I have had single-sided deafness since birth. This means I have only one working ear (the right one if you must know!). A hearing aid won’t work on the deaf side, I cannot hear directional sound, but I can lip read a little bit. I hate noisy bars, I have to be very careful when crossing the road as I can’t hear where traffic is coming from and I get stressed at weddings or dinner parties when I have to take my seat in case I can’t hear half the conversation on my deaf side! These are things I’m used to, but for many people who have hearing loss as adults, it can be hard to adapt to at first. Did you know 11 million people in the UK have hearing loss?
I’m also a comedian and have performed gigs and shows to hundreds of people, all over the world, adapting the settings to suit me – house lights on (so I can see faces – this is so important to me and many deaf people, which is why face masks in this current climate fill us with anxiety!), ideally no feedback monitors on stage as this confuses me, letting the tech control my volume as I often shout, having no idea how loud I am! It’s taken me years to build up the confidence and assertiveness to ask for assistance and be upfront about it.
When I was younger I was quite shy at school. I sat at the front of the class and made sure I always sat on the left of people. I didn’t talk about my disability, because it was invisible and I didn’t know how to explain it. I loved drama – it was the highlight of my week and a place to come out of my shell. I was also fascinated with creating characters, and I think this came from naturally reading body language, lip reading and other non-verbal ways that people communicate. I realised I could make people laugh and then came the silly voices, sketches, plays and eventually a degree in Theatre Studies. But I never thought I would have the confidence to perform professionally, let alone be a comedian.
When I was at school some kids laughed at the way I sometimes speak out of the side of my mouth. I’ve noticed this gets more pronounced if I’m tired or in a noisy environment. I think this is linked to my deafness. They shamed me into thinking I could never be an actress because my mouth was ‘wonky’. So I left university, put my dreams aside and worked in publishing, then TV as a researcher.
Years later at the age of 30, I started doing little gigs in a double act in rooms above pubs. Sketches, like French and Saunders, mostly just for fun after work and to revisit the acting and comedy I had missed for almost a decade. I was more confident and gave less care as to what people thought of me (I think this is my favourite thing about ageing!). A few Edinburgh shows later, I went solo, made some silly videos (Georgina’s Wedding Blogs) which went viral and which my sister sent to an agent (after too much wine!) and I was signed at the age of 32. Two years later I quit my job and became a full-time writer, actress and comedian.
My first audition was a small part in Alan Partridge the movie. I was convinced my mouth would go a bit wonky and they’d also realise I was a fraud. But it went ok and soon I was going for regular auditions, with no care in the world!
I started off with small gigs – house lights on and talking to the audience a lot to feel in control, in case they spoke back to me. This created my own unique form of interactive comedy and years later I created a semi-improvised one-woman show about a wedding, which won Best Show at the Funny Women Awards 2016. It was highly interactive, I’d have all the house lights on and speak to as many people as I could in the audience bringing them into my world. I do believe my hearing loss and this journey has made me the performer I am and helped me create shows which feel intimate.
I now receive support and give support back to Action on Hearing Loss, a fantastic charity, have written about my deafness in The Guardian and feel proud of my achievements. Don’t ever let anything get in your way, be honest, be brave and don’t give up!
If you’re worried about your hearing speak to your GP and book a hearing test.
For more resources click here
Guests Sam Baines and Anna Morris join host Alexis Strum and Lynne Parker on this week’s Funny Women Survival Guide to chat: hearing loss, Magic Mike and the difficulties of writing jokes about your dead gran! Listen here!