Healthy Hearing conversation | D.J. Demers
D.J. Demers didn’t set out to be an advocate for hearing loss -- he just wanted to make people laugh. Fortunately, as an award winning comic on the Here to Hear Comedy Tour sponsored by Phonak, he’s been able to do both. The Fall 2017 cross-country trip of college campuses which ended earlier this month was designed to “shatter stigmas and raise awareness about hearing loss through the power of laughter.”
Demers has worn hearing aids since he was four years old due to an undetermined hearing loss exacerbated by chronic ear infections. “There was never a time in my life when I was not accepting of my hearing aids,” he said, “but I would say I haven’t always embraced them like I do now,” he said. As a boy he remembers trying to secretly change his hearing aid batteries on the sidelines of hockey games; he remembers dating a girl for eight months without ever talking about his hearing loss.
Turning a gift into a career
“Comedy and maturity have both helped me embrace it fully,” he admits. “I can’t really separate comedy and maturity from each other. I have to explore everything about myself for my comedy in order to be as honest as I want to be on stage. Going through that process has helped me totally examine myself and totally accept my hearing loss.”
Demers said he’s always looked up to comedians and wanted to make people laugh. In his high school valedictorian speech, he made a joke about wanting to be a comedian. “My mom said, 'how about business school?'" he jokes. I said, “OK, that works, too.” After years of writing jokes, he got up enough nerve to participate in an amateur night his sophomore year of college.
“I remember getting that first laugh, remember being on stage and thinking, 'OK, this is it. I’m going to do this forever.'" "I’m compelled to do it,” he said. “If I’m not on stage for a couple of days, I can feel it. I need to be up there. It’s my favorite thing in the world to do. At this point in my life, I can’t image what else I would be doing.”
Demers said his parents were both immediately supportive when he told them he was going to pursue comedy. “I never even once thought, 'should I do this? I wear hearing aids.' When I reflect on that now, it’s a testament to the confidence my parents instilled in me.”
Although he didn't want to joke about hearing aids when he first started, he soon realized it was an important part of his routine. “It was only after doing it I realized there was a two-fold power in doing it,” he said. “People with hearing loss say 'cool, he gets my struggle.' People who don’t wear hearing aids get a glimpse into the life of a hard-of-hearing person. It’s a nice niche I would be a fool not to explore because it’s such a big part of my life.”
Here to Hear tour
He began his stand up career eight years ago at the age of 23, appearing on America’s Got Talent, Conan, and was the winner of the 2014 Homegrown Comics Competition at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, Canada. That and his cleaner-than-most comedy routine got the attention of Phonak, which had an epic idea.
“They had the audacious idea of having this RV with my face on the side,” he says playfully of his Here to Hear Comedy Tour of college campuses, noting that the college years are a time of vulnerability for many. "There are so many accessibility resources available to college students they don’t know about,” he said. “It’s (the tour) a good opportunity to let students know 'hey look, I have hearing loss. It’s not holding me back. We’re gonna joke about it and have a good time. After we have a good time, I’m going to let you know if you’re having any sort of issues -- with hearing loss or anything else -- there are resources available to you at your school.' It’s the perfect demographic for the message we are trying to convey about the resources available using the modern technology we have now.”
"There’s no middle ground like 'look at this regular dude who happens to have hearing aids.' That middle ground is where the power lies.”
Demers said Phonak’s Here to Hear Tour happened at a perfect time, when his ideology on how he viewed his hearing loss and how he wanted to present it to the world evolved. The five-week tour began at Washington State University in October and ended at Yale University the first week of November. “To have the power to educate as well as make them laugh,” he said, reflectively, “I’m not an emotional guy but I might shed a tear when it (the tour) ends.”
And while his college student audience enjoys his fun loving sense of humor, they are also left with a very important message.
“I think the most effective thing I can do is just show everyone I am living a relatively normal life,” he said. “There are two ends of the spectrum we put persons with disability on. It’s either 'look at this poor person, they’re having such a tough time and we should pity them,' or we celebrate their achievement by saying 'look at what they were able to accomplish despite this horrible disability.' There’s no middle ground like 'look at this regular dude who happens to have hearing aids.' That middle ground is where the power lies.”
Don't miss the all-important punchline
Whether you're a college student or your early 20s are little more than a distant memory, make your hearing an important health priority. Even though D.J. Demers' own hearing loss provides plenty of material for his comedy routine, untreated hearing loss is no laughing matter. If you suspect you have hearing loss, make an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional, like one in our directory, for a hearing evaluation and consultation today.