Deaf World: essay reflection

This is the eigth in a series of reflections on essays from the book Deaf World, edited by Lois Bragg. All essays in this text are by d/Deaf authors, meaning it is both a primary resource, and thanks to the scope of essays, a historical reader.

In 1989, MJ Bienvenu discussed Deaf humor at The Deaf Way conference, now printed as “Reflections of American Deaf Culture in Deaf Humor.” She claims that hearing is the fifth sense of Deaf culture in lieu of hearing, and proceeds to give examples of visual humor, humor about being unable to hear, linguistic humor related to sign production, and humor that gets back at oppressive cultures and people. 

Because I had already read Thomas K. Holcomb’s book Introduction to American Deaf Culture, I was surprised to learn that his father, Roy, wrote a book on Deaf humor that Bienvenu does not consider culturally appropriate. The joke about a Deaf person not knowing the vacuum was unplugged misses the point, Bienvenu argues, because a Deaf person would know the machine wasn’t vibrating. Thus, the comedy seems more against Deaf people, possibly for hearing people to laugh at. I laughed at what Bienvenu says is a culturally accurate joke about the nervous newlywed sounding the car horn to figure out which hotel room his new bride is in, because he doesn’t care that he’s annoying hearing people, all of whom turn on their lights to see what all the racket outside is. 

I enjoyed Bienvenu’s point that Deaf people find humor in the visual component of the movie King Kong and how exaggerated the acting is. This simple example made me think more about what a Deaf perspective is like all the time. What do they see in line at the grocery store, while watching sports, in the choreography of a musical, etc.?

Published by Grab the Lapels

I'm a graduate of the MFA fiction writing program at the University of Notre Dame, which inspired me to follow along with trends in teaching, publishing, and reviewing. I also have an MA and BS from Central Michigan University. I used to teach composition, creative writing, and literature in higher education, then did a brief stint at a civic theater, followed by two years at a references desk at a public library. I'm now working toward my ASL Interpreter license.

2 thoughts on “Deaf World: essay reflection

  1. Interesting point re visual humour Melanie. Mr Gums is very picky about visual humour but I can see that when words are tricky it would work very will. As you say, just realising this, affects our understanding of what perspective Deaf people might have beyond just the humour, Makes us focus on the significance of visual clues beyond the obvious.


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