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7th December 2003
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Adam Hills is one of Australia's most talented and widely-respected comedians. His shows include Happy Feet, and in the UK he has appeared on Radio 4's Loose Ends and at the Edinburgh Festival.

13/11/03 - An open letter to Jim Davidson
16/10/03 - Everything You Always Wanted To Know ...
10/09/03 - Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle
06/08/03 - Sign here if you're normal
09/07/03 - "And the punchline is ... me!"
11/06/03 - The Mutants Are Coming!
09/04/03 - When is a joke not a joke?

Browse the back issues of all your favourite columnists.

Adam Hills - Sign here if you're normal
I have absolutely nothing to say about the subject of disability this month.

I know, I know, I've only written three articles for Ouch, but I seem to have run out of things to say.

The thing is, I don't really think about my artificial foot that much. I am extremely lucky to have been born with a 'disability' that doesn't dramatically affect my life. I have no major problem walking up stairs (except that sometimes I can't tell whether the end of my prosthesis is above the step, so occasionally catch my toe and trip). I don't require special access to venues (in fact, if someone steps on my foot in a crowded theatre I'm hardly going to yelp, or even notice) and I feel confident being out and about in public places (although I do have to make sure I don't stand on someone else's foot without realising).

I remember once being at a school camp at the age of, oohh, I must have been all of twelve years old. Our school was across the road from a school for children with mental and physical disabilities, and the two institutions planned their annual camps together.

Now that I think of it, it was quite a bizarre experience - having an artificial limb, but being in the school for 'normies'. We shared huts, activities and games with kids who had an array of 'difficulties' - some would wander around naked constantly, while others seemed to be permanently in tears. Some, like me, were simply missing bits.

One night, while taking part in some standard activities-based bonding session, one of the kids tripped and fell. He had two artificial legs and an artificial arm, but was determined to tough it out like the rest of us. I remember him falling, I remember him being helped to his feet, and I remember that later the same night he approached me and asked "What happened to your foot?"

When I replied that it was a birth defect, and that it was basically only from the ankle down, he paused and responded with "You're very lucky". It wasn't meant as a cry for sympathy, nor did I take it as one, and although I'd never thought of myself as succumbing to a 'poor me' syndrome, it did nail home the old adage that there is always someone worse off than yourself. And yet, 'worse off' isn't even the right term. Just different.

In fact, as I sit and write this (between shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), I remember too that our school also had a 'Deaf Section'. Quite advanced for its time - Australian suburbia in the 1970s - one section of our school was set aside for deaf students, with teachers, classrooms, and lessons all designed for deaf young people. Cripples to the left of me, deaf kids to the right - there I was, stuck in the middle with one shoe.

Is it just a coincidence that twenty-something years later I'm doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that provides a sign interpreter every Sunday night? A few years ago I was asked to host the launch of the Hi-Beam Arts Festival in Adelaide - a festival for disabled people. The show was signed, and I came to realise that not only did my stand-up translate nicely into sign language, but that it also added a special something to the performance.

Some of the signs that accompanied my jokes were actually much funnier than the punchlines, and at one point both the interpreter and myself were in tears of laughter. Since then I have always provided a signer for my festival shows - in Adelaide, Melbourne and Edinburgh - much to the joy of both the audience and reviewers.

At one point in last Sunday's show I resorted to using the word 'w**ker' - always a banker when there's a signer alongside you. As the audience shrieked at the sight of the lovely Catherine King (one of the best in the business) making the sign for 'w**ker' I commented, "I know you'd like me to get on with the show right now, but I reckon every one of you is also thinking 'Make her do some more rude words'!"

Their laughter told me I was right, so I quickly shouted "Titsbumfanny!" Catherine dutifully signed it, eliciting a shocked and rapturous round of applause. Not only did she receive the largest cheer of the night, she also rated a glowing mention in a review for the show; in fact, I'm not sure the audience even noticed I was there.

I'd like to think that the hearing people that read that review might book tickets for the Sunday show, and possibly become more aware of deaf issues. But more importantly I hope that deaf people read that review and know that the show is not only accessible, but also still funny. I also hope that Catherine will someday forgive me for making her sign 'Titsbumfanny'.

Hmmm ... maybe 'disability issues' do affect my daily life after all.


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