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ICYMI: Blind stand-up comic uses laughter to share his experiences and inspire others

Cambridge comedian Ken Roche went from downhill skier to stand-up comedy using jokes to break barriers
Cambridge comedian, Ken Roche stands with his guide dog Grommit at Cambridge Physio.

A Cambridge comedian is on a search to find his voice and share his unique experience with the world while putting Cambridge and Waterloo region on the Canadian comedy map. 

For the last 15 years, 54-year-old Ken Roche has been performing stand-up comedy all over Ontario, even taking his talents as far as Canada's Got Talent. 

"I went all the way to Niagara Falls to shoot my set and it really is different than any other show I've ever done," said Roche. "Unfortunately I wasn't what they were looking for, but that is nothing new to me." 

The Cambridge comedian is unlike most stand-ups and faces many challenges others don't as he is fully blind. With his guide dog Grommit in tow, he takes the stage to poke fun at his own disability, but aims to inspire others letting them know they can also overcome their own obstacles. 

The judges at Canada's Got Talent questioned how much he really wanted to continue down the path as a comedian and it's something he took to heart. 

While Roche admits he could do a better job at talking about his own struggles and being more relatable, he is still searching for his voice and how he can use his role to help others. 

"I have all these different sides and I am still figuring out which one wants to be heard by society and will be accepted, but I've never wanted anything more" he added. "It can be difficult sometimes, but I just want to feel like I am welcomed into a group." 

For nearly 20 years prior to becoming a stand-up, Roche was training to become a paralympic downhill skier and then by chance he was asked to go on stage at an event in 2007 and he never looked back.

"I kinda traded my ski poles for a microphone and I wouldn't have it any other way," he said. "There is the same kind of pressure from walking onstage to going to the top of the hill, the uncertainty of what's ahead and how everything will go." 

Just like skiing, Roche approaches each gig as if he is standing at the top of a hill ready to take off.

Once he gets the microphone in his hand he settles into his sweet spot and lets his jokes fly. 

"There's nothing else like being on stage and I really do love it, but I wish there was more of a place for me; it's not easy," he added. 

Due to his blindness, it can be hard for Roche to get to venues and perform. He has to either rely on others to help him get there or pay for transportation, which is not easy with his income. 

This is one of the main reasons why he wants to grow the comedy scene in Cambridge, making it a more inclusive and viable industry for veteran and budding comedians. 

If there are more spaces that offer stand-up then there will be a higher chance of everyone getting time to go up and perform. 

Having made it off disability and working as a registered massage therapist at Cambridge Physio, his income does not cover all of the expenses needed for him to get around to do the limited amount of shows offered in the city or travel to other markets.  

"It's been a relief to make it off disability and feel like I'm contributing to society and I am really grateful to be able to work," he said. 

"When I fully lost my sight I was told that I was permanently unemployable, which I mean wouldn't make anyone feel good." 

Roche was born with sight but slowly lost it over the course of his childhood, so he learned from a young age not to take moments for granted and to make the best out of life. 

Outside of stand-up, the Cambridge comedian also volunteers as a massage therapist for veterans, and a martial arts instructor for disabled children. 

"Being able to give back and share my experience with others is something that I will always be proud of," he said. "My son was in the armed forces so it kinda hits close to home for me." 

Creating spaces where everyone is accepted and helping others overcome their own obstacles is all Roche wants to accomplish at the end of the day.

He said at 54, he's been in the game for long enough and wants to start getting the recognition he feels he deserves. 

"When I go up, I mean I do really good, so I want to be able to spread my message more and find my voice," he added. "I think this is what I was born to do and everything happens for a reason. To go from paralympic downhill skier to comedian is a huge jump and it's not on accident." 

Roche plans to go back to Canada's Got Talent and prove to the judges how bad he wants this.

His goal is to give a shout out for Cambridge and the region, and eventually put the city on the map of comedy hot-spots. 

Starting on Dec. 8 Roche will be performing at Crazy Canucks in Kitchener and then on Dec. 11 at Four Fathers Brewing in Hespeler. 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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