Funny in any language
BROADALBIN – Keith Wann entertained the crowd in almost complete silence Friday, presenting his comedy show to more than 200 people in American Sign Language at the Broadalbin-Perth High School.
Keith Wann, born the hearing son of deaf parents, only spoke to impersonate his mother and father. The show, “My Experience Different,” cracked jokes about the differences between the hearing and the non-hearing community, the social conventions of the groups and also included some general “rubber-faced” mannerisms and physical comedy.
Prior to the show, students at Fulton-Montgomery Community College’s ASL 1 and 2 classes signed Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” for the crowd.
Wann, with the help of translators – called interpreters by the non-hearing community – presented the show to about 100 local deaf people and even more hearing people.
Terrence Smith, whose daughter learned sign language, said he had an interest in the language.
“I thought this would be an entertaining evening for my wife and I as a date,” Smith said.
Many members of the crowd also were sign-language students.
Cindee Pugh, along with her son, Brandon, and his girlfriend, Katrina Dutcher, came because of Cindee and Brandon’s class. Taking ASL 2 at Mohawk Valley Community College, they came as part of an assignment.
“I’ve seen [Wann’s] videos and he seems to be quite clear in how he presents,” Cindee Pugh said, confident they could understand the jokes.
“I have been doing this for ten years, and I have toured across the county, but after the show, people still come up to me after the show and go, ‘Hey are you deaf or hearing?'” Wann, his sign language translated by an interpreter, joked. “Every show.”
“I was born deaf. Really. But unfortunately, when I turned 13 years old, I got so sick that suddenly I could hear. So now I’m handicapped,” Wann continued.
His comedy stylings, however, are not meant to offend or to demean, something that Wann said he was accused of when he did the show in spoken English.
“Not when I do the show in sign language, because having deaf parents, I’m part of this community. The stereotypes and observations that I do come from an angle of comedy. I did try to be a hearing stand-up comedian,” Wann said.
Wann, however, said that people assumed, because he was speaking and hearing, that he was making fun of his parents.
“I’m a 6 foot tall white guy, blonde hair, Aryan looking, so how dare this privileged guy make fun of these deaf people,” Wann joked.
Wann said he considers himself a stand-up comedian who does his show in sign language because it’s his first language.
“Having deaf parents, I always wanted to make my show first accessible for them,” Wann said. “Growing up, for them, the world of comedy was not accessible. They always had to go through an interpreter, so they got everything second hand.”
Wann said that one of the effects of doing the show in sign language was a change in comedic timing. In some shows, Wann would bring two other stand-up comedians to translate for him, working as a team.
“They understand how to take it from one language to another language,” Wann said.