Deaf comedian D.J. Demers is making comedy relatable to people with hearing loss. After all, in stand-up comedy, we don’t often see routines about hearing devices or hearing loss. Lack of education around hearing devices makes it frustrating to explain, have others understand, and laugh about it. While Demers’ goal is not to talk about hearing aids and hearing loss, he doesn’t run away from it either. It’s a big part of his life. There are a lot of jokes to tell about it. His shows are wide ranging. They touch on being hard of hearing and living with hearing devices to many other relatable truths about life that all audiences can appreciate.
“While Demers’ goal is not to talk about hearing aids and hearing loss, he doesn’t run away from it either.”
In fact, this presents as a type of silent advocacy and education that shows that deaf and hard of hearing people are multi-dimensional. We do have a hearing loss and it’s a part of our life experience. But it does not define who we are.
When watching Demers in “Indistinct Chatter” talk about the consequences (or benefits) of whispering to a deaf or hard of hearing person, there is rarely a DHH individual who doesn’t remember having to sit through broken telephone or having somebody try to whisper a secret in their ear. About this, Demers says, “If this is a secret, you can be rest assured, it is very very safe.”
Originally from Kitchener, Canada, Demers’ hearing loss was discovered when he was between three and four years old. The cause is unknown. He started doing stand-up comedy at age 23. Demers has always loved public speaking and participated in competitions as a child. He was the valedictorian at both his grade school and high school graduations.
While Demers loved the idea of stand-up comedy, it was scary to him. “The idea of getting up there was terrifying,” he recalls. Despite this, he felt like it was something he needed to do. He didn’t want to go through the front door of the club the first time he got on stage. He was petrified. But once one foot went in front of the other, and the bubble was burst, it was like an addiction being fueled. Now 13 years after starting, he says it feels predestined.
His visibility increased after he was on Season 11 of “America’s Got Talent” in 2016 and “Conan” on 2017.
Demers says that “being yourself” is probably the hardest thing about stand-up comedy. It is difficult to be a performative version of yourself that taps into being the real you. “By tapping into the real you, audiences can get a sense of that, and they want to go on the ride with you,” he says.
Having a deaf comedian like Demers is important representation for a lot of people. Demers represents an invisible disability that is often misunderstood or overlooked and has stigmas. Kids growing up with a hearing loss can now see someone else like them doing stand-up. Adults who have lost their hearing later in life now have access to the humorous side of being deaf or hard of hearing. Demers himself says that as a child, he didn’t see any hard of hearing people in the media.
While Demers says he doesn’t see himself as a role model or advocate, he does love the idea that others may look to him that way. If someone says to him, “I see you that way and I appreciate what you’ve done,” or if someone simply laughs, that means the world to him.
Demers has been working to make ASL interpreters a part of his show. Demers says that in the beginning of doing stand-up, as a new artist finding his footing, it felt hard to ask for one for fear of being passed on. Now that he feels he is more established, he is less shy about asking for it. At his most recent show, he decided to reach out to the club and say, “I want an interpreter.” They said, “Ok, we’ll pay for that.” It’s made him realize that maybe all he has to do is ask. He is hoping that all his future shows will have an ASL interpreter.
Demers and his wife recently had a baby. While becoming a father has changed his life, he says it hasn’t changed his approach to writing comedy. Though we might hear more about this new side of life in his shows. His goal is to be one of the best stand-up comedians on stage right now.
“I’ve always gotten by on good vibes,” Demers says. “If I ever felt I was being treated poorly, often it would be the energy I was putting out and I didn’t realize it. If you’re struggling with hearing loss and you feel like it makes you different, I feel like humans respond to good vibes. We want to be around people who make us feel good. If you’re honest with people about what you need from them to get by in a conversation, then you get that out of the way. You can be the positive person you want to be without letting that insecurity creep up. I feel like that helped me, because then people want to be around you, and help you through your struggles. You won’t be putting up this wall that you might not know about. I had to learn that even more throughout the pandemic.”
“If you’re struggling with hearing loss and you feel like it makes you different, I feel like humans respond to good vibes. We want to be around people who make us feel good.”
Demers recently filmed a new special called “Born in ‘86” in Santa Monica, CA. He describes it as “a bit about the pandemic, being deaf in a pandemic, and life.” He notes that being deaf in a pandemic has taught him more than ever about speaking up for himself. It has forced him to work on his self-advocacy skills. The special also has an ASL interpreter. “Born in ’86” will be released towards the end of May on YouTube.
Join us for #HearingLossHour on Tuesday, May 3 on Twitter. We’ll be celebrating #WorldLaughterDay by sharing links to the work of deaf comedians, captioning bloopers, and our own personal stories of funny misunderstandings!