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Between the Laughter

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Stephen O’Keefe takes to the stage at the comedy club, and soon the audience is pealing with laughter. But he can't hear their reaction to his stand-up routine. He was born deaf.

Comedy is an unusual pursuit for someone who is hearing impaired – Stephen must work as hard on his pronunciation as he does on his material. “Of course I talk funny…I’m a comedian!” he jokes. Still, the lawyer-turned-comedian never shies away from a challenge. Capturing footage of Stephen in the comedy spotlight, at home and at work, Between the Laughter interweaves lively snapshots of a complex but extraordinary life.

Since receiving a cochlear implant in his early twenties, Stephen is no longer completely deaf, but it’s a struggle for him to adapt to the new sounds he hears. Through interviews with family, friends, his comedy coach, doctor and former teacher, the film explores Stephen’s fierce determination to succeed. It also reveals some of the unexpected conflicts and pressures of everyday life, whether it’s being unable to hear his wife on a morning jog or trying to follow conversations when more than one person speaks at once.

This intimate portrait was shot over a period of nine months. Filmmaker Barbara K. Lee immerses viewers in the heart of the comedian’s demanding life, observing him as he spends time with his young son, runs a business with his wife, prepares to move into a new home, and nurtures his blossoming comedy career.

Many deaf people can find life to be isolating, but Stephen embraces the spotlight, choosing to stand out and entertain. This is an inspirational and humour-filled profile – from life in between comedy acts to the realities of being caught between a hearing world and a silent one.

Between the Laughter is Barbara K. Lee’s first documentary. She is a winner of the 2004 NFB Reel Diversity Competition.

Between the Laughter was produced as part of the Reel Diversity Competition for emerging filmmakers of colour. Reel Diversity is a National Film Board of Canada initiative in partnership with CBC Newsworld.






2006, 43 min 17 s

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