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Interviews, Recommendations, and More

The Chat with David Roche

Roche, David by Kim Komenich

David Roche’s new book Standing at the Back Door of Happiness (Harbour Publishing) is a powerful meditation on how we learn to come deeper into relationship with ourselves, through grace and maturity. A popular motivational speaker and entertainer, David’s latest essay collection brims with humour and compassion.

Bestselling author Anne Lamott says "This new book by David Roche, like all his work, is brilliant, illuminated, painful, wise, encouraging and funny. The stories in Standing at the Back Door of Happiness, about his facial deformity side by side with his rich inner beauty and joy in living, filled my heart and soul with a deep compassion for myself, and for you, whoever you are."

David Roche has taken his one-man show, The Church of 80% Sincerity, on tour across the world, performing from Sydney to Moscow, London to Los Angeles, and even at the White House. He has also had several roles in films and documentaries. A recent recipient of the Order of Canada, Roche is also a volunteer for the Sunshine Coast Hospice in British Columbia. With his partner, Marlena, he leads storytelling and writing workshops, inspiring others to voice their own stories. Roche lives in Roberts Creek, BC. His website is


Standing at the Back Door of Happiness contains stories from across the lifespan—early childhood memories, coming-of-age tales, and stories about becoming an elder and mentor. How does it feel to see these various works come together into a book?

The book is simply a compilation of stories/essays I wrote over a period of time. There was really no sense of purpose outside of creating in the moment.

One of the great themes of the book is your own personal journey towards grace and self-acceptance, a message you share in your work as a motivational speaker and facilitator. How do you understand grace and why is it such an important theme for you?

Wow, great question. Growing up as a Catholic child, I attended Our Lady of Grace school, where I was very encouraged. I was told, for example, that I was a child of God and that I was a soul. Now I never fully understood those statements, but I found them very positive and helpful. Also there was no teasing ever allowed at that school. I think that was the beginning of recognizing and appreciating grace. I like it because it is a sort of spiritual concept that very many people from various religious/spiritual traditions can relate to (although clearly with varying definitions).

There was no teasing ever allowed at that school. I think that was the beginning of recognizing and appreciating grace.

So when I use the word "grace" in my talks, it has a universal meeting that many people can relate to.  It also amazes me what I have done in my life. For example: co-founder of the Childcare Switchboard/Single Parent Resource Center of San Francisco – we started this as hippies, the Ford Foundation found and funded us after a few years and we became a national model. Similarly, I was one of the co-founders of the first massage therapy program in a hospital in the United States. And then a pioneer in disability arts. I look back and wonder how these things happened when I did not have the intentions of doing them. I turn to grace as an answer. Or you could say I am blessed. I wish I had a better explanation.

You write as well about living with a vascular malformation in your face, both its emotional and physical toll and also how it has served as “incredible gift” in your life. For folks who haven’t read the book, can you talk more about the ways the condition has been a gift in your journey?

It became a gift, especially when I got on stage. It took me a couple of years to realize that I was gifted, funny, etc. on stage. And a couple more years to realize that everyone feels disfigured. We all (you all!) have some part of ourselves, whether physical, mental, emotional where we feel inferior. Or more correctly, that feeling of inferiority/disfigurement/disability is encouraged by forces that want to make money off of that self-judgment.

So when I stand on stage with a fairly gross facial difference, and I am funny and charming and (dare I say it?) cute, audiences relate to my presence (even though they might not realize it in the moment) because of their own self-judgment. And my energy helps them. Looking at it from a slightly different angle, I believe that those of us with a facial difference are gifted with a better understanding of the human condition because we are guided to look inside ourselves for true beauty. This often translates into openheartedness and empathy.

I believe that those of us with a facial difference are gifted with a better understanding of the human condition because we are guided to look inside ourselves for true beauty.

Many of the formative pieces in the book explore your time in San Francisco—as a volunteer for community organizations, as a member in a radical left-wing political movement, and as a caregiver. At some point, the backdrop of your work shifts to Canada (and the Sunshine Coast, where you live). What inspired your move to Canada and what has the transition to Canada been like for you?

