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A Survivor With an Ear for Comedy

June 16, 2002|HANK ROSENFELD

Five-time American Comedy Award nominee Kathy Buckley is having the last laugh on life. The hearing-impaired comic entered a comedy contest on a dare in 1988, and gained fresh material a couple of years later when new technology markedly improved her hearing. In her 2001 book, "If You Could Hear What I See," Buckley trains a survivor's humor on early experiences, which included molestation, being mislabeled as retarded, getting run over by a Jeep and cervical cancer. She travels as a comic and motivational speaker, and her acting resume includes an award-winning autobiographical play.

Where do you get your comic timing?

It's like a conversation [with the audience]. Except, when they heckle, I [turn down the hearing aids]. There have been great strides in hearing technology!

As a young woman, you were declared dead after being run over at the beach.

First press I ever got: "Jeep Runs Over Area Woman While She Was Sunbathing." The emergency technician kept apologizing after I woke up. Talk about a wake-up call. The first 20 years of my life I spent being what everyone wanted me to be. But when I "died," I found I was perfect as I was.

Where do you think your humor springs from?

From what I see and feel. Once I understood my differences, I was able to laugh at the stupidity of society. The greatest gift I've had was to be able to allow myself to be me. Now I educate corporations and schools how to integrate people with disabilities, how to mainstream them.

The first chapter of your book is titled "I Can Hear the Laughter."

The first night I used my [new] hearing aids was the first time I could actually hear the audience. [Before], I would just play off the vibrations and the faces. But that night it was like stereo. This one guy kept snorting and it was noisy as hell!

What's it like when life suddenly has a soundtrack?

This is such an annoying, noisy world you guys live in! In the elevator there's music, in the doctor's office there's music, in the restaurant--what is it, you people don't wanna hear each other? I'm in the gynecologist's office wondering if he'd like to add some candlelight, too!

You reveal so much about yourself in your book.

I left out the mole between my toes. (Made you look!) I'm not revealing me for me, I'm revealing me for you to be honest with yourself. We all have the same dreams and desires, the same secrets. There are no secrets.

Do bookstores carry you under "inspiration" as well as "humor?"

You know where they had it? The "disability" section. I was really hurt. I'm trying so hard to get the label off.

Is it time for a film, or are you happy traveling?

Every comic has airplane jokes! I went to Fiji for a wedding, and on the way back, an 83-year-old gentleman is sitting next to me. I say, "Hi, how're you doin'?"

"Fine."

That's all he says for 11 hours. We land in L.A., I look over and [thank him].

"What for?"

I [answered], "We shared two meals, watched a movie, slept together. You asked nothing of me." He says, "You're right. You're the best date I ever had!" He was so cute. I couldn't shake him off my leg in baggage claim.

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