The Profiler: Comedienne Nina G

The Profiler: Comedienne Nina G

Patti Cary
Nina G

Photo by by Josh Denault.

In the mid-1950s, Alameda was home to the great comedienne Phyllis Diller. Diller, known for her brazen, self-deprecating style of wit, once said she became a comic because “I wanted to become me, totally me. The more me the better.”

Fast forward to present day and meet Alameda gal, stand up comic, activist and motivational speaker Nina G. Over the past six years, Nina has found a funny way to blend her art with her activism. Self-billed as America’s only stuttering female comedian, Nina knows what it’s like to stand up and also take a stand.

Stuttering, a communication disorder that affects about three million people in the United States, is a learning disability that is often misunderstood. Her one-person show, ”Going Beyond Inspirational” (which she performed at the Pacific Pinball Museum in April), explores growing up in the ‘80s and her early challenges with Catholic schools and their inability at that time to accommodate children with disabilities.

“I had some terrible teachers but I had some great ones, too,” she said. “I left Catholic school with pretty low self-esteem but when I got to Alameda High they created a place where I could get help and it put me on a path.”

Nina went to community college, then to the University at California, Berkeley, “then I went on to get my doctorate at another school,” she said, flashing a dynamite smile.

Despite her early struggles – or quite possibly because of them – Nina discovered her love of comedy at a young age. When she was 9, her mom let her cut school and took her to see Richard Pryor’s “Live at the Sunset Strip.”

With the help of supportive parents and early influences such as Gilda Radner and Dick Gregory, her appreciation for comics and comedy blossomed. Because of her stuttering, though, Nina didn’t think a career in stand up comedy was something she could ever pursue.

Fortunately, that perception changed in 2008 when she attended a conference of the National Stuttering Association that offered her a fresh perspective on her life and future. Six months later, Nina was working on jokes and getting herself out there – there being where aspiring comics just “go to open mics and sweat it out.”

Nina knew from the start she would use comedy as a way to communicate and educate her audiences on the realities of what it means to be disabled. She was inspired to represent people with disabilities in a funny yet non-denigrating way. “Overcoming stuttering since N-N-N-NEVER” is one of Nina’s taglines.

“I think the perception people have, being a stand-up comedian who stutters, is (that there are) issues around the speech,” she said. “That is what makes comedy so great, is that other comedians and bookers just see you and not your disability once you get to be part of the community.”

In addition to her work as a comedian, Nina’s written a book for kids and adults with disabilities, Once Upon an Accommodation: A Book about Learning Disabilities. The book features a character based on her former Alameda High School resource teacher, Ms. Ramsey.

She’s also produced an album, Disabled Comedy Only, which features Nina and a group of like-minded comics known as the Comedians with Disabilities Act. In the coming weeks, Nina will also be doing a motivational TED talk on how to be an effective ally for people with learning disabilities.

“It is really rewarding to get messages from all around the world, as far as India and England, from people who stutter. From what they have said, I have helped to reframe how they think of stuttering,” she said.

One of her proudest moments, she said, was when she heard that attendees at the British Stammering Association convention, were quoting her jokes.

“I feel very fortunate to be doing comedy in the age of YouTube and social media and to have a platform for these kinds of (international) interactions,” she said.

For more info on Nina G, visit her website at ninagcomedian.com.

Comments

Submitted by Mark Irons on Mon, Jun 8, 2015

This article makes me feel great for a number of reasons. I love that Nina has come from Alameda and has triumphed over being "different" since this town has so many weird angles, having reputation for being stuck in the past but also innovative, with many great firsts ( Home of Truth, Diller, etc.). Also, I took our nine year old son to see Kevin Smith's Dogma, and it had a similar impact on him. We aren't religious family and in fact his mom is Jewish and didn't approve, but I took him anyway. Bravo for Nina's mom for having the vision and to being brave enough to take her kid to see Prior. Being indoctrinated with conformist ideologies can become it's own kind of disability, but they are usually easier to over come than anything physical or physiological. Congrats on yer PhD Nina! I'm just reading Oliver Sacks autobiography, On the Move, so there is yet another layer of serendipity.