Stuttering Comedians: What Can They Teach Us?

About the Authors

williamsDale F. Williams, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, BRS-FD is a Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Director of the Fluency Clinic at Florida Atlantic University. In addition, he is a consultant for Language Learning Intervention and Professional Speech Services.  A board certified specialist in fluency, Dr. Williams served as Chair of the Specialty Board on Fluency Disorders from 2008 to 2010. He has coordinated the Boca Raton chapter of the National Stuttering Association since 1996. His publications include the books Stuttering Recovery: Personal and Empirical Perspectives (Psychology Press), Communication Sciences and Disorders: An Introduction to the Professions (Psychology Press), and the soon-to-be-released Exploring Stuttering: How One Man Used Comedy to Come to Terms with His Impairment (The Brainary), co-authored with Jaik Campbell.
ninagNina G is a stand-up comedian, disability activist, author, and speaker. 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 or the Laugh Factory, she is playing colleges, presenting as a keynote speaker, and training professionals!  Nina is part of the comedy troupe The Comedians with Disabilities Act, which brings laughter and awareness to audiences across the country. She is the author of a children’s book Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilitiesthat helps children and adults advocate for their rights as persons with disabilities.  Nina’s one person show, Going Beyond Inspirational, a comical exploration about growing up with Learning and Speech Disabilities, debuted in 2015.  Most recently she was part of the first ever comedy compilation of comedians with disabilities, Disabled Comedy Only.
campbellJaik Campbell is a British stand–up comedian, writer and was an Edinburgh Festival Fringe regular between 2001 and 2008.   Jaik has performed stand-up at prestigious London venues such as The Comedy Store, Banana Cabaret and Headliners, and has appeared on BBC and ITV television, reaching the finals of several UK comedy competitions.  His first solo show “I’ve Stuttered So I’ll F-F-Finish” was performed in 2005 and focused on how his stutter affected his life and the role that comedy had in helping him to reduce it.   Jaik also campaigns for maintaining UK speech and language therapy services, early intervention for children and is a strong supporter of the British Stammering Association.  As well as having two children, Jaik has recently co-written the soon-to-be-released Exploring Stuttering: How One Man Used Comedy to Come to Terms with His Impairment (The Brainary). (www.jaikcampbell.com)

Although stuttering comedians have been around for decades, they have not (to our knowledge at least) been the subjects of research. The probable reason for this omission is that as a population, they appear to be sparse. If stuttering occurs with 1% prevalence and the need to perform stand-up inflicts even fewer people than that, the likelihood of an individual presenting both conditions would be extremely low. Add to that the possibility that one of those variables may very well discourage the other, and it is perhaps unsurprising that the potential research population is small.

As noted in the accompanying videos, for this study the first author contacted 12 comedians known to stutter. Four did not answer the initial inquiry. In comparison to those who responded, these four would probably fall at the higher end of the fame scale, if there were any way to operationally define that concept. There were, however, exceptions to that generalization in both directions (i.e., those of relative renown who participated and those less familiar who did not).

Of the eight who responded, 5 agreed to participate, and 4 actually did. We cannot explain the fifth. Perhaps disaffirming his participation fits his comedic style, sort of an electronic version of a squirting flower.

The 4 participants were asked a series of 13 questions, the first 12 of which are included in the videos. Two answered in writing. The other 2 were interviewed via Skype and gave their permission to be identified. As they are the stars of linked videos, their bios are posted above.

In keeping with the ISAD Conference guidelines, the video Stuttering Comedians: What Can They Teach Us? has been divided into 4 parts, each around 7 minutes long. If you prefer, the video in its entirety has been posted on YouTube (see resource list at the end of this paper). As will become evident the moment you click any of the links, the first author has absolutely no experience making videos. He does, however, have 3 teenagers in the house to serve as consultants. They helped with big picture stuff (directing Dad to editing programs, filming his parts, etc.); the glitches (e.g., clips cut off mid-word; inappropriate audio feedback) are entirely the author’s fault.

In any case, part 1 explores the following questions:

  • What was your motivation for entering the field of stand-up comedy?
  • Describe how stressful comedy was at the start. How much of the stress was due to your stutter?
  • What is your motivation for continuing stand-up comedy?

Given the open-ended nature of the questions, the data are, obviously, not numerical. Means, standard deviations, ranges, and the like can be neither reported nor compared. Instead, commonalities across the answers were sought. Of course, shared responses are not always the most interesting, so other insights were noted as well. For example, while 3 of the 4 subjects said they started performing comedy simply because it was something they always wanted to do, there were answers that touched upon less obvious reasons, such as viewing stand-up as a means to improve confidence or public speaking skills. One subject reported attending a comedy show and knowing instinctively that he could do better than the performers he witnessed.

With respect to stress (the second question), the only common theme was that the pressures faced had more to do with stand-up than with stuttering. In other words, difficulties learning lines, getting laughs, dealing with hecklers, and other comedic concerns were bigger fears than being disfluent on stage. Interestingly, none of the 4 mentioned stuttering as being a particularly fearsome stressor.

Three of the 4 respondents stated that they continue with stand-up simply because they enjoy it. Three also referenced the positive feedback they get from audiences as motivation to carry on. Other answers included the following:

  • Desire to become a better comedian.
  • Socialization with other comics.
  • Love the creativity.
  • Comedy provides a sense of achievement.
  • Improves shyness.
  • Improves speech.
  • It’s a way to be remembered.
  • It’s fun.

Video part 1

Part 2 covers 2 questions. The first of these – Has stuttering been a barrier? – resulted in an unexpected commonality: Two different subjects had been accused of faking their stutters, presumably for laughs. The other responses to this question contrasted this accusation and identified what are probably more significant barriers resulting from disfluencies, such as making audiences uncomfortable, difficulty looking confident on stage, and a diminished number of jokes, which some promoters frown upon.

The other question was “Is stuttering ever beneficial to comedy?” and this one evoked the word “unique” from all 4 subjects. Stuttering provides a unique selling point for promoters. Once the performer is on stage, it leads to a unique act, based on a unique comedic perspective. Less obvious (but also unique) advantages to stuttering included increased comedic tension and a built-in protection against rushing through routines.

Video part 2

Part 3 begins with the question “Compare your desire to do stand-up vs any shame associated with stuttering.” As this is probably the most vaguely-worded question of the bunch, it is not surprising that responses varied. Two stated that shame was a factor, although both had apparently moved past that emotion (i.e., one noted that initial shame delayed starting a comedy career and another said that performing stand-up decreased shame). The other common response involved the realization that audiences don’t really care as much about stuttering as the subjects had assumed.

There was basically complete agreement across subjects for the 2-part question “Is it necessary to address your stuttering during the comedy performance? Is it a regular topic?” All of the comedians refer to their speech in some way when they are on stage (although one resisted the idea when he first started and apparently learned the hard way that disclosure is beneficial). In addition, jokes about stuttering are part of each comic’s act. In a sense, this question touched on some of the same control issues raised during video parts 1 and 2. The comedian has to have complete command of the room. Nothing is ignored—not hecklers, random noises, or even people who exit the theater. All will be called out from the stage. Ignoring what might be the most obvious aspect of the routine would not fit with this level of control.

Everyone answered yes to the question “Has your humor about stuttering changed over time?” The trend was for stuttering jokes to become less about the speaker and more about listener behaviors. It seems that comedians become empowered, as they get more comfortable performing. Rather than putting themselves down for something that is not their fault, they find humor in turning the tables on their listeners and revealing people’s insensitivity (as the accompanying clips make very clear).

