedian with dyslexia and who stutters, my left brain is on double duty when I write and perform new material.  Knowing what topic pisses me off enough to talk about in front of an audience, figuring out the funny aspects in that topic, writing the setups, developing the punchlines, trying out tags (the extra little something after the punchline), trying out the material, often putting the word that I might stutter on at the end of the punchline, practicing the timing in the car, and finally manifesting this all in speech in front of the audience.  And then, as the shampoo bottle directs, RINSE AND REPEAT.  I do it again and again until I have each step down and it becomes so automatic that it is like saying the Our Father or Hail Mary.  Of course these jokes are far from the holy, but my guess is that they eventually get stored in the same place in my brain.  

 

I wanted to share this for a few reasons.  First of all we either talk about stuttering or dyslexia but there are so many of us that have both of these. It is like we have to chose one of these things as a community.  We rarely talk about their interaction.  I have observed that the more my dyslexia is highlighted in the function I am doing, the more likely I am to stutter.  I don’t know the neurology of how these two things work in tandem, but my guess is that the more my left brain needs to function, then the more my speech areas are exacerbated and the more I stutter.  Again I don’t know if a speech and language pathologist would say the same thing, but I know that this is my own experience of stuttering and how it feels.  

 

Secondly, I wanted to acknowledge the sometimes difficult experience of stuttering.  I almost always write about the discrimination or the social-emotional aspects of our experience.  I see these issues as the crux of the Disability experience.  Why should we be discriminated against because of how we, as dyslexics, process language, or we as people who stutter, express ourselves.  There is no known remedy of either of these aspects of myself, nor do I care about ridding myself of them.  I would love it if people not be assholes, so please work toward that.  Although I am not usually the merry sunshine type, I do like to talk about the positive experiences stuttering and dyslexia can bring like community and self-acceptance.  I usually do not focus on the function of language, in part because I think that is what people expect.  The media often focuses on how difficult it is for us to speak and not how attitudes need to be changed in how others accept our speech as part of neurodiversity.  Additionally, the nuances of speaking from dyslexia and stuttering is often ignored.  It just seems to complicated for the regular inspirational porn we tend to see on either stuttering or dyslexia.    

 

Nonetheless, sometimes after a long day presenting at an all day workshop my jaw hurts (stuttering) and I could forget my husbands name (dyslexia).  It also takes me a really long time to figure out comedy.  I use to get double time for taking tests in college.  For every hour that you took the test, I would have two hours.  I needed time to process what I was being asked and then what I would respond back with.  It feels the same for me in comedy.  In addition to the writing aspects, there is remembering what I want to say.  I also attempt to say it the same way every time, which can be difficult to pinpoint what I feel works and what does not.  I even have someone transcribe some of my better sets so that I can see exactly what language was used.  I then have to see what words I will almost always stutter on and how that might affect my timing.  I then might have to structure my jokes so that timing is more efficient in delivering my message.  I then go and practice the jokes in front of others, because as any person who stutters will tell you, we usually don’t stutter when we are alone.  When I do stutter when I am alone, then I know this stutter will likely be even more exaggerated when I am in front of a crowd.  

 

Are you exhausted yet?  Just thinking about it makes my left brain hemisphere hurt!  

 

The other night at an open mic I started feeling the frustration of my speech which I usually have an incredibly high tolerance for.  I am like a stuttering Zen Master.  I know that repetitions and blocks are going to come and go.  I know that when my stutter is a bit more at times, that it will eventually become less.  I have found that there isn’t anything exactly that I can do for it, I just know it will fluctuate.  My recent surge of energy has brought some frustration though.  Working on my new 8 minutes and word smithing for comedy timing along with stuttering timing, all while having dyslexia finally got the best of me.  How does a stuttering-dyslexic comedian express their frustration?  I ranted and somehow threw Marilyn Monroe under the bus (please forgive me Saint Marilyn!).  

