I first met Rinkoo Barpaga back in 2006, when he joined Vee-TV’s team as a researcher. Since then I’ve seen him regularly at Deaf events. It’s always great to see him, because Rinkoo is naturally friendly – he always has a smile on his face and a story to tell!
Rinkoo’s also very funny, but when I found out recently that he was going into stand-up comedy, I was a little surprised. Stand-up is the toughest form of comedy, and although he’s never failed to make me laugh, I wondered whether he’d be up to making an entire audience laugh.
But those doubts all went out of the window the day I saw his video (embedded below). It shows him performing his stand-up at a comedy club in New York, with an ASL interpreter providing the voiceover.
It isn’t just funny, it shows how well judged Rinkoo’s comedy is, drawing on his background but also telling his jokes in a way that can make a hearing audience laugh – even when they’re understanding him through his interpreter’s voiceover.
Below is our interview, and halfway through, there’s the video (fully subtitled). Watch and enjoy.
Where do you come from?
I was born and raised in Birmingham. My family immigrated from Kenya, Africa and I am the 3rd generation living in UK. My family is descended from Punjab, North India.
What do you remember about growing up deaf?
I remember I went to hearing school in the 80’s and it was quite tough to follow the school education. At 9 years old I started learning sign language through a friend. I remember my teacher (who looked a bit like Margaret Thatcher) was freaked out when she saw me signing at school.
She went mad and said to me “RINKOO! You look so stupid! NO Sign language!”. So I wasn’t allowed to sign at school, but I continued signing with my friends until I went to secondary school where I finally had the freedom to choose. So I guess I was brought up in a bilingual environment, living with two languages, Deaf and Hearing.
How did you get involved in comedy?
I think there’s a humorous vein running in my family, especially my mother. My brother has also been a professional stand up comedian for nearly a decade. I became aware of my talent for humour as people enjoyed listening to my storytelling for many years throughout school; friends, family and work colleagues etc.
I also adore watching stand up comedians like Eddie Murphy, and Kevin Hart. I have to say a massive thank you to the Deaf Explorer project, Birmingham’s Deaf Cultural Centre and the Arts Council for sponsoring me to go to America to have stand-up comedy training. Without them I don’t think I would be on the stage.
VIDEO WARNING: CONTAINS SWEARING
What is your ambition?
My ambition is to be involved in the odd stand up comedy gig, like my first gig in Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. I’d also like to develop as a comedy writer for TV & Film. I think my job is to make people laugh. (Smile)
You also make films. Which is your favourite, filmmaking or comedy?
Ah, that’s a tough question. Erm… I’d like to be a filmmaker for a living but I love comedy too. I’m a newcomer as a stand-up comedian since I came back from NYC last month. Comedy is a bit of a gamble. I have to take the risk to promote my comedy reputation and see if it works out for the hearing and Deaf audience!
Interview by Charlie Swinbourne, Editor of The Limping Chicken
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