When I was younger I always got made fun of for the way I spoke. I sounded squeaky. The words I used were too big. The my tone was too high. It was just another stone mean kids threw. Nevermind I struggled with my weight. My mother also dressed me. I had cystic acne. Things were not going well. What I had going for me were my dreams, my love of writing, my love of creativity, and my skill to nose dive no matter how much of a fool it made me look.
When college came around, I was in New York. I asked someone for a gumband. In Pittsburgh, we say gumbands and mean rubber bands. So I asked for a gumband. These kids who were weaned on Prozac with doctor parents and went to private schools laughed at me. They didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. I already hated the way I talked and felt like a redneck who had hopelessly wandered into a Metropolis. Then there was the incident in the speech class where my sounds were hopelessly being corrected. That is when one of my teachers who was from Pittsburgh said, “It’s your accent coming out.”
The kids in my class said, “April isnt just weird.”
“No,” My teacher explained. “There is a whole city of people who talk just like this.” Awestruck and fascinated, my classmates went to a website where regional dialects were listed. That semester, our section at The Lee Strasberg Institute became obsessed with my accent and my slanguage. For the first time ever, I was alright with the way I talked.
The serenity would be short lived. During my junior year, I managed to get into a relationship with someone that was abusive. I have written about him. He made me give up my puppets and that was just the tip of the iceberg. When things were heating up between us, I was set to hang out with his friends. We were sipping coffee at Starbucks and my ex said, “When you hang out with my friends, just…..play it cool.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” I asked confused.
“Look, my friends don’t like the way you talk.”
“Yeah, they say you sound like a chipmunk.” My confidence was shot. It was an arrow. My ex wasn’t defending me against his friends and now I had to compromise. I sent the session with him and his boys silent as a mime. I soon tried to change the way I talked which just made me feel like a fraud. I swore a lot which made me feel fake. I tried to drop my voice which made me feel like a man. It didn’t work. I became a phony mute about a lot of things, like the extent of the abuse I was facing. I don’t know what was worse about that part of my life, the fact I had to endure it or the fact I chose to put up with it.
When the relationship ended, I was left a self-loathing mess. I remember doing a set where someone told me the way I spoke was distinct. I thought it was their way of saying annoying. When my ex and his friends began their relentless campaign of harassment, one thing they aimed at was the way I spoke. I remember thinking that I was smarter and better than they were, and one day I had the guts to realize it and that’s how I was able to escape. That is when I realized I had let him take away my sense of self-worth. The way I spoke was okay. It was alright. And anyone who didn’t like it could go to hell.
Slowly I began to embrace the way I spoke. It not only became a part of the new, confident me. As I became more confident in my speaking voice, my singing voice began to take a better shape. Granted, it was always it’s own animal, but I better understood how to make it more pleasing to the ear. I wasn’t afraid of what people would say about me. If they didn’t like the way I spoke we didn’t have to be friends, plain and simple.
This past winter/spring Metrophonic and Mercy Sound became a second home to me. My old college classmate and sound engineer Archie Ekong explained my fans would want to hear me reading my book. Archie told me it would have a unique flavor with me narrating. Then he said, “April, you are the only one with your voice. It’s pretty distinct.”
“Yeah, that’s what people tell me. I don’t think I will get away with prank calling anyone soon.” I said.
Archie looked at me dead in the eye and said, “No.” And we both burst out laughing. At that moment I realized that it was pretty cool that I was the only one who spoke like I did.
These past few years have also seen success not only in the realms of writing but also comedy getting me television time. Sometimes fans recognize me when armed with my puppets. Other times, I will get recognized by the way I speak. The other day, I was at a meeting for a pilot I am shooting. We were deeply emerged in a discussion when the waitress came over. She asked me, “Excuse me, I have a question for you.”
“Yes.” I asked.
“Are you a comedian?”
“The guy who works with you in the back thinks he saw you on TV.” My jaw dropped open. He was in the back. There was no way in hell he could have seen me.
“How did he know it was me?” I asked.
“Oh, he recognized your voice and says you are very funny.” She replied. My jaw dropped open. This was awesome!!!! I made a new fan and friend. Something like this is double awesome when it happens at a pilot pitch meeting. My co-host and co-producer thought it was pretty cool as well.
Later that evening, I was running errands and heard two kids talking. They were taking fun of this young woman in their class at school and the way she spoke. These two mean girls mimicked her. It made me think of some of the people who gave me the same “star treatment” back in the day that now have the audacity to write me a facebook letter to congratulate me when things go well with the career. Actually, it was disgusting as it brought back a flood of hellacious memories.
Then I passed the theatre where Kinky Boots played. I remember when Cyndi Lauper did an interview where she spoke about being bullied for the way she spoke and dressed. She remarked in her Betty Boop-eque twang, “They used to throw rocks at me for my clothes, now they want to know where I get them.”
For the longest time my voice was like Rudolph’s nose. People made fun of me for having it, now it part of the package that is beginning to make me successful. Cyndi Lauper’s, it is part of the package that has made her a legend. Hopefully the young lady they were making fun of will just realize that those two are idiots who need to be ignored and won’t feed in.
Hopefully she won’t care and will always use her voice.
I Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girl