Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘humor in stuttering

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There is so much I want to say about the recent National Stuttering Association conference that just wrapped up in Chicago, Illinois this weekend. I am going to write later in the week about a couple of deeply important workshops that I attended that opened up dialogue that some people may not be used to.

But I feel compelled to write just a bit about The Stuttering Monologues, which was a performance I coordinated with 12 people and that we performed at the closing ceremony on Saturday July 7. I got the idea to create a version of stuttering monologues back in 2012 after watching a local performance of The Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler. Ensler created her Vagina Monologues as an activism vehicle for women to be able to voice their concerns about consensual and non-consensual sexual experiences. Women of all different ages, races, sexual orientations and other differences let their voice be heard.

I envisioned that the same could be done with our stuttering stories. I presented the inaugural Stuttering Monologues as a workshop at the NSA conference in 2012 in Tampa. It was hugely successful – one of the most attended sessions, with standing room only. I brought it back again the following year, in Scottsdale in 2013. Again, the session was a stand-out, with a wall in the workshop room needing to be opened in order to accommodate people.

I wanted to bring it back to the conference again, but felt waiting a few years to keep the experience fresh was best. This seemed right, 5 years later and in Chicago. The NSA Executive Director asked me what I thought about presenting it to the whole conference as part of fully attended closing ceremony. We could make that work, right? What was done the previous two times in 75 minutes would now need to be done in less than 30 minutes.

I embraced the challenge. I had already lined up my presenters for the 2018 version of the Monologues when I learned we would do them at the closing and everyone would need to come in at under 2 minutes. That’s a big challenge for people who stutter. One person freely admitted that sometimes it has taken him fully two minutes to just say his name.

But we did it and to enormous success. We heard deeply moving, authentic stories about fear, shame, priorities, kindness and the human condition. It was funny, gut wrenching, inspiring and real all rolled up in one neat, 26 minute package. We heard monologues titled, “Dear Diary,” “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know,” and “Heartbeat.” All rang true and we somehow managed to capture the diversity of our stuttering community through the unique voices we heard.

I had some people come up to me afterwards saying it was the best part of the conference. That the short stories were so powerful and riveting that everyone should hear something like this that so perfectly captures the complexity of stuttering. A long time member’s husband came up to me and said for him it was the best part of the conference. He said it was moving, emotional and powerful and that he could tell a lot of work went into it to make it look so seamless. That meant so much to me.

This was a labor of love. Not everything went perfectly. Some people didn’t come to practice sessions, some waited until the 11th hour to submit titles and bios and two people bowed out throughout the planning process. But it worked. Authentic voices were raised and eager ears listened to the stories that are all of us.

 

 

On stage

I had the amazing experience to interview Nina G, a stuttering stand up comedian this past Friday night on stage after she performed her routine. Nina has been featured several times on my Women Who Stutter podcast and has numerous YouTube videos showcasing her comedy and disability rights activism.

When Nina told me she had booked a gig at the University at Albany, right in my backyard, I was excited to get to see her and immediately planned for that weekend. But then Nina let me know that she wanted me to interview her live for my podcast. I was beyond excited but also naturally nervous.

A few days before Nina’s performance, we spoke by phone to map out a game plan for Friday’s show. Nina shared that it was her plan to have me live interview her on stage as part of the performance. I had not figured on that. I thought I would just be interviewing her after the show.  So, I prepared some questions that I hoped would generate good discussion and crossed my fingers.

Well, Friday’s performance was a huge success. There were well over 100 people in the audience and people stayed for the whole show! There were several people who stutter in the audience as well, which was really fun.

Nina performed her comedy routine for about 30 minutes and then invited me on stage for the interview segment. Oh my gosh, it went great. We played off each other and had great dialogue going on. We recorded the audio and hopefully I will be able to use it for a future podcast episode. Nina also video recorded most of it as well.

It was such a great experience. I had never done anything like that before and it was such an adrenaline rush to be up on stage with Nina. After the interview segment, Nina invited me to remain on stage with her as she entertained questions.

After the show, a group of us went to dinner, including the two college students we met who stutter, as well as two other friends who stutter. Six of us closed a local restaurant and talked and laughed for several hours.

Thank you so much, Nina G for inviting me and including me in your show.  We did a lot of educating Friday night and helped normalize stuttering.

