Anna Morris is a successful comedy writer and actress who is deaf in one ear. In this article that she wrote for The Guardian, she talks about how her invisible disability has played such a huge part in making her the person that she is today and contributed to her success as a comedian.
When I was little, my sister Kate used to play the recorder really loudly down my deaf ear as a party trick for her friends. I liked the attention and it was more fun than the hospital hearing tests I’d had to endure. My mum found out I was half deaf when I was two and she passed me the phone to speak to my nan. Apparently, I stood there blankly and handed the phone back. I hadn’t heard a thing.
We were never given a reason why. Mum suspects it was a result of having rubella when she was pregnant. Whatever the case, having it since birth meant I naturally adapted to this invisible disability. I also believe it made me a comedian.
As I grew up, I altered my life in little ways without even realising. I had to (and still do) carefully look both ways when crossing the road as I couldn’t identify where car noises came from. Headphones were wasted on me as I only needed one. Stereo sound was pointless. At eight I met Laura, my best friend. She not only had the same birthday as me but was also completely deaf in her left ear. We walked to school together rotating as we took it in turns to speak, so we could hear each other. We shared a pair of headphones in the back of the car when our parents took us on holiday.
As I got older, social situations had to be navigated carefully. I’d get anxious about seating arrangements. If I ended up with a stranger on my left I’d be constantly twisting round to hear them. In groups I often missed half the conversation and began to prefer meeting just one or two friends. Noisy bars were the worst. It was tiring trying to keep up with conversations, so I’d go home or avoid them. I hated clubs and anything that left my working ear ringing. I avoided driving lessons because getting instructions in my deaf ear while trying to control a car seemed too difficult.
The blessing my deafness gave me was to observe people very closely as they spoke, lip-reading and picking up on mannerisms and gestures. Communication isn’t all about words. In noisy environments it was a way to try and understand people.
I began to do impressions of teachers and people on TV. It made people laugh. I grew up watching Victoria Wood and French and Saunders, falling in love with their brilliant characters. I was a shy child, but when I acted in character I felt I had armour and it transformed me.
I left university and didn’t have the courage or money to audition for drama school. I was too awkward to do standup, so I ended up working in an office. Years later, I discovered sketch nights in pubs. So I joined forces with another comedian and we wrote and performed little sketches. I fell in love with writing characters again, gathering mannerisms, gestures and voices. I observed a very posh woman complaining about her wedding in a cafe and my character Georgina, Britain’s Biggest Bridezilla, was born. It became a hit on YouTube when I made a few videos of her blogging about the big day. My sister (probably still feeling guilty about the recorder trick) sent the video to David Walliams and Matt Lucas’ agent. Within a week I was signed and had lined up my first audition.
After a few years, I quit my office job to be a full-time actor and writer, taking my array of characters to festivals all over the world and on TV. I adapt my live one-woman comedy shows to my hearing, keeping some of the house lights on so I can see who I’m performing to (in case they want to join in or speak). I can’t stand performing in the dark – I need to see in order to communicate. As a result, my shows have become fairly interactive and my characters bring the audience into their worlds. It has shaped the way I perform.
Although it’s sometimes a pain, and I often can’t hear the director shout “action”, I wouldn’t change my disability for the world. It’s made me the person I am and helped me create believable and relatable comic characters. It also means I can sleep well when my boyfriend is snoring.