Stand-up, stammering and the burdon of proof
4th August 2022
If you're going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year check out Aidan Greene, who's performing two stand-up shows about stammering. Find out more here, as he recounts an awkward moment when an audience member reacted badly to his material.
I'm Aidan and I'm doing two comedy shows at the Fringe this year. One is a show called 'I Know What You Did Last Stammer', which explores the idea of 'What if there was a cure for stammering' at some crucial stages of my life. It's kind of a science fiction, multimedia comedy show. The other show, 'Stutterbug', takes a look at how the pandemic affected my stammer.
I've been doing stand-up comedy as someone who stammers for 12 years now, and after all that time it finally happened…
Just outside of Dublin, in a small comedy club, I had been onstage for nearly 10 minutes when a woman took a seat up the front. It had been a normal gig up until this point. Right off the bat I stammered and quickly made a joke to let the audience know that yes, I do have a stammer, and yes, it is okay to laugh as long as you were laughing with me, not at me. I covered some of the basics of stammering and in the 10 minutes had firmly laid out my stammer and what the audience could expect.
Were we all together witnessing one of the most bizarre ableist heckles of all time?
As the woman sat down with her friends, I had just finished one joke and was moving onto another. At the opening of the next joke, I outlined that I want to be positive representation for people who stammer. For most of my life I never had a positive stammering role model to look up to so that is what I want to be in the world. Then I hear the woman say, "That's horrible".
Honestly, I was shocked. In all my years of stammering I had never considered the possibility that someone may be anti-stammering. Is it possible that this person thinks stammering is a choice we make that they don't agree with? Like it's a fringe political party we're voting for? Sure, I've gotten some pretty rotten heckles in my day that could certainly been classed as offensive, but never someone who is actively rooting against the stammering community.
"Sorry?", I asked, making sure I heard her correctly. "That's a horrible thing to say," she replied, even louder and with more confidence this time. It's rare that I don't have banter or a response ready, but the whole room sat in silence. The tension was palpable. Were we all together witnessing one of the most bizarre ableist heckles of all time?
Just before I had a chance to question her more, the woman sitting beside her leaned over and audibly whispered, "He has a stammer". And then the penny dropped for everyone. I was having a relatively fluent speech day so in the set-up for the joke she did not hear me stammer and assumed that I was mocking the stammering community.
The woman was of course mortified by the entire situation, but it reminded me of one of the weirder issues of having a stammer: the burden of proof. When I'm casually talking to people who I don't know and mention that I have a stammer, they say things like "Oh, you don't really have a stammer though do you?" or "I haven't heard you stammer much at all so it must not be that bad". I mean, I certainly do have one, and if you had been in the bank last week when it took me five minutes to say my phone number to a clerk you would absolutely believe I had a stammer.
Ultimately it serves as a reminder that no one with a stammer owes anyone an explanation or 'proof' of something that isn't always visible.
What's actually funny here is that the joke I was heckled on seems strangely appropriate. As I mentioned, I am trying to be a positive representation for people who stammer and perhaps by continuing to show a different side of stammering it may mean less of these kinds of heckles in future. Ultimately it serves as a reminder that no one with a stammer owes anyone an explanation or 'proof' of something that isn't always visible.
But whether people believe me or not, I stammer. Some days I may be completely fluent. Others, especially when I'm at the bank, I may have a lot of dysfluency. But on every single one of these days, I am a person who stammers.
Is this the weirdest stammering-related crowd interaction I've ever had? Definitely not. You can read about that in one of my previous articles, 'An unusual heckler'. Will it be the last? Probably not. But at least I'll get some new material out of it.
Catch Aidan's shows at the Edinburgh Fringe — 'I Know What You Did Last Stammer' is on at Underbelly Bristo Square from 3rd to 29th August (buy tickets), and 'Stutterbug' is on at the Banshee Labyrinth from 6th to 28th August.