Chelsea Handler Mocks Bloomberg’s ASL Interpreter Lydia Callis, Gets Schooled by Deaf Group

Chelsea Handler Mocks Bloomberg’s ASL Interpreter Lydia Callis, Gets Schooled by Deaf Group

Updated: November 02, 2012

Lydia Callis was just doing the job she was paid to do when she stood beside Mayor Bloomberg the other day and used American Sign Language to convey his speech to the city’s deaf and hard of hearing residents regarding Sandy and the recovery. And yet when people not familiar with the way the Deaf communicate, they expressed fascination and curiosity about the interpreter’s use of vivid and passionate body language. One Twitter user even called her a “living emoticon.”

The Press Conference Raises Interest

The video of the press conference went viral, and Chelsea Handler picked it up and used it on her show, “Chelsea Lately,” during a two-minute segment. What transpired was evidence of a woman completely unaware of the way deaf people communicate. She accused Callis of “editorializing” the mayor’s speech, called her overzealous, and spoke about the interpreter in a condescending manner. She also ridiculed people who use sign language interpreters like a high school bully.

To top it off, she brought out a fake interpreter dressed as Callis to convey her words to her co-hosts. What ensued was nothing short of a complete mockery of a very real language that millions of people depend on every day to communicate. At one point during the skit, the interpreter even grabbed her own boobs. It was highly insulting, even to those without hearing loss, because it showed a gross lack of empathy and understanding to a group of people historically patronized, ridiculed, and bullied for years.

Hearing folks simply don’t get it. Being deaf doesn’t make one dumb. Hearing loss or deafness does not make it alright to ignore, dehumanize, or otherwise exclude from activities just because they are unable to hear and speak properly. Most people aren’t even aware that some deaf children don’t even learn how to “talk” until they are in school and begin to learn sign language. This is because most deaf children are born of hearing parents who don’t know or don’t want to be bothered to learn sign language. Even children implanted with devices such as cochlear implants risk having communication problems if the device fails.

Callis Explains Sign Language

Callis has remained mostly inaccessible to interviews, instead opting to stay silent for the most part. She has given one interview, however, in which she explained the sudden interest in her interpreting:


“Hearing people tend to not understand that deaf people need those facial expressions. The body language replaces the intonation others hear in a voice. If I stand up there with a straight face and just interpret it, they’re not getting half the message.”

This is precisely the problem with Handler. She has no awareness of deafness or American Sign Language (ASL).

Deaf Nation Responds

As a result of Handler’s insensitivity, deaf advocacy organization, Deaf Nation, released a letter the group sent to Handler this morning on their Facebook page. The letter, which received rave reviews from the Deaf community, reads:

“First, the interpreter is not ‘overzealous.’ Secondly, our language and culture are not to be mocked or made fun of. Thirdly, the interpreter did not have ‘cranked up passion’ – she was using appropriate ASL grammar, which calls for varied facial expressions and use of space in different ways.”


As of this writing, the YouTube video of the segment has received overwhelmingly negative responses, mostly from the Deaf community or those familiar with it. Whether Chelsea Handler responds to Deaf Nation’s letter remains to be seen, but Lydia Callis and interpreters around the nation deserve respect, not scorn or mockery. They serve a valuable purpose in keeping people informed of important events, such as superstorm Sandy.

Photo credit: Deaf Nation Facebook page

©2012 Reno Berkeley for Gather News. Berkeley can be found on Tumblr, Google+, and Facebook.

By Reno Berkeley

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10 comments for “Chelsea Handler Mocks Bloomberg’s ASL Interpreter Lydia Callis, Gets Schooled by Deaf Group

  1. November 3, 2012 at 12:47 AM

    The Deaf Dream organization immediately followed DeafNation’s example and wrote a letter to Chelsea Handler expressing our concerns about her show. Check it out!

  2. November 3, 2012 at 1:18 AM

    give some love and support!! my video speaking out to chelsea… dont let her make deaf community a joke

  3. Adam Slowhand Smith
    November 3, 2012 at 6:33 PM


    It seems E! threatened a YT uploader with DMCA takedown, but I’ve uploaded a copy of the original video to YT, using a “fair use” defense.

    Feel free to leave comments, and express your feelings about the issue. If they challenge my upload, I WILL make them take me to Court, as this is exactly the kind of issue that needs to be aired in public.

    Also note the offer I made in the video description to relinquish my “fair use” claim IF Chelsea issues a public apology on her show, with an explanation that the elements they are mocking are in fact a part of the ASL language (I will handle the final approval of the content of the apology over to Deaf Nation).

  4. November 3, 2012 at 8:04 PM

    We are anxious to see the results of these letters to chelsea if any. Here is our own take on what Lydia Callis’s fame means for the deaf community.

  5. Christopher
    November 4, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    Handler is a talentless hack whos entire impetus for having her own TV show was her f@#%!ng the CEO of Comcast.

  6. November 5, 2012 at 5:06 PM

    Here is another good explanation…

    Why Do Sign Language Interpreters Look So Animated?

  7. B
    November 15, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    I have to applaud the NYC Municipal Office for recognizing the need for an ASL interpreter during Hurricane Sandy. In life and death situations there is no time for misinterpretations. They put an ASL interpreter front and center so that all Deaf people in the region would know, without a doubt, that it had become a dangerous situation. That is why we have a government, and all those involved should receive accolades.

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