I never talked about my appearance until I got on stage. Pretending I was normal, it took a long time faking to make it,” said David Roche, the facially disfigured inspirational comedian, who will perform a benefit show, The Best of David Roche, Thursday May 22 at 7 p.m. in the Redwood Gardens Community Room on Derby for the upcoming SuperFest International Disability Film Festival. “I found out disfigurement, and carrying around feelings of inadequacy, are fairly normal experiences.”
Roche has performed at the Clinton White House and the Olympic Arts Festival in Sydney. He’ll appear at the Kennedy Center in June. He’s appeared twice on Paula Zahn’s CNN program, been featured in four films (including a documentary about him, The Perfect Flaw) and in a chapter of Anne Lamott’s bestselling book, Plan B. His own book, The Church of 80 Percent Sincerity, titled after his best-known routine, just released by Penguin, will be available at the benefit. He’ll perform bits from The Church of 80 Percent Sincerity and Catholic Erotica.
Roche was born in Indiana with a benign tumor on one side of his face. During infancy and childhood, he was subjected to surgeries and radiation therapy. “The face is considered the locus of human personality,” Roche said, “and it’s not. Young black males, attractive women—a lot of people are judged by their appearance alone. All that’s filtered through religious or cultural experiences. It’s one reason why all ages, people from all kinds of places respond to me.”
Roche settled in the Bay Area in 1971. “I always wanted to be a performer,” he said, “It was a deeply hidden thing; I thought, ‘I don’t have the right to.’ Then I quit drinking, and my creativity opened up. I took a class from Lee Glickstein, who said, ‘Don’t tell jokes, just tell the truth about your life—that’s what’s funny.’ It took about five years to do my one-man show.”
He quit his day job in 1997 to focus on his stage career.
“I can’t recall ever having a heckler,” Roche said. “But especially in the early years, I’d get what I considered an unusual reaction, to the point of being bizarre: ‘David, you’re so brave, you changed my life’—and I’d think, Get a life! I’d internally block the compliment. Then I started to get it. I’m a symbolic persona. People need inspiration. I started to believe them.”
Roche spoke about his particular feeling for Berkeley and what he would bring to the benefit show. “I love it that they’re selling my book at Cody’s. Berkeley’s the home of the disability movement and culture. These are my people. I didn’t know I was disabled until Cheryl Marie Wade, the doyen of Culture! Disability! Talent! told me I found my home. Redwood Gardens is at the original location of the California School for the Blind. There’s lots of meaning to my being there.”
“At this show I’ll go full tilt,” Roche said. “I feel the permission to ‘go there’ a bit more, even though I expect an audience not all disabled.” Talking about that special type of humor often noted as particular to the disabled, Roche said “It comes from our life experience. It helps that culturally I’m an Irish American. There’s that darkness to Irish humor, ironic shadowy stuff—‚bitterness, even. But there’s that style ... Someone just said to me, ‘You have the gift’—such an Irish way of councilment! Dark experiences cast a shadow over humor, but that enriches it.”
THE BEST OF DAVID ROCHE
7 p.m. today (Thursday) at Redwood
Gardens 2951 Derby St. Fully accessible and ASL interpreted. $10-25 sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds.