BY Ross von Metzke
January 05 2010 7:05 PM ET
When Michael Chase DiMartino started posting his intricately choreographed and stage sign language interpretations of popular songs on YouTube, it was an after-hours hobby he did for fun. But his video for Britney Spears’s “Womanizer” wound up on the pop star’s website, and theater companies and charity fund-raisers started pursuing the 25-year-old performer and sign language interpreter for professional gigs.
Now DiMartino is back with his latest video (Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”) and his first single as a singer (“Nasty Habit,” recorded under his stage name, Chase). The Brooklyn, N.Y., native sat down with Advocate.com to talk about skimpy costumes, antigay bigotry, and the YouTube comment that almost ruined his annual work review.
Advocate.com: You’re a stage performer, a musician, and a sign language interpreter. What inspired you to combine all three?
Michael DiMartino: I felt that singing has always been the greatest form for me to express myself, and with my hands, it was an equal form of venting and expressing. I did a talent show when I was in the interpreting program, and it completely changed my mind about music in terms of how it could be received, by a hearing or a deaf person. Both languages are so expressive, when you put them together, it’s a ka-pow!
What led you to go into sign language interpretation?
I could not roll my r’s in Spanish [laughs]. Basically, I needed a language requirement in college, and I just fell in love with it.
So much so that it became your major?
Yeah, so much so that I left the college that taught the classes and I went into an interpreting program trade school and then, from there, took it to the performance arena.
And you do this as your day job too?
Yeah, I work every day, from 8 to 4, full-time job for a woman. I’m her personal interpreter. Through the day I’ll interpret any kind of meetings, any interactions she has with consumers. And, you know, interpreting goes both ways — it goes between the hearing person and the deaf person. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes we have like 15 meetings a day and there’s eight people to each meeting. So it gets kind of overwhelming. You need an ice pack at the end of the day.
What is the first song you interpreted and posted on YouTube?
“Gold Digger” — Kanye West.
And then “Womanizer” is when people really started to sit up and take notice.
“Womanizer” was posted on Britney Spears’s website. That’s when people said, “Oh, shit, look at this.”
Were you shocked by all the attention?
Shocked is not the word ... [laughs]. We do annual reviews at my job, and I have to interpret, literally, from 8 to 4 that day. I was sitting in this huge conference room and we had all these tables set up. I got a comment and my phone vibrated and it says, “Britney Spears posted this on her website. Awesome job.” I screamed in the middle of the room. Everyone’s quiet, talking over their paperwork, and I scream out, “Oh, my God.” I pulled it up on my phone and there's my picture there. Apparently a deaf woman — a deaf fan of Britney Spears — contacted Britney or her camp and said, “Look at this.” And so they put it up. It was really exciting.