Tag 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.

images-29.png

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

 

Advertisements

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.

Unknown-25

Changing the image of Disability through comedy

10981074_935633939815397_7085018791117066670_o

Big news!  The Comedians with Disabilities Act and Friends album is out.  Disabled Comedy Only is the first ever compilation of Disabled comedians on a single album.  Monumental! The recording was done independently and without any Jumpstarts or GoFundMes.  As artists with disabilities we retained complete control over our material, our image and our brand.  No abled bodied people dictated what we should or shouldn’t say.  Please support independent comedy fighting for visibility, equity, and disability justice through comedy.

Please support the album by purchasing it at: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/comedianswithdisabilitie

and sharing our videos!

Thank you for the support!

Comedy Troupe, Feminist Tendencies, and the Pacific Pinball Museum host the first ever Pinball Prom

Image

The Pacific Pinball Museum and Belles and Chimes, all women’s pinball league, kicks off women’s history month with a night of political comedy from a female perspective.  The comedy Troupe Feminist Tendencies will perform including Karinda Dobbins, Queenie TT, Nina G, Jessica Sele, Valerie Branch, Lydia Popovich.  That’s not all, there will also be the first ever pinball prom which will include dancing, prom pictures and lots of puffy sleeves.  You don’t have to dress up, but when will you ever get the opportunity to dress up and play pinball?  The Pinball Prom and comedy show will be held Saturday March 8, 2014, doors open at 7:30 show at 8:00.  Dancing and pinball until midnight!

Feminist Tendencies is the creation of comedians Karinda Dobbins, Nina G, Kelly Annekan, and Queenie TT. Feminist Tendencies celebrates the various aspects of female identity. All the comedians involved act as vehicles of social change through their humor.  The comedy showcase with be hosted by Jessica Sele with special guests Lydia Popovich and Valerie Branch.

Motor City native Karinda Dobbins was born into a politically active family of gifted storytellers and sharp wits. Her worldview was shaped by their accounts of protest, civil rights and empowerment, weighty subjects that were always leavened with humor. Whenever she heard the grownups laughing long past her bedtime, she took that as her cue to sneak out of her room and eavesdrop while they entertained themselves with Richard Pryor records. She not only listened, she learned, developing a relaxed style for delivering pungent commentary.

Nina G is the America’s only female stuttering stand up comedian.  She is also a storyteller and educator and produces comedy shows for the Pacific Pinball Museum. She brings her humor to help people confront and understand social justice issues such as disability, diversity, and equity.  When she isn’t performing at comedy clubs like the San Francisco Punchline, the Hollywood Improv, or the Laugh Factory, she presents as a keynote speaker. She has spoken to thousands of parents, professionals and young people with disabilities to encourage self-advocacy and social change.  Nina is also a world ranked pinball player and part of Belle’s and Chimes

Queenie TT regularly performs at Cobb’s Comedy Club, The San Jose Improv, Tommy T’s, The Purple Onion, and Flapper’s Comedy Club and has opened for national and local headliners, Luenell, Cocoa Brown, Mike E. Winfield, Shang, Rodney Perry, and Big Worm Romero. Queenie is also the author of Praise Be to the Plus-Sized Sister available at Amazon.com, host of the popular web series, The Crazy Fabulous Show; a comedic actor, plus-model, motivational speaker, body esteem educator, and she produces Queenie TT & Friends, Queenie TT’s Comedy Gumbo, Queenie TT’s Comedy Love Shack, Queenie TT’s Comedy Tour from the Bay to LA, and The Curves N Cupcakes Comedy Tour. Queenie started comedy weighing well over 400 pounds; seated with a cane, and sick with Acute Hypothyroidism Stage II Lymphedema. Not only is she exactly half the person she used to be, she is one of the hottest female comics in the underground comedy communities of Sacramento, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Her positive messages of female empowerment, positive body esteem, and self-love proves that Queenie TT is more than just a comedian.

Belles & Chimes is the first ever all female pinball league. The group’s mission is to provide a fun, supportive environment for Bay Area women to socialize and play pinball together. The league meets in downtown Oakland twice a month and is open to women of all skill levels.

Get your tickets before they sell out at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/belles-and-chimes-pinball-prom-with-feminist-tendencies-tickets-10583711165?aff=eorg.

If you’d like more information on this event, or to schedule interviews with any of the comedians please contact Nina G at NinaGbooking@gmail.com.

THE “COMEDIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT” TOUR ROLLS INTO NAPA Thursday Feb. 27 at Bui Bistro’s Comedy Night @ Bui Bistro

Image

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Tim Wolcott
Tel. 707-337-8582
Email: timwolcott79@gmail.com

THE “COMEDIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT” TOUR ROLLS INTO NAPA Thursday Feb. 27 at Bui Bistro’s Comedy Night @ Bui Bistro.

