Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chicago Panel: "Four Women Talk About Being Funny"

Thanks to Carlin for passing this on! [Editors note: sorry about the unannounced hiatus in posting... we're back in the fray!]
From the Chicago Humanities Festival website:

What do funny and feminine and feminist have to do with each other? Anything? A lot? Four influential women in Chicago’s theater scene talk about what they’ve learned about being funny. With experiences—some funny, some not—in writing, directing, improvising, and acting, their conversation may range far and wide in search of what role gender plays in delivering and receiving humor, or if gender plays a role at all. Martha Lavey, ensemble member and artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre, will moderate the roundtable discussion, which will include Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, actor and director of 500 Clown; Tanya Saracho, writer, actor, and founding artistic director of Teatro Luna; and Lauren Katz, founding member of ED, a long-form improv group born in Chicago.

Francis W Parker School
2233 N Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614

Adults: $5.00
Educators & Students: FREE

Sat, Nov. 14 10:30 - 11:30 AM

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

GroupThink Update: The Interview

Wisecrack sits down with Wendy Rosoff and Angela Espinosa of GroupThink.

Plus, the newest GroupThink Glimpse:

Monday, September 21, 2009

30 Rock Takes Home More Emmys

30 Rock, once again, won Outstanding Comedy at the Emmys (for the third consecutive year). On top of that, 30 Rock's Alec Baldwin won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, 30 Rock writer Matt Hubbard took Outstanding Comedy Writing (in the outstanding writing category, four out of the five nominees were 30 Rock episodes). Fey also snagged the Best Guest Actress in a Comedy for her SNL Palin portrayals last fall.

Other notable wins:

Toni Collette took home Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for The United States of Tara (extended props to creator Diablo Cody).

Glenn Close won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Damages.

Kristin Chenoweth, of Pushing Daisies won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What We're Watching: GroupThink

Angela Espinosa and Wendy Rosoff are the brilliant minds behind the self-produced online sketch comedy show GroupThink. I'm honestly not sure which is better, the writing of this show or their wonderfully nuanced delivery. Check out all their videos (and subscribe) over here.

The latest episode (but do yourself a favor and check out the others):

Despite the radically different format, they remind me of Chicago's own Money Kids (okay, now in New York). And not just because they're a brilliant two-woman sketch group. Because every once in a while, a duo comes along with such great chemistry that half of the fun is just watching them have fun:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Congratulations to Marina Franklin

Seeing as she is three things this blog loves (hilarious, from Chicago, a woman), Wisecrack has previously big-upped Marina Franklin on several occasions for her continued commitment to awesome. So it was with that thrill of excitement/arrogance that comes when the rest of the world realizes something you always knew to be true that we read that Ms. Franklin will be working as a "comic correspondent" on Jay Leno's new show.

From Chicago Now:
Chicago is killing the game, comedy-wise of late. First, Hannibal Buress -- local stand-up star-- gets the call to join "SNL" to be a writer.

Now, we've gotten word that Marina Franklin, another Windy Town native, has landed a gig on the new "Jay Leno Show." She, along with a list of comics including DL Hughley, will serve as a comic correspondent on the show that debuts on Sept. 14.

Yessssss. I'm pretty dubious about the prospects of Leno's new show, especially considering that it's a big fuck-you to Conan O'Brien, and also that Leno's a huge hack, but with Franklin on board, there's a chance it could actually be worth watching. Plus, good for her and all that.

Here's Franklin on YouTube:

Thanks to Chicago Now.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Agorafabulous! An Interview with Sara Benincasa

In the next on our continuing series of awesome fucking interviews with awesome fucking comedians, Wisecrack sat down with comedian, writer, and talk-show host Sara Benincasa in advance of her September 19th one-woman show at Chicago's Playground Theater.

Benincasa has been a fixture in New York comedy circles for the last few years, ever since the debut of her talk show "Tub Talk With Sara B." on, wherein she interviewed comedians and humorists in her bathtub. Seriously, who doesn't like half-naked comedians?

Since then, she's been working steadily, if not furiously, developing two one-woman shows, hosting Cosmo's "Get in Bed" sex advice show on Sirius Radio, and, most notoriously, skewering Sarah (with an "H!") Palin in a series of YouTube "vlogs" that eventually merited an interview with Jeanne Moos for Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room on CNN. She will be in Chicago on September 19th, performing her most recent show, "Agorafabulous," at The Playground Theater.

