By Taylor Pettit
Laughter was the only thing that could be heard.Throughout the night in the Student Services Building, the room was largely quiet, punctuated only by bursts of laughter.
For a routine show, that silence might have seemed unusual. But on this night, it was expected, as this performance was not about what was heard, but what was seen.
On Oct. 5, the American Sign Language Comedy Tour paid a visit to Eastern’s campus, putting on a show for the deaf community. Unlike traditional comedy shows, where an interpreter is on hand to sign for the deaf, the ASL show reversed the formula: an interpreter was on hand not to sign but to speak for those who could hear.
The main act was Keith Wann, an ASL comedian who does shows throughout the country and has found a following through his YouTube video of him signing the song “Ice, Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice.
Wann, who is a CoDA, an acronym for a “child of a deaf adult,” did all his own signing, while a voice interpreter talked at the sidelines for those who could hear.
Wann poked fun at a variety of topics: everything from growing up with deaf parents to the struggles of inexperienced ASL students, who he said routinely get lost in conversations with the deaf and resort to reaching for the “slow down” sign.
Much of Wann’s comedy essentially is physical humor, at least to those who can hear. To those who understand ASL, however, the comedy is a play on words-signing words, that is. For instance, Wann signed Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” which drew a huge reaction from the crowd. When Wann arrived at the line in the song where Mix A Lot says “horny,” Wann paused, and gave the audience a quick, puzzled look (there is no ASL equivalent for the word “horny”). Then, he delivered the punchline: He made the sign for horns on an animal’s head, and the crowd erupted in laughter.
The jokes worked, both for the deaf and the hearing. And that, said Justin Young, president of Eastern’s American Sign Language Association, is part of the reason the ASLA and the Student Office of Multicultural Affairs wanted to bring the comedy tour to campus. Not too mention, said Megan Krebbs, a senior interpreting training major, she had seen one of Wann’s performances and thought Eastern would benefit from his show.
“It’s a learning situation for anyone,” Krebs said. “You’re opening your eyes to a different world”
Plus, Young said, there aren’t a lot of performances geared specifically toward the deaf. The night also featured opening acts, such as Francisco, who is an ASL graduate, who used his Mexican heritage as fodder for jokes about his family and his upbringing. The other act was Crom Saunders, a Pennsylvania-based comedian who talked about daily life for the deaf.