 

To introduce my newest joke I used a feigned exaggerated speech pattern hoping to be more fluent on the word “married.”  Frustrated that I even had to do this, I shouted about the brain and how using a phony voice would help to ensure that the word “married” would come out quicker. I mentioned that Marilyn Monroe used this technique. Of course her double M name took me longer to get out than “married” ever would.  And that’s when I pondered out loud what I had been thinking since I first learned that Monroe stuttered, “why would a person who stuttered give herself a double M name?”  Of course it was not said in that classy kind of way. There may have been a stuttering F-word somewhere in there instead.  You can check out the video below (warning, explicit language and Trump critique at the end).

 

My stuttering got to me this week.  It wasn’t because someone asked me if there was an intrusive brain implant that could cure my speech or say that they could cure me by something they could do to me sexually (yes, I have had both said to me on multiple occasions).  But I also discovered something about stuttering and comedy.  As a comedian I create music.  I know this because the more that my material transfers over to the right side of the brain (which is the hemisphere we sing from), I stutter less.  The lyrics, the rhythm, the timing, the automaticity of the words are what make up comedy and utilized when I am on stage.  Stuttering has helped me understand not only how difficult the chore of comedy can be but also the preciseness of speech.  Wordsmithing punchlines and tags while figuring out why timing works this way but not that way is part of all comedy, stuttering or not.  Many artists look down on comedy as a lesser art form.  I think I just proved that a prolific and talented comedian is creating a symphony, they may be using the 7 dirty words, and working independently might I add, but the result is no less great.  I don’t know if there are functional MRIs that show the different parts of the brain in creating comedy and delivering it, but my guess the whole brain is lighting up.  I am just lucky enough to be the one who shows people at a late night comedy show how it all functions.  

Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks1tea2JXF4

 

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Nina G Uses Humor to Talk About Dyslexia

Check out my video and interview with Understood.org.  Play the video or read the transcript here!

[Interview]

NINA G.: My name is Nina G., and I live in Oakland, California. I am a comedian and professional speaker, as well as an author and disability advocate.

[At Brainwash Comedy Club]

TONY SPARKS: I need you to lose your mind…for Nina G.!

[applause, cheers]

NINA: Thank you.

TONY: Come on!

[cheers]

[Interview]

NINA: I have language-based learning disabilities that manifest in many, many ways, and I also stutter. Which isn’t LD, but it’s something going on in my brain too.

[music]

[At comedy club]

NINA: So if you have a learning disability or ADHD or you love a person that has a learning disability or ADHD, make some noise!

[cheers, woots, applause]

All right. Thank you.

[Interview]

Throughout my life, it’s affected the way that I read, the way that I write, that way that I spell, the way that I process information. Even in sign language, I thought, oh, my dyslexia’s not gonna be a problem there. But you do have the fingerspell.

[At comedy club] So I have some advice. A lot of times, I’ll be in the midst of a stutter, so I’ll be doing, “N-n-n-n.” And that’s when the other person does this with their hands.

[laughter]

You know? Yeah. Yeah. This, and telling me to “spit it out,” always very helpful.

[laughter]

[Interview]

I didn’t really have an outlet. I’m not an artist. I’m not musical at all. And sports was not my thing. The thing that I did love, though, from a very, very early age was stand-up comedy. That’s always been a thing that I’ve really loved and that I knew more of about than anybody else in my class and teachers and everybody. I learned how to be an advocate, and I learned how to have ideas, and I learned how to be heard. For me, being a comedian, I’m better able to access those ideas. Comedians who made discrimination tangible for people, so like Chris Rock and Richard Pryor and George Lopez, they were able to make audiences understand their experiences through comedy. And they’ve inspired me that maybe I can help people understand the experiences of people with disabilities through comedy or writing or whatever I do.

[At Superfest Film Festival]

I remember as a kid, maybe there’d be an episode of 90210 where one of the girls would have dyslexia. It was consider a “very special episode.” And then, they wouldn’t talk about it ever again. [laughter] And that was it. That was it!

[Interview] So many times, I think disability–whether it’s learning disabilities or stuttering or anything else–it’s presented as people being very weak. And that’s not true. In fact, kind of the opposite is true. That some of the strongest people that I’ve ever met are people with disabilities. But we’ve been presented this one image, and I think it’s really important to change that.

[At comedy club]

Thanks so much, guys!