I figured I’d start with the heavy stuff. What fascinates me most about your career is your transition from anxiety and mental illness to performance. Could you tell me a little bit about how that came about?

Good question. I recognize that it seems sort of…there was a lot that went into it, there were many years of hard work that went into being able to leave my house (laughs). There was a bad bout of agoraphobia. I had trouble with panic attacks for a long time, starting when I was about ten years old. It didn’t pose a debilitating problem until I was in high school. Nothing that I couldn’t manage. It happened in a big way for the first time when I was 18; [Agorafabulous] talks about what happened when I was 21. When it became actually debilitating was when I was 21 in college, when I had a nervous breakdown. I wasn’t doing normal things like showering, leaving the room, things like that. That was the lowest point for me (I’m 28 now). So what happened then is my parents came and got me and I started doing intensive cognitive behavioral therapy. Basically, reprogramming yourself when you’ve been programmed with ideas that are going to hurt you. Cognitive behavioral therapy is for people that suffer from anxiety from all levels. Because you get actual homework, and you practice things you’re afraid of, you take baby steps, like in What About Bob, except Bill Murray isn’t there. Richard Dreyfuss helped me a lot. We’re married now.

So I started some intensive therapy. But then I started doing more real world things, got a job, applied to college. I’ve been doing therapy on and off since then. I think I’ve probably had four solidly healthy years since I was 24; the years from 21 to 24 were a building process.

I was not a performer at the time, and the way I became one was I went to grad school for a high school education degree, and I was unhappy, and a friend from Comedy Central told me I was funny and I should go into comedy. I started to do it to blow off steam in 2006, and I completed my masters and didn’t want to teach, so I began performing at nights, and doing pretty well, and then I got in the tub for Nerve, and then the radio show, and suddenly I’ve been making a real living at comedy for a year now.

Would you say your experiences with mental illness and your work in comedy are related? Do they draw on each other?

I actually found [performance] to be really liberating and exciting. I still have agoraphobic tendencies; it’s just managed. When I was 21 or 23 I was suicidal, and what I took from those experiences was a deep gratitude at being alive, and I wanted to just fucking do things before my time is done. And when my friend recommended comedy to me, it seemed like something to do while I have time. A lot of shit that I do is based around the fact that I want to be an interesting grandmother, so I can tell my grandkids how cool I was. A lot of stuff that I do is really interesting and exciting, I tell myself in New York that a long time ago “You peed in cereal bowls because you were too scared to leave the room and you slept for sixteen hours.” So since I’ve beat that, I can look at that and say, “performing isn’t as bad as that; you can do this.” In a way, it’s affirming to tell stories on a stage and be a human instead of being a doll.

So, does the humor function as a sort of therapy, or is it like a new phase in your life?

I think it’s both. I don’t use performance as therapy; I pay someone for that. I have seen performers who use it as therapy, and I think it does a disservice to the audience. You didn’t pay to see these people do therapy, and whine and shriek at the audience. I mostly do political stuff, and I try and make my show funny.

On the other hand, comedy was once a therapy. Things I’d do when I was in my house for 16 hours, I’d watch these shows with Margaret Cho and John Leguizamo and I’d listen to their CDs, and it made me feel like maybe, one day, things would be better. And I didn’t know I wanted to be a performer, but it showed me there was a way out of this shit, so now I want to be one of those voices to show that fucked up shit is something to escape, and so I created Agorafabulous to show what can be done.

You mentioned doing political stuff; would you say you’re a feminist comedian?

Feminism is woven into what I do. As a female performer you have to work hard to prove that you’re funny.

How do you do that? How do you work hard?

First of all, I deal with it by not talking about my period. Well, I think the way to deal with it is by being one hundred percent fucking funny. If your period is hilarious to you, then do some shit about it.

Understand that even though you have a vajayjay, and most people in comedy don’t have a vajayjay, you can talk about all kinds of things. I talk abut being crazy, you can talk about anything under the sun. As a female some people are going to have preconceived notions about who you are and what you’re going to do. Someone that doesn’t think bitches are funny isn’t going to change their mind, so I don’t worry about them. On the other hand, I love doing women’s shows, but I don’t want to get pegged doing women’s shows.