The final question on part 3 is “How does stuttering affect audience response?” There were varied responses to this one, although 2 of the 4 said that the effect of stuttering on audiences is very small. It seems the comics surveyed have experienced all manner of reactions. Some audiences respond with embarrassed silence, others are visibly puzzled, and still others laugh at the speaker’s struggles.

Video part 3

The first 2 questions on part 4 were:

  • What are difficult speech situations for you? and
  • What are your coping skills when speech is difficult?

Curiously, the responses to these questions were not that different than one would hear with any group of adults who stutter. This is particularly surprising for the first one, given what these subjects do for a living and the high level of desensitization it requires. Even so, most of the feared situations were relatively common:

  • Placing telephone calls.
  • Speaking in large groups.
  • Drive-throughs.
  • Feared words.
  • Noisy and busy environments.
  • Ordering in restaurants.
  • First dates.

Some, however, were more specialized:

  • Being on camera.
  • The beginning of my set.

What’s interesting is that these comedians aren’t without speaking fears. Theirs just don’t include stand-up comedy—what many people would surely rate as the most fearful speech situation of all.

Coping strategies were also familiar.  Subjects mostly reported avoidance behaviors and skills learned in therapy (notably disclosure and fluency modification targets). One reported joking about stuttering. This is a reasonable defense mechanism for a comedian.

The final item to which participants responded was “Describe your level of desensitization or acceptance of stuttering.” As would be expected, all four reported a high level of acceptance. Moreover, this appears to be a topic into which they have put a lot of thought, as several of the comments on part 4 make clear.

Video part 4

Taking stock of the answers given to all 12 questions, it appears that those who stutter and dream of becoming comedians not only need to be well desensitized, but to manifest that desensitization into self-disclosure and humor about stuttering. From there, they experience differing stressors, obstacles, emotions, audience responses, feared situations, and coping skills, pointing out—as most investigations of the disorder do—that stuttering is very individualized. Yet all of the comedians seemed to come around to the idea that the humor in stuttering derives not from the struggles of the speaker, but the inappropriateness of the reactions. By viewing the disorder as the listeners’ problem, not only did they come to accept their difference, they turned it into a strength.

The good news for non-comedians is that humor is not necessarily needed to accomplish such a reversal.

Resources  

Campbell, J. (2008). Jaik Campbell performing in Stand Up Britain Heat.
Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgeRYi5zA6k.

Campbell, J. (2009). Jaik at Monkey Business Aug 2009 talking about stuttering.
Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnmHT8tKPig.

Campbell, J. (2009). Jaik Campbell in the Stand Up Britain Final, October 2002.
Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9a7zl3h3Sc.

G, N. (2010). “Learning To Stutter:” Nina G on Previously Secret Information.
Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UlwJC3eMEc.

G, N. (2015). Fluency Techniques Help Drag Out a Show.
Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmUL_weU-Qk.

G, N. (2015). Stuttering Comedian Bravely Responds to Youtube Bullies.
Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xk3txAqByA.

G, N. & D, G. (2012). Shit Fluent People Say to People Who Stutter.
Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stCCXC4KYPc.

Williams, D.F. & Campbell, J. (2015, in press). Exploring Stuttering: How One Man Used Comedy to Come to Terms with His Impairment. Geelong, Australia: The Brainary (www.thebrainary.com).

Williams, D.F., G, N., & Campbell, J. (2015). Stuttering Comedians: What Can They Teach Us?
Video available at: https://youtu.be/9gPYy-mjiz0.

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Comments

Stuttering Comedians: What Can They Teach Us? — 25 Comments

  1. I would love to hear from SLPs to hear how this information is helpful. As a non-SLP I would love to hear how the study helps to inform treatment, inform clinicians, or inform clients who stutter. Look forward to hearing your feedback!

  2. Some LOL moments on the videos (a few by the non-comedian host). Anyway, jaik & Nina, what’s it like the 1st time you stutter on stage in front of a judgemental crowd? Is it a feeling of ‘Well, there it is let’s see what happens’ (like entering a great unknown)? You’re both very brave! Looking forward to the book!

