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March 24, 2007

Feelings mixed for insult comic at RIT appearance

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Mar 24, 2006

Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(March 24, 2007) — More than two dozen protesters greeted concert-goers Friday at Rochester Institute of Technology to show their disapproval of Lisa Lampanelli, a standup comic who made degrading remarks about deaf people in a local radio interview.

Lampanelli, dubbed "Comedy's Loveable Queen of Mean," appeared on WCMF (96.5 FM) on Jan. 31, when she said God hates deaf people, and deaf students "could be maybe just retarded, and they're trying to sneak by saying that they're deaf."

She was unaware that RIT is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf with 1,100 deaf and hard-of-hearing students. A partial transcript of her comments was published last week in an editorial in a student magazine.

"We are supporting freedom of speech," said protest organizer Joshua Berman, 26, an RIT graduate student who is deaf.

Not all of the protesters were deaf. Chelsea Miller, 24, an RIT student who can hear, felt compelled to join.

"Rochester has a uniquely large deaf population and this is a degrading display of bigotry on a campus that prides itself on diversity," she said.

RIT officials said about 1,600 tickets had been sold for the show; 13 people asked for refunds. Lampanelli's comments didn't turn all deaf audience members away.

"I insult people, too. Who doesn't?" said Mich Gerson, 22, an NTID student from New Jersey. "Everybody does it. I'm no better. I'm going to see what she has to say. I may not laugh, but I can take it."

Ariel Meltzer, 21, a deaf RIT student from Mountain Lake, N.J., also wanted to make her own judgments.

"She's insulting. But it's all about having a sense of humor," Meltzer said. "What she said was on the radio, so I couldn't hear the tone of how she said it."

Lampanelli's publicist said the comic would not comment about the controversy Friday.

RIT President Albert Simone met with students, including some who were deaf, to discuss what, if anything, should be done before Lampanelli's appearance. Simone said some on campus who support free speech would have been offended if the show was canceled, and others would be offended if it was allowed as scheduled. He expects to have another dialog with students after the show.

"Hopefully education will take place and both sides will learn," Simone said.

© 2007, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle