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National honour for Roberts Creek funny man with a message

'When I get up on stage, people see someone who is different and whose disfigurement is very pronounced come out and be totally self-confident and funny,' says newly minted Order of Canada recipient David Roche
David Roche
Roberts Creek's David Roche was appointed a member of the Order of Canada Dec. 29.

Roberts Creek resident, humorist and performer David Roche is looking forward to celebrating his 78th birthday in January as a member of the Order of Canada. On Dec. 29, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon announced his appointment along with the selection of 134 other Canadians for this honour.

Roche was recognized for “his pioneering contributions to the field of disability art, and for promoting acceptance, inclusion and diversity across Canada and the United States," in a press release from the Governor General’s office.

Roche, who was born with a condition that affects his facial appearance, spoke with the Coast Reporter about his work and how he connects with audiences. “Everybody feels disfigured in some way,” he said. “That can be on the outside or on the inside. It can be remarkable or it can be basically unseeable.

“When I get up on stage, people see someone who is different and whose disfigurement is very pronounced come out and be totally self-confident and funny.”

Roche’s unique look was the result of a vascular malformation on the left side of his face and neck. In his childhood, he underwent several surgeries and rounds of radiation therapy that caused further physical scarring. 

Roche started performing 33 years ago without formal training. The goal was to show others “someone who looks different and feels good about themselves” and he drew inspiration from his life experiences. That launched a successful midlife career switch – to performer and keynote speaker – for the Canadian who was living in California at the time. Included in his second career were performances at the Clinton White House and the 2000 summer Olympics Arts Festival in Sydney, Australia.

In 2008, his first book, The Church of 80% Sincerity, was published. His one-man show based on that work toured the U.S., Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia and Russia.

A Coast resident for the past 17 years, Roche points to the Gumboot Café as one of his favourite local performance venues. There, he helped establish the monthly “Creative in the Creek” events. These were started to keep his own on-stage skills sharp but have morphed into an opportunity for others to showcase their talents.

Roche said he has also performed at every school on the Sunshine Coast. He and his wife of 25 years, Marlena Blavin, developed a work entitled “Love at Second Sight” which has toured more than 100 schools across North America. This performance piece aims to transform attitudes about appearance and encourage students to accept themselves and others, using their relationship as an example. Like many performers, Roche and Blavin have moved that work online to to share it with a wider audience.

When asked about plans for future performances given his recent national recognition, Roche said at this point in his life he wants to remain Coast-based. “This is a wonderful place to live as people here see each other as human beings. I want applause and laughter, but I don’t want to have to travel to Winnipeg to get it.”

The Order of Canada recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Since its establishment in 1967, more than 7,000 people have been inducted into the Order.