[cheers, applause]

The Ted Talk Donald Trump Doesn’t Want You To See!

Donald Trump Campaigns In Fort Lauderdale

Ok, I lied!  I thought if it worked for overseas fake news outlets that it might work to tell you about my Tedx Talk in honor of Anti-bullying week.  So many times we tell kids and adults, “don’t bully” but what about when you witness something?  It is just as important to not be complacent in bullying as it is not to bully.  My Tedx Talk, The Everyday Ally, explores what it meant for me when I was bullied or discriminated against and what people did to be on my side.  Even doing small things when you witness something can make someone feel less alone.

Check out the video HERE!

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#bullying  #antibullying #disability #stuttering

 

 

Nina G Partners With The NSA To Raise Awareness and Money

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Nina G live at the Sacramento Punchline

 

Nina G, stand up comedian, author, Disability advocate and professional speaker is happy to announce her new collaboration with the National Stuttering Association (NSA), an organization that empowers people who stutter and builds community.

Every six months Nina chooses a new organization to donate a portion of her professional speaking fees to worthy nonprofit organizations. The organizations Nina chooses will also be featured on her social media outlets to increase their visibility . The first organization selected was YO! Disabled and proud. Yo! connects, organizes and educates youth with disabilities ages 16-28 throughout California. Nina raised hundreds of dollars for the organization in the six months collaborated with YO! She now turns her attention to the NSA.

The NSA, founded in 1977, is the largest support group organization in the world for people who stutter. It provides peer-facilitated chapter meetings that provide self-help, support, and education for those who stutter–as well as for those interested in stuttering. Nina’s relationship started with the NSA, when it was the National Stuttering Project, when she was in high school. One late night, while watching TV, she saw an advertisement for an organization of people who stuttered. Nina contacted the organization and began to volunteer. She discovered that it was ok to stutter. Her way of speaking was validated by others who were like her and successful adults. After taking a 15 year break from the NSA, Nina attended the 2008 conference in Arizona where she again discovered how much her stuttering was impacting her life. It wasn’t because of the speech itself but because of her own issues about how she saw herself. The conference was a catalyst for making changes in her life. Within six months after the conference, she began doing stand up comedy, a childhood dream that she never thought she would achieve because of her speech.
Nina adds “at the NSA conference in 2008 I saw myself reflected in the people who attended. Beautiful, smart, and amazing people. I knew then that I was holding myself back. I wasn’t talking as much as I wanted to because I was trying to make others comfortable with my speech. I thought, “why am I holding myself back in social situations when I would not want this for others? That is when I started to think about doing stand up and have been doing it steadily for the past six years”

From December to July, Nina will be donating a portion of the proceeds from her speaking engagements to the NSA for the scholarship program that sponsors people who stutter and families to come to the the annual conference (2016 is in Atlanta).

Follow Nina for more information:
Facebook Fan Page: Facebook.com/ninagcomedian
Twitter: @ninagcomedian (occasional adult content)
Youtube: NinaGcomic (some adult content)
Blog: ninagcomedian.wordpress.com/
Email: NinaGbooking@gmail.com

Video where Nina G is asked, “when did you start loving yourself?” and where she talks about the 2008 conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ptaf9ST3dFE

 

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What People with Disabilities are thinking when you call them inspirations….

what dis thinkDescription: Picture of men sitting around a table from the movie Goodfellas. Caption: “What People with Disabilities think when you call them inspirations: ‘Let me understand this … cuz maybe its me, maybe I’m a little fucked up. I’m inspirational how, I mean inspirational, like I’m an inspiration? I inspire you. I make you inspired? I’m here to fuckin’ inspire you? Whattya you mean inspiration? Inspiration how? How am I inspiring?’”

 

 

 

What’s so Funny After 50?

What’s So Funny After 50?

Event Date:
Friday, February 7, 2014 – 20:00 to 22:00

Dan St. Paul’s “What’s So Funny After 50?” comes to the Pacific Pinball Museum for one night only!   Friday February 7th at 8pm

Aging happens to everybody, but when it happens to comic Dan St. Paul, it’s hilarious. Upon reaching the half century mark, St. Paul had a series of revelations about his body (“I’m a cylinder now. I can wear a belt anywhere on my body.”); his faulty memory (“I have eight pairs of reading glasses and I have no idea where they are.”); and dealing with his teenage son (“I have a bumper sticker that says ‘My Son’s Just Getting By At Hillsdale High’).