    • Thanks for the comments and questions Joe. For me I think stuttering is just one thing that stresses you out on stage. The first time I think it was more terrified that I would not be good as a comedian, stuttering was down the list. I wouldn’t vent say stuttering was on the list, it was more the reaction from others around my speech. Would I be heckled around my speech and would I be able to respond was more more of the anxiety. As a comedian, the most terrifying thing is NOT BEING FUNNY. It’s so scary!

      There is also a freeing part. It’s so great to just put it out there, stutter and have everyone get over it, including myself! To be known as a stuttering comedian has been so liberating because people know what to expect, including if they say something outrageous, comedy allows me to be just as outrageous!

    • Thanks for the question, Joe. The first gig I did which involved me stuttering on stage was a scary experience as I didn’t know how the audience would react. As I did more and more shows, I realised that the audience were usually very accepting of it, so it became much less scary to stutter on stage. As Nina says, this was very freeing both for me and the audience! I agree with Nina that the overriding awareness when you walk in front of any audience is to make them laugh. It is not “like entering a great unknown” because you know from experience, and the type of crowd sitting there, that the gig should go ok. Stuttering is just one of a number of stresses to think about such as looking at the audience, remembering the lines, dealing with hecklers, smiling, being relaxed and trying to enjoy the gig as much as possible! BTW, am glad you are looking forward to the book – it was a very interesting process to write it with Dale and it delves into a lot of new ideas, especially in terms of the more psychological causes and potential cures of stuttering.

      • Thanks. Your back & forth with the stuttering audience member was pretty funny (actually I liked all the clips).

  3. Hello. I am a student studying Speech Language Pathology and I enjoyed your piece very much. A few of the components that stuck out to me were the parts about your feelings towards stuttering and you dealt with that on the stage. I also found it interesting that you have had people accuse you of faking your stuttering. What did you do to handle this situation? I have never heard of that happening before. I am wondering if it is because you are on a stage and someone thinks you are doing it for attention? I would like your take on this thought!

    • Thanks for the comments and questions. I was so perplexed when I first started comedy and was accused of faking. The way that I handled it was joking about it in the first couple minutes. Excus the language but I said “I don’t fake my stuttering like I don’t fake my (take a guess what I said), no matter how long either one of those things takes.” Even still people thought I faked it so at a certain point you allow them to make assumptions about you. Luckily as a person who stutters, I am use to it!

      Why do people think I am faking? I have a few theories. I think that people are use to bad stuttering on TV. There are so many ways people can stutter but they only think it is what they have seen mostly badly acted on TV. I also don’t think they view a person who stutters in a potential powerful role (especially a woman). I think there is some cognitive dissonance that occurs.

      When it happens I personally feel incredibly invalidate! Stand up comedy is about being vulnerable and when you stutter it feels even more so and when people don’t believe you, it takes away from your experience if you internalize it. Does that make sense? It is such a weird experience, that I don’t necessarily understand it!

      • Hi Nina,

        I want to start by thanking you for your posts, I have found them very intriguing. I have a couple of questions in regards to your previous response here. You mentioned that you think most people’s experience with stuttering comes from poor representations on TV, how does what is represented on TV, in movies, in the media differ from your experiences? On the other hand, have you seen anything and thought “wow, that’s spot on!”?

        You also mentioned that it is possible that people are not used to thinking of a PWS in a public, powerful role. Do you think that is because of a lack of knowledge on society’s part, because I know there have been several “famous” people who stutter, or do you think that (like you mentioned in your interview) PWS are not fully internalizing the message of “you can be whatever you want to be,”? As a future speech pathologist, how can I help others embrace that mentality?

