Back Door Comedy

When I found out Amy Schumer was coming to Pittsburgh, I wondered how accessible it would be. I’d never attended a live comedian performance, for obvious reasons. I was introduced to Amy when she was on Last Comic Standing. Now she has her own Comedy Central show. Don’t watch if you’re easily offended!

Some comics talk really fast, but Amy didn’t strike me as being that type, which is why I entertained the notion of going to a show. To find out, I sent her a tweet: “Would love to go to your Pittsburgh show but would need to request captioning. How fast do you talk? :)”

Amy responded by tweeting me and someone on her team, with whom I ended up exchanging emails. I was asked if I had a local interpreter that I like to use; the show would cover the cost. I explained that I don’t sign and would prefer Computer Assisted Realtime Translation, or CART. The production company’s owner — who was responsible for lining up accommodations — reassured me that an interpreter would be there. I explained my needs again (hopefully busting stereotypes along the way. The owner said, “Good thing you said something. Let me figure this out.” The next thing I knew, he had arranged for wireless CART. He said I’d be using an iPad, eschewing the need for a table in front of me for a laptop (which I had previously used in this venue). The owner actually went above and beyond, giving me his cell phone and urging me to continue calling if it went to voice mail because it might be too hectic for him to hear.

I was so excited to attend this show. We showed up early to make sure the seats I’d been promised in the front row were indeed taken care of. Not only were there four folding chairs in the front row, but there were more in the middle because they weren’t sure where I’d prefer to sit. I opted for the closer seats, figuring I’d be able to lipread better. The captioner gave me the iPad so we could run a test. It worked fine, so we returned to the lobby while the captioner entered swear words into her library.

First, we were treated to a preview of the next season of Inside Amy Schumer. Even though it’s captioned on TV, there were no captions on screen, and the captioner was having difficulty keeping up with the rapid fire clips.

Next, Amy had an opener because apparently comedy shows are similar to rock concerts. Of course, this comedian spoke very fast, making it hard on the captioner. Additionally, the captions weren’t coming through in real time. They came in bunches and the connection kept going out. It was the worst feeling to be the only one not laughing. I didn’t want people thinking it was because I lacked a sense of humor, so I made gestures to the iPad and looked alternately frustrated and angry. My husband told me that I looked offended. Um, not what I was going for!

Just before Amy came on, we snuck off to the closest side door to our seats, which was also closer to the captioner (who was behind curtains on the side of the stage). We thought this might help with the communication drop outs. The captions improved, but there were still problems. We spent the remainder of the show standing up. I almost left when we had someone check with the captioner, who had no good suggestions. Being unable to see Amy’s face up close precluded me from picking up on much of her comedy. I was already SOL when it came to her voice.

Because of the distance and the captioning problems, I just couldn’t get into the show. At one point, Amy actually pointed to the empty seats we had vacated, and asked what happened to the people who were sitting there. She went on a short riff about it. But maybe if we had stayed in those seats, she would have picked on us like she did the other audience members in the front row. We might have dodged a bullet!

Perhaps the problem was the captioner’s software, but our working theory is that there was something interfering with the wireless signal. The sound system wasn’t turned on when we did our first check, and the comedians were using a wireless microphone. This makes the most sense to me, given the issues and the fact that I’ve had successful wired captioning in this building.

It was an experiment worth trying. Now I’m going to be paranoid about wireless captioning (which IS easier). What does this mean for the future, when more wireless technology will come into play?

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for watching comedians on TV. But if Jerry Seinfeld is ever in town, let me know. I might be tempted to try again…