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Classic Jokes and Zap Stories: Interview with Becky Gage, Author of a New Pop-Up Book about Deaf Humor

Updated: Mar 4

Did you know that Deaf jokes come in two varieties? Becky Gage, who is Deaf, clarifies one group as “classic jokes, timeless humor that never bores us from generation to generation.” The second category: “zap stories,” she explains, are “common anecdotes about discrimination and oppression that Deaf people address with humor.”



Becky’s new book is a first of its kind: an immersive pop-up book called How Much Do You Know About... American Sign Language, and Deaf Culture, History, Jokes, and Stories? The book was released on May 6, 2023, and is suggested for ages eight and up.


Becky Gage graduated with a bachelor’s degree in deaf studies from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., in 1994 and a master’s degree in deaf education from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD, in 1995. Deaf jokes were popular back then, and Becky recently noticed that they were beginning to diminish in the Deaf community. She wrote this fun book to preserve both the classic jokes and the “zap stories."


Becky received encouragement to write How Much Do You Know About… from her friend, Dr. Steve Baldwin. Her older son, Joviah, gave her the idea to make it a pop-up book! In addition to the unique 3D illustrations, the book also features notes, history, and QR codes with links to see the signs in action.


This book is a classic gem to be treasured by families. I can see this book being handed down through generations to preserve these classic Deaf jokes and stories, all written in English and signed in American Sign Language (ASL).


Becky has worked on other Deaf interest projects. For example, in 2004, Becky invented a board game called ASLingo—and it sold out. She hopes to convert the game into an app in the near future. Currently, she works at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside. In her spare time, Becky enjoys spending time with her kids and her dog, Shaggy, and traveling all over the world. 


I spoke to Becky about her experiences writing, publishing, and working with her family.


About Becky’s New Pop-Up Book & the Deaf Jokes That Inspired Her


Q. Your new book, How Much Do You Know About... American Sign Language, Deaf Culture, History, Jokes, and Stories? is all about jokes and zap stories in Deaf culture. Can you share what these jokes mean to you? Could you give us an example of one or two popular deaf jokes? 


A. First of all, I want to thank you for having me! ☺ It’s a nice collaboration between us as authors.


There are many Deaf jokes that I have seen and appreciated over the years, but in this book, I choose eight jokes. I like all of them for a different reason! Haha… 

I like the KING KONG joke when King Kong squashed the lady because it is easy for hearing people to understand as well—that’s if they know the sign for it if I shared the joke with them. 


In the left picture, you see King Kong, a giant ape, smiling as he holds a woman in his hand. King Kong climbs a tower at Gallaudet University, and he is amused by her beauty. In this right image, King Kong attempts to sign "MARRY" in American Sign Language (ASL) with his massive hand but accidentally squashes the lady as he signs. This humorous scene depicts King Kong's attempt to communicate using ASL, resulting in a comical mishap.


I believe the JUMPY BIRDS joke is important to preserve as it has a history behind it. It talks about an old device, TTY [teletypewriter], that deaf people used in the 1960s to 1970s that the new generation isn’t aware of. That TTY was so LOUD as you typed, hence this Deaf joke. Telling jokes makes us laugh and appreciate and cherish our Deaf culture more. 



 In the photograph, a man is depicted using an old device known as a TTY (teletypewriter). The TTY is a communication device designed for deaf individuals to communicate over the telephone network by typing messages back and forth.
In the photograph, a man is depicted using an old device known as a TTY (teletypewriter). The TTY is a communication device designed for deaf individuals to communicate over the telephone network by typing messages back and forth.

Q. Becky, you noticed that Deaf jokes have been less popular in the Deaf community nowadays; why do you think that is? 

A. It’s a good question. I noticed today the teachers teach A to Z, number stories, handshapes, De’VIA artwork, etc. in the classroom and also among the Deaf community at events. Deaf jokes aren’t easy to come up with when they involve their Deaf experience. Deaf Bings are like replacing jokes; they are becoming popular and make us laugh. 


The Writing & Book Production Process


Q. Being a mom, earning master’s degrees, and working often leaves little time to follow a dream. I would love to hear about your journey to writing your first book. 

A. Writing a book about Deaf history has always been my dream since I was a college student at Gallaudet. But I didn’t have any confidence in myself, especially in writing. Also, I didn’t know where to start. I put it off for many years until I had a conversation with my friend, Steve Baldwin, who is a Deaf author himself. He was the one who fueled my passion and got me started on writing this book. Thanks to him—otherwise, it wouldn’t have happened. I credit him for pushing me to do this book.


Q. Becky, can you share more about your son's suggestion to make this book a pop-up book?


In the photograph, a group of individuals involved in the book's progress is gathered together. In the top row, from left to right, are Hetty Rothenberg, Jennie Sivak, Roberta Gage, Shari Kido, Dr. E. Lynn Jacobowitz, Andaz Gage-Tsai, and Zamica Gage. From left to right, Dr. Steve Baldwin, Becky Gage, Salvador Sanchez, and Leticia Arellano are in the bottom row. Although not everyone could attend the book launch celebration in Washington, D.C., their contributions are acknowledged and remembered.
In the top row, from left to right, are Hetty Rothenberg, Jennie Sivak, Roberta Gage, Shari Kido, Dr. E. Lynn Jacobowitz, Andaz Gage-Tsai, and Zamica Gage. From left to right, Dr. Steve Baldwin, Becky Gage, Salvador Sanchez, and Leticia Arellano are in the bottom row. Although not everyone could attend the book launch celebration in Washington, D.C., their contributions are acknowledged and remembered.

