Guestpost #36: Ken Hall – Ten things I’ve learned from living as a short man with scoliosis

Ken is a comedic actor, improviser, writer and all round nice guy. Ken is one half of the fun loving, mad cap duo of 2-Man No-Show along with Isaac Kessler. He has performed sketch/improv in Edinburgh, San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, Charleston, Boston, North Carolina, Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto. Nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award for the film Chère, Ken also teaches at the prestigious Second City and Bad Dog Theatre in Toronto. Ken finished in the top six to represent Toronto in the CBC’s The Second City Next Comedy Legend and can be seen in an upcoming episode of Single White Spenny on Showcase. Ken is a cast member of Bad Dog Theatre’s flagship show Theatresports and recently performed as part of The Bench at Second City. Ken also performs weekly with his long form improv team Nakatomi Protocol through The Impatient Theatre Company.

Preface: I’m 4 foot 9 with a congenital disease called scoliosis or curvature of the spine which means I was born with it and did not receive it in the mail. I have a metal rod fused against my spine and have 50 bone grafts in place to solidify my back and protect the rod.

  1. Some people often feel the need to bend down to talk to me (sometimes even if they’re not much taller than me). I suppose this is meant to help me see them eye to eye. When I see someone start to take a conversational knee I feel a pang of embarrassment. Truth be told I want to punch them in the face…I have not yet done so.
  2. When someone asks me “Can I ask you a personal question?” I cringe. The question will no doubt involve a very delicate tip-toe-around-the-tulips- around-about- way of saying “Hey, what’s wrong with you?”
  3. Some people feel compelled to hurl derogatory comments at me from moving vehicles. This could be an Olympic sport one day.
  4. I often feel pretty normal until someone asks me what’s wrong with me or asks for clarification about how I classify myself…”Midget, Dwarf or Little Person” (not much of a list to choose from if you ask me). At those times I’m reminded that “oh yeah I am different than everyone” and the safe bubble I reside in is momentarily popped and I’m left feeling deflated.
  5. An apple a day keeps the doctor away…not if you have severe scoliosis…you need to get on that right away. You also require good doctors and good surgeons. I had a great surgeon named Dr. Bobechko who appeared on the show “That’s Incredible” in the 80’s for his contribution to corrective measures in treating scoliosis. He assisted in inventing something called the Harrington rod and a specific kind of clamp. As I grew I would have to get a new rod placed in me every so often (kind of like a spinal tune up). I actually have an old rod at home that I asked to keep before I went under for an operation once. I should Antique Roadshow my wares someday. Dr. Bobechko also had his personal surgical gear blessed by Pope John Paul the II. I also had a shitty surgeon who once wanted to take my rod out and put me in a hammock like contraption for 6 months when I was 14…my parents passed on that archaic offer and we booked a flight to a private hospital in Dallas where my good surgeon had moved to. We even worked out a deal with him and OHIP so we wouldn’t have to pay the full cost for private health care in an American hospital. He was a great man.
  6. Short men are gifted with great drive and ambition, perhaps as a way to compensate for our vertically challenged nature. I’m an over achiever. Perhaps I see it as a way to gain acceptance until I finally become a “real person”.
  7. Dating can be tough. I once saw an episode of 20/20 where they had men stand in a line up and there were a bunch of women behind a glass who were evaluating the men. When asked if they would date the smaller man in the line up one woman replied “Maybe, if the other guys were psychopaths” and a few of the women agreed. That stayed with me for a very long time.
  8. My surgeon had very strong hands…from time to time I get uncomfortable when people touch me. This might be as a result of being pushed around when I was younger or simply a result of the traditional upbringing of Scottish handshakes over hugs. But I miss the way his hands felt on my back…it was like he didn’t need to operate on me but he could just form me the way he wanted to as if I was made out of moulding clay. Is it possible to hug a person with your hands? If it is then that’s what it felt like. I felt safe with him.
  9. I was closer to my surgeon than my grandfather. I have fond memories of him ever since my first operation when I was 5 years old. Back then he called me ‘Tiger” I think because of my red hair. He still called me Tiger up until the last time I saw him in Dallas, Texas in 1990.
  10. My surgeon helped treat my scoliosis but helped me more in becoming the person I am today. I like to help people and make a positive difference in other people’s lives. I like to fix things i.e. people’s problems and I often take too much on. I’m an employment counsellor by day and an improviser/actor in the rest of my life. I feel that doing both helps people which in turn helps me. Last year I was nominated by George Brown College’s Career and Work Counsellor Program as Counsellor of the Year. I think in many ways Dr. Bobechko planted the seed that showed me the importance of valuing and helping others.