There’s a lot of casual misogyny in comedy because most male comedians were losers in high school and never got fucked in high school so as a female you have to deal with that, that you’re telling jokes to people that didn’t get fucked.

I should revise that: most comedians I know, male and female, are funny, smart, guarded, nerdy, and with good hearts. But you do meet those douchebags that resent that you’re a girl. When I was doing my Sarah Palin bits during the election, I got interviewed on CNN, and some guy told me, “Yeah, if I had tits like that I d get interviewed on CNN too.” What? I’m on CNN because I’m doing good comedy.

But I think most of the time, the takeaway pint is that sexism is there, but you can’t blame sexism if you don’t get cast in a certain part or you don’t get in a club. You just need to work with that and live with it. And sometimes it’s because you weren’t fucking funny, like you bombed. And sometimes it’s not because you were a girl.

Have there ever been instances where it’s something you have had to work through, where there’s been a rough show because of the attitude of the audience or other comedians?

I don’t think it’s something I have to work past. With certain crowds, that are full of bachelor parties, you’re gonna have to work for it a bit and these douchebags may turn into the best crowd you’ve ever had. But most mixed crowds, they just want to see you do your thing. If there’s a really hostile crowd, if there’s one drunk guy, that’s just going to happen.

No I don’t’ think female comedians have to prove anything extra unless the audience is soulless douchebags (brodogs, who read Maxim and join fraternities). Generally speaking, though, funny is funny is funny and they’ll put away whatever prejudice they have.

Have you ever found the opposite to be true, where the difficulties you faced become an asset?

I think it’s a real asset. Most comics you talk to, if you get past their exterior most of them have had some great difficulty whether they’ve dealt with racism or sexism or the death of their parents or a learning disability. There’s usually a reason people develop a sense of humor, and a lot times that reason is defensive. In comedy, you have a lot of former (or current) fat kids because they had to learn to deflect taunts with funny shit. I think it is an asset, some degree of fucked-upedness can be a source of great comedy.

On the other hand, I know a guy who’s super, super normal, who had a nice, easy upbringing, and is really happy, and a great comedian. But supernormal guy is really funny, because his life has been so normal he feels weird around his comedian friends.

So have you ever been to Chicago? What do you love about the city?

I have been to Chicago twice before, my best friend Alexandra Fox used to manage the Funky Buddha and perform at Second City. I loved it there and so I’m really excited to get to go and hang out in Chicago while it’s warm. I was just telling this gay British kid that Chicago is where you find the best comedy in the country. That’s where the best experimental genius shit is happening. I’m humbled to get to perform there with these geniuses.

Audiences are also more vocal and willing to laugh in Chicago. Oh, and Chicago also has really good hot dogs so I’m looking forward to that, too.

Oh, and before that, I used to be a competitive baton twirler. I was on the 1994 champion baton squad at the world championships in South Bend. We won.

What was that called?

Uhhhh. America’s Youth on Parade. (laughs).


Where to Catch "AGORAFABULOUS":

9/12- New York, 10pm, Switzerland Neutral Comedy ANNIVERSARY SHOW, Sage Theater

9/19- Chicago, 10pm, The Playground Theater GET TICKETS

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Comedian Sarah Millican on Edinburgh Comedy Awards lack of female nominees

The reason I wasn't selected is nothing to do with my gender. It's also not because my show isn't good. It's that it wasn't what the judges were looking for this year.

Last year, when I was nominated alongside Pippa Evans and Mike Wozniak for the best newcomer award, no one wondered why there was only one man. Is it that men just aren't very good at writing their first show? No, it's because the shows that Pippa, Mike and I wrote were popular among a group of people who happened to be judges.

Genuinely, if I had been on the list this year and had heard a whisper that I was there because of box-ticking tokenism, I would have wanted to be removed from the list. I am not female: I am a comedian. I want to be judged alongside other comedians on merit, not on gender.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More Humor Research: Aggression and Joking

Photo by JoF

German scholars have published a study in the Journal of Pragmatics stating that humor plays a significant role in establishing social hierarchy.

This study basically reiterates what feminist humor scholars have been saying all along: The power dynamics of gender dictate and guide the use of humor. From Ben Leach's great piece in the Telegraph:

The theory explains why until recently it has been extremely rare for women to tell jokes in front of men, according to Helga Kotthoff of the Frieburg University of Education.

