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Me and the boys at the ASL Comedy Tour

from left to right, Peter, Crom, Branton, Keith, and me down in front in the green.

first came across Keith Wann on Youtube.    I was looking for videos in ASL so I could improve my receptive skills, and I came across his hilarious version of  the Sir Mixalot song “I Like Big Butts” in American Sign Language.  It was hilarious to watch Keith awkwardly sign the song, almost as if he was the 10 year old boy he was talking about in his story.  After watching this gem, I was introduced to Keith’s version of “Ice Ice Baby”, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and tons of little stand up comic bits, like his explanation of how technology ruined Deaf Pizza Night.  I was rolling on the floor laughing by the end of it.  I insisted that my husband, who doesn’t know any ASL, come and watch all of them immediately.  He ended up in stitches as well.

I don’t know why it never donned on me that there were ASL comedians out there.  I know about C. J. Jones, of course, and he’s what most people would call a comedian as well as an actor and writer.  I just never thought there might be more people on a mission to entertain the signing masses by making them laugh so hard they fall over.

I’m always on the lookout for more biographies of Famous Deaf Americans.  Keith isn’t deaf, he’s a CODA, but I thought I might want to include a biography anyway.  He’s been really important to me lately in my quest to learn ASL.  To my surprise, I found that he and a bunch of others were touring around the country with the ASL Comedy Tour.  Even better, they were coming to my area!!  I immediately bought 2 tickets, one for me and one for my husband.

We arrived at the Marriott in Irvine about an hour early, then waited in the hotel lobby for the time to pass.  I’m always nervous in situations when I know I’m going to have to interact in sign.  I have a decent vocabulary, but I never seem to get any better than “rusty”, and my grammar is bad.  I’m also never sure how to behave with a non-ASL-speaker present.  I don’t want to just sign, because they won’t understand me, but I don’t want to not sign because the deaf people won’t understand me and it’s rude.  It’s a catch 22.

It ended up not being a problem.  People all around us were talking, so I felt comfortable talking as well.  My husband and I sat and just enjoyed the general atmosphere when suddenly the comedy started.  I realized once again how in love with ASL I am.  Even when it’s dirty, it’s just so picturesque.  There was a voice interpreter, so my husband understood most of what was going on, although occasionally he missed things because the crowd was laughing so hard he couldn’t hear the interpreter.  I was thrilled to realize that I understood almost everything that was happening, even when I couldn’t hear the interpreter.

There were four comedians that performed that night.  Keith Wann was first, Branton Stewart was second, then came Peter Cook, and Finally Crom Sanders.  I was so disappointed when the night was over.  I could have listened to all of them go on for hours.  After their acts were finished, anyone who wanted to could go on stage and take pictures with all of them.  I was shy at first, but I finally got up the gumption to ask for a picture.  I was then able to tell them all how much I had enjoyed myself.

I know my husband experienced mad culture shock, but the night only made me realize more fully how much I love ASL and Deaf Culture.  It also made me realize that my ASL is coming quicker, I don’t have to think about it as much as before.  That must mean I’m getting better, right?

But seriously, if you’ve never seen any of these guys sign, you need to check them out immediately.  They are the funniest guys I have ever met, and they will revolutionize your ASL experience.

I thought for sure that there were Deaf events I went to last semester that I never posted about, and in looking through my old school papers, I found this one.  It’s the very first time I ever went out into the Deaf community, twords the end of my first semester of ASL.  I know I still have a long way to go before I become an amazing ASL speaker, but reading this makes me realize how far I’ve come. 

***

 went to the MATA convention by myself, as no one I knew could make it on Friday, the only day I could go. I went after work, knowing I’d only have a few hours to peruse the convention before it closed. Usually I drag my husband Brian to these things. He’s always up to new experiences and it’s nice to not feel wholly alone in a crowd of strangers, I knew Brian would be good moral support. As I pulled up to that giant white building full of windows, I thought of him in his safe little cubicle at work. I wished I was there myself. I am notoriously shy in social situations and I abhor feeling stupid, something I was sure I couldn’t avoid with my inferior ASL 1 vocabulary. I’m well aware that it takes time to be good at things, but I never want to wait that long. I’d like to be good right off the bat, especially if I’m displaying my inexperience to large groups of people. I was very nervous.

I was relieved as I stepped inside the giant room where the MATA conference was held. It looked just like any other convention I had been to, with the bright banners stretched behind folding tables spread with interesting items. There were thick crowds of people milling from one booth to another and, besides the people signing back and forth, this was a scene I was familiar with. I couldn’t follow anything people were saying to each other, my sign language skills were not quick enough to keep up, but you could certainly tell the emotions people were trying to get across. Most people seemed happy to be there.

