Category Archives: stutter

How Will You Celebrate Stuttering Awareness?

As a stand up comedian and Disability educator, I aim to make the world more aware of aspects of the disability experience.  As a person who stutters, who loves her community, I make a special point to share my experience and educate people about stuttering and stuttering etiquette.  In everything I do, I hope to go beyond stuttering awareness to place where we can celebrate our community and have a more inclusive world where we are able to be more integrated in our identities as people who stutter and however else we identify (culture, talents, hobbies, etc…).  We just aren’t our speech, but I personally don’t want people to overlook my experiences as a Stutterer because those experiences are an important part of what has created me.

Sometimes I get a little stuck on how I want to raise awareness.  I am just one individual, so how will I make an impact in raising awareness in my personal and professional lives, not to mention the world?  I have some ideas that I wanted to share with you.  And in no particular order….

Ain’t No Party Like A Stuttering Party

You know what?  People don’t equate stuttering or disability with fun!  I know, I don’t get it either.  Whenever I am around people who share my experiences I have hella fun.  I feel like I am at home.  People without disabilities or who don’t stutter can’t even imagine us getting together and partying.  Why not get together with your local stuttering community and go out to eat, picnic, sing karaoke, go out dancing, or whatever would be fun.  Make it an open invitation so people can meet up (you can even use meetup.com to do outreach), meet each other and find a community where they can not only share their gripes about stuttering in a fluent world, but also share their joys, successes and laughter.  Making space for us to have fun is so important and is a great bonding experience.  If you want to wear matching shirts or stuttering awareness sashes, that is great, but just getting together is a big deal for us.

Fun+food+stuttering=awareness

As an Italian-American, I tend to overdo it with the food, so I think I have some expertise in this area.  My plan is to bring stuttering awareness cupcakes to my office to share this year.  They will eat sea-green colored cupcakes but also get information about how to talk to a person who stutters.  There is plenty of information online about stuttering (just make sure it is the good stuff—please don’t send them that BS of Tony Robbins curing a person who stutters in 7 minutes because he was traumatized by Rocky and Bulwrinkle–no joke!  There is a lot of information about stuttering.  There are many organizations that produce materials such as the National Stuttering Association (NSA), Friends who Stutter, and Say.  Both organizations stress self-acceptance, community, and treatment options for people who stutter.  Not everyone is looking to be fluent and it is important for people outside of our community to know that we don’t need to be fixed.  Why not provide this type of information with decorated cookies or cupcakes?!

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Providing resources

Whatever you do, remember to provide resources to people you outreach too.  You might want to make a list of your top ten links, organizations, or videos.  Sometimes people are too shy to ask questions so providing resources can help them to find information on their own and digest it in their own time.  There are also some great podcasts like Women Who Stutter: Our Stories, Stutter Talk and Stuttering is Cool that you can promote as resources where real life experiences are explored.  Also, there are wonderful communities that can be found online.  One of my favorites is Stutter Social where you can communicate with people who stutter from all around the world in real time.  Because it is a Google Circle, you are able to see and hear people and is open to everyone.

Donating/Fundraising

There are large and small ways to fundraise or donate.  The most obvious is to just do it.  Send money to your favorite stuttering organization.  Many of us can’t afford to do this, but we might be able to organize an event to raise money.  There are some amazing organizations that help individuals who stutter to find their identity and advocate against discrimination.  Find out what stuttering organizations fit your own passions.  Besides raising money, your personal campaign funding is also raising awareness too because you are profiling an organization that you are passionate about.

Extra-Extra: Stutter all about it!

Did you know that radio stations NEED to do public service announcements (PSAs) as part of their community outreach?  Why not one about stuttering? I found the National Stuttering Association when I was a teenager because of a late night PSA and it changed my life.  Why not network to see how you can bring stuttering to a bigger audience?  Contacting your local news outlets is another great way to get the word out.  National Stuttering Awareness week is a great hook for a news outlet to cover.

Social Media

Social media is a blog entry in and of itself!  Lots of great activism goes on in social media.  Between tweeting, facebooking, blogging/vlogging, pinning and whatever else Silicon Valley has introduced this week, there is a ton of stuff that you can do to raise awareness and celebrate the Stuttering community.  Here are a few ideas.