She said: "Those 'on top' are freer to make others laugh. They are also freer to be more aggressive and a lot of what is funny is making jokes at someone else's expense.

"Displaying humour means taking control of the situation from those higher up the hierarchy and this is risky for people of lower status, which before the 1960s meant women rarely made other people laugh - they couldn't afford to.

"Comedy and satire are based on aggressiveness and not being nice," she said. "Until the 1960s it was seen as unladylike to be funny. But even now women tend to prefer telling jokes at their own expense and men tend to prefer telling jokes at other people's expense."
Throw other factors such as age and race into the mix, and you've got yourself a recipe for who and how humor is used among different groups to define social identity politics. These relationships aren't static- they shift and evolve. Just as joking can assert dominance and oppress others, it can renegotiate dynamics and empower marginalized groups.

What I like about this study is that it brings attention to the importance of power in comedy. Too often "joking" is quickly dismissed as trivial and irrelevant to real world issues. Studies like these help people take comedy's impact more seriously.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Diane Keaton Stars in Feminist Porn-Themed HBO Show

by Anna Piontek

Diane Keaton--beacon of civility, Oscar winner, and delight--is slated to star in a new HBO series about her starting a porn mag for women. The so-far-so-untitled show will be produced by Keaton and a production team consisting of Marti Noxon and Dawn Parouse Olmstead.

Marti Noxon, for anyone who gives a hoot, is a former Buffy writer, and apparently grew up with a radical feminist mama. The Hollywood Reporter does some apologies for this fact by cherry-picking this quote from Noxon: "I wanted to be a gal, I was very interested in men, and I wanted to shave my legs." PHEW! We don't want this show to be *too* feminist, do we? If her writing for Buffy is any indication of her skills, though, Noxon is as top-notch a feminist as Hollywood can offer.

Reports say that Keaton will be portraying a Steinem-like feminist helming the magazine in an effort to rouse the sleepy Second (or Third?) Wave masses. That's really all we know of the premise. I'm interested to see how they pull it off, since I personally do not believe that sexually objectifying men = feminism, but hey, that's just one school of thought. My hunch is that they're taking the sexual liberation = feminism angle, which is fine.

Other than that, I think know what you're thinking: Diane? In television? Isn't she too classy?

Just comfort yourself that it's HBO, where many things, such as polygamy (Big Love), male prostitution (Hung), 'fang banging' (True Blood) and other fantastic and/or subversive sexualities are allowed and welcomed in the network's series. So the writers of Keaton's show just might go interesting places. The magazine at the center of the series may even shed light on something pop culture rarely allows us to see or understand: women's sexuality. I'm crossing my fingers!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"All women doing comedy are making feminist comedy, whether they choose to define it that way or not": A Chat With Margaret Cho

By Carrie Callahan

Holy shit! Margaret Cho let us interview her! If you are interested in feminist comedy and don't know the work of Cho, I hope your friends make the effort to visit you under your rock. Cho has toured the country to critical acclaim and sell out crowds with no less than 5 one woman shows: I'm the One That I Want, Notorious C.H.O., Revolution, State of Emergency, Assassin, and most recently Beautiful. She has been a tireless fighter for equal rights, touring with the True Colors Tour raising money for the Human Rights Campaign, singing at anti Prop 8 rallies, and marrying same sex couples in San Francisco (during the couple months you could do that).
She starred in the groundbreaking show All-American Girl, which was one of the first and so far one of the few American tv shows with a predominantly Asian-American cast. Cho has been open about both the upsides and downsides of that experience, including the intense pressure producers put on her to lose weight and how that landed her in the hospital. It's fitting then that Cho has returned to TV on a show that puts the issue of the policing of women's bodies front and center: Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime, in which thin and conventionally gorgeous model Deb is killed in a car crash and comes back to life in the body of plus size smartypants lawyer Jane.
Cho was cool enough to share her thoughts with us on how women can conquer the comedy world even when it tries so hard to keep us out.

When did you discover you loved doing standup and what do you love about it?

