|About the author: Nina 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 Disabilities, that 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.|
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 these, how do you not turn to comedy?!
People who stutter (PWS) 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 dirty 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 of the line-up in a competition NEVER wins. With this in mind, I decided to do something different. My parents were supposed to be in the audience to support me at the event more importantly, VOTE for me. Of course, they were late as is their mode of operation.
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 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 that we would 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 for the time being.
At 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 anyway, because I was up first.
At the end of the competition I came in first place. I then went for four or five more rounds, beating out 120 comedians and ended up winning the whole thing (even without the same audience, like many comedy competitions).
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 Sprite.” 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 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 drive thru speaker. And I was like, “I stutter, and I 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 PWS, blame ourselves for not living up to perceived expectations. 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 evidence that I stutter confidently and without stigma 24/7. How would this be possible when we are socialized in the world we live in? We aren’t always going to be able live up to others or to our own expectations 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. Stutter with as much pride as you can but on your terms and no-one 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 you a frickin’ Fillet-O-Fish.
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