It was another typically warm Southern California day when Sammie Dudley sat down with famed hard of hearing comedian Kathy Buckley for a one-on-one chat. Sammie and Kathy go way back, appearing in an original No Limits production for deaf and hard of hearing children when Sammie was just eight years old. These old friends had lots to talk about as they reminisced about their time together and growing up with a hearing loss.
KATHY: Wait, I have a hearing loss? When did this happen? Oh man, you’re kidding me. I thought I was blind the whole time.
SAMMIE: (laughs) Do you want my glasses?
KATHY: Actually I’ll be able to hear better with the glasses (laughs). My family found out about my hearing loss when I was eight years old.
SAMMIE: Do you know what caused your hearing loss?
KATHY: I was born with an RH factor and I had spinal meningitis so both times the doctors told my parents that I would be a slow learner. I was in school for mental retardation for several years before they found it was a hearing loss. I had the big battery on my chest, and the wires, you know? In fact that’s the last time I had anything on my chest (laughs). When I first put it on, it was very painful. They could not adjust the sounds and the noise was overwhelming.
SAMMIE: What year was that?
KATHY: Oh don’t ask me the year! It was when we had the horse and buggies (laughs). There were no televisions. We had that horn in our ear going “eeeyyy!” (laughs) When I was a little girl, I believed that my hearing aid was a punishment because nobody else around me wore them. I was the only one.
SAMMIE: Did you have dreams as a child?
KATHY: No. When I was younger I was too busy trying to figure out how to fit in my own family, let alone what I was going to be. I wasn’t taught to have hopes and dreams. I even asked my mom when I got older, “What was your dream for me?” She was like “I always thought you’d just get married and have kids.” I said “could you at least have thought that maybe I’d have a date? Because I haven’t done that yet either.” (laughs)
SAMMIE: So you’re a comic?
KATHY: I don’t know. You think so?
SAMMIE: Oh I know so. (laughs) When did you start doing comedy?
KATHY: I started comedy in May of ’88. It was scary. I didn’t plan on being a comic. I didn’t even know what a comic was. I did it on a dare. It was a comedy contest to help raise money for children with cerebral palsy, and I love kids, and I wanted to help the kids. I think the scariest part for me was having to stand in front of 250 hearing people. People who I felt had judged me my whole life. So to get on stage and have the confidence to use my speech was scary. And it’s funny because I have that video of the very first time I was on stage, and I talked so slow because I wanted to make sure that I pronounced all my /s/ and /r/ sounds so I could be understood. I couldn’t believe it, but I won.
KATHY: But what I didn’t know was that if you won the contest, you had to go to the semifinals. Oh I was I not happy! (laughs) I’m sitting there going “What’s the semifinals?” (laughs) “Well you have to come back and do it again but you have to do two more minutes on top of…” “What?! More jokes?! What are you crazy?!” (laughs) So I went to the semifinals and what ended up happening was I got to the finals. And I ended up placing fourth out of 80 comedians who had been in the business for three to ten years, and I had only been in it for two weeks. And I was on national television.
SAMMIE: Well aren’t you glad you did the dare?
KATHY: I was glad I helped the kids.
SAMMIE: That’s amazing. And you know what, you still help kids today at the nonprofit group, No Limits for children with a hearing loss.
KATHY: You are a No Limits baby! No Limits is a place I wish I had when I was little. No Limits is celebrating its 15 year anniversary—can you believe it sweetheart? Fifteen years! How old were you when you started?
SAMMIE: Seven and now I am 23 years old.
KATHY: The thing for me with No Limits was just that the theater group builds the speech and language skills of the kids, but also the confidence. It also brings lasting friendships together. I never met another deaf person until I was in my 30s. Some of the first students from No Limits are great friends today.
SAMMIE: How did you meet Michelle Christie-Adams, founder of No Limits?
KATHY: I can’t remember where the actual connection was but I remember going to her apartment and she had all these props in the apartment, and I remember thinking “where does she live?” (laughs) I’m like “Michelle, where do you sleep?” And she goes, “in the bedroom” (laughs) And I was like, “really seriously Michelle where do you sleep?! There’s stuff all over the place.” She had kid’s costumes and props everywhere in her apartment. I remember helping out at one of the shows, and Michelle asked me to take over and get the kids to project. So I’m in the back of the theatre and I’m telling them, “You guys use your voice! Louder! I can’t hear you!” and they’re all like, “That’s ‘cause you’re deaf!” (laughs) So I went to Michelle and said, “Honey, this isn’t going to work! I gotta go back stage!” (laughs)
SAMMIE: I can’t even tell you how amazing it is to have met you.