I knew this was a good opportunity to practice my signing skills, and even though people were extremely nice to me and tried to start conversation, I felt odd about it. I realized that even in the English speaking world that I live in, I usually give a quickly polite answer to any question that’s asked of me, and don’t elaborate. By the time I had thought of more to say, the person I was speaking to at the booths had usually moved on to the next person. It didn’t help that I usually didn’t know the signs for anything I could ask about at the booth. In class I feel like I can communicate anything I want to, but out in the actual world, it’s a little different. I realized how much I’m hampered by my lack of vocabulary. I definitely felt as if people wanted to be inclusive and friendly. Those I did sign briefly with were incredibly kind in signing slowly so I could understand.

I’m glad I went to the MATA convention, instead of to a reading or other type of Deaf Event. I’ve heard of some of the services available to deaf people, such as fire alarms that shake the bed and doorbells that flash a light. It was really neat to see all the products and services out there, especially the video chats, which make life the same for a deaf person as for a hearing person, as far as technological conveniences are concerned. It was neat to get to understand that aspect of deaf life.

I learned a lot at the MATA convention. I loved seeing all the neat products they had displayed, and I liked seeing people sign back and forth to one another. It made me want to be better at ASL, so I could join in on the conversation as well, though I didn’t understand what people were saying. It also made me realize how little I communicate in English when I’m alone in a large group. Usually my conversation is confined to “Oh, I’m fine thank you,” and “no, I’m just looking.” It was harder to branch out from that habit into actual conversation especially because I was trying to use a new language. Visiting the MATA convention made me excited to be better at ASL, and excited to practice communication in the new language I’m learning. It was a great experience.

   

uliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1860, the second of six children.  Her father was a wealthy and well-known citizen in Savannah, and a Captain in the Confederate army during the American Civil War.  Juliette received a debutante’s upbringing, attending several boarding schools before graduating from Mesdemoselles Charbonniers French finishing school in New York City.   She was well-known for her vibrant sense of humor and her artistic abilities; she wrote poems, acted in plays, drew, painted, and sculpted.  Unfortunately, Juliette’s early years were also plagued with chronic ear infections.  When she was 25, one of these ear infections was improperly treated with Silver Nitrate, leaving her almost completely deaf in one ear. 

In New York City Juliette met William MacKay Low, the son of a wealthy land owner in England.  They dated for four years before getting married.  At the wedding, a grain of good-luck rice got lodged in Juliette’s good ear.  The doctor who removed it punctured her eardrum and destroyed most of the nerves inside her ear, rendering her completely deaf.  That didn’t stop Juliette.  She and William moved to his estate in England.  He was away a good portion of the time, and he tended to drink a lot, so Juliette proceeded to travel.  She divided her time between Scotland, England, and America. 

When the Spanish American War broke out at home, Juliette felt it was her duty to move back to America and help her mother establish a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers returning from the war.  When she returned to England several years later, she found that William had been having an affair.  The two agreed to start divorce proceedings, officially separating in 1902.  But before the divorce could be finalized, William died of a stroke and left his entire fortune to his mistress.  After months of legal negotiations, Juliette was granted the sum of $500,000, which would enable her to continue living her life as she liked. 

Again, Juliette went traveling, this time in hopes that she would find something productive to do with her life.  In 1911, she met the founder of the Scouting movement, Robert Baden-Powell, and his sister Agnes.  Agnes had started a Scouting group for girls in England, called the Girl Guides.  Juliette was excited.  She immediately started a troop for poor girls in Scotland, and then two more troops in London.  In 1912, she moved her permanent residence back to America and imediately started a group of Girl Guides in Savannah.

In 1913, the name of Juliette’s group was changed to the “Girl Scouts of America.”  It took off like wildfire, and in 1915 the organization was incorporated.  Juliette put everything she could into the organization, even going without electricity so she could pump more of her money into making the Girl Scouts wonderful.  She served as the president until 1920, when she was granted the title of Founder.

In 1923, Juliette learned that she had Breast Cancer.  Refusing to let others feel sorry for her, she hid her condition and continued working tirelessly for the Girl Scouts.  She died in 1927 and was burried in her Scout uniform in Savannah, Georgia.   Though many disheartening things happened to Juliette, she never lost her positive outlook and quirky sense of humor.  She fostered pride and self-worth in millions of girls in an era when they were being told to stay at home and have babies.  And she did it all without being able to hear.

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