Sunday, May 5, 2013

RM Interviews Keith Wann - SuperCoda

Hello Everyone,

I want to say first that I apologize for not having a video of my interview with Keith Wann. I stated previously that all English blog posts in the future would have a corresponding ASL vlog to go with it. The interview began last year and slowly completed a few weeks ago, all via email, so unfortunately no video was taken. With that in mind, I want to say a few things about Keith before the interview. 

Early on after my first few blog posts I quickly realized that one of my goals was to give insight to hearing people about the Deaf community. As a CODA, I am very familiar with Deaf culture and my local Deaf community. I am still and always will be a part of it. One of the things I know is that most hearing people don’t get it. Please don’t take offense to that if you are one of those hearing people because it’s not your fault. You just never had any experience with it. But if you read these posts and get something meaningful from them, then I have accomplished that goal. This is where Keith Wann comes in. He is a CODA like me and very involved in his Deaf community. 

Anyone who has seen one of Keith’s performances, or watched any of the plethora of videos he has online can tell that ASL and Deaf culture are huge parts of his life. Through his work he is doing the same thing I am, and reaching a much bigger audience, I might add. He does it in his way, through humor, performing, and storytelling. I have been watching him now for several years and wondered if I could convince him to take time to let me interview him. So, I found him on Facebook and sent him a message, asking him for an interview. His exact response was this - sure thing! I would be honored - let me know what I need to do!”

Well over the last year we have finally completed this thing. Keith is a very busy person who wears many hats, and almost all of those hats involve Keith giving his time to others. Whether through performing/touring, his ASL radio program (which I just learned is no longer airing), his work with LegalShield, or with his family, he is giving everything he has of himself to other people, and that’s an invaluable contribution to humanity. I have a very deep respect for him, especially after meeting him recently. Anyways, I’ll end my ramble here and get on with the interview. Here goes....

RM: Are both of your parents Deaf?

Keith: Yes.  My mother became deaf at the age of three - german measles and pneumonia.  My biological father is hearing, (we) never met.  The man who I call dad who raised me was born deaf.

RM: As a CODA, and knowing other CODAs, we have all had some similar experiences growing up. Could you speak of these and how they affected your childhood?

Keith: I believe having similar experiences allowed me to have more empathy as a person later in life. I could hear someone and even if I didnt have that same experience I could understand that was their world and what they experienced.  For me this came as a lesson to me at the CODA Conference Hawaii 2004 - when I was asked to get on stage and do a bit of my show.  I said sure!  and then I was asked to voice and not sign...which blew me away...I always sign my show.  Then I was told there were codas in the audience that didnt know sign language so I had to be accomodating to them.  I was floored... I thought all codas had the same experience as me, deaf and ASL.  Lesson learned. For those that did have the same experience I always feel that kindred spirit.  The stories I do in my show are not all mine - they are OUR stories.

RM: What is your funniest Deaf related experience or story growing up?

Keith: Can't really name one - made a career out of sharing millions of the childhood stories - I do remember my parents buying me a radio and telling me to listen and learn to talk - they didnt know about the dial tone and didnt teach me either, so I listened for days to a station that played country that wasnt exactly on the dial - so the static was louder then the music.  Week later (an) older coda came over, and saw the radio and gave me the "lesson".

RM: What got you into, and when did you start doing ASL storytelling/comedy?

Keith: I was just flapping my hands as an interpreter and one night after bombing the gay and lesbian comedy festival since at that time I had no background in teabagging and tossing salads I decided to try out for a local asl improv group.  From there we traveled up and down the state of california until one night we were asked to each do a 10 minute solo from our childhood - my first story was the unplugging the vacuum story and the rest is history.

RM: I think it's safe to say that Peter Cook is considered one of the best ASL storytellers today. What is it like to work with him?

Keith: I still cannot believe that Peter is my personal mentor. He is such an inspiration and support that I now try to be with others that I work with. He has set the bar for ASL performing.  To have him treat me like an equal and ask my opinion on how he should change his story is an awesome feeling. To be able to travel with him and see how he thinks, how he treats people, and to see how genuine he is about life, I am one of the luckiest people. He became a close friend, was the pastor at our wedding. His work ethics is outstanding and something all of us need to strive for!

RM: What is the one piece of work you are most proud of?

Keith: Anything that one person takes away and it changes them. I can be proud of one particular piece but it might be for another reason, a simple statement, sign, or story that another person takes and it changes them. Gary Sanderson gave me a gem early in my career and he wasnt aware of it, and I was so happy I was able to talk to him years later and thank him for it. I had someone approach me a year later after one of my shows and say "thank you for pulling my sister up on stage (a silly improv asl song I do) - I am deaf and she is hearing and after you involved her she jumped into ASL and now we have regular sister -sister conversations without mom having to interpret." I get those kind of thank yous all the time and that is what I am most proud of.

RM: Tell us what Audism is in your own words.

Keith: Seems to be if a deaf person can talk they feel they are higher in the pecking order since they are 'closer' to hearing.

RM: Describe your ASL radio show.

Keith: A way for the hearing world to hear more about our ASL world.

RM: What is your biggest fear?

Keith: That I go blind.

RM: What can we expect from Keith Wann in the future? 

Keith: More behind the scenes stuff and ASL children's book literature - my 10 years of being America's funniest ASL comedian has been a great ride and I have no problems helping the next generation of ASL performers like Wink and Austin Andrews have their 10 years...there is plenty of room for 100 more ASL coda performers - My show was never about me, but us.

RM: Is there anything that you would like to let the readers know?

Keith: I look forward to learning, growing, and sharing more with our ASL Community.

I was saddened to learn recently that the Keith and Wink ASL Radio Show is no longer happening. Its concept was great and its delivery medium was original, to say the least. Hopefully the good people of Florida got a lot out of it. Awareness of the Deaf community among hearing people is, in my opinion, the best way we can fight Audism. Power to the Deaf and ASL!

The above picture is (hopefully obvious) myself and ELF with Keith at his show in Cambridge, MA. The other performers, "Wink" Windell Smith, Jr., and Gregg Spera, both put on exceptional performances. They had us laughing all night long. I was able to make a connection with Wink, and we set aside some time before their next show in Manchester, NH (April 26) to do a video interview. That post should be coming within the next month. It could be a while. I need to go back through and translate all the signing for the hearing people who don't know ASL. Once that is more finalized I will let you all know of a date for that post, so keep checking back!

I want to personally thank Keith for the time he gave to this interview and the inspiration he has been to many of us. Don't stop performing. People need to know, and laugh about it, too! Find him at, and watch any of his many videos on youtube. It's great stuff!

Until next time,

R. M. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the article. I didn't know the radio show wasn't going to continue; I am saddened by this fact, but I understand. I really enjoyed it and will miss it.