Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project interviewed Nina G on October 2, 2014 at StoryCorps San Francisco.
This is the first of two blog posts about their interview. Below are approximate excerpts from their conversation.
On being a stuttering comedian
Alice: I notice that you bill yourself as, “America’s favorite female stuttering stand-up comedian.” Tell me how did you come about branding yourself this way?
Nina: I say that I’m America’s only female stuttering stand-up comedian and I’m America’s favorite because I really am the only one. Like I’m the only stuttering stand-up comedian in the U.S. And in fact when I first started doing comedy, I said I was the world’s only, but there was a woman who popped up in England who I haven’t met yet, whether social media or in person, but she has a couple of videos out and I know she’s kind of active but I don’t know a ton about here. So I cannot use that “world’s only” any more.
Alice: You’re now only domestically the only one.
Nina: Domestically, yes.
Nina: Or this hemisphere, I suppose I could say that. But you know that’s a lot.
Alice: Hopefully yeah there’s no Canadians, or Mexicans yet, but you never know.
Nina: Not that I’m aware of, yes.
Alice: You never know and I think one day eventually this is going to lead to an international battle of the stuttering female comedians.
Nina: I can only hope.
Alice: I think we’ve got to see some sort of cage match.
Nina: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)
On comedians with disabilities
Alice: And there are actually… more and more comedians with disabilities out there just really doing it. It seems like in the last decade there’s been far more visibility of some really prominent comedians. What’s your take on this great rise of more visibility of comedians with disabilities?
Nina: I think that it’s awesome because I think that it teaches people. The one issue I have is that oftentimes they’re white men. When you look at Josh Blue, who’s really great, but my theory is that TV executives, if you’re more than one thing, their heads explode. So if you are an ethnic minority with a disability who’s a woman, they just don’t what to do with you.
Alice: And if you’re gay…
Nina: Oh yeah, and if you’re gay ….
Alice: Throw in that.
Nina: Choose one. You can only be one.
Nina: So that is one of my issues with the entertainment world. You’ve seen this, if there’s a character on TV, it’s usually a white man who uses a wheelchair or something.
Alice: Yeah it’s always kind of this weird trickle-down effect, or trickle up. But first you get the most approachable in terms of the mainstream, non-disabled world. Then hopefully over time there’s more diversity. It always seems to be this case in a lot fields, with entertainment, television, obviously comedy, which has been so male-dominated and so white for a really long time that …
Nina: And so white for what’s on TV.
Alice: Right. But in terms of the actual stand-up world, it’s rather diverse. What’s your take on that?
Nina: Yes, but it can be kind of segregated too.
Alice: Tell me more about that.
Nina: It’s diverse but yet segregated. There are white clubs and there are black clubs. Sometimes the easement between the two isn’t very good or isn’t very accessible. I think in the Bay Area it’s not as extreme as some areas. In Chicago there are very much two kinds of comedy streams, which was Second City …Improv, but then also very white. Then I think it was the South side of Chicago had a comedy that was mostly black and just very separate. I don’t really know anything about this, I just saw a documentary on it.
Alice: Yeah. I wonder what the response toward disabled comedians is compared to both?
Mina: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)
Alice: Have you ever played mostly let’s say black-dominated clubs? What was the vibe you got from that compared to let’s say you have a regular act and you play it in this club but then in a more white-dominated club. What are the differences?
Mina: OK yeah. Oh yeah. There’s so many differences. First of all, if I’m playing Berkeley. Berkeley, California. Those audiences tend to be mostly white. They’re afraid to laugh at me because they think that then they’re making fun of me and they’ve been so drilled, “Don’t make fun of the disabled person.” I’m a frickin’ comedian. I’m here to make jokes. The fact that you are not laughing at me shows that you’re biased. They don’t get that and it drives me crazy. Whereas there’s a couple of predominantly African-American comedy venues and open mics. At first they’re like, “Huh? What are you doing? What?” Because everyone thinks that I’m faking. So I have to prove that I’m not.
Alice: They love this white girl.
Nina: Yeah exactly.
Alice: You’re one of us!
On Nina’s comedy influences
Nina: Plus a lot of my influences have been African-American comedians.
Alice: Yeah. Tell me about some of your influences.
Nina: God. I think as a kid I really loved Gilda Radner.
Alice: Oh my God, I loved Gilda.
Nina: She was such a big part of my life. I look back, when I look at some of her stuff now, I can see where I am the woman that I am because she was such an influence in my life. So, I go back there. Lenny Bruce who, just being able to say the things that you want to say from a political point of view, that to me is an amazing thing. Chris Rock and Paul Mooney are too, because they can say things and they can teach people things but they’re doing it through comedy.
Alice: They’re not overtly political, right?
Nina: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)
Alice: You know it’s pure comedy and yet it really makes you think without being preachy at all.
Nina: Yeah, exactly.
Nina G is America’s favorite female stuttering stand up comedian (granted she is the only one). She is also a disability activist, storyteller, children’s book author and educator. She brings her humor to help people confront and understand social justice issues such as disability, diversity, and equity.
When she isn’t performing at comedy clubs like the San Francisco Punchline or the Laugh Factory, she is playing colleges and presenting as a keynote speaker to children with disabilities and training professionals.
Check out her newest project, Once Upon an Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities! Nina writes from her own experience as a person with a Learning Disability and how to navigate the world of disability related accommodations in school.
Facebook Fan Page: Facebook.com/ninagcomedian
Twitter: @ninagcomedian (occassional adult content)
Youtube: NinaGcomic (some adult content)