Deaf comedian Hayden Kristal — who identifies as deaf, bisexual, queer, and Jewish — was born into an all hearing family in Colorado. After majoring in sign language and zoology and pursuing a career as a zookeeper, Kristal decided that comedy was their true passion. Kristal jokingly introduces themselves as “a Brooklyn-based former zookeeper who gave up a lucrative career in salamanders to pursue comedy and public speaking” on their website.
“I think…early on, I found that comedy is a language everybody understands,” Hayden said in her pre-performance interview.
“Comedy is a language everybody understand”
Before auditioning for “America’s Got Talent” (AGT) this year, Kristal appeared on “Stand Up NBC” and made it to the semifinals.
“If I say something and you laugh at it, that’s a connection,” Kristal mentions before going on stage. “I always love that feeling.”
For those who have never watched the nationally televised show, America’s Got Talent is a talent competition where contestants from all over the country perform. Celebrity judges decide if a contestant can move from one stage to the next until a winner is crowned with a million dollars in prize money. Currently being filmed in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Los Angelos, season 17 is now on its 13th episode.
Kristal presented on week three of AGT a short, yet hilarious, retelling of their application to the Gorilla Foundation. The foundation took care of the famous gorilla Koko, who knew sign language. While using self-deprecating wit, Kristal recounted that their application was rejected due to their deafness. Kristal outlined the discrimination that people with disabilities still receive. They also strung together an ironic tale that impressed both the judges and audience.
While Kristal started the performance in sign language, confusing the audience and judges, Kristal presented the rest of their story verbally with the help of sign language interpreter Julie. Although Kristal jokes that “I do like to start [with sign language] ’cause [it] makes heckling me a ADA violation,” Kristal performs most of their comedy sets in English.
On YouTube, Kristal’s performance has over 745K views. One user commented, “Now that’s what I call comedic timing! She put me on the floor.” Simon Cowell, known for being hard to please, added that it was “brilliantly funny.” Needless to say, Kristal earned an unanimous vote to proceed to the next stage of the competition.
When asked why they wanted to compete on AGT, Hayden talked about past competitors whose performances encouraged them to pursue stand-up comedy. “This is one of the biggest stages in the world, and watching some of the people that AGT has given opportunities to has given me more confidence to pursue this for myself,” they said in the audition video.
During her performance, Kristal called out two particular comedians as her inspiration: D.J. Demers, a Phonak “hEARo” and deaf comedian who appeared on AGT in 2016, and Drew Lynch, a comedian with a speech impediment, who was runner-up of the 10th season.
“When I see other people with disabilities on this stage and thriving, I know that they were given the tools to be able to succeed here,” Kristal said before their AGT performance.
As deaf comedian, Kristal is also an activist. Over the past few years, they have spoken at many conferences and colleges across the country. In 2016, Kristal hosted their first Ted Talk on Intersectional Disability. With 660K followers on TikTok, Kristal uses their platform to explore “the intersections of ability, gender, sexuality, and access, particularly within the spheres of activism and social justice.”
Kristal’s past programs have included “Laughing Out Loud: Bridging Social Gaps Through Comedy” and “Lessons From My Deafblind Dog.” As one user commented, “So proud of Hayden. I follow [them] on TikTok and once I found out [they were] on AGT I was so happy for [them] and I just had to go watch it!”
Kristal is not sure what is waiting ahead, but as they said after the successful AGT audition, “to be here [performing], it’s unbelievable and I felt like I already won just making it to tonight.”
Read more: A list of deaf stand-up comedians