Radiolab

Navigate
Return Home

Deaf Comedy Jam

Back to Episode

(Claude Monet)

Usually Kymme Van Cleef works off to the side of the spotlight. She interprets for the deaf at rock concerts, church services, even on cruise lines. But one day, when she took a job to sign at a huge comedy festival, she suddenly found herself unexpectedly front and center, with a decision to make.

Comments [7]

Max from Northern NJ

Jamie from Chicago, thank you for your perspective; it is one that I never would have considered. What little I do know of ASL implies a language rich with nuance, depth, and an expressive power often exceeding that of spoken English.

Kymme performed properly, accurately expressing events as they unfolded on stage. To soften her interpretation would be a disservice both to performer and to client.

It might be possible, however, that the young girl and her mother would have left the theater early even if the girl had perfect hearing. Her age, or even approximate age, was not mentioned.

Getting Jeff Ross, Kymme, the girl, and her mother together to talk about what happened would be an outstanding follow-up. How about it, RadioLab folks?

Nov. 21 2014 06:21 PM
Sir Lancelot from Orlando

When one has a job, they are obligated to carry it out or else they are doing the costumer a disservice. The translator's job was to translate as close as she could to the demonstration on stage. For example, during a concert she would be feeling the music to show emotion, instead of demonstrating a toned down translation to a song, thus giving a muzzled version, rather than the real thing. A muzzled version is not okay; in this situation the translator did nothing wrong, she was merely translating to her full potential.

Nov. 10 2014 09:35 PM
Marc from New York

I thought about this for awhile, and I have to agree with Krulwich, the translator was there to convey to her client what was being said on stage. The comedian was being crude and intimate, so she followed through with that. Kymme took the middle road, and was graphic without being as vulgar as she could be. If she had toned it down, then she would not be doing her job. She gave her client the same experience that somone with hearing would have. The fact that the client decided it was not for her was the success of the translater.

If the mother had pulled her child without the girl knowing exactly what was said, she would not have a clear idea of what she was experiencing in the first place.

Nov. 03 2014 06:19 AM
Colleen

This interpreter made a conscious decision to be a part of the performance, as opposed to someone whose first priority was to the client in the audience, in this case a young girl. Her decision to go 'down and dirty' with her signing was directly linked to the content the comedian decided to 'go with'. She had choices in that regard, as described in the interview. Maybe she has her own issues, but 'reporting' became something completely different. Definitely juvenile male humor driven to the extreme. I was a more than a little disappointed in the conversations of the interviewers/hosts following the story...very superficial and not very probing.

Oct. 26 2014 04:02 PM
Brian Schofield from Thailand

Yes, I have a deaf son and this can be looked at as insulting. I think it depends on the individual. I think anyone made to be the centre of attention in this situation may have been embarrassed. I hope the young girl is okay. Comedy can be harsh, and takes no prisoners.

Oct. 26 2014 02:31 AM
Jamie from Chicago

I am a American Sign Language interpreter. I want to share a perspective that most would not consider. It is possible that the issue was not the explicit language, it was the exploitation of the Deaf consumers language. Sign languages, unlike spoken languages, are commonly viewed as a novelty. In this situation, the comedian was not only "playing" with the interpreter, he was inadvertently mocking ASL and the Deaf community. I would not be surprised if the girl in the audience was embarrassed because everyone was treating her language has a joke, rather than access to communication. Her access to the show and her language was being laughed at and being portrayed as an inferior language. This issues arises in many performance situations, it can result in the audience members who are using the interpreting services to feel a sense of audism (discrimination or oppression against Deaf and hard of hearing people), where as the hearing audience finds it hilarious.
Food for thought :)

Oct. 25 2014 06:03 PM
Nicole from Massachusetts

I wanted to share this with my sister, who is deaf, but there is no transcript. Might you post one?

Oct. 23 2014 02:59 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.