The fake interpreter |

The fake interpreter

The instant I heard the news I felt like I’d hit the jackpot.

“Fake Sign Language Interpreter at Mandella Memorial.”

Wow. Christmas comes early for the guy (me) with the humor-column deadline.

Imagine it — some dude decides to execute the ultimate prank by jumping on stage during a gigantic, international event and freestyling some non-existent sign language. And nobody knows what to do about it! Comedy gold, folks. Shades of Garrett Morris on vintage Saturday Night Live, back before everybody was in such a hurry that the show was forced to become an acronym.

In order to really zero in on the comedy of a situation, it’s important to put aside things like concerns of security risks or the blatant insult to the deaf community. I can do this. I can put these things aside. Putting aside things that matter is what I’ve done for most of my life. I even could go so far as to say that it’s “what I do.” Yeah, I got this.

The column began to take shape in my head — I’d use this awesome prank as a jumping off point to tell the story of one of my own pranks. I’d give a quick “factual” intro about the event then skillfully segue into the tale of the time I was working as a sound guy for then-President Clinton (true story) during his visit to Aspen. And how I found out that whenever the president speaks publicly he gets videotaped by a team of official White House AV Guys. I met these guys personally, and they confirmed it for me. Yes, when POTUS starts to speak during this fundraiser, cameras will be rolling, and the tapes will be placed in the National Archives.

Well, as it happened, the president was directly between the cameras and me, meaning that I was in the shot too, standing 10 feet behind him twiddling sound knobs. I’m going to be in the National Archives! So what am I going to do to make it memorable? Well, given that there are snipers with guns carefully watching me and everyone within 20 feet of the prez, (true story — saw them myself), giving him a wedgie is totally out of the question. Same goes for a noogie, a wet willie, a turkey-pick-up-a-log, a got-your-nose, an arm frog and any form of pantsing. So, basically all of the talents I’ve devoted my life to mastering are not available to me at the moment. Even making a blatant face or doing rabbit ears possibly would be enough to get me, to use the term I learned earlier that same day, “misted.” “Misting” is where the sniper takes careful aim at you and squeezes the trigger, thereby turning your head into a fine, red mist. That’s what they call it. True story.

Anyway, I decided the best I could do was to casually, yet blatantly, pick my nose. Because if I’m going to be in the National Archive, it’s going to be with my finger in my nose. I should hope I wouldn’t have to explain this to anyone.

After telling that story I’d come back to how much my prank pales in comparison to the fake sign language dude’s mega prank. I mean, he stood in front of the whole world and essentially put his finger in his nose! You, sir, are the hero of my 12-year-old self. Which, not surprisingly, doesn’t differ much from my current self.

So yeah, I’d tell that whole tale, bring it all back around, button the whole thing up neatly with a final punchline and boom! Column done! Thank you, good night, and see you next week!

But then I went and did some research on the story, just so I could make some factual references to make myself look educated. I find that it wasn’t a prank at all, and the interpreter dude is claiming that he has a history of mental illness, and the drug he was taking caused him to start hallucinating angels while he was doing his faux gesticulations.

And then, quite unexpectedly, I’m sad.

Because either it’s true that he was hallucinating while the whole world was watching, or else he just seized up while the whole world was watching and feels like he has to make an excuse for it, or else he’s just kind of incompetent. Either way, it makes me kind of sad for the guy. As one who personally has made gigantic mistakes, found myself to be woefully incompetent and hallucinated in front of large groups of people, I can personally relate to all three of those scenarios. Suddenly my zeal for wanting to make fun of the situation wasn’t quite as zealful as when I first started out.

Thanks a lot empathy and potential encroaching maturity, for once again ruining some perfectly good comedy.

So yeah — boom — column done — see you next week — etc. —sigh.

Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays. More at

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