America’s New Favorite ASL Interpreter

Move over, Lydia Callis – meet Holly Maniatty, whose signing of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Bonnaroo show is burning up the Internets:

[Besides] memorizing their lyrics and watching past shows … [h]er prep work also includes researching dialectal signs to ensure accuracy and authenticity. An Atlanta rapper will use different slang than a Queens one, and ASL speakers from different regions also use different signs, so knowing how a word like guns and brother are signed in a given region is crucial for authenticity. … Of course, hip-hop is a highly improvisational art, and no amount of careful research can prepare an ASL interpreter for what might happen at a live show. “There are lots of times people freestyle; you have to go with the moment,” she said. “For some reason my brain is dialed into the hip-hop cadence and is able to process language really quickly.”

The rappers she works for seem to agree. At one point during Wu-Tang’s performance of “Bring Da Ruckus,” Method Man came over to Maniatty, mid-signing, and gave her a hug and a fist bump. He had been looking at her every time he said “motherfuckin” during the song and wanted to see if she signed it and how. Maniatty told me she thought to herself, “Of course I’m gonna say it, you’re saying it. Your words, not mine.”

On that note, Eric Sundermann interviews the woman who is “almost more fun to watch than Wu-Tang themselves”:

Is it weird to do interpretation for stuff that might make you uncomfortable? 

Yeah. At one point I was interpreting for Tenacious D, Jack Black’s band, and he was singing that song “Fuck Me Gently.” I was like, I cannot believe I’m signing this in front of 10,000 people.  But you know, it’s something he wanted to sing about. It’s Jack Black and you just do it.

There’s been some discussion about me signing the ‘N’ word, but that’s the word [Wu-Tang] uses and they have the rights to use it or not to use it. I wanted to make sure that the patrons can make their own political opinion, either being “okay, cool,” or be offended by it. To steal that opportunity from them is not the role of an interpreter. You know when you go to a concert and you’re like, who are these performers? And then you’re like, oh my god, they’re awesome! That’s the kind of experience you want [deaf people] to have.

For more Maniatty, watch her dance and sign with Bruce Springsteen here.