        Thanks again!
        Jeanna

        • Jeanna, I would like a try at your last question. The factors leading to the “stutterer stereotype” (that we’re meek, anxious, etc.) are many, including some that are societal. Although the stereotype is not true, it can still be a challenge to convince clients that they can “be whatever they want to be.” As you may be suggesting, just saying so can sound trite. But I have found that sending the message less directly can effectively get the client to internalize it (or at least start thinking about it). For example, “I was reading about a comedian who stutters and she said there can be more freedom in front of an audience than there is at a drive-thru. What do think she means by that?” works better than “She’s a comedian. If she can do it, you can too!”

    • Thanks for the comments and questions, Forcelhl.
      >>RE:faking your stuttering.
      It is a hard thing to survey/ask, but in big audiences, I normally felt that there was at least one person sitting there thinking that I was just putting my stutter on to get easy laughs, or that I was simply an actor. (Perhaps just trying to get more stage time!)
      >>RE:someone thinks you are doing it for attention?
      I agree with you, some people could also think it was simply a kind of attention seeking process/ perhaps not loved enough as a child / repressed childhood etc. (which let’s face it much of the motivation behind someone performing stand-up comedy potentially has a basis of). I have to admit the basis of my stuttering on stage sometimes was a way to be more unique (in a city like London full of comedians) and maybe get press attention! (As Oscar Wilde said: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”) Also Idries Shah, the Indian-born philosopher who died in 1996, said that beneath almost everything humans do, lay an unacknowledged motive: the “attention-factor”. The theory is, we need attention almost as desperately as food and warmth, but don’t realise it, so we fail to understand that many everyday encounters “are in fact disguised attention-situations”.
      >>>RE:What did you do to handle this situation?
      As Nina said, I used to incorporate jokes into the routine to prove that I had a stutter as: I wasn’t advised to be a comedian at school. I didn’t sit down with the careers officer and she said. “Right, Jaik. So you’re quite shy. Terrible speech impediment.” Have you considered being a stand-up comedian?”
      Or I’ve had a stutter since about the age of 4. My mother used to say to me “Jaik, don’t worry, your stutter gives you a special relationship with children and old people. They’ll both hate you equally.”

  4. How do you know when something is funny as opposed to when a joke offends people? Seems like that’s tough with something as personal as stuttering.

    • That’s a really good question. In fact, 2 chapters of the upcoming book address the issue of funny vs offensive, and I’m not sure that’s even enough. It has to do with who’s telling the joke, the joke itself, how it’s told, and even then there’s not complete agreement. Humor about disabilities is really a fascinating subject.

  5. As a future SLP (I am in my second to last semester of graduate school) something that has been insightful is something that both you and Jaik touched on in just about every clip, and that is the importance of having confidence. As I learn about traditional therapy methods which tend to focus primarily on increasing fluency through techniques, I quickly see how these can be anything but confidence building. Therapy focusing primarily on techniques seems to scream, “Focus on how I am saying things not what I am saying.” A more balanced approach which can incorporate fluency shaping techniques (but not make it the primary focus) on top of confidence building procedures, such as improving eye contact and body, can help let others know that despite how things are said, individuals who stutter have great things to say (as you and Jaik demonstrate). Thanks for sharing your experiences with us!

  6. I notice that job interviews is not listed in the places where communication is feared. I wonder if Jaik became more comfortable in the interview setting after he started doing his stand up comedy?
    I took a look at Nina’s Stuttering Iceberg makeover and I think it is a great way to influence confidence in people who stutter! Also, I agree with MikeOlive that as a future SLP it is important for us to make sure that we are incorporating a person’s confidence into therapy.

    Kimberly Somoano

    • Kimberly—good insights. One of the things I learned while working on the book and this video is the importance of confidence to both speech and comedy. It seems that the nervous and unsure comic is likely to get heckled but the one who swaggers onto the stage and practically dares his or her listeners not to laugh gets a better response. Stuttering can be somewhat similar. Although there is little research on confidence and stuttering, through clinical reports and support group discussions I have heard many clients note a decrease in teasing post-therapy, regardless of whether fluency improves. It seems possible that when clients become desensitized to listener reactions, they present themselves differently, perhaps reflecting less vulnerability and greater speech confidence. As a result, listener reactions change for the better.

    • Thanks for your question, Kimberly. Yes I did become more comfortable in the interview setting after doing stand up comedy. Infact, I used to treat job interviews a bit like a comedy routine! Stand-up comedy and stuttering on stage is a massive desensitising process as you are saying in front of sometimes hundreds of people, “Hello, I have a stutter and I’m absolutely fine with it. …and no I’m not a rap artist.” So with job interviews I did the same thing. I mentioned I had a stutter at the start and then stuttered less as a result. If I did stutter, I concluded I was better off visibly stuttering, self-disclosing with confidence, and making it clear that stuttering will not hold be back if I was offered the position. The tricky bit was that once a job had been obtained, of course the communication pressures only increased and maintaining good speech every day was difficult at times, but I found the more confident I became in real life, the better my life became on and off stage.

  7. First of all, thank you so much for including this fascinating topic as a part of ISAD! I too am a graduate student/soon-to-be SLP. Over the years, I have seen a few YouTube clips of stuttering comics. I have recently been especially interested in Drew Lynch’s story and his recent fame over the last few months as he auditioned for “America’s Got Talent” and then proceeded to make it all the way to the finale and finish in second place. He has an interesting case as his severe stutter results from an accident rather than developmental stuttering, but his success and ‘viral’ status online has shown that comics who stutter bring something truly unique to the stage.

    Nina, I think you captured this perfectly when you said that your stutter can be beneficial to comedy because it is “similar to other minority experiences.” It’s true that a lot of mainstream comedy is centered around jokes and elaborate routines focusing on the themes of race and sexuality and minority experiences in these areas. Why should stuttering be any different? As it was also said that stuttering humor is less about the speaker and more about the dumb things that listeners do, your comedy is opening eyes to true but absurd practices and forcing the listener to confront (and laugh at) their own ridiculousness. You truly do have full control here.

    Thank you again for sharing your experiences and some of your jokes!

  8. Hi Dale, Nina and Jaik,

    I read your paper (and watched the clips) with considerable interest because I have been actively involved on the public speaking scene (in the UK) for the past 14-15 years. During that time, I have I assembled a wide repertoire of talks – one of which relates to my lifelong battle with stuttering. I have given it to several hundred diverse community organisations in an attempt to increase public awareness (and understanding) of stuttering.

    When I share my life story with audiences, I touch upon many of the ploys/strategies that I once utilized to cope with my stuttering issues. I have discovered that humour can be a very useful tool with which to convey an important message.

    My talks are purposely littered with amusing anecdotes. When my listeners laugh, I know they are more likely to remember the circumstances that created the merriment, thereby strengthening their understanding of the principle(s) I am attempting to explain.

    But, I don’t just tell the audience that I once practised extensive avoidance strategies. I go one step further and recount a few stories, which vividly illustrated that trait.

    No-one will ever forget that my fear of saying words (commencing with the letter “S”) heavily influenced my actions (as a young police officer) when dealing with a drunken individual. Having first encountered the intoxicated and disorderly man in Somerset Street, I assisted him (a short distance) to an adjoining road which had a less-challenging name. Had I arrested him at the original location, I would have experienced considerable difficulties (with my speech) at the subsequent court hearing. 🙂

    I further illustrate the implications of avoidance by speaking about the time that I invented a false identity (Adrian Adams) when depositing items at the dry-cleaners. I chose this option because I had convinced myself that I could not say my own name. However, the ruse was cruelly exposed when, unbeknown to me, someone else decided to collect the garments on my behalf. When that person requested the clothing for “Alan Badmington”, there was (of course) no record of any such transaction. As you can imagine – I had to do a great deal of explaining. 🙂

    I use numerous other examples to reinforce the audience’s understanding of the desperate measures to which I resorted, in order to avoid stuttering. One involves saying my wedding vows – but, as my time is limited, I will keep that for another day. 🙂

    Incidentally, I was recently approached by someone in the street who remembered some of the humorous episodes from a talk that he attended 5 years ago. I feel that this clearly illustrates them point that I made earlier.