18 Comments

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18 responses to “Guestpost #36: Ken Hall – Ten things I’ve learned from living as a short man with scoliosis

  1. #7. That’s so true. I once saw an episode of 20/20 about people being mugged in Mexico city. I was recently in Cancun (I know it’s not the same) but I was terrified of anyone speaking spanish. Friggin’ 20/20 is ruining peoples lives.

  2. Ian MacIntyre

    …and Ken Hall cements his status as “one of my favourite people ever”.

  3. I second that MacIntyre

  4. Robin Archer

    Is “thirding” a thing?

    I third!

  5. Paloma

    My world is better because I know Ken Hall. Gracias sweet friend!

  6. Kerry Griffin

    Dr. Bobechko operated on my sister’s scoliosis back in the late seventies/early eighties. She has a rod in her back as well, though she only had to have it done the once. Small world! no pun intended!

    Oh, and I fourth!

  7. Phil

    I think I just learned something, too. Thanks for the great post!

  8. Alex

    It’s weird, I saw that very piece on 20/20. I was a just a teenager when it aired, and I still remember how sick I felt at what those women said. It was one of the first times I learned how unthinkingly stupid even “mature” adults could be.

  9. Ken Hall, proving his greatness AGAIN.

    It’s funny to me how Ken mentions examples of how some have assumed him limited in some way. Funny only in the sense that I’ve always viewed Ken as the most capable and unlimited person I know. One of the greatest joys in my life was writing Ken a character for a short film and then seeing him turn it into something totally incredible. Conan O’Brien once said that his favorite Simpson’s character to write for was Mr. Burns because he was capable of anything. Writing for Ken was the same way.

    Perhaps #6 and #10 provide a clue to where Ken’s talents come from – he applies himself more and gives more of himself than everyone else.

  10. Roxanne

    I say punch them in the face! And stop those rude “can I ask you a personal question” people in their tracks with your own “can I ask you a personal question”. Just knock them right off centre with something about their pubic hair hygiene. Or punch them in the face too ; )

    Fourthing it! : D

  11. Sophy Crook

    About the women and height thing. First, as a 5’9 1/2″ woman, I have often not felt comfortable being big, and often wished I was small and cute so I didn’t tower over shorter men and they would ask me to dance. Second, you’d probably never guess but I had a crush on you when we worked together, so not all women care about a man being tall, but more about personality, brains and cuteness!🙂

  12. Sabrina

    Great post – very honest and open.

    I can relate a little to this post. I have a complete hearing loss in my right ear, and sometimes I miss what people say. They often say “Are you deaf?” and I usually say “Yes. I have no hearing in my right ear.” That usually shuts them up.
    Also, I go swing dancing and one of my favorite dance parters is a guy who is 5 feet tall with a great smile who can whip me around the floor much better than most of his compatriots.

  13. Sam

    This helps me. I’d tell you your awesome Ken but you already know …ah fuckit yer awesome! Makes me want to write the ten things I’ve learned living as a brown man.

    • Hi, Your families story has given me great hope for my siestr. She had a stroke just two weeks before last Christmas at the age of 40. It’s been so hard on her as she has three kids (who were with her at the time), and is a single parent. She was in hospital for nearly 6wks, but rehab say that she is not one of the worse cases (which is good in someways, but in others you’d rather her go too). It’s so hard because our mum died when she was only 46yrs and now with all this happening we feel it may have been a stroke too. Both had a heart condition, that may have triggered the stroke. We are now all been sent for testing to determine weather or not we have it too. Although my siestr is physically fine, up walking and doing things for herself (thank god), but she cannot talk. I was wondering if you have come across any therapy for speech too. We all know how lucky she is, and we are greatfull for that, but as we live in Donegal and she lives in Dublin it’s so hard not been able to pick the phone up and talk to her. I wish yourself and all the other people with stroke or the likes great success in recovering and hope that the government can do more to help people. I feel that even though I know there is a lot worse off people out there, that my siestr should never have been turned away from rehab, and a once a week in speech therapy put in place. I think she and others need a lot more than this. x

  14. Kate Harlow

    I’ve only had the privilege of meeting Ken in passing at improv festivals, and playing in workshops with him- but this article solidifies everything I already knew. Ken you are an amazing man, funny, strong, personable, and honest.

  15. Pingback: Top Ten Guestposts from 2011 | tenthingsivelearned

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