Someone passing by the Student Union Theater on Feb. 6 might have assumed from the sounds of scattered, sporadic applause that a small, unenthusiastic group was gathered inside. However, this could not be further from the truth.
ASL comedian Keith Wann took the stage last Friday to Deaf applause, which entails waving both hands silently in the air. From beginning to end, he had both hearing and deaf viewers in stitches.
Francisco Olivera, a Peruvian ASL comedian and Taylor Lautner lookalike, opened the show, with Wann providing a translation.
'I know what you're thinking,' he began. 'How did UB afford Jacob Black from the new Twilight movie?'
Olivera signed about his experiences becoming an interpreter and the difficulties he had in making his sign language look authentic.
Olivera has been performing with Wann for one and a half years.
'I love it; I wish I could do it full time,' he said.
When he's not performing, Olivera works as a video relay interpreter – someone who translates telephone conversations between deaf and hearing people.
'I'm also a writer. I'm working on my epic poem – ‘Ode to Cookie Monster,' Olivera said.
Wann took the stage next, to both Deaf and audible applause. With Olivera acting as his interpreter, Wann signed about the differences between hearing and Deaf families, peppering the show with hilarious anecdotes about how his mischief-making got him in trouble over the years.
One of his best tales was about the incident that got him banned from Deaf church. He explained that Children of Deaf Adults are called upon to interpret so much that they tend to shorten most messages. When his father asked him to translate a lengthy explanation of how sinners will be condemned to hell, Wann's response to the hearing student was, 'My father says, ‘Go to hell.'
Wann also incorporated music into his show by illustrating the difficulties involved in translating songs such as 'Baby Got Back' and 'Ice, Ice Baby.'
To prove this point, he asked for two student volunteers to come up and be taught how to sign 'That's the Way I Like It.' Deirdre Carter, a sophomore accounting major and one of the volunteers, found the experience to be enjoyable rather than embarrassing.
'It was a welcoming atmosphere … Keith did a great job of setting the crowd's mood and I felt comfortable being engaged with the performance,' Carter said. 'I felt a little nervous about my signing, but I looked out into the audience and saw that the Deaf community was jut glad to see that we were having fun on stage. After a few seconds, I was having a whole lot of fun.'
Wann has been performing his comedy show for 10 years and can't imagine doing anything else.
'It's what I do for a living,' he said. 'I've done lots of shows; I love hearing the laughter, I love hearing people relate. I do it for other CODAs, but there are things everyone can relate to.'
Both Wann and Olivera agree that Buffalo is a wonderful city to visit and that the Anchor Bar chicken wings are the best part.
Olivera, who lives in Florida, also enjoyed seeing snow for the first time.
The audience, both hearing and deaf, was extremely enthusiastic throughout the whole show.
'They're super. [I loved] everything – they made me laugh [through] the whole show,' said member of the Deaf community Debbie Salruto, 47, of Williamsville.
Ryan Julius, a 14-year-old CODA from Buffalo, let it be known before the show that it was his birthday and was publicly congratulated by Wann. Julius enjoyed the show and felt that it was very relatable.
'I loved the deaf driver part – it was very true,' he said, referring to Wann's bit about deaf drivers using their knees to steer so their hands would be free to talk. 'I would go back [to one of Wann's shows].'
Julius's friend Elizabeth Laubenthal, 13, enjoyed the show as well, despite having no ties to the Deaf community other than Julius.
'It was good; I liked the songs,' she said. Despite not being able to relate personally to the jokes, Laubenthal felt that the show was 'funny; I would go see it again.'
Emily Glenn-Smith, a professor of ASL who helped the ASL Club organize the show, was very pleased with the way the event turned out.
'CODAs, students – everyone loved it. It was about half and half [deaf and hearing]. One man said, ‘We need to have this kind of thing more often; we need to educate people in a fun way,' Glenn-Smith said.