KATHY: Why? Because I’m so tall?
SAMMIE: No, no. It’s just you that you do so much for the kids. You make us feel proud of who we are. As you know, I was born with no ears.
KATHY: I don’t have boobs, so don’t feel bad (laughs)
SAMMIE: (laughs) They said I would never speak.
KATHY: You can blame No Limits for that because we haven’t been able to keep you quiet ever since you started. (laughs) You know what I love about you, Sammie? You advocate for yourself, and I am very proud of you for that, because a lot of deaf kids don’t know how to advocate for themselves. And you have learned to take care of yourself in that way. And that takes courage.
KATHY: I struggle with my deafness—I’m sure you’ll understand this—deaf people see me as hearing because I use my voice and I don’t sign. I can sign but I don’t sign fluently like they do. And then there are hearing people who see me as deaf because I wear hearing aids and lipread. So I have had to create a world for myself. So, even in the entertainment industry, it’s the ignorance of labeling me as a deaf performer, when I’m merely Kathy Buckley who happens to have a hearing loss. With today’s technology, and a comprehensive quality education, hearing aids can be utilized to produce great speech and language skills. But my biggest struggle is still fitting in the hearing world, so I created my own world by being a comic. I can be me. And I don’t have to look for acceptance anywhere else. I say what I think, which is really sad because there are times I should really bite my tongue.
SAMMIE: It takes exactly the things you said—confidence and speech and…
KATHY: Well everything that No Limits teaches. Confidence, inspiration, gratitude, belief, commitment, and perseverance—all of those incredible words have been instilled into you guys since you were little. And the great thing about those words is that they’re not words to you. You guys have put those words into action. And that’s what builds your individuality. So, life is good.
SAMMIE: So tell me…are you dating a man?
KATHY: No. You want to know what the biggest problem is? I don’t have a place that I go to on a regular basis. When you have a day job, you’re in the same environment all the time. I’m flying all over the world and unless the same people fly on the plane every time I get on there, it’s hard to find a date. I ask my friends all the time, “Do you know of anybody?” and you know what I get? “There’s nobody good enough for you.” I say “Is he breathing?” (laughs)
SAMMIE: Would you date a deaf person?
KATHY: Would I date a deaf person? Why not? No man listens anyway. (laughs)
SAMMIE: Are there any memorable moments you want to share?
KATHY: Memorable moments…no, I have a very boring life. (laughs) I have an amazing life. I meet incredible people. One of my memorable moments was when we did a mission with Starkey Foundation and they fit over 180 lower income kids with brand new digital hearing aids. And what made it so special was to watch eyes literally pop out of people’s heads when they first heard sound. I thought I had to have a catcher’s mitt, you know, to be like “Come on! Give me my mitt!” (laughs)
SAMMIE: That’s amazing.
KATHY: And just a few days ago was another momentous day. I do motivational speaking at different corporations around the world including the Anthony Robbins Foundation that is a great supporter of No Limits. About three years ago, I started working with the Paul Mitchell Schools and their future professionals. Every year they have an incredible fundraiser. They allowed me to talk about No Limits’ campaign called, Take a Stand: Save a Deaf Child’s Future, where we ask people or companies to donate $100 a month for 12 months to help our lower income deaf children. That night, Winn Claybaugh, the cofounder of Paul Mitchell schools, surprised me with a check in the amount of $106,250 for No Limits because of the great work we do. Believe it or not my darling Sammie, I was totally speechless. I was shaking. I was crying. I mean my body did more things in that one moment than it has done in a lifetime. The thing that made it even more special was that people took an interest in our kids. I mean it was all about the love and how they extended their hearts to us. Michelle and I went outside cried like little babies. It was an amazing and unforgettable day!
SAMMIE: Wow, you have had an incredible life, Kathy Buckley. You take risks, inspire others and do not let your hearing loss get in the way. You are such a mentor to children around the world…starting with me.