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Deaf Comedy Jam

Deaf comedy hasn’t had a lot going for it ever since black people ran it into the ground in the 90s.
Κείμενο Allison Van Siclen

Photo by Diane Cohen

Deaf comedy hasn’t had a lot going for it ever since black people ran it into the ground in the 90s. There’s that episode of Seinfeld where Rob Schneider pretends to be deaf, but that’s kind of it, and I’m not sure deaf people think that counts. Andrew Fisher is trying to end the deaf-comedic world’s long silence by telling jokes in American Sign Language and then having an interpreter say them out loud, which produces a weird, slightly staggered laughter between the hearing and nonhearing members of the audience that’s arguably as funny as the jokes themselves (which are already pretty fucking funny). Here’s him.

VICE: Do you think the audience reacts differently to your jokes because you’re deaf?
Andrew Fisher: Being deaf puts you at an advantage in stand-up comedy because you have their attention. They’ve never seen a deaf comedian before. But being deaf gets old very, very fast. It could easily become a gimmick. You have to address it as quickly as you can—make a couple jokes about it when you get onstage before you can move on to things that are universal and timeless. So for me, the compromise is to find the universal in being deaf, something that everybody can relate to. Like what?
I tell stories about the humiliation of sexual adolescence. That’s universal, but also very experience-specific. Everybody masturbates, but I also talk about what it was like to realize that masturbation makes a sound. Or how my language acquisition was a bit different from others—when I was a kid, I didn’t know there was a difference between spoken and written English. I thought everybody said the names of punctuation marks out loud. If I saw a couple arguing in the street, I thought one might be saying to the other, “Get lost. Exclamation mark.” Is any of your material based on being mistreated because you’re deaf?
I have this joke that actually happened. I was in a waiting room when this comedian came up to me and he was like, “Um, I notice some of your friends are in the audience here. If I want to address them, which term do you think they would prefer? ‘Handicapped’ or ‘disabled’?” And I said, “I’m sorry, but between those two terms, I’d prefer ‘retarded.’”
Is there such a thing as a “deaf joke”? Like, one that only deaf people would get?
There are jokes in ASL that are based on the symbolic significance of hand formations. For example, the sign for “marry” looks similar to clapping your hands together once. So there’s a deaf joke about King Kong asking a blonde bombshell whom he’s holding in the palm of his hand to “marry” him. Of course when King Kong makes the sign for “marry,” he accidentally squishes his fiancée.