ASL University

 Deaf Humor vs. Hearing people mocking the Deaf


In a message dated 5/19/2015 11:14:31 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, "John" (not his real name) (who works at a restaurant) sends in the following joke:

A husband, and his bitter wife were heading home from a recent family visit to their son's house. While driving, the man inadvertently began speeding as he was distracted from his wife's incessant nagging. Moments later, a cop pulled them over, approached the car, and asked the man if he knew why he had pulled him over. Without having a chance to respond, the mans wife interrupted with, "Whaaa'd he saaay?!" The husband then loudly relayed the cops words to his wife, then replied to the cop saying that he apologizes for speeding as he was on his way home to New York from a recent outing. The cop smiled, let the husband off with a warning, and then told the husband how he had lived there briefly as a child and his only memory was of a mean, nasty old woman who lived across the street from him. Again the nagging wife interrupted saying, "Whaaa'd he saaaay?!" to which the husband smiled and responded, "He said he thinks he remembers you."

If you have a couple minutes, I'll share my story.

I am not deaf, nor do I have any immediate family that are deaf, however I did learn finger-spelling in high school. Not through a course, but because the smart girls used to finger-spell behind the teachers back during class, and I just had to know what they were saying. They didn't think anyone could understand what they were talking about, until right in the middle of some juicy gossip one of the girls noticed me staring at them, to which I replied H-I, oh.. if you could have seen her face!

I own a restaurant in rural Virginia, and I have a couple deaf customers who frequent us every so often. After their visit I've always felt awful for not being able to communicate with them like I do with all my other customers. Usually they would just write their orders on a slip of paper, and hand it to the server. Our communications consisted of smiles, slowly spoken words (for lip reading) and me giving a thumbs up, as if asking if everything was good, or indicating that I was happy that they enjoyed their meal. (which I now realize was signing the number 10 haha) I've always made a mental note that as soon as I had available time, I would learn how to at least do some basic signs so their experience would be higher in quality.

Well, that available time started last week, and less than 7 days later, I am completely confident in being able to effectively communicate, and take there orders, without pen and paper! I had the impression that it would be really hard to learn a new language, but I believe the key is your website. And the explanations of each sign, the extra info, is great.. it really helped my understanding and recall, and I cannot wait until they come in to eat again :) I think it will be a great experience for me, and a nice surprise for them. I also plan to fully learn the language, so that I can offer more to them, and any future deaf customers that might walk in. You made it easy for me, thanks again.

- John _______

P.S. I decided to replace the thumbs up, with the sign for COOL/SWELL! much more effective :)


The joke is funny, sure, but it has a dark side.
Before I mention that dark side, please know that I APPRECIATE you sending it and I appreciate you letting me share a few thoughts on this topic.
Okay, here we go:
Put yourself in the shoes of the "wife."
Suppose you are Deaf and cannot hear what is being said.
Suppose you are not into "texting or social media," you have not yet learned sign language, and those around you do not know sign language.
You then have two choices:
1. Live in a world of silence, become a social hermit, and become despondent.
2. Be proactive in requesting communication and be labeled as "mean and nasty."

Oh, sure, I get it that the wife could have been patient and waited until later to be clued in to what was said. The problem with that? Often (very, very often) there is no "later." The information gets forgotten, pooh-poohed, or minimized. Seriously many non-signing deaf people go through life only getting the "trailer" and never the full "movie." Often though, they don't even get the trailer -- rather they only get the poorly remembered "gag" reel cobbled together from the memory of people who watched the movie and are tired of playing "communication facilitator."

Oh sure, I get it that perhaps the woman is "mean and nasty" totally separate from her being "deaf." However, the joke doesn't make that distinction.

The joke causes me to want to encourage people to reflect upon why the woman is bitter. I suspect it is because she is indeed trapped in a world of silence, her husband makes fun of her, and the family reunion she just left was, for her, a communication desert.
If everyone in her family took the time and made the effort to learn sign language and include her in the communication she would likely be a lot less bitter.

Again, thanks for sending the joke. Someday I'll probably post it on a "humor and the Deaf" page discussing the difference between "Deaf Humor" (what is funny to Deaf people) and Hearing Humor (making fun of Deaf people).
I am glad you are learning sign language so that your restaurant customers won't become like the "wife" in the joke.
- Dr. Bill


"Do you see how I feel like I'm on the fence, like I'm pretending to fit into both worlds and not feeling that I fit into anything?"

-- Shane Spurlock, a Deaf man who killed himself in 2005



(Beckner, Chrisanne, Thursday, June 08, 2006) "Can You Hear Me Now?" Sacramento News and Review. Retrieved 6/20/2006 <>

John then writes:

Perspective is a wonderful thing we all can learn from. Thanks for the insight. Perhaps in my haste to share comedy with others I failed to consider all the ramifications of the joke itself. It was not my intention to offend the deaf by any means, perhaps I could have gave more detail of the bitter old woman, to indicate she had been that way her whole life before acquiring a hearing deficiency. I believe a better solution is to just bury the joke, the last thing I would want to do is offend a subset of individuals I'm proactively seeking to help. This is a hearing joke, and I am a bit upset with myself that my judgement on this one was poor. I guess I assumed that it was comical to me, so it should be comical to all, not realizing some could be sensitive to it... but with a closer look and your explanation.. I do realize this is not a "laughing with" but rather a "laughing at" type of joke. In the future, Ill try to be more understanding of the situation that may have led to "the bitter old woman" instead of taking it for face value.
Again, all apologies,
- John


Good hit the phrase I was getting at in my previous email: "at" vs "with."  Exactly!  Bravo!
No need for apologies (to me). I swim in this stuff every day and I recognize a "seeker" such as yourself when I see one.
- Dr. Bill



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