Now he has packed his cleverest reflections on going gray into “What’s Funny After 50?” Turns out, getting old has given this former opener for Jerry Seinfeld some of his best material ever. Comedy-lovers from their teens to their golden years will enjoy this solo show.

Dan is a veteran of San Francisco comedy.  After a seven year stint of headlining San Francisco clubs in the comedy duo Murphy-St. Paul, Dan launched his own solo act that was to land him in the finals of the nation’s toughest comedy competition, The San Francisco International Stand-Up Comedy Competition.

Soon after, Dan moved to Los Angles and appeared on several episodes of “An Evening at the Improv.” Plus numerous shows on VH-1, MTV and Comedy Central.  Since then, he has opened for such superstars as Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Cole, and Smokey Robinson.

Comedy and Pinball for a Cause, a show produced by comedian Nina G, brings Dan St. Paul to Alameda for a special one night only performance at the Pacific Pinball Museum on Friday, February 7.  Proceeds from the show will go to the Pacific Pinball Museum, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.  Learn more about the museum and its mission and cultural events at www.Pacificpinball.org.

The shows begins at 8 p.m..  Show will contain adult content. Tickets are $15 and available at:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/whats-so-funny-after-50-comedy-at-ppm-tickets-10044161357Image

Howard Stern’s impact on my Identity as a Woman who Stutters

I am a Howard Stern fan.  The name on my Safeway card is Nina Bababooey so that when I check out, the cashier is forced to say thank you Ms. Bababooey.  I went to a taping of America’s Got Talent just to see Howard Stern.  I sat with complete strangers where we immediately bonded and shouted as loud as we could, “F Jackie” and “four inches is fine.”  Stern made me a Lady Gaga fan and periodically makes me cry on my way to work when he and Robin talk about her struggles with cancer and the genuine affection they have for one another.  How did someone who identifies as a militant Disabled feminist become such a stern fan?  You mean the answer isn’t obvious?  Let me explain.

It all started in the late 1980s.  I was in high school.  I was a weird girl.  It wasn’t because I had a Learning Disability and stuttered?  It was because I was into unusual things that not even my unusual peers were into.  I loved comedy.  The men I were in love with were all stand up comedians with my biggest crush being Barry Sobel, a stand up comedian who got his start in San Francisco and appeared on the Tonight Show.  Not surprisingly, I was the only girl at school writing I ❤ Barry Sobel on my binders.  My high school years were spent taping comedy from HBO half hour comedy specials, watching SNL and listening to the Alex Bennett show where local comedians from the San Francisco Bay Area appeared, many who I am happy to say I have been able to work with.  My role models for women were Laverne DeFazio, not Madonna or Debbie Gibson.  The one piece missing for me was someone to look up to who had a disability similar to mine.

When I was nine years old I saw my first person, other than me, who stuttered.  It was Raider’s cornerback Lester Hayes.  He had an amazing game where he did something amazing and then he was interviewed, and that was the amazing part for me.  My dad shouted at me, “look at the TV!”  Lester Hayes was being interviewed and stuttered!  Instead of pride, I thought to myself, “tomorrow at school everyone is going to make fun of him.”  I found out the next day that no one cared.  Your accolades overshadow your disabilities.  As cool as it was to see someone stutter on TV, I didn’t relate much to him.  I didn’t care much for sports, as much as the Raiders were thrusted upon me (my brother saw my dad cry at an exhibition game when the then LA Raiders returned for one night to play the 49ers at the Oakland Coliseum).  A male football player didn’t really do it for me.  There was also country singer Mel Tillis who I love now because of his songwriting and music, but as many times as I saw Cannonball Run as a young girl, I just couldn’t relate to him.  I spent the remainder of my childhood identifying most with Porky Pig and the occasional badly acted stutterers on shows like Small Wonder where someone who stutters appeared for one very special episode.

