Deaf Pueblo West comedian makes 'life changing' appearance on 'America's Got Talent' – Pueblo Chieftain
A Pueblo West comedian is back at home on the farm, fresh off performances on the international stage of “America’s Got Talent” where millions of people watched the deaf performer fulfill a dream.
Hayden Kristal, 28, who doesn’t shy away from poking fun about being deaf, gave two standup comedy performances — an audition and live performance — both of which aired on the 17th season of the popular NBC reality show. Although Kristal didn’t move on to the finals, the experience was a win for the budding comedian.
Already an accomplished public speaker who works comedy into every performance, Kristal actually gave their first-ever standup comedy performance while going through the process of auditioning for “America’s Got Talent” a year ago. As a person who is transgender and bisexual, Kristal prefers the pronouns they and them.
From the stages in Los Angeles where Kristal auditioned for the celebrity judges to Las Vegas, where they gave a semifinals live performance, Kristal drank in the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Every second I spent there, for me, was a confidence boost, knowing the work it took to get there and being able to honor those who put their faith in me,” Kristal said while flashing a big smile. “The biggest life-changing thing for me was being on a stage in a theater with my name up there in lights and knowing all the terrible bar shows and late night gigs had paid off.”
The national exposure did not lead to “instant rags to riches,” Kristal said, but the people they met and befriended among their fellow contestants were priceless. Kristal hopes professional opportunities will grow out of the experience.
“What a cool thing to do, what an unbelievable experience and I will always be able to look back and say I did that. I get to take that confidence with me that I got on the stage and millions of people saw me — that’s always going to be mine,” Kristal said.
In their first performance, Kristal spoke about applying to work at the KoKo Foundation inspired by a deaf gorilla, but the foundation rejected them due to their hearing loss.
“They told me I was a liability because if the gorilla were to sneak up on me I would not be able to hear it,” Kristal explained in their set.
Kristal then asked the hearing audience, “What all are y’all going to do different if a gorilla sneaks up on you? DM (message) me after the show. I would just love to know what y’all are going to do with your two-second head start,” the comedian said, prompting plenty of laughter from the judges and audience.
More on Hayden Kristal:Horsing around: Deaf Pueblo West comedian brings the funny to the farm
The performance on the show was bittersweet. Although Kristal won a green light from all the judges and a pass to the Las Vegas live semifinals, the one judge they were most looking forward to meeting — Howie Mandel — was absent due to illness.
The producer Kristal worked with got the idea to film contestants peeking out from behind the curtain and lamenting about Mandel’s absence as a way to let the viewers know he wasn’t there. Kristal took the idea a step further the next day and created a hilarious video of the search to find him in Los Angeles.
“I still don’t think he’s seen it yet,” Kristal told the Chieftain. “Everyone watch it and tag him in it and maybe he’ll get to see it.”
After doing all the, “Where’s Howie” skits, Kristal said, “he became a huge day-to-day fixture in my life,” until finally, they got to meet him after the second performance in Las Vegas.
“I was so excited. He was so spectacularly kind and encouraging,” Kristal said.
That second of Kristal’s performances focused on their four dogs — three of whom are deaf.
“I’ve got to maintain my brand,” Kristal joked. The judges gave the comedian positive feedback and “were lovely,” Kristal said, even Simon Cowell — who can be particularly blunt — “was so kind to me, inspirational and helpful.”
Because the stage lights were so bright, Kristal couldn’t see the audience. When they watched the performance later on television, Kristal was touched that members of the audience were raising two hands in the air and shaking them back and forth, the sign language version of clapping.
After that, audience votes determined who went on to the next round. Kristal did not get enough votes to move on.
“A comedian has never won ‘America’s Got Talent’ and I don’t think a comedian is ever going to win. I hope I am proven wrong, but it’s hard to compete with the knife throwers, dance acts and performers with pyrotechnics,” Kristal said.
Since “America’s Got Talent,” Kristal has performed at comedy shows like the High Plains Comedy Festival in Denver where they heard from audience members who said they loved seeing the show. Kristal also did voice work and guest signing for a deaf character on Seasons 2 and 3 of “Tuca and Bertie,” an animated show that airs on Adult Swim.
Being able to sign for a deaf character was especially touching for the comedian.
”I’ve got a ton of nice messages from people all over the world. And I am told when ‘America’s Got Talent’ goes into syndication it will be seen in many more countries,” Kristal said, so more fans are on the horizon.
The “America’s Got Talent” run may be over but now Kristal is in the process of applying to other countries’ “Got Talent” shows in English-speaking countries like Canada and the United Kingdom.
“I didn’t know you could do that. I have sent them my ‘America’s Got Talent’ tapes so I hope that it is not going to read as obnoxious,” Kristal joked.
Reflecting on their appearance on the show from the front porch of their Pueblo West farm, decked out in a dog-fur speckled sweatshirt decorated with three horses, Kristal said they’re thankful for a quiet space to come home to after many days performing on the road.
The self-described people loving extrovert said it’s “really nice to step out of that to come back and spend some time here and breathe.”
For now, Kristal is preparing to go back on the road for public speaking and standup comedy gigs. The comedian said they are open to performing locally, too.
Kristal can be reached via social medial pages on Facebook, TikTok and Instagram.
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Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business news. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.