Memes

For my purposes, I am talking about the little pictures that you can post to your social media.  Memes have a more broad definition, but let’s stick to the images for now.  Memes are a great way to give a visual image to a sound bite that you want to convey.  You can create your own to share or you can re-share others.  I have some of the ones that I have created at, please feel free to steal them: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.918396334847879.1073741833.123746114312909&type=1

Whether you create your own or share other’s, you might want to include a message about what the meme means to you and why you are sharing it.  We don’t always get to share our experience of stuttering, so saying a bit about it’s significance in your life will help to educate others.

Vlogs/Blogs

One of my biggest pet peeves, whether we are talking about entertainment or the academic/research realms, is that we, as people who stutter, have often had our voices blunted by the dominant/fluent perspective.  Traditionally, we have not had control over our images in the media or elsewhere.  The Disability community has adopted the slogan, “nothing about us without us” meaning that we should have say over all aspects of our Disability experience.  For the first time in our history, we have a direct line for representing who we are.  Why not share your experiences to the world?  Of course you should consider what you are sharing and take precautions.  If you are a young person, check with your family and friends to see if what you are thinking is a good idea and if you are prepared for any backlash.  Just assume that someone will have a problem with what you are saying, but also know that if you speak from a place that is authentic and true to yourself, you will touch people.  Other videos, like skits or slide shows, can also contribute to the library of images and diversity of content about stuttering.

One of my favorite videos I have worked on was with Gina Davis.  

Sharing videos

Sometimes you just can’t get around to creating a video or a blog but you might want to share other videos/blogs that represent your views.  There is a lot of great stuff out there and losing yourself in a search can produce some great opportunities to educate people on your Twitter feed and Facebook.  When sharing, do take into consideration that over saturating your Facebook feed can water down your message.  People get overwhelmed.  It might be better for you to post twice a day over the week instead of all at once.  Marketing research says that the peak time for Facebook is 11AM.  Apparently you are all sneaking it at work!  Thinking strategically can make the most out of your own personal awareness campaign.  Also, instead of just posting videos, include comments or questions so that people interact with the video.  It might start some great conversations on your feed!

People you admire who also happen to stutter

If I see another meme or article about Tiger Woods overcoming his stuttering, I am going to hurl!  So many of the images of people who stutter are people who don’t stutter openly.  Look beyond the awareness posters and images of “people who overcame” and look toward the athletes, professors, reporters, podcast hosts, authors and people YOU identify with.  Post these pictures and bios to your social media outlets and let people know why they are important to you.

The following is a list of some of the stuttering awareness material I have produced over the years.  Please include additional links in the comments section.  I hope something touches you and motivates you to tell others about stuttering:

BLOGS

Don’t Be That Person Who Stutters

The Stuttering Iceberg Gets A Make Over

License to Stutter: What the Stuttering Community Has Meant to Me

VIDEOS

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

 

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]

Minnie Pearl Inspires Mel Tillis To Stutter

On December 29th, 2015, Mel Tillis had a press conference in Laughlin, Nevada. Here’s what he said about stuttering (sorry video is so bad!). For many of us who stutter, we think we have to be perfect when we speak, but thankfully Minnie Pearl encouraged Mr. Tillis to speak on stage.  Link to video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJN5nX_ERf0

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Vintage photo of Mel Tillis (looking pretty fine)

MC: did you say Mel Tillis or M-Mel Tillis?

[laughter]

MEL: M-m-m-Mel Tillis.

MC: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a big round of applause for M-Mel Tillis!

[applause, cheers]

MEL: I was signing autographs here oh, not too long ago, and there was a fellow in line. He was about 15 on down the line, and he hollers out, “Mel Tillis! I paid $34 to hear you stutter, and you ain’t stutter one damn bit!”

[laughter]

And I said, “I’m trying to quit, sir!”

[laughter]

MC: That’s awesome. Well, go ahead and have a seat right there.

MEL: OK.

.

You know, when I first went to Nashville, boy I really stuttered bad. And I signed on as a songwriter for Webb Pierce’s company, and he paid me $50 against a draw. And when the money started coming in, they took that out. So actually, they hired me for nothing.

[laughter].

But I was a songwriter, and Jim Denney was a part-owner of that company, the publishing company. He also had a booking agency. One of his acts was Minnie Pearl. Minnie was going out and doing the fair dates all over the Midwest:  Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, all over the Midwest.