One night when I was about 15 years old I saw him.  I was watching a show from a New York station on my local cable channel.  It was Howard Stern’s Channel 9 show.  The show was funny, but what stuck out to me was a guy on who stuttered.  He interviewed people, asking them horrible things.  They both reacted to his speech as well as the awful things he asked.  The reactions were reactions that I knew way too well and had never seen this level of my experience reflected on TV.  The person doing the interviews was Stuttering John [Melendez].  There was a very, very, very small window of time when Stuttering John was cute and he entered my life at exactly that time.  He was no Barry Sobel, but he was cute and he stuttered.  Stern, Fred (writer on the show) and others made fun of John, but it didn’t feel horrible.  It wasn’t like he was a victim in being made fun of instead it felt like inclusion.  It would have been weird for them to give him a pass and not make fun of his speech.  If Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’abate was made fun of because of his teeth and looking like Oates (from Hall and Oates), then John’s stuttering was fair game.  That’s right, the first time I saw someone on TV who stuttered who I could relate to was being made fun of on the Howard Stern show.  Since he was a recurring character, unlike the numerous other one time characters with a disability, I was able to watch every week, looking forward to someone who talked like me on TV.

Seeing Stuttering John helped me to own my stuttering.  It was the first time that I saw someone be dysfluent and it was ok–in fact even celebrated (ok, made fun of but he was part of the joke).  He purged people’s attitudes about stuttering.  I remember the day I started hating Chevy Chase.  It was when he was on the Tonight Show and he commented on Raquel Welch punching Stuttering John.  He asked if the punch cured his stuttering.  Thanks Chevy, we really want to connect violence toward stutterers with fluency.  I don’t care if National Lampoon’s Vacation is a great movie and that you were one of the first cast of Not Ready for Prime Time Players.  You are on my shit list Chevy Chase!  You can thank Stuttering John for that.

The relationship with the Howard Stern show began then.  I have been listening ever since.  About ten years after I found the channel 9 show, Stern had another stuttering first for me.  He had on a young woman who sold hot dogs out of a cart in a bikini.  She also stuttered and her name was Nina (that’s my name in case you didn’t know).  It was actually the first time on TV I saw a woman who stuttered (I was about 23 years old).  More men than women stutter (1:4 ratio in adults), so the representation of women who stutter is small, plus I don’t think the media represents us.  I sometimes think that if you have more than one identity TV executives think people’s heads will explode so representations of stuttering are usually white men.  We almost had an Asian American female who stuttered on Glee but she was faking it on the show (Glee, you are also on my shit list).  So seeing Nina the hot hot dog girl was a big deal for me.  There was misinformation in the interview like Stern saying that stuttering is a psychological problem.  He is wrong, it is neurological.  But I was able to see a woman on TV who talked like me and even stuttered on “Nina”.

Many see Howard Stern through a sexist ableist (that is the term for abled bodied bias) lens.  They hear snippets of the show that then color their entire perception of the show and Stern.  He makes fun of people with disabilities, but they are also on the show and represent holistic experiences of life.  They have sex, they can be assholes, they experience more than just being inspirational images to abled bodied people (the predominant image in our media).  On the topic of sexism and Stern I have mixed feelings.  It seems like much of the sexism now is represented in the cast of players like Ronnie the Limo Driver who objectifies women but is criticized for it.  This is different from Stern’s more shock jock persona of the 1980s.  I have seen Stern and the people on his show change.  They acknowledge the language of the disability community (and sometimes integrate it into their speech).  I have also seen the impact that this level of visibility has had.  Many times I will be asked, after I get off stage from doing stand up, “can I ask you a personal question.”  Most other situations this is bound to be something awful about curing my stuttering, but when it comes from a Stern fan, they respectfully ask, “have you ever considered contacting the Howard Stern Show.”  We immediately bond.  They have already met someone who stutters because of the Stern show, so they already know how to react (and often how not to react) to my speech.  I am thankful to Stern for including people like me.  Of course, I don’t speak for all people who stutter.  Some might be extremely offended in Fred mocking Stuttering John’s speech, but for me, when there is genuine love for one another some making fun is ok because it can express affection (perhaps it is an Italian thing).  It is why my good friends in comedy can mock me all they want but if you are not friends with me and we don’t have love then you too will be on my shit list with Chevy Chase and the producers of Glee.  Finding people who can fulfill your need to identify when you are a person with a disability can be difficult.  Sure, I would love to have had other options to find my identity as a woman who stutters, but they were not available.  As I always like to emphasize, when a Disabled feminist says the only place she saw herself reflected was on the Howard Stern show, you know there is great room for the media to improve.

