A genetic condition that has often been a challenge for Ben Simcoe of Abbotsford has also spurred a unique talent.
The 25-year-old is gaining attention for his impressions of characters from the Batman movies, TV shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy, and celebrities including Ozzy Osbourne, Jim Carrey and Chris Rock.
He has more than 100 voices in his repertoire, and has performed his 15-minute show at venues throughout the Fraser Valley.
Ben’s mom, Debby Simcoe, said what’s astounding about her son being able to get up on stage and perform for an audience is that he has Fragile X syndrome, which results in developmental delays, can be a cause of autism and leads to problems with socialization.
But he’s learned to work with these challenges, she said.
“He knows how to compensate in amazing ways.”
Debby said that, as a child, Ben was prone to outbursts of anger and impulsive behaviour, and would sometimes blurt out names and phrases at inappropriate times.
Other kids sensed there was something different about him, and they would tease him.
Debby began home-schooling him when he was in Grade 3, and Ben was given an official diagnosis at age 13.
Debby said Ben’s talent for impressions cropped up at an early age, when he would mimic the characters he saw in movies and on TV. This form of sound repetition can be a characteristic of Fragile X – particularly in males – and has also been exhibited by Ben in his talent for music, such as playing the drums and guitar.
At first, Ben’s knack for impressions merely entertained family and friends. It became something more serious after Debby and her husband, Rod, were trying to find something else for Ben to do after the grocery-delivery business they started for him didn’t work out.
One day while the family was driving somewhere, Debby turned to Ben and asked him what he would like to do next. Carpentry? Lawn mowing?
Then it hit her: “Ben, would you like to be an entertainer?”
The excited look on her son’s face said it all. When they got home, they made a list of all the voices Ben could do, and came up with 80.
Among them were several characters from The Simpsons animated series, including Homer, Krusty the Clown, and Patty and Selma.
“I love The Simpsons. They’re my favourite. I like it how they talk, how they say different phrases,” Ben said.
They developed a routine, which included a drum performance that Ben had learned from a YouTube video of the Blue Man Group.
His first big show was in 2008 at the annual Celebrate Mission event, and he has since performed at numerous venues and events such as Lafflines Comedy Club in New Westminster, seniors’ home, and this year’s United Way Spirit Awards, where he received a standing ovation.
It didn’t take long for Ben to learn how much he enjoys performing.
“I enjoy seeing the audience – seeing everyone listen to me. It’s huge,” he said.
Ben’s show no longer includes instruments – “We eventually decided to stop dragging the drums around,” Debby said – but does feature some music. He closes his routine with his impression of Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World.
Debby is now trying to book Ben some out-of-town performances – preferably, somewhere that requires flying because Ben loves planes.
“That’s just something that entertainers do – they go on the road,” Debby laughed.
For more information about Ben, visit his website bensimcoe.ca.
WHAT IS FRAGILE X SYNDROME?
– FXS, first known as Martin-Bell syndrome, is the most common form of mental impairment, affecting one in 4,000 boys and one in 6,000 girls.
– It is caused by a defect in a gene in the X chromosome in which the gene shuts down and cannot manufacture the protein it normally makes. That protein is vital for normal brain development and functioning.
– Symptoms can include: intellectual impairment, delayed and abnormal speech, autism in 20 to 25 per cent of those with FXS, anxiety and unstable moods, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Source: Fragile X Research Foundation of Canada