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And she needed a rhythm guitar player and a singer. And Mr. Denny put me with her, and then I found out that she needed a fiddle player. Well, I had met a fiddle player at the coffee shop there on South and Union.

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His name was Roger Miller.

[crowd excited].

And he said he could play the fiddle. I said, “Can you play?” “Yeah, I can play.” Then I went back, and I told them about him, and they hired him. We went out on the road, and I couldn’t even talk hardly in those days. Roger would introduce my song, and I’d sing it. Then, he’d come back out there and said, “Mel Tillis said ‘thank you’!”.

[laughter].

That’s the truth.

.

One day, Minnie Pearl–.

She’d been over there watching [inaudible] outdoors. I went over there, and I said, “Yes, Ma’am?” And says, “Mel,” she says, “I see that you have a little problem with speaking.” “Yes, Ma’am.”

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And she said, “Well, if you’re gonna be in our business, you need to introduce your own song. And then you need to thank them. And then after the show, you need to sign autographs.” And I said, “Ms. Minnie, I c-,” I said, “I can’t do that.” I said, “They’ll laugh at me.” And she said, “No, they won’t now, but they’ll laugh with you.”

.

And I started talking onstage, and the next thing I knew, I did 17 Johnny Carson shows.

[laughter].

[inaudible], The Merv Griffin Show, The Dan Barton Show, The Hollywood Squares. I did them all and 13 movies. And Ms. Minnie was right.

MC: Yes, she was.

MEL: I started talking onstage. People did think that it’s something that I use. I don’t use it. When I was out there on the Glen Campbell “Goodtime Hour,” they would write that stuff, and we would say. They’d put the stutter in there!

[laughter]

I said, “I might not even stutter on that word! Take that thing outta there!”

[laughter]

But you know, over the years, the more I talked onstage–and Ms. Minnie was right–the less I stuttered.

[applause]

It’s still part for me, when I read something. I still have a problem reading orally. And that’s why I read silent.

[laughter]

MC: That’s awesome. So you were also involved in the SAY organization, which is for people, actually, who have that challenge, who have stuttering.

MEL: The Stuttering Foundation of America, yeah. And I’ve got a painting–you put it up on your phone there–a painting called “Masonic America,” and I’ve raised $88,000 for speech and hearing clinics with the Stuttering Foundation of America. I’m proud of it.

[applause, cheers]

You put it up. You’ll see it. [inaudible]. Not only will you see that picture, but you’ll see a lot of my paintings that I do. I do that too.

MC: Wow!

What every parent of a kid with learning issues needs to hear

This blog post is dedicated to every parent or ally of a kid with a disability who didn’t think their advocacy was working.  Watch the video or read the transcript below.

what-ever-needs

Watch the video here!

The schools oftentimes told my  parents that Catholic school was not for me, that it wasn’t a place that I belonged and that they only served the “typical” kids. And the one story that I really wanted to share with you was when I first got diagnosed, the schools kinda tried to push me out. My mom tried to educate them about what a learning disability was.

And so she called up Cal at the time, and they had a disability office. And they specifically had a program for students who had LD. And she got a letter from the school and presented it to the teachers and said, “Look at  this! You think she’s only gonna fry French fries. I think that  was your exact term, McDonalds.”

So she said, “She’s only gonna work there,” which by the way, if they increase the minimum wage, that would be awesome. [ laughs ] You wouldn’t have any loans. And showed that letter to the teachers. And the teachers just kind of ignored it, and it didn’t really work.

But she folded it up and put it in the drawer next to my savings bonds from my first Communion and a lot of other really important things like my Social Security card. And it sat there, and for me, even though it didn’t help with the teacher, it helped that I saw her actually do that.

And I eventually went to Cal, and I think it was a big part because I knew that that was a school that they had accommodations.

And so sometimes the interventions and the activism and the advocacy that you do as  a parent, it may not work on the person that you’re trying to direct it at. But it may work because of the impact on your kid.

#activism #advocacy #specialed #catholicschool #disability #dyslexia

 

#DDDetainedInAtlanta: What the Atlanta Airport Needs to Know About Stuttering

This past week Kylah Simmons (pictured below) was coming back from a study abroad trip in Costa Rica when she was detained for stuttering at the Atlanta Airport. You can hear and read more about her experience on her interview with StutterTalk.