In case you can relate to a Football player who stutters, here you go:  http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-films-americas-game/09000d5d8008cd0c/America-s-Game-1980-Raiders

Picture with Nina doing stand up, captioned: I didn’t see a real woman who stuttered on TV until I was 23 and it was on the Howard Stern show.  When a woman with a Disability who considers herself a feminist says the only place she saw herself reflected was on the Howard Stern show, you know the media could be doing a better job representing disability

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Don’t be THAT person (when talking to a Person who Stutter)

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For as long as I have stuttered I have had strange, odd, and rude things told to me by well-intentioned and not-so-well intentioned fluent types (that’s what I call people who don’t stutter).  I have assembled a few of my top comments to help raise awareness of what not to say to a person who stutters.  There are the less fun things you should know, like not to interrupt us, complete our sentences and not to look strange at us when we are talking.  Those aren’t as amusing as the ones I would like to talk about here.  So as you read, please take note and don’t be THAT person when talking to a person who stutters.

“You are such an inspiration.  If I talked like you, I wouldn’t talk at all!”

Someone actually said this to me after I did a presentation on a topic not related to stutter at a community library.  Perhaps I should superglue my mouth, lady?  Way to make me feel self-conscious about my speech while also reducing the courage that it takes to sometimes speak in front of others to a Lifetime movie of the week.  There were probably 100+ insightful things I said during the presentation and for her to focus on my speech reduced my thoughts to my speech.  Granted, when I see someone stutter, I am mesmerized because it feels like home and I feel myself reflected in their voice.  I am inspired but it is from a very different place.  Calling someone an inspiration is hack!  It’s been done!  Let’s focus on what the person is saying instead of how they are saying it.

“You should try singing for your stuttering, because singing is good for the soul.”

A massage therapist told me this in a hippy spa in Calistoga, California.  I just wanted her to massage my over developed stutterer’s jaw (it is really quite impressive), but had to hear her cure for my speech.  First of all, I have a horrible signing voice.  Second, that is ridiculous.  Third, and hopefully this is a given, there is nothing wrong with the soul that is being manifested through my stuttering.  Religious types who want to pray for my speech, make sure you get this one!  I figure that if God didn’t cure Moses stutter (instead God recommended an accommodation of having Aaron speak for Moses), then he is probably not going to worry about mine.

“Why can’t you stop stuttering like the guy in the King’s Speech?” (Previously, “I was watching Oprah and I saw thing that makes you not stutter”)

For years, when a stranger said the words “I was watching the Oprah show and…” I always knew what was coming next!  Some cure about how to reduce my speech.  It didn’t matter that they were changing the oil in my car or giving me a colonoscopy (both metaphorically similar I suppose)—they still felt the need to educate me about my own stuttering.  As if their one hour of watching Oprah, or the King’s Speech, suddenly makes them a PhD in stuttering.  I usually try to educate people that my focus is not on fluency (not talking with a stutter) and instead communicating effectively—which I am pretty good at and singing everything to achieve fluency isn’t really how I want to communicate!  Plus, King George (that dude in the King’s Speech) was going up against Hitler and World War II, I am just trying to order a pastrami sandwich.  Plus, and I must say this on behalf of people who stutter around the world, King George wasn’t cured.  He said one speech KIND OF fluently.

“Have you considered a brain invasive surgery to stop stuttering?”

When you say this to someone (more specifically me), what I hear is “your speech is so outside the norm of what I am use to that you should consider brain surgery.”  A frontal lobe lobotomy for my stuttering isn’t something I am really interested in!   Similar to the Oprah example, keep your recommendations to yourself, unless we are paying you to hear them.  People who stutter seek out the information when they want it, your advice on the street when you over hear us stuttering while breaking up with our girlfriend/boyfriend, probably isn’t the time and place.  Also, anything that invasive is just creepy—especially since nothing like this exists in good stuttering circles.

