Stage, Theatre & TV11th October 2013
John Smith Deaf & Hilariously Funny!
John Smith is a Deaf comedian on the up. Turning to comedy in the last 8 years, John has a unique brand of comedy and he shares some thoughts with us here.
It is very easy to fall into a trap of believing that Deaf people just can't do some jobs. As we never seem to see any deaf comedians on television, making a living out of being funny is probably not possible right? Wrong! SL First caught up with John Smith, also fondly known in Deaf circles as 'The Comedian' or 'The Teaser/Joker', and we talked about his life.
Vibrant and animated throughout, John was born in Newcastle but brought up in Mansfield, and he is funny even when he is not trying to be. In amongst my own bursts of laughter, I did manage to ask him a few questions, and occasionally, I even got a serious reply! One of the issues John gets animated about is his education. It's fair to say he has achieved in spite of his education, not because of it.
John went to the Ewing School for the Deaf, and despite being what he describes as, "completely and utterly stone Deaf”, John was taught orally, and he was expected to lip read. Looking back, he recognises that he missed a lot of what the teacher was saying, and as such missed a lot of education. John recalls one particular day seeing a class of children using BSL. He remembers asking his teacher about that, only to be told that the BSL class was for children not as intelligent as him. Naively, John accepted what his teacher told him and actually used what she said to take the mickey out of children in that class. He knows differently now.
Reflecting on his own missed opportunity in school, John often asks other Deaf people about being let down by their education. He feels that a lot of Deaf people just seem grateful for what they have today and don't think too much about what might have been had they enjoyed better schooling. John is passionate about Deaf people being given the opportunity to do their best in life, and often uses his act to highlight important issues like that.
Despite being born with a natural whit, it took John many years to realise the potential of becoming a comedian. Whilst he was always 'being funny', whenever someone suggested he should be on the stage he used to think it was impossible because he didn't like being in the limelight. Nowadays the bigger the audience the better, and a mere eight years after taking up his new career, John has performed on stages in America, France and Ireland as well as throughout the UK. With a burgeoning reputation, SL First predicts there are a lot more international performances to come.
Like many Deaf children, John's oral education has left him with a knowledge and understanding of English that restricts him. As one of the founders of the 'Spit the Dummy Out' campaign which can be found on facebook, John recognises that he misses some of the nuances in the written communication used by the other committee members.
Having decided to study BSL linguistics in support of his ambition to become a comedian, John is now a strong advocate for BSL. He believes there is great advantage in all children learning the language and Deaf children in particular being given a choice. Brought up in a family who did not sign, John also believes that parents of Deaf children should learn, so that they can communicate effectively with their own children.
In addition to his comedy act, John has been teaching BSL for some time now. Sadly, that is about to come to an end following redundancy, but it does mean that we might see far more of John and his unique brand of comedy in the coming years. I had the pleasure of watching one of his shows recently, and his reflection on life is hilarious, despite me laughing at his observation of some of the things I do!
John explained that in the early days of his comedy career he used his observation of hearing people to tell jokes and funny anecdotes. He then started using his observation of Deaf people, but recalls that there were some misgivings around that. These days, his observations on Deaf culture, mannerisms, politics - indeed all things Deaf - are readily accepted and usually have the audience in stitches, even though they are often laughing at themselves and the things they do.
Like all comedians, John admits that he does make mistakes on stage, but the trick is to use them and go with it, rather than try and fight it. It's something that worked for Tommy Cooper, and it works well for John.
One of John's greatest joys is the opportunity he has to be a role model and to influence the future for Deaf people. “Having a great role model was something I missed,” he explained. Influencing the Deaf agenda is something that he has done for most of his life, and he feels that momentum and opportunity is growing. Some of his proudest moments have come through feedback about him empowering deaf people and convincing them, and parents of Deaf children, that anything is possible.
Article by Sarah Lawrence
posted in Entertainment / Stage, Theatre & TV
11th October 2013