The jokes keep flying about John Travolta butchering singer Idina Menzel’s name when he introduced her Sunday night at the Academy Awards. But KIRO Radio’s John Curley says it’s no laughing matter to dyslexics like him.
When Travolta called Menzel “Adele Dazeem,” it sparked a flurry of Internet memes and even prompted the creation of an online name generator to get your own name Travolta-ized.
“If people found out he was dyslexic or knew that he had a learning disability, they probably would not be so quick to make fun,” says Curley. “I would hope that would be the case.”
It’s unclear whether Travolta actually has dyslexia. There are no reports of him discussing it publicly like other actors, including Tom Cruise, Henry Winkler and Danny Glover. So while some are saying he’s fair game, others, including Curley, say even if it’s just a possibility, give the guy a break.
“It’s terrible,” Curley says of the ridicule that often comes in school and elsewhere from jumbling words and names. “I’m coming to his defense as a fellow dyslexic and I think if people knew they would be less likely to jump on him, they wouldn’t be so fast to make fun of him.”
Curley talks often on the air about the challenges he still faces on a daily basis, especially getting names right. To this day, he still jumbles even co-host Tom Tangney’s name with some frequency.
“The words go into your head, then they’re transferred over to another part of your brain where they’re made, sort of put into position, and then you speak them. But when it comes to names, especially phonetically, you just don’t get it”
Curley has come up with a number of strategies over the years to combat it. But he admits his biggest trick is simple deception. Whenever he emcee’s an event, he builds up the introduction and tries to get the crowd applauding loud enough that he can just bury the name under the clapping. It’s a move noted Seattle broadcaster and Curley friend Mike West calls “Brokawing,” in honor of former network news anchor Tom Brokaw.
“He should have “Brokawed it,” Curley says of Travolta. “Whip them into a frenzy, then you get the first name and then lean back on the second one,” he laughs.
In all seriousness, Curley says he hopes the talk of dyslexia will at least give people pause before they make fun of someone for jumbling a name. But given the reaction, it’s safe to say the pot shots will continue.
Listen to Curley’s defense of Travolta and his experiences with dyslexia here: