Laughing at Labels Part 2
–By Jan McInnis, Comedian and Keynote Speaker
I’ve done comedy shows on cruise ships, which are a lot of fun, but they can be scary also. Not because you’re in the middle of the ocean and if the ship loses power you might have to turn your trashcan into a toilet. No, it’s because there’s always someone (or even a few people) in the audience, usually sitting in the front row, whose outfit includes jewelry, a dinner jacket or dress. . . and an oxygen tank. Oh, and they’re usually asleep. . . at the 6:00 p.m. show. I typically estimate this person’s age at 130, give or take a decade. On the other hand, sometimes I do shows for colleges, and I look to be 130 to them! But if I start to label that these situations are not going to work, and the audience is too old or too young for me, then guess what? My show tanks and I start wishing for a loss of power so that I can get off stage. Sometimes labels aren’t all that helpful.
I once had a job in which my coworkers thought I was mentally challenged. I’m neither joking nor am I making fun of those who are, but I was put in that category and it was weird. Right out of college I was temping for a major corporation, and they had me working with a guy I’ll call Bob, who was mentally challenged. We worked in the computer room delivering computer printouts, because it was back in the day when no one had their own printer and the massive paper printouts came from a computer the size of an IMAX movie screen. (Yeah, I’m THAT old!) I didn’t chat much with the people I was delivering these printouts to, other than to say “hi” and “how are you”, and they’d say “hi”, “I’m fine” and “nice sweater.” (I always wore these cool sweaters. Okay, cool for the 80s.) I was more shy than I am now, and I thought these people were very important (they had their own computers, for gosh sakes)so I was intimidated to talk with them and take up their time. And because I was so quiet, and I worked with Bob, the looks I got from these people were compassionate looks, and caring looks, and looks that just let me know that they knew I was different. . . like my “boss” Bob.
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