No Fear - May 4th - 2010

No FearTuesday, 4th May
Trust me when I say, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think my present life would be possible.

If you throw me in front of an audience and give me a microphone I can handle myself pretty well. I hosted a segment on a TV show and I’m a decent comedic actor. Without a doubt, I think my ability to speak is my best quality.

But this wasn’t always the case. Growing up I had a speech impediment.

Yep, it’s true. I’m not going to say what sound I couldn’t say because to this day I’m still insecure about it. But I assure you from the time I was a teenager, I have spent more time practicing my speech probably more than you have spent driving your car. (in L.A. that’s a lot) My speech is better than perfect and I dare you to try and find any flaws.

But as a kid, talking out loud was the bane of my existence. Being a child is awful because you have no perspective of the world and you don’t know if you’ll ever grow out of your insecurities. I prayed to God for help. I hated being pulled from class to work with a speech coach, being teased at school (there are kids from my hometown that I still refuse to add on facebook) people asking you what the heck you just said. I remember somebody once asked me if English was my first language. It can really mess with your head.

But talk to any kid with a speech impediment. You learn tricks. You quickly learn what words you can and can’t say and you expand your vocabulary out of necessity.

So one summer in high school I enrolled in Boston University’s College of Communication Broadcasting school. I thought this would be a great way to learn about TV/Film, something I was interested in.

You can imagine my horror when it was brought to my attention that all prospective students had to report to the broadcasting booth to check your speech. It was like going to the dentist or something. You had to talk into a microphone for 5 minutes and read a passage while a speech pathologist analyzed your words. This was not in the brochure.

I thought about packing my bags. If I was going to be sent back to New Hampshire it would be by my own choice not because some guy with a Masters degree thought I would be better off as a mime.

My appointment was Sat, 1pm. My roommate Danny had his appointment 7 days earlier. He walked in smiling, still holding the script they tested him on.

“Cake.” Danny grinned. His father was the host on a national radio show so Danny had his dad’s genes. He even sounded like he was a professional radio DJ. Danny crumpled up the paper and threw it in the trash. When he left for dinner I picked it out and looked at the words. Words that would decide where I would be spending the next 8 weeks.


I practiced that passage the following week. Hour in the morning, hour at night. I even bought a recorder at Best Buy so I could hear my pronunciation and went through three sets of batteries. I was going to pass this test.

Danny walked in one day and busted me reading in front of the mirror.

“What the heck are you doing?”

I revealed to him my problem and he told me I was “over thinking” it. “It’s just a stupid speech test.” he explained.

“For you maybe” I thought. “This test is my life.”

Saturday rolled around and I was ready. I had the whole passage memorized so I didn’t even need the sheet.
I stepped into the sound booth and saw a microphone and a headset. On the music stand was a sheet of paper.
Through the glass I saw the speech pathologist, a rickety old man, listening through a set of headphones.
His muffled voice crackled through my earphones.

“Just read what’s on the paper until I tell you to stop.” I picked up the paper -- it was a different passage.

The SOB gave me a different test! I’m panicking. I am screwed. I could just see Danny and all the other kids in the program laughing at me because I couldn’t get by this retarded speech test.

Should I walk out? What the heck is this old man going to do. If he tries to stop me I will knock him out. Then I’ll take the whole school hostage. I’ll be yelling from the top of the communication building, making demands through a megaphone but nobody can understand me because I still have this lousy speech problem. WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS!

But this was just a fantasy. I took that test. Three minutes into it I hear “Ok, that’s fine. Thank-you.”

“Am I set?”

“Yes. That’s fine. Can you please close the sound booth door on your way out?”

“Um, sure.”

And that was it. I passed that test and went on to have a great summer. It was a moment where I realized that with preparation, no challenge is insurmountable. If nothing else, I know that to be true.

And if you’re a kid reading this and you have a speech impediment, it’s not the end of the world.

Wait, actually it is. Especially if you want to do comedy or anything that involves talking. So practice and when you're done go practice some more. And pray to God. Pray like you have never prayed before because being a mime sucks.

-- Tarun 
Tarun ShettyComment