It is always alarming when people who stutter are detained, discriminated against or treated badly because of their speech, but in this case the Atlanta Airport better shape up and fast!  The 11th World Congress on Stuttering teams up with the National Stuttering Association in July for a conference.  Guess where?  Atlanta!!  Literally, there will be over one thousand people who stutter (including myself) going through that very airport.  Needless to say, they better get educated!

What better way to educate the Atlanta Airport and the rest of the world than through a Twitter campaign!

Let’s take to Twitter to educate the Atlanta Airport and the world about stuttering under the hashtag #DDDetainedInAtlanta.  Be sure to tag their Twitter handle: @ATLairport.  Tweet what you think they should know and advocate for more training of their employees—especially for the influx of people who stutter in July!  Believe me Atlanta Airport, you don’t have enough rooms to detain us in July!!

We have a voice!

KylahSimmonsStutterTalk566

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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Five Tips For Stuttering Your Way Through Presentations

brilliantideas

Most of my comedy life is getting up on stage and telling jokes.  Most of my professional life is getting up in front of people and training them.  All of my life is lived as a person who stutters.  People who stutter and even those who don’t, are surprised that an individual who stutters can command a room or have the “guts” to stand in front of people and talk.  I enjoy it and with the exception of neck, back and jaw aches on some days, I am pretty unaffected by my speech.  Of course, there was the one day when I stuttered and a piece of my breakfast flew out of my mouth and landed on one of the participants’ fingers but other than that stuttering doesn’t interfere with my stand up or when leading groups.

People who stutter email and message me all the time on Facebook and ask me how I can get up in front of people and talk and if I have any tips.  I thought I would offer some suggestions that would help my stuttering brothers and sisters, but might also help a broader audience.

  1. “I stutter and you are going to have to wait patiently for all my brilliant ideas”

When do you tell a person that you stutter?  Do you let it happen organically?  Do you talk around your the words that you think you will stutter on and strive for complete fluency?

These are all questions that I have asked myself.  I remember being in high school Speech class and constructing speeches where I took out every word that I thought I would stutter on.  Once I even did a horrible rap (on Doxidan-a popular laxative at the time) because I knew that I could be fluent if I rapped or put on a voice.  Oh my God, it was just awful!  Another time I had to work with a partner to review a movie.  We chose “Strange Brew” and I spent the entire time talking like Bob and Doug McKenzie (“take off, eh?) to achieve fluency.  No wonder I wasn’t popular with the boys!

Through the years I have embraced my speech.  Being around others who stutter has helped significantly, which is why I highly recommend finding a National Stuttering Association chapter or conference.  Seeing and experiencing people who talk like you is validating and an important step in self-acceptance.  With self-acceptance comes a level of comfort with how you speak and subsequently self-disclosure.  I personally, disclose my stuttering in stand up comedy or when doing presentations as early as possible.  If I am doing stand up, I do the first part of my set on stuttering.  If I am doing presentations or even when I am on a job interview, I state early “just so you know, I stutter so you are going to have to wait for all of the brilliant things I have to say.”  This usually breaks the ice plus I just told the people I am meeting with how I want them to respond to my speech and that I am a capable person.  The reality is that most people don’t know how to respond to our speech since we might be the first person they have ever met who stutters.  If we can mold their response to us it can save some awkward moments later on.  If time allows in my presentations, I will go more in-depth and share more tips and even talk about the cause of stuttering (current research indicates it is neurologically based).  I have included a clip from a presentation I did for the MGM Grand on Disability Awareness where I offer tips on how to talk to a person who stutters.

Everyone is going to disclose their stuttering differently.  You should develop a way that you are comfortable with and even try it out on different friends and family to see their response.  Remember, it is your stuttering, your presentation and your audience.  So many times as people who stutter we feel our speech is out of our control.  When doing presentations, you may not have control of your stuttering, but you do have control over your presentation so seize it!

One more thing.  Don’t apologize for your speech.  Your stuttering is a part of you.  Saying, “sorry but I stutter” is like me getting up and saying, “sorry guys, but I am a woman.”  How wrong would that be?!

 2.  Be passionate about what you are talking about!

You know what I don’t do presentations on and jokes about?  Things I don’t care about!  As a person who stutters I know that what I want to say is sacred.  I have not always been comfortable talking and when I have chosen to interject, it is because it is something I am so passionate about that I can’t keep quiet.  When presenting on a topic, be passionate and knowledgable about it.  If the thing you love is the civil war and the modes of transportation used at this time, then do your presentation on that (although make sure you have the right context to present).  If you love the thing you are talking about then your audience will appreciate what you have to say and the excitement for the topic will be contagious.  I always speak from my heart and try to relate to practical things in my own life.  Through the years I have developed an arsenal of stories that I use on different topics.  These stories can be planned into a presentation or, even better, may come up at spontaneous times, so people look like you are speaking off the cuff, but meanwhile it was already planned.

Loving what you talk about gives you context and expertise.  Participants will be impressed with your knowledge and you will feel that you are in a zone to be successful.

3.  “I just said three P words in a row.  Try saying that if you stutter!”

There might be times where stuttering may get in the way or come to the foreground of your presentations.  For example, in my stand up, when I am quoting someone who said something awful about my stutter and I stutter on what they say, I will add “but they didn’t stutter when they said it, that is probably a key point.”  I acknowledge that my stuttering is somewhat out of context.  I poke fun at the process of speaking but I don’t necessarily make fun of myself.  Another example, from my stand up act is when I say three P-words in a row (for the sake of keeping this essay PG rated I will leave the direct quote out).  After saying the sentence, I add “try saying that if you stutter, I had to practice that a lot in the car on the way here to say that fluently.”

The other day I was showing off Google’s speech to text software where you can speak into your phone and it appears in Google docs.  One of the workshop participants said she wanted to learn about hieroglyphics, totally a word I would stutter on, which I did when I spoke into my phone for the demonstration.  The software butchered my word and it came out funky.  I said, “Google speech obviously doesn’t like people who stutter.”  This demonstrated that the software had some issues for people who might not have standard speech and that I could have a sense of humor about the process of talking, but I remained a good communicator.

4.  Remember, good presenting isn’t all about you!

Not everyone gets this one, especially my professors I had in university.  When presenting, yes you are the focus but it isn’t all about you.  I think sometimes as people who stutter, we feel we have to command the room at all times and talk the entire time.  It is more helpful to think of yourself as a facilitator rather than a speaker.  Your goal is that your audience takes ownership of the topic you are presenting on.  Helping them develop what this means for them is a big part of that.  Some ways to do this include:

-Pair and Share: put people in pairs (sometimes I will have them find someone with the same sock, eye or hair color) and direct them on what to discuss.

-Walk and Talk Activities: have participants walk around the building or the block for a few minutes and discuss a topic that you give them.  This involves them in the topic and rejuvenates their brains to be able to sit through the next part of your presentation.

-Small, medium, and large group discussion.  People need to construct their own knowledge of a topic in order for them to buy into it.  Just sitting there listening to you is not going to do that.

5.  People who Stutter can be good communicators!

Many people who stutter have internalized the fallacy that we are bad communicators.  One has nothing to do with the other.  There are plenty of fluent people who could improve their communication skills and plenty of people who stutter who maintain strong communication skills.  Strong communication skills for presenting, whether or not you stutter include good eye contact, fluctuating the tone of your voice, body language, and using distance to emphasize your talking points.  Using these techniques in a way that is authentic to who you are is key.  I tend to be a silly person, at times kind of weird, and even in professional situations I try to remain true to who I am.  Using different voices, hand motions, walking around the room and making eye contact with every single person in the room helps to convey my objectives.

Using multiple modes of expression (visual, auditory, and hands-on) also helps communication.  Using powerpoint slides with pictures, videos, and music can also facilitate what you are presenting.  I even do an interpretive dance to describe the brain of someone with dyslexia.  Using other modes of presenting is just good teaching and presenting.  You are more than a speaker, you are orchestrating your audience’s learning and your mouth is just one of your instruments.

Nina G is America’s only female comedian who stutters.  She is also a keynote speaker, educator and author of the children’s book Once Upon an Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities.  New for 2015 she is consulting with individuals to make their presentations fun, dynamic and hilarious.  For more information about Nina and the services she offers, go to www.Ninagcomedian.com.  Also look for the debut of her one person show Going Beyond Inspirational in April.

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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