    However, I should stress that the mirth is NOT directed at persons who stutter (in general) – it is confined solely to the unique experiences of Alan Badmington.

    Although I no longer have any hang-ups about speaking in such a vein, I readily acknowledge that some PWS might feel uncomfortable about associating humour with their past oral struggles, particularly when in the company of total strangers.

    The manner in which I now react to such experiences contrasts starkly with how I would have responded prior to embarking upon a more self-accepting, open and expansive existence. I recognise that I am, indeed, at a very favourable place in my life.

    Nina, I have had the pleasure of spending time in the company of both Dale and Jaik (albeit several years ago). I hope that our paths will also cross on some future occasion.

    Kindest regards

    Alan

    • Thanks Alan. It’s always nice to hear from you. Remember, I’ve heard you speak & know how effectively you inject humor into your presentations (as well as to your contribution to this conference). I agree that messages become more memorable that way. What Jaik and Nina do is unforgettable and also fascinating on a different level, as their first priority is making people laugh. That is, if I’m presenting and a joke falls flat, I can easily move on because the audience is there not to listen me try to be clever, but to hear about whatever the topic is. Any humor is just a bonus. But getting up on stage before an audience whose attitude is “You better make me laugh because that’s why I’m here” seems like such a scary proposition. I guess that’s why I’m so intrigued by this subject.

    • Hi Alan, thank you for your interesting reply which I enjoyed reading. I have fond memories of meeting you and listening to your amusing talks at a British Stammering Association conference several years ago, which really helped to make people aware of stammering. As you say, humour is certainly a useful tool with which to convey an important message. I agree with you too that my jokes were never directed at persons who stutter – it was confined solely to the unique experiences of myself. As Dale writes, my aim was primarily to try and make people laugh, but then as you say, I also wanted to increase public awareness (and understanding) of stuttering, and hopefully make them see stuttering in a more positive light. Maybe see you again one day. Yours, Jaik

  9. For those who don’t have comedy as a confidence booster, what are other ways we can teach stutterers to see their disorder as the listeners problem? This is a great idea as self-confidence can be one of the biggest issues here, but teaching someone to turn their insecurity into a strength is much easier said than done.

    • Thanks for your question, Sum. “Easier said than done” is certainly the case here. People who grow up understandably self-conscious about their speech can have an extremely difficult time transitioning to openness and desensitization. The wording is probably unfortunate, but learning arrogance is something that helps stuttering clients. What I mean is a belief that what they have to say is more important that any inconvenience experienced by the listener. In most cases it takes time, risk, practice, counseling, and proficiency with speaking techniques learned in therapy.

    • Thanks for your question, Sum. As someone who has blocked/stuttered since the age of 5, I agree maintaining self-confidence 24/7 is difficult. Performing stand-up comedy helped me, but it wasn’t able to turn all my insecurities and shortcomings into strengths. As Dale said, comedy made me believe in myself more and develop “a belief that what I had to say was more important”. I had to be committed to my material so that the audience would be too. Before I did stand-up, I thought everything I said wasn’t important. Comedy also gave me many useful skills such as “language pragmatics”. In other words, the ways in which I used language and movements (e.g. a relaxed conversational style with gestures)—not just the words themselves—improved the effectiveness of my communication and confidence both on and off stage.
      I combined this with regular exercise, various relaxation techniques, practicing how to say words, and even adopting a more confident voice! (inner and outer) The book I’ve just written with Dale explains these techniques in much more detail, especially my experiences of attending various comedy courses. In a nutshell, people who stutter have to believe in themselves and focus on their speech impediment, because like comedy, it’s a “can-do business”. There’s no space and time for “no -can-do”!