An excerpt from her upcoming book, Stutterer Interrupted: The Comedian Who Almost Didn’t Happen.
Expected Release Date: August 6, 2019!!
Available on Amazon
Check out this post and look forward to upcoming publicizing as we approach its full release this August!
Ask anyone who stutters and they will tell you that we are constantly interrupted. The slightest repetition or block in our speech will often result in a $10,000 Pyramid-style guessing match. If we stutter “p-p-p,” the listener guesses everything from pizza to pumpernickel—and usually gets it wrong. If these listeners didactually listen, maybe the person stuttering would have a chance to finish their thought!
I have experienced interruptions my entire life. I don’t just mean people talking over me. I mean my entire development as a person has been interrupted, arrested, stunted, and whatever else it says in the thesaurus. I was blessed with amazing parents and a supportive speech therapist, but nothing could shield me from the pain of growing up in a world where my voice was mocked. I remember the first time someone teased me because of my speech. I was at Wacky Waldo’s, a skate shop in my hometown of Alameda, CA. I was only eight years old, but that didn’t stop the owner from making fun of the way I said “bird.” His mockery, however slight, signaled to me that I was different—and this was coming from a guy named Wacky Waldo.
Being treated as different was a recurring theme throughout my childhood. Teachers graded me down for “not speaking clearly,” often skipping over my turn to read a prayer in class (Catholic school). It didn’t help that I also had learning disabilities.
After my self-esteem was corroded all day at school, coming home and watching TV seemed like an ideal escape. But even there, in the safety of my living room, I kept receiving the message that I wasn’t good enough. Television showed me images of the fluent (non-stuttering) people I was supposed to emulate, living out their perfect fictional lives in 80s sitcoms and Pepsi commercials. If someone did stutter on TV, they were either a bumbling doofus, a sociopathic killer, or a cartoon pig who walked around without pants. If I had to choose one for a role model, I guess I’d go the no-pants route.
I got the message loud and clear: I’m not normal, I’m not good enough. I took all the negative social cues and internalized them, like a box of baking soda absorbing every rotten odor in the fridge. I learned to be my own bully and shame myself. That shame continued to grow, until I was no longer in control of my life. I was determined to hide my stuttering at any cost, even my own happiness. I withdrew from all the important parts of growing up: friendships, socializing, flirting, group activities—anything that required me to speak. It wasn’t enough to be interrupted by others; I was now interrupting myself. I yielded the floor to everyone (anyone) around me, because I thought my voice was defective and shouldn’t be heard. I wasted years of my adult life stuck in crummy relationships because I thought I didn’t deserve better. People walked over me while I worried if their feet were comfortable doing it.
Maybe you have been in a similar position. Maybe you have experienced what it’s like to put yourself and your needs aside, out of fear or embarrassment. The world we live in is all too happy to crush a person’s self-esteem for any reason. For me, it was stuttering and dyslexia. For someone else, it might be their body, their gender expression, their personality—any part of them that feels unloved, unaccepted and rejected. We learn to bottle up those feelings and live in hiding, disappearing deeper and deeper into our shame.
It has taken most of my life to find my way out of this trap. Truth be told, it never stops. The shame monster is always there, and I always have to be vigilant to keep him on his leash—easier said than done, especially when people are constantly reminding me of the fact that I stutter. It can be an awkward facial expression or an offhand comment. It can be someone asking if I forgot my name or if I’m having a stroke. It can be dropping whatever we are talking about and launching into a fifteen-minute lecture on the “real cause” of my stuttering, usually beginning with the phrase, “So I heard on NPR…”. I’ve had so many strange and outrageous interactions over the years, I figured I might as well sit down and write a damn book about it.
All the stories in this book are true (certain names and details have been changed to protect people’s privacy). You might read some parts and think, “There’s no way someone actually said that!” I assure you, they actually said it. Some of it is hurtful. Some of it is just annoying or awkward. Over the years, I have developed my own defenses for dealing with them.
Defense number one is having empathetic friends and family. If you learn one thing in this world, learn to surround yourself with people who understand you! I have been in so many relationships where the other person accused me of overreacting whenever I relayed an incident of some mistreatment; it actually made me doubt my own feelings. Now I can ask my fluent friend Heather, “Am I overreacting?” and trust her answer. I can text my stuttering friend Gina and get her opinion on whatever is happening. I am so grateful to have people in my life who can take that weight off my shoulders. They are my rock!
Defense number two is stand-up comedy. Comedians often talk about “finding their voice as an artist.” For me, it was finding my voice. Period. Comedy has given me the power to say what I want and make people listen. It has also given me hecklers who don’t listen, and I’m thankful for that too. Hecklers are a safe outlet for dealing with assholes. If you tell your asshole boss to shut up, you get fired; if you tell an asshole heckler to shut up, you get applause. Thank God for hecklers! They taught me how to brush off insults and remain confident, both on and off the stage. If someone says something degrading to me one day, you can bet I’ll have a roomful of strangers laughing at their stupidity a week later. Just like a best friend, comedy is able to turn my frustrations into validation.
This book is a collection of my experiences: from the self-loathing teenager who secretly dreamed of being a comedian, to the adult in crisis who finally said “fuck it” and took the plunge. Of course, my experience is just that, my experience. It is specific to me and my life as a white-Italian-American-Catholic-cis-female-heterosexual-middle-class-nonapparent-disability-having-person-etcetera. When all is said and done, I can only speak for myself—although much of what I believe is shaped by other people and their stories. Hopefully, my story can inform and speak to your experience. If you stutter, if you have another disability, if you have ever felt ashamed, hopeless, or afraid because of who you are—this is for you.