ASL Comedy at Yuk Yuk’s – A Silent Celebration of an Unwritten Language

ASL Comedy at Yuk Yuk’s Toronto 26 November

Whereas stand-up comedy shows are ubiquitous in the English speaking world, a comedy show performed entirely in American Sign Language (ASL) is a rare event in Toronto, almost unheard of, despite the fact that about six percent of people living in the Greater Toronto Area are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing. That is why Mike Cyr and Andrea Kraus of Silent Voice Canada, (a charitable organization offering support to deaf children and adults in ASL in the GTA), decided to put together an ASL Comedy Show as a celebration of what is said to be the fourth most-used language in North America.

Christopher Welsh, one of the half dozen comedians who will perform on Saturday, sat with me recently at the Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf (BRCD) to talk about comedy and Deaf culture. I wouldn’t have had the nerve even to think about interviewing someone in ASL – which I have only begun to learn – except that Christopher Welsh was my group leader at this summer’s Ontario Camp for the Deaf, and I know him to be a gifted communicator and a man of generous spirit.

comedian Christopher Welsh

comedian Christopher Welsh

A number of years ago, Welsh was the first Deaf comedian to perform at Yuk Yuk’s for a hearing audience. His training in mime and clowning contributes to his ability to entertain people not fluent in sign language. He might perform again for a hearing audience at Yuk Yuk’s “but,” he says, “I’d want to prepare some new material first.”

Humour differs from one culture to another (Saturday Night Live is not Monty Python) and from one language to another (try convincing high school students in Japan that Far Side cartoons are funny). Welsh, who has studied at the National Theatre of the Deaf in Connecticut, at Second City in Toronto, and with Shakespeare Link in Wales, says, “Some jokes don’t translate.” Different groups might laugh at the same thing but express it differently. And some stories may be funny for one culture and not another, no matter how you tell it.

And for a comedian, the same joke might kill one night and die the next. Welsh says that holds true whether the audience is Deaf or hearing. Either way, “it’s the same. Some audiences are good, some are difficult.” For a hearing comedian with a hearing audience, a heckler can completely disrupt a performance. For a Deaf comedian with a Deaf audience, Welsh says, “It’s the same.” But he is not worried about hecklers on November 26th. “When I was younger, yes. But now I’m experienced.”

And it seems likely that everyone in the audience will be thoroughly appreciative on Saturday. ASL entertainment programming is in short supply. There are virtually no TV shows in ASL (although Welsh has appeared on TVO’s Deaf Planet). According to Welsh, films produced in California are the main form of entertainment available in ASL, such as the comedy Versa Effect (2011) which was given a single screening at BRCD in September. It’s great to see short-form entertainment in ASL becoming increasingly available on the Internet but nothing is more fun than getting a crowd together for a live show.

The complete list of performers for ASL Comedy at Yuk Yuk’s:

  • Christopher Welsh
  • Gord Dadalt
  • Teresa Fleming
  • Michelle Bourgeois
  • Lisa Faria
  • Regent Gendron
  • And the MC will be Mike Cyr

Hearing people are welcome to attend the ASL Comedy Show on Saturday, of course, but there will be no interpretation of ASL into English, as the aim of this event is to revel in the beautiful language of ASL.

Information about the show is available in ASL at

http://www.youtube.com/user/ASLatYukYuks

Tickets are $15

For your tickets, contact Andrea Kraus at aslforall@live.ca today before they are sold out!

ASL at Yuk Yuk’s

Saturday November 26th

1:00pm – 4:00pm

Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club
224 Richmond Street, Toronto ON
(map)

2 Comments

Filed under cross cultural understanding, language, languages and communication

2 responses to “ASL Comedy at Yuk Yuk’s – A Silent Celebration of an Unwritten Language

  1. Emily

    lol “unheard of”

  2. One ofthe best things about this interesting article is that you mention “…Welsh says…” or “…he says…” – because that’s what it is. He is ‘saying’ it in his own way. After all, those of us who speak and hear only express things in our own way (too often not intelligible to the listeners. House of Commons, anyone?) And it’s interesting that Marcel Marceaux (sp?) was world famous without making a sound. So witty and clever people are witty and clever no matter what. Sorry I couldn’t get to ‘hear’ that show. Thanks for writing about it.

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