A. My older son, Joviah, is Deaf and is very creative in many ways. I knew he could come up with something original when I asked him for ideas on doing the book. Out on the patio, we were talking about what would make this book unique and would entertain young and older Deaf people. This and that—until he brought up pop-up art that caught me, and I said yes that’s it! It became history, and it was the first time anybody had done this in a Deaf culture way. He even brought up the idea of flashing lights on the hotel for the HOTEL joke, but it cost more money, so it didn’t happen. 


Q. Becky, how did you find your talented illustrator, Salvador Sanchez? Was it important to you to have a Deaf illustrator? Did Salvador design the pop-ups himself?

A. When I was looking for illustrators on Instagram, my priority was that the person had to be Deaf. I went through many, and Salvador’s artwork caught my eye. It was a perfect match for my book. I was looking for simple and colorful artwork, and that was his style. He illustrated the whole book himself but was following what I envisioned. He did it brilliantly. Yimi Paper from China did the pop-ups on PDFs coming from Salvador’s artwork. Check out his artwork on IG: @salvadorsanchezartist


Q. In your book, QR codes lead the reader to videos of the stories being signed. What was your process for finding and selecting signers for the various stories and jokes?

A. Originally, I planned to do the book with only my family members, but then I realized all of us are white, and it didn’t feel right. I always advocated diversity, and that was my priority in finding diversity in those native ASL signers. Some of them are my friends. My daughter assisted me with the search for ASL signers, especially in younger age groups, as she worked at Indiana School for the Deaf. 


The photograph depicts Becky's family standing in a row, arranged from left to right. On the far left is her daughter Zamica, followed by her son Andaz, then Becky herself, and next to her is her son Joviah along with his husband Ray. (tags: @yes.that.company, @andaz_real, @zamicagage)
The photograph depicts Becky's family standing in a row, arranged from left to right. On the far left is her daughter Zamica, followed by her son Andaz, then Becky herself, and next to her is her son Joviah along with his husband Ray.

Family Collaboration & Becky’s Work Experience


Q. I love how your family members worked together to collaborate on this book. Can you share more about that? 

A. Involving my family members makes this book even more special for me. My daughter, Zamica, is very clear at signing, so of course, I had to include her as the “face” of my book and on social media. My younger son, Andaz, who is a CODA, is involved by signing the motto. He is the only hearing one who is involved in my book and is illustrated on the “JUMPY BIRDS” page in front of the door. Salvador even surprised me by drawing my family members in the book on the “WAVE HANDS” page. That picture came from my vacation in Florida when Salvador asked for a picture of people standing in a line. My twin sister, Roberta, is a part of it as well. My family members are the backbone of this book process.



In the photograph, Becky and her son Andaz stand on the left side, while Roberta's family stands on the right side. On the right side, you can see Roberta's son Colt, her daughter Gisele, and Roberta herself alongside Jim Adams, who shares a co-parenting role.
In the photograph, Becky and her son Andaz stand on the left side, while Roberta's family stands on the right side. On the right side, you can see Roberta's son Colt, her daughter Gisele, and Roberta herself alongside Jim Adams, who shares a co-parenting role.

Q. You work with children at the California School for the Deaf. How long have you worked there? What ages or subjects do you teach?

A: I have taught at various schools for the Deaf and ASL classes at community colleges for over twenty years. This year, I am not teaching anymore, and that was a big, nice change for me. I work as a job placement specialist, and I love it. It is my twelfth year working at CSDR.


Where to Buy the Book and Find Out More


Q. Becky, where is your book available? Can it be ordered in bulk for schools, libraries, etc.? 

A: My books are available through my store on Shopify or Amazon. There is a link in my bio on IG @yes.that.company. I do provide discounts for bulk orders of ten, twenty, thirty, and so forth on books for schools, libraries, etc. They can contact me at beckygageauthor@gmail.com for this kind of request.


Q. Where can readers find you on social media? 


A: I try to focus on only one social media specially designed for information about my book, and it is on Instagram: @yes.that.company. I plan to wean down on using Facebook. I am doing all this by myself with a full-time job, as a mother as well. ☺ I enjoyed your questions. Feel free to contact me at any time at beckygageauthor@gmail.com. Thank you!


Thank you to Becky Gage for sharing her insights! This beautiful pop-up book of classic Deaf jokes is a work of art that is sure to be an instant classic in many Deaf households. 


I hope you enjoyed reading about Becky's journey writing  How Much Do You Know About... American Sign Language, and Deaf Culture, History, Jokes, and Stories? Do you know any Deaf jokes or zap stories? Share them with us in the comments!




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