I think when I was 7 or 8 years old and I was watching a Richard Pryor comedy special. My dad was a big comedy fan, and he loved Richard Pryor and George Carlin. I’d watch it with them and I didn’t really understand what was going on, but as soon as I saw it was making my dad laugh a lot, I sort of figured out what I was. I recognized it as something I was going to do. When I was a kid I had really vivid dreams about doing standup comedy, and it’s weird, sometimes when I’m onstage and I’m performing I really feel the memory of those dreams, like it was kind of a premonition of what I would eventually come to do when I was 16 years old. Even before that; when I was 14 or 15 I was going around to comedy clubs but I actually started working at comedy professionally at 16.
There’s a lot of things that I love about it. It is the job that I have to do. You’re a comic right? So you have to do it. When you think of something funny it’s like “oh you have to do this!”


I can’t not do this, I have to do this somehow, so you devise a way and that is anyone from an open mic-er to somebody like Joan Rivers. As soon as they think of something funny they have to do it onstage, they can’t wait.

What advice would you give to 15 year old Margaret Cho about her career coming up and what was going to face her?

That everything was going to turn out fine and not to worry about it. Because the comedy world is so male dominated, you really have to fight to get stage time, you have to fight to get support. That it’s not going to be easy but it’s going to be rewarding and it’s all going to be ok. When I started it was hard to break into this boy’s club, and standup comedy remains a boy’s club regardless of how many women are successful in it. The way the industry is set up it’s so much more supportive of the men than the women, so I think the most important thing as a female in comedy is to have your own support network that is not reliant upon the men in comedy that you’re coming into contact with. Another bit of advice would be to not listen to guys, because guys are mean about standup comedy and women. They’re just not supportive. So don’t listen to their criticism, don’t take their shit, and try not to have sex with all of them. I did that, but it’s hard not to do.

How do you build that support network?

I think it’s reaching out to female comics, befriending female comics, creating alliances with female comics, and making sure you build that community, which is what I did when I was starting. I built that community with people like Janeane Garofalo, and Kathy Griffin, and then people who were more established helped us a lot. People like Roseanne and Rosie O’Donnell both gave me and Janeane a big leg up when we were starting. The women in comedy generally need to be more supportive of each other. There’s a history of it, but there needs to be more.

What are you most excited about with being a part of Drop Dead Diva?

I love the show and the concept, and I think the acting is so good. I especially admire Brooke Elliott so much (who plays Jane/Deb). She’s so incredible. The writing is great. It’s the kind of show that I really believe in because it talks about these issues of women and their bodies and it’s very female supportive and female centric and I think it’s important to have images of real women out there. Even though it’s a fantastical premise for a show, it’s got the realest people, so I love that.

It’s striking how much of your career had been about visibility for people who are not represented on tv, and I was wondering when you realized that visibility was a political thing, that it was about who was in power?

I think that’s something I understood early on. Growing up as sort of a latchkey kid I watched a lot of television, television was sort of my babysitter, and so never seeing Asian-American people on tv was jarring. I realized when I was 5 or 6 that I wasn’t white and that really is weird, when you go, “Oh, I’m not white and I don’t see anybody like me out there at all;” that’s fucking weird. Especially when you want to go into a career like show business and then never seeing any images of yourself out there, it’s pretty hard to feel like you can actually accomplish anything, or get anything out there, or get anything done. Which is why I am so proud when I’m out doing comedy and Asian American comics and actors come up to me and say, “You’re the reason why I do this, because I saw you, and I felt so inspired, and I felt like it was possible.” That’s really important and if I can say, “oh this is my greatest achievement,” that would be it, that I gave other people the permission to do what they do. They saw my example and they followed it, and that’s the greatest thing I could have ever done.

That must be really hardcore to have that relationship with people.

It’s really good. It’s really empowering, for them and for me, I’m so happy and glad we’re able to have that.

I gotta think “Drop Dead Diva” is pretty special, that you aren’t approached by lots and lots of projects that promote visibility for people who don’t usually get it.


Are there more projects like this? What stops there being more inclusive projects in the entertainment?

I don’t know. Who knows? Because when you do see it it definitely becomes very popular. “Drop Dead Diva” is already a huge hit. It’s clear that there’s a need for this kind of programming and a need for this kind of visibility. I’m not sure. I just hope that Hollywood can catch up with this idea of doing things that are really needed.

Obviously you have a million years of career left, but how would you like to feel looking back on the entirety of your work?

That it was fun. That people laughed. It’s such a beautiful thing to make people laugh; it’s such a simple and beautiful pleasure. To continue to be relevant, and to be strong, and good. Ultimately, I just want to be a good comic. I think all comics, that’s our goal; we just want to be good. For comics it’s a very special definition, we all have our own definition of what that is.