My dad was born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, and so I, as part of the first generation after him, am a citizen of Canada. Then as I performed in Canada, I grew more and more attracted to the country and culture. And by culture I am referring to not only “settler” culture but also very much the Indigenous culture which is very significant on the Sunshine Coast of BC where we live.

I was featured in the NFB film Shameless: The Art of Disability (directed by Bonnie Klein!) which was mostly shot on the Sunshine Coast and I fell in love with the people and the beauty of the temperate rain forest. (That changed a bit when I got my wallet stolen in a Tim Hortons in Vancouver). Also, realistically, at that time the cost of housing was skyrocketing in San Francisco (just as it is here now on the Sunshine Coast).

There’s so much division, polarization, and exhaustion in the world right now. It often feels like we’ve lost touch with the simple magic of being present for one another. What impact do you hope your memoir has on readers?

You know, this book is part and parcel of what I have been and done in the last 33 years, and for that matter, my whole life. I did not write it with the intention of having a certain impact, though I know that it will have one.

I guess I am hoping that readers will feel two things: 1) empowered by my example of finding self-worth and confidence inside myself and 2) having found such, moved to make a difference in the world at some level.




I have long been able to ignore the fact that I have a pronounced facial difference. Most mornings, I don’t even bother looking in the mirror. That’s what is called denial. Which, for a long, long time, functioned as my version of self-acceptance.

Not long ago, something very different happened. I was learning to video blog and exulting in my new technological sophistication when I saw myself fifteen inches away on my computer screen. A tight shot of my face. All of a brutal sudden I saw myself as others see me when they see me for the first time. With an emotional wrench, I saw myself in all my defective glory.

At first, I did not actually see myself. I did not even recognize what I saw as a human face. I could only focus on one part of what I was looking at. It was like viewing a Picasso painting. The parts did not fit together. A crooked mouth, bulging left cheek, eye too large. A nose in the middle (ah, a familiar reference point). Then the mouth again—askew, chinless. The eye, spotted, like a dog’s. Colours as askew as the features. Each part weird, not fitting into a whole. I slipped into a strange combination of attention-deficit and obsessive-compulsive disorders. I had a vague sense of panic. My breathing became shallow, fast. I began to understand that what I was seeing was claiming to be a face, making some sort of crude false attempt to be a face. Distorted, bulging in some places, gaunt in others. I was being forced to believe by this strange thing that it was a face. I was revolted and frightened.

At first I did not know what was behind that face. I certainly did not see it as myself.

Within seconds I became aware that I was looking at my own face. Repulsive. Disgusting. A shock wave went through me. This all took about ten seconds.

When I saw myself, the shame that had been waiting so long, so silently, drenched me. Long-suppressed feelings, dark, inchoate, came pouring out and overwhelmed me. I could not continue blogging. I erased what I had done but could not erase the feelings.

I was ashamed of my shame and did not want to talk about it. A few days later, I was with my writing group, people with whom I had been creative, whom I trusted. I told a lovely co-writer what had happened. I was surprised to hear her say,

      “Oh, I feel that way every morning.”

      “Really? Really?”

      “Oh, yes.”

      Marlena told me, “Honey, lots of people feel that way. You’ve been lucky in that you really have found your inner beauty.”

Oh yes, I thought. That’s right. I forgot that I tell audiences I had to work hard to find my inner beauty. Now I was not sure about that, I was still in shock, even with the kind emotional support from Marlena and friends.

After a few days, the shame and self-pity began to ease. I remembered how many people had confided in me about similar feelings after my performances. I remembered all the ways in which people experience themselves as disfigured.

Those of us who are seen as disabled or in any way inferior—by dint of ethnicity or class or whatever—know what it takes to build and nurture internal strength in the face of the distorted perceptions of others. Is it difficult? Oh yes, often. But you’ve got to.

Out of my shame, my inner darkness, grew glimmers of understanding. How did that happen? I don’t know.

It was hard to believe at the time, but my YouTube encounter with my own face and flaws gave me greater empathy for others—and for myself as well. Now I am better at looking in the mirror.

Excerpted from “Picasso” in Standing at the Back Door of Happiness by David Roche. (Harbour Publishing, 2024). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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