I first met Ben along with all my other entrymates, but I truly got to know him when we performed together in Frosh Revue last fall. He is widely renowned for his skills in sign language, unicycling and all manners of bizarre humor.
You made quite a splash in Humor Writing this Winter Study. Can you tell me about that?
Well, I had Professor Adams for Multivariable Calculus, and he was just a great guy, so I thought that it would be a great Winter Study to take. So I took it, and I did it, and I won it. Well, I don’t know if I won it. You can’t win Winter Study. But I wrote some fake Black Mirror episodes with titles like “My Blender is Sentient?” and “My Amazon Echo Buys Me Things Before I Know I Need Them?” They were all questions. I also wrote a piece about my fear of balloons, but I’m not actually scared of balloons. It’s tied into my fear of the womb, but I’m also not scared of the womb. I guess that’s what made it funny. I also wrote a piece on how the FitnessGram™ Pacer Test determines your whole life, but I never got to read that one in front of class.
When was the first time you got into humor?
Wait, this is a really good story! I was in preschool, and I was bored one day, so I sat down on one of the tiny little red couches made for children, and I was like, what if I was funny? My sense of humor back then was literally just making weird noises, which is really the same sense of humor I have now. I just would walk around to all the kids and go, “OAWAWAWAWAW.” Dinosaur noises – they were dinosaur noises. They laughed, and I’ve sort of just been screaming ever since.
How about your unicycling?
Basically, one summer, on a whim, I signed up for a unicycling class at a summer camp that I was going to. It took me three summers to learn, but once I finally did it, I was the coolest kid on the block. That’s not true. There were, like, three other kids that could unicycle. But I kept riding it because it’s easier to carry around than a bike. You can actually bring it into places, and it’s also a really great form of self-expression. For example, you don’t need to know anything about me besides the fact that I ride a unicycle, and you’ll know what kind of guy I am. But I’m more than just my unicycle. I am a three-dimensional person. I can’t see in 3-D though.
Do tell. What’s it like to not see in 3-D?
It’s kind of sad. All the other kids could see 3-D, but I couldn’t. I would cross my eyes a lot. I just had an imbalance of muscles in my eyeballs that made me do this thing called alternate fixation. If there were something on the left side of me, instead of looking at the object with both of my eyes, I would look at it with my left eye, and my right eye would become peripheral. I’m not blind, but I pretty much see things as if they’re out of one eye, but a little bit more, if that makes sense. I can’t see 3-D movies, so don’t invite me. The point is, yeah, I’m a three-dimensional character, with flaws and personality. I’m more than just my unicycle, but if that’s the only thing you know about me, you know quite a bit.
I’d say sign language is also a pretty big deal for you.
Yeah, I know sign language. People always assume I’m fluent in sign language, though. I’m not. I’m not even close to fluent. I took it for three years in high school. Imagine taking three years of Spanish in high school. You’re not fluent. You might be able to order a coffee in Mexico, but there isn’t really a deaf equivalent to that. Sign language is also a very misunderstood language. One of the misconceptions about sign language is that it’s another form of English, but it’s really its own language with its own grammar that is different from anything else. English and every other spoken language are linear, while sign language is nonlinear, so word order isn’t as important as placing signs in different areas in space and then manipulating them to interact with each other. It’s sort of like painting a picture.
You’re known for great portmanteaus. Hit me with your best ones.
Spice Root is “Spoot.” Black Panther is “Blanther.” Small college is “smallege.” I’ve got others.
You’re also a prospective math and theater double major. What made you interested in those subjects?
Well, I’ve been involved in theater ever since middle school. I was the mayor of Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz, and let’s just say … what a meaty roll. And I’ve been involved in theater ever since. But math was definitely a much later thing for me. It really started when I was introduced to proofs in high school. I just thought that there was something so interesting about getting to a conclusion that’s totally wild based on everything that you’ve learned beforehand. It’s sort of like mixing everything together, and it’s very soothing. It’s very calming but also very annoying. But that’s sort of what drew me to mathematics – that logical mishmash-ing of ideas to create a new idea.
With regards to theater, I know you’ve already been involved in a production or two on campus. How has that been for you?
It’s been pretty great. I’ve been involved in two Cap and Bells productions, including Frosh Revue’s The Frosh and the Furious: Williamstown Drift. I was Red Shirt. And I was also in Pygmalion as Alfred Doolittle. I had to learn a Cockney accent for that. Accents are not my forte, but it was a great experience. I feel like theater at Williams is really a great community. I still get together pretty frequently with my Pygmalion cast.
Is there anything else that our readers absolutely have to know about you?
Yes. If you’re reading this because you’re doing a background check on me, I just want to say you’re doing a great job. I believe in you, I hope you’ve been having a wonderful day and I applaud you. Background checks are difficult. I mean, I don’t think you’ll find anything too wild about me. I hope everything’s going well with you and your family, if you have a family. Thumbs up all around!