Nina and Pam

 

 

PamEpisode 170 features Pooja  Vijay who hails from New Delhi, India. By day, Pooja is an academic, working as a researcher at a university think tank. She is an engineer. By night, Pooja does stand up comedy, and gets introduced as a stuttering comedian.

Pooja considers herself very lucky to have two jobs that she loves. For she does think of her stand up comedy as a second job. She got started at an Open Mic and got a good response and has been at it ever since. Both of her jobs involve lots of interacting and talking with others. She says we have to “keep speaking and doing our thing.”

Listen in as we discuss how Pooja has managed her stutter, resources for therapy and self-help in India, and how she feels stuttering is just a different way of speaking. She says stuttering is just part of her, like other diversities.

Pooja gives a shout out to fellow comedians Nina G and Drew Lynch, who inspired her to try comedy and keep at it.

The music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

 

IMG_1086I went to see Drew Lynch, a comedian who stutters, this past weekend. This is the second time I have seen him perform live. He put on a great show and his jokes and stories were genuinely funny.

He didn’t make all of his stories about stuttering. In fact, he only talked about stuttering twice, and poked fun at himself for stuttering just once. The rest of his stories were about other funny things and he stuttered while telling, of course, because that’s what he does.

This time I was at the show with a friend who stutters. She enjoyed the performance as much as I did. Neither of us felt uncomfortable laughing at someone who stutters, nor were we uncomfortable with the audience laughing. And laugh they did! The audience appreciated Drew’s comedy and his story telling. Everything was spot on, especially Drew’s timing, since it’s not always easy for a stutterer to “get” the punchline right.

After the show, my friend and I waited in line to meet Drew and get a picture. I was excited about this, as I had not waited to meet him the last time I saw him perform. When I went up to meet him, I told him I stuttered too and that I greatly enjoyed the show. I told him about the National Stuttering Association , which he didn’t seem to know about. I asked him to consider speaking at a NSA event or conference sometime. He enthusiastically said he would consider it and told me to get in touch with his assistant.

Then we hugged and posed for a photo. I’m glad I got to meet him and glad I enjoyed the show. I’ve come a long way with how I handle seeing and hearing someone else stutter. Years ago, I would have winced and been offended with people laughing at someone who stutters. Now, I take it in stride and just enjoy good comedy for what it is.

Well, I took a big risk and joined an improv class. I had heard improv was a great way to get out of your comfort zone, practice being in the moment and have fun.

My first class was this week. I had googled a few articles on improv so had a general idea as to what it was, but really had no idea what to expect when I walked into the classroom. I was nervous and excited at the same time. I was nervous about looking foolish in front of others and about how to handle the fact I stutter.

It was important for me to find a way to let my classmates know that I stutter so they wouldn’t be surprised when they heard me stuttering.

We started out with doing some warm-up exercises to get to know each other. They were a combination of saying our names and doing a fun action. Before we knew it, everyone was laughing and seemed somewhat comfortable. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

We then moved into learning some of the basics of improv, like establishing relationships and places so that onlookers can get a sense of the scene you’re creating. We worked on collaborating with each other, using the improv strategy of “Yes, and.” This strategy has us agreeing with what our partner gives us and adding to it, forging onward with what we are given. In other words, much of improv is going with the flow.

At one point, the teachers wanted all of us to get to know one another, as our selves, not characters we were creating. We paired up and just talked to each other, asking questions to get to learn about each other.

My partner asked me how my summer was and if I had done any thing fun. Here was my opening to talk about stuttering. I mentioned that I had gone to Atlanta for a conference and naturally she asked what type of conference.

I told her it was the annual NSA conference for people who stutter and that I stuttered. She went with the flow and said that was very interesting. Everyone was watching our “introduction piece” so I advertised it to the group as well. After that, I felt more comfortable letting my stuttering out and just going with the flow.

I am really looking forward to seeing how this class goes. I’ve been looking for something to challenge me since finishing with Toastmasters and this definitely will be a challenge. I’ve been worried about the fact that I am not naturally funny and I’ve read that I don’t have to try and be funny. I can just be natural and work with classmates and think in the moment and work as a team and funny will naturally happen. I’m hopeful that’s true.

Wish me luck. We do a performance in front of an audience at the end of the class, live on stage. I’ll really be stepping out of my comfort zone and hopefully having a blast!

 

I have recently listened to podcasts (besides my own, who knew?) where people have suggested that we can have fun with our stuttering. Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist, a NBA basketball player with the Charlotte Hornets, was recently on a sports podcast where he talked about having fun with his stuttering.