“You stutter because you haven’t had the right kind of orgasm.”

This might be interchangeable with “I could bang the stutter out of you.”  Last I checked the research on stuttering, believe it or not, stuttering can’t be cured by your genitals.  If you want to flirt with a stutter, try something a little more subtle.

The Real Reason Women Aren’t Funny

The question of whether or not women are funny has plagued the comedy community for as long as there have been female comedians.  In recent years Jerry Lewis, Adam Carolla, and David Letterman’s stand up comedian booker, Eddie Brill, have all commented that women aren’t funny.  The most recent spokesman for comedic sexism came from Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson who implied it is difficult to find a funny Black woman.  As a female comedian these arguments naturally feel invalidating to the difficult chore of comedy. I have often wondered what is behind such comments.  Just blaming it on good old fashion misogyny or men who have mommy issues isn’t satisfactory.  There must be a deeper meaning to why it is perceived that women aren’t funny and why some men feel that it is ok to express this perspective.

I propose that the comment “women aren’t funny” is really a euphemism for “women aren’t smart.”  There are few contexts in today’s world where it is acceptable for anyone to make the over generalization that a particular group is not smart, but criticisms of a group’s sense of humor seems to be more acceptable.  What is the basic, core element to being funny—intelligence.  If women, on the whole, are not funny then it must reflect that we don’t have the core characteristic to make us funny.

All comedians must possess some level of intelligence in order to convey the irony and absurdity of the situations from which humor stems or to make digestible the discrimination one feels (a la Wanda Sykes).  Even female comedians whose shtick is one of being less intelligent or incompetent like Gracie Allen or Lucille Ball,  show a cloak of intelligence is needed to pull off her comedic perspective.  Perhaps our society is better able to digest comedy from a woman if she is “raunchy,” “dumb,” or “childlike.”  Even going back to the Vaudeville days, Fannie Brice played Baby Snooks, an infantilized adult child.  Marilyn Monroe who was considered intelligent in her personal life played the “dumb blonde” in her comedic portrayals.  It is acceptable to say that women aren’t funny instead of women are not smart enough to contribute to the social fabric of American entertainment as comedians.

There seems to be a lack of female comedians who are political.  It seems as if this is a frontier that many women have not flourished in.  Sure, we have Whoopi Goldberg, Janeane Garofalo and Wanda Sykes but few have been marketed as “political comedians” in the same way Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, or Stephen Colbert have (where are their solo-led news shows?).  I was talking to a friend about the lack of female political comedians.  He reflected back, “women just got the ability to vote and now you think they will be allowed into the comedic political realm?”  He’s right!  The job of politicians is to maintain the socio-political status quo while making incremental changes, which is why political change seems to happen at such a snail’s pace.  The job of a good comedian as I see it, is to challenge the status quo and hold a mirror up for society.  It is difficult for women, as well as other disempowered groups, to enter the realm of a political comedian because these positions of calling out the status quo are not traditionally etched out for us.

 

In our politically correct world we are often restricted from saying what we want to say in a direct way.  Perhaps for a mysoginistic culture, we know that saying “women aren’t smart and should remain in a powerless role” is unacceptable, but to say that they are “not funny” is allowed.  I don’t think that people who say this necessarily hate women but instead have been socialized to perceive women as less intelligent and/or are intimidated by women who are funny, smart, powerful, etc..  It is the same place I have been socialized so I know it well.  It is the same message that middle school girls get when they go from straight As to Bs and Cs because it is not considered cool or attractive to be smart.  Women and girls are funny, thus, women and girls are smart, and sometimes even create societal change from their art form.

 

About the author: Nina G is America’s only female stuttering stand up comedian (or at least until she finds another). She is also a disability activist, storyteller, children’s book author and educator.  Her book, Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities, helps children to better understand their disability and how to advocate for access.  She brings her humor to help people confront and understand social justice issues such as disability and equity.

 Picture of Janeane Garofalo, Lucille Ball and Whoopi Goldberg.

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