Despite losing his vision, comedian keeps on laughing

Blind comedian Gord Paynter presented at The Spoke last night

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Blind comedian Gord Paynter

LEAVE ’EM LAFFIN’. Blind comedian Gord Paynter presented at The Spoke last night as part of Western’s Safety and Accessibility Week.

Growing up in Brantford, Ontario, Gord Paynter had one ambition in life: to make others laugh.

The stand-up comedian, who now performs across the world and was at The Spoke Lounge last night, says he was inspired by a variety of comics, including Red Skelton and Bill Cosby.

“I was a great fan of both of those guys because I saw in both of them a sincere and genuine effort to make people laugh, and to me, that was what being a comedian was all about,” he says. “You had to commit to it, you had to have a passion for it.”

While Paynter was successful at making his classmates laugh as a self-proclaimed “class-clown” in high school, his first official stand-up performance didn’t come until he was a second-year theatre and English student at Brock University.

Like many others’, Paynter’s first appearance in front of a live audience wasn’t as successful as he would have hoped.

“I was certainly embarrassed by it, and I just had tremendous self-doubt about what I was doing and whether I could be a comic.” Paynter performed sporadically after his initial performance.

After graduating in 1977, Paynter took a three-month trip with his friends to Europe. There, his life and future career plans changed forever.

While visiting Wales, Paynter experienced complications with his diabetes, causing him to suffer retinal detachment in both of his eyes. The condition caused him to lose most of his day vision and all of his eyesight at night, beginning the process of full blindness.

Soon after, he was back at home, suddenly living a whole new life.

“I would spend days in bed listening to the sounds outside and not feeling even a part of that, thinking that this breath will lead to another breath, and which will then lead to another breath, and hoping that end would come from that somehow.”

Paynter’s zest for life and for making others laugh was restored when he began meeting other blind individuals at the Canadian National Institute For The Blind in Toronto.

“Through my contact with them, they kind of gave me back my sense of humour,” he says. “I found myself making blind jokes.

“We’d sit around at the end of the day and talk about things we’d experienced, and my natural sense of humour began to spark again, and I’d twist [stories] into something that I would find funny,” he says.

Paynter’s big break came in 1984. After entering and finishing in the top three in two consecutive London comedy contests, he was discovered at a Toronto Yuk Yuk’s amateur night by club founder Mark Breslin. Breslin asked him to perform regularly.

Since then, Paynter has been fulfilling his lifelong dream of being a full-time comic and has used his impaired eyesight as a source of humour for his shows. He now believes the key to his own success has been to never give up on his goals in life.

“I always encourage people to have something in mind you want to do, so that when you experience challenges or obstacles, you’ll find a way to overcome it, because your passion is just so great, you’ll say, ‘no, I want to go for this.’”

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