The lights dimmed. Comedian D.J. Demers stood on stage with a microphone. A chair was next to him, but he never sat on it. It was an ordinary comedy show, except for one part.
Demers, along with a few audience members, wore hearing aids. As part of his “Here to Hear” tour, Demers is visiting 20 colleges and universities across the United States to perform and talk about his experiences with hearing loss.
Demers and his crew parked their bright green RV on Oct. 10 at IU. He performed at the Whittenberger Auditorium at the Indiana Memorial Union.
“So many people out there don’t realize how common hearing loss is,” he said. “I want to normalize it and let people in the hard-of-hearing community know that they’re not alone.”
Demers has worn hearing aids since he was 4 years old and is considered deaf without them. Although this is only part of his identity, he said it has played a big role in his life.
“When I was in my teens, there was a certain kind of embarrassment that came with being different, even the support from my family and friends,” he said.
Although Demers always considered comedy to be a separate part of his life, he said he recently decided he wanted to use his voice to advocate for the hard-of-hearing community.
“At first, I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as ‘the hearing aids guy,’ so I used to avoid jokes about it,” he said. “But after receiving so much overwhelming support, I realized how important talking about it was to other people like me.”
Like Demers, two other audience members were also wearing hearing aids. One of them was Tony Gigli, an Indianapolis resident who traveled to Bloomington to watch Demers perform.
Before the performance began, Gigli was equipped with a device called a Roger Pen, which Demers was also wearing around his neck. When the pen linked to his hearing aids, Demers could directly project his voice into Gigli’s ears to make it easier to hear.
“The way that technology has evolved in recent years has allowed me to do things that I never thought I would be able to do before,” Gigli said.
With the help of the pen, Gigli sat in the fourth row of the auditorium and could hear Demers with no trouble.
“It worked a lot better than I expected it to,” he said.
Like Demers, Gigli has also worn hearing aids since he was a child. He said this has not stopped him from doing the activities he’s always wanted to do, especially with the aid of modern hearing technology.
“I went to see Garth Brooks in concert last week,” he said. “I’ve never let my hearing loss stop me from doing what I want to do, but I definitely wish I had something like this at the concert,” he said, pointing to the Roger Pen.
Though Demers discussed a broad range of topics, he often brought up his experiences with hearing loss, such as how he couldn't hear when he took his aids out at night. He also made an effort to get to know many of the audience members’ names, and he periodically checked on Gigli to make sure the pen was still working.
“Going on tour is definitely taxing, but I really just want to have fun and get to know people,” Demers said. “I know this is all going to be a memory very soon, and I’m going to look back and think, ‘Wow, what a crazy month it was.’”
Demers will continue to travel to campuses across the country until early November to perform and share his experiences.