Zap stories: Deaf humor

A "zap" story is a category of humor genres, in which zap stories are a coping technique that helps Deaf people deal with oppression through humor.

Deaf people, as a cultural-linguistic minority, have had experiences of being mocked at, being made fun of, being harrassed at, or having bad experiences with hearing people in life. Zap stories are often about getting even or outwitting hearing oppressors often with justice.

There are so many zap stories; a plenty of them are true stories. Enjoy some of the zap stories below.

One classical zap story is the public telephone. Among its variants, Mj Bienvenu wrote, telling that it's a true story:

"A group of Deaf people was at a restaurant, chatting away when a group of non-Deaf people at the next table began to rudely mimic their signs. One of the Deaf women decided she'd had enough. She walked to the public telephone, inserted a coin, and making sure she was being observed by the hearing group, signed a complete conversation into the handset, including pauses for the person on the other end to respond. When the Deaf group left the restaurant, they were amused to see the hearing people run over to insepct the phone." (Bienvenue, 1989)

55 miles per hour

Storyteller Conrad Baer first learned this joke told by his grandfather when his brothers and he were little. This joke explains how a Deaf driver outsmarts a hearing policeman and his speed detector. Kissfist.

Nabil's Zap Story

Nabil told me his story in circa 1997 and it's deeply ingrained in my memory.

At the end of this true story, Nabil not only outwitted his hearing enemy but also earned their respect. He did a very fair, respectful way of zapping them. For English translation, see the post "Resistance."

The Kiss

"The Kiss" (2014, 7 minutes) by Charlie Swinbourne.

"The initial kiss suggestion proposed by the Deaf couple and Ben’s assumption of it being a 'deaf custom' marks the subversive disparagement humor taking place: the roles become reversed as the Deaf couple take the conversation into control and ridicule the hearing characters. Smiling, according to Critchley (2002), although differs from explosive laughter, it brings a comic relief 'signifying a break in our usual flow of inhibitions' (p.108) and Chloe’s smile at the end of the film marks exactly that. It reveals her understanding and acceptance of being mocked, which can also be perceived as a social corrective. Viewed through the superiority theory, the type of ironic humor used in the film can be seen as a way of addressing 'ignorant actions on the part of the others' (Meyer, 2000:314), resulting the Deaf couple’s victory." -- Audrone Cirkelyte.

The Hearing Test

Hearing tests are often monotonous and they can be quite tedious for many Deaf. This storyteller's particular experience with her hearing test and her audiologist was unforgettable. There are cultural aspects in this story.

Other zap stories

See "Deaf or Dead" story (related link below). For more zap mini-stories (anecdotes), see the word entries in the ASL dictionary: HAT, UNPLUG, ...

Recommended readings

Bienvenue, MJ (1989). "Reflections of American Deaf Culture in Deaf Humor." Deaf World: A Historical Reader and Primary Sourcebook. Chapter 13, pp. 99-103.

Related posts

About Deaf humor and jokes.

The goose-bumping true story Deaf or Dead shows a gem in disguise.

How deaf people resist oppression.

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