And Chris Constantino, a host with the StutterTalk podcast recently talked about having fun with our stuttering and seeing if we could make stuttering a pleasurable experience.

I have thought of stuttering in terms of making it a positive rather than a negative – “I’m stuttering well today” – but have never really thought about how it can be fun or pleasurable. That takes re-framing from a negative to a positive to a whole new place. A place that many people may not be at in their journey with stuttering.

I brought this idea of having fun with stuttering up at a recent discussion on Stutter Social. It was met with mixed results. Some people were intrigued by the novelty of the concept, as it really is the opposite of what people think about stuttering. One person was willing to explore out loud what it’s like when he makes fun of his stuttering. He mentioned that when he reaches that point, that he can poke fun at his stuttering, then he might not really stutter anymore.

Several people indicated that they could not imagine at all having fun with stuttering. They mentioned the negativity they feel when they stutter and how they wind up feeling depressed during and after long periods of stuttering.

I have been more conscious lately of smiling when I am in a stuttered moment. Whether it be a string of repetitions or a block, I try to remember to smile while I am stuttering. That may not be the same as having fun with it, but it makes me feel better to smile during the moment and I’m pretty sure it helps the listener to remain comfortable and present until I finish.

I am going to challenge myself to play with my stuttering and see what happens when I think about how the repetitions feel as they roll off my tongue and what the sensation of the block feels like. I am far from feeling that getting stuck in a block can be pleasurable, but I get where Constantino is coming from. Anything that we produce – and we produce sounds and words – should be valued as ours, as creative, as something positive.

What do you think of this idea of having fun with your stuttering? What does it feel like when you block? Can you make that a pleasurable experience?

I recently had the opportunity to attend a comedy show, headlined by Drew Lynch, a person who stutters. Drew was featured on last season’s reality TV show, “America’s Got Talent” (AGT.) Drew did stand-up comedy on the TV show and wound up finishing the talent competition in second place.

Drew did not grow up as a stutterer. He claims he began stuttering a few years ago, after being injured in an accident. He was hit in the throat by a softball and began stuttering. He had aspirations to be an actor and decided to try his hand at stand-up comedy when fate intervened and he was injured.

I remember last year when Drew was on AGT. A lot of people in the stuttering community did not find him funny and did not think it was cool to make fun of stuttering. Audiences laughed at his stuttering jokes and the way he made fun of himself. He almost always laughed himself after telling a joke.

I found him to be funny and his humor appropriate, but was only seeing him in 3 minute segments.

When I heard he was coming to my hometown to headline a comedy show, I was very interested in seeing him perform. I wondered how he would handle performing for a longer stretch. And I wondered how my hometown audience would react to a comedian that stutters.

My sister had asked me to go with her to the show, which was a surprise, as I didn’t think she would be interested in seeing someone who stutters. She and I don’t talk about stuttering. It’s always been a taboo topic in my family and continues to be so, even though I am very open and public about my stuttering.

So we went to the show and had a great time. There were two opening acts, one which was very funny and the other was just OK. Neither of them stuttered! 🙂

When Drew came out to perform, he immediately started with a joke about stuttering. He laughed and the audience laughed. Drew went on to perform for almost an hour, which I marveled at, given that it’s a long time and a lot of material to remember for the performance.

His material was not all stuttering related. He had funny jokes about every day life which the audience enjoyed. About half of his material was related to stuttering, and making fun of his own stuttering. I think his willingness to poke fun at himself and laugh at his own jokes and funny stories gave the audience permission to laugh. And laugh they did. It appeared everyone in the packed room was having a great time.

I posted something about having attended this comedy show on Facebook. Several people commented that it is not good to laugh at stuttering, because it opens the door for anybody to laugh at stuttering.

I say that most people can appreciate the context and will not laugh at someone stuttering just because they happened to laugh at a stuttering comedian.

After the show, Drew stayed around to meet and greet fans and signed autographs and took pictures. The line was so long, which was a great sign that the audience had enjoyed Drew’s performance. I did not stay to talk to him, although I really wanted to let him know that I stutter too.

Turns out, after my sister drove me back to my car, she went back and stood in the line to get an autograph and a photo. Guess she really enjoyed the performance.

So, what do you think? Is it OK to laugh at someone who stutters when they are telling jokes and making fun of their own stuttering?


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2017.
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