A blind man. A stuttering woman. A wheelchair user. A little person. While this may sound like a description of a support group, it is, in fact, the lineup for the “Comedians with Disabilities Act”, a comedy tour that the San Francisco Examiner called “The most unconventional comics to pop up in 2011”. Made up entirely of performers with different disabilities, the troupe is bringing their “special” brand of humor to Comedy Night @ Bui Bistro, hosted by local comedian Tim Wolcott, on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7pm.

The foursome, all of them working northern California comedians, met each other through the comedy club circuit and decided to band together to treat audiences to a unique and unforgettable experience.

“Lots of able-bodied comedians out there tell blind or wheelchair jokes and get the audience to laugh AT people with disabilities,” said Michael O’Connell, the group’s wheelchair representative and founder of the troupe. “But wouldn’t it be more fun for the crowd, we thought, to be invited to laugh WITH people with disabilities instead? That’s guilt-free fun right there.”

Since their first sold-out show in Sacramento, the group has been in growing demand, getting booked at such lauded venues as the Laugh Factory in Hollywood and San Francisco’s Punch Line comedy club. Their comedy comes from the lifetime of experiences each has had due to their individual challenges. They see the tour as not only a chance to entertain, but to educate people on disability issues.

“We’re all comedians first,” said Napa native Steve Danner who identifies as a Little Person, “and it’s a comedy show. But who says you can’t make people laugh and send them home with something to think about too?”

Danner’s comedy career began as an audience member at a club. The comedian on stage that night decided to have some fun at his expense, and Danner’s skills in heckling back at him led the comic to approach Danner after the show and suggest he give comedy a try. He did so, and soon began a career as a prolific comedian and producer, delighting crowds at clubs and comedy rooms all over the west coast with hysterical tales centered heavily on his dwarfism. His comic journey keeps him on the road much of the time, but as Danner is fond of saying, “Shrimpin’ ain’t easy!”.

Michael O’Connell was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at two years old and began using a wheelchair in 1995. But it wasn’t until years later that a friend dared him to try doing comedy at an open mic night at a Sacramento club, and after ending up winning the competition that first night on stage, he never looked back. He’s played comedy clubs from Seattle to L.A. (including the Hollywood Improv and the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club), been featured in newspapers and on radio and television, and counts several Hollywood celebrities among his fans. His business card reads “100% Comedy, 0% Stand-Up”.  Michael is unable to attend this show but you can check out his comedy at http://www.michaeloconnell.com/michaelocomedy.

Sacramento’s Eric Mee was only eighteen years old when, while protecting a young child, he was stabbed in the chest. Complications resulting from his injury led to the loss of his eyesight. Choosing not to let this drastic life change get him down, he began joking about his condition and giving speeches to groups that were always filled with humor. After many suggestions, he turned his talents to stand-up comedy, and now brings his manic energy and outrageous tales to the stage, both at clubs and college campuses.

Touting herself as “the America’s only female comedian who stutters”, Nina G. hails from the Bay Area and has spent a lifetime dealing with both speech and learning disability issues. A key note speaker and disability advocate, Nina turned her talents to the stand-up stage to help raise disability awareness through comedy, and performs her award-winning work at some of the industry’s hottest clubs (the Hollywood Improv and the San Francisco Punchline) and has shared the stage with some of its biggest names (Dave Chappelle).

The Comedians with Disabilities Act will be joined by special guests Steve Lee and Queenie TT.   Steve Lee, a Hong Kong native, originally came to the US as an exchange student.  His comedy integrates his experiences as a first generation Asian American with a disability.  Queenie is a motivational speaker and a body esteem educator with lymphedema.  Combining comedy with motivational speech, Queenie empowers women to make healthier choices for their lives by embracing the power of self-love.

The show will be hosted and produced by local standup comic, Tim Wolcott. Tim started his standup career in 2003 while attending Pacific Union College, where he also helped form the improv/sketch comedy group, Desperate 4 Attention. After a few years of the journeyman comic life, living in Los Angeles and Tampa, Tim returned to St. Helena’s restaurant scene and the San Francisco/Bay Area comedy scene in 2009. He has since performed at venues all over the bay area, including at San Francisco’s historic Purple Onion.  Tim began producing his own shows in June of 2013, at La Condesa in St. Helena.  This will be the second show he’s produced at Bui Bistro, a French/Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Napa.  The show begins at 7pm and has no cover.

If you’d like more information on this event, or to schedule interviews with any of the comedians please contact Nina G at NinaGbooking@gmail.com or Tim Wolcott at timwolcott79@gmail.com.