by Tory Sampson
I did not know that while I was sitting on the carpet listening to Aunt Edna telling her story that I was watching an art form, signed beautifully with humor. "Deaf people have five senses - sight, smell, taste, touch, and sense of humor" (Bienvenu 99). This is certainly true, since most of all the stories, poems, A to Z stories, personal experiences, and many more come from experiences with hearing people that happened to be funny.
For example, a good friend of my mother's related a story about his two deaf parents who were on their honeymoon. Staying at a hotel in the Poconos, the couple made love throughout the night. The next morning, they went down to eat breakfast and chatted only to be ridiculed by other hearing people who stayed at the hotel. They were insulted, and asked the manager why the other guests were laughing at them. The manager then replied that the hotel, as a joke, put bells under every bed to make fun of people making love on their honeymoons. Since the couple was deaf, they made love and didn't hear the bells and woke up all of the people. This narrative would have the deaf people slapping their legs, roaring with laughter. The humor comes from the deafness itself (Bauman 31) because if the couple hadn't been deaf, the story would not be funny.
The A to Z story by BYU Fanatic on Youtube.com integrates the concepts of ASL into humor. His signs are smooth and natural. There are no hand shapes that were out of order or strange to the deaf viewer. The story revolves around two people who have a chess match. The narrative focuses on each of the player's reactions to the other player. For example, when the player is stumped by his opponent, he glares at the other player with a menacing 'N' hand shape shaking. When I was watching that part, I laughed out loud all by myself. I laughed out loud because of the signer's facial expressions, which one doesn't really see in oral storytelling, and that's a significant part of deaf humor - the facial expressions and reactions. "A face story is a traditional ASL art form characteristically and expertly fusing mime, narrative, and comedy" (Peters 137). In addition, modern technology has the ability to capture facial expressions, unlike oral storytelling through radio or recorder (Krentz 51). As a result, humor is successfully distributed throughout the Deaf community, through Youtube videos, which are used profusely by the Deaf community and DVDs produced by companies such as Dawn Sign Press.
The unfortunate downfall of the outsider's perspective on deaf humor is that they think our misfortunes are to be made fun of. For example, Roy Holcomb's Hazards of Deafness summarizes, "A deaf person is having a difficult time vacuuming the carpet. He goes over the same spot of dirt repeatedly, to no avail. In a fit of frustration, he turns around and notices that the machine is unplugged" (Bienvenu 100). An outsider often misunderstands Deaf humor as lamenting, while it is really making fun of the conveniences of deafness, about how we gain an advantage over the hearing people in some situations like the joke about a forgetful man honking his car horn to find his motel room in which his Deaf wife is sleeping in. The other rooms' lights turned on, leaving only one room, thus allowing the man to happily walk to his room.
Deaf humor is often passed through generations and among each other in order to maintain remembrance and language maintenance (Christie 2). Obviously, when a story is passed around, it would be remembered for a long time. The joke with King Kong attempting to marry the blonde would forever always reside in my heart. I would compose that joke from heart, with vivid facial expressions and wild hands to my children someday. Also the joke is used for language maintenance to keep signs in circulation. For example, if there is a new sign for 'marry,' it would have fierce competition from the 'marry' sign that exists in the joke. If there could be a joke that associates with the new sign, the old sign would die out. Think of it as a repair, get rid of the old one and put in a new sign to better accommodate the signing community.
If I had known all those information when I was younger, I would have noticed more aspects about her signing and the joke itself that relates back to the Deaf community. But then if I had known those information when I was younger, the joke would not have been as fun!
Bauman, H-Dirksen L., Jennifer L. Nelson, and Heidi M. Rose. Signing the Body Poetic: Essays on American Sign Language Literature. Berkeley: University of California, 2006. Print.
Bienvenu, MJ. Reflections of American Deaf Culture in Deaf Humor. Deaf World. New York: New York UP, 2001. 99-103. Print.
Christie, Karen, and Dorothy M. Wilkins. "A Feast for the Eyes: ASL Literacy and ASL Literature." Oxford Journals (1997). Print.
Fanatic, BYU. "Checkmate! - An ASL 'ABC' Story." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. 10 Dec. 2008. Web. 03 May 2010.
Peters, Cynthia L. "Rathskellar." Deaf World. New York: New York UP, 2001. 129-46. Print.