What does your definition of good look like? Does it look like Richard Pryor or George Carlin or someone else?

It looks George Carlin, it looks like Richard Pryor, it looks like Roseanne. She’s so cool, she’s someone who has come back and done a bunch of different kinds of stuff. She’s incredible. Joan Rivers is the ultimate, because she’s got such a great work ethic, and she can do everything, she’s an icon. She’s 74 and she rocks it, the filthiest material- you can’t believe how filthy her material is- and just rocks it. It’s so bad-ass. She’s so sweet and fun and I admire her so much because she was there doing it before all of us, when there were no women at all. She was rocking it in the sixties. She’s an incredible force and someone I really look up to. To me, you’re killing it if you’re still rocking so hard in your seventies. It’s beautiful.

Besides “Drop Dead Diva” what can we look forward to from you?

I’m working on a comedy album now. I’ll be recording that in the fall. It’s going to be a different kind of record, it’s a compilation of the music that I’ve been doing for the last five years. Comedy songs. I had a song in my last special, “Beautiful,”and then I had another song that broke out of my other show “The Sensuous Woman,” which was my big variety show. I’m working with other musicians, like John Brion, Grant Lee Phillips, Patti Griffin, and Peaches.

Do you consider your comedy a feminist act? What does feminist comedy look like to you?

All women doing comedy are making feminist comedy, whether they choose to define it that way or not. Being a comedian and a woman is a feminist act, because there are so few women in comedy, because the environment in general for women in comedy is fairly hostile. Not just from the audience point of view, but from the other comedians. For a woman to be a successful comic, you have to be twenty times better than any dude. That’s just a given. You have to be so much better than any guy to get anywhere. To get any stage time you have to be killing it. It’s a hard thing. Feminism and comedy, within comedy, it’s synonymous, you can’t have one without the other. Women who don’t identify as feminists, I think that’s weird, but if you’re a comic you’re a feminist.

Because I’m a comedian what you said about hostility from the audience really intrigues me. I’ve felt hostility from audiences; how do you get over that? How do you win them over?

You just deal with it. You’ll have hostility. Audiences have hostility towards female comics for a number of reasons, like if you’re too pretty they’re like, “Oh she’s not gonna be any good.” It’s just kinda like, you never get a break and it’s very weird, and you have to overcome it, but what’s great about it is it’s gonna make you a better comic tomorrow anyway. But it’s something you have to endure, and for one reason or another women have the hardest time. I find that especially attractive women have the hardest time of all. Society has a real idea of what comedy looks like. Attractive women are automatically discounted, so it’s a very tough thing to overcome. My favorite comics, interestingly, are the most attractive. My favorites are people like Sarah Silverman and Felicia Michaels. Have you heard of her? She’s incredible, she was a Playboy model and she’s hilarious, she’s so funny, you can get her stuff on Itunes. You guys should do a story on her. I think Sarah Silverman learned a lot from Felicia.

I want to thank you so much. As a comedian this was a really cool talk for me. Hearing you say things that match up with my experience makes me feel not crazy and that’s wonderful of you.

And you’re not crazy. It’s a really hard business for women but you should stick with it because it’s so rewarding, and it’s great. You just can’t get support from the guys, which is really heartbreaking at first, but then, who cares?

Drop Dead Diva airs 9 pm est on Lifetime, go here to watch all the episodes for free, and may I recommend their discussion guide.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rape Joke Roundup

h/t to Sonnet

Rape jokes are a hot topic on the blogosphere right now.  A few excerpts:

Harriet Jacobs on why rape is joked about:

There is very little in casual, accessible culture that depicts rapists or rape victims as multi-faceted, complex human beings — and they all are. They are not depicted as people who survive, who go on to read trashy novels and get angry in traffic and learn a new hobby and think about volunteering sometimes but never actually do and get their degree in marketing but actually go into accounting because the job market these days, you know, and if they had never left that one significant other their lives probably would have been different. And rape is not depicted as an event that has complex meanings and consequences for men or women. Rather, it’s depicted as sex to advance the plot, define a (male) character, and/or be a super sweet hidden porno in the middle of your movie. 

The Guardian's Brian Logan on The New Offenders of Standup Comedy:
[Jim] Jeffries tells me: "You can't do a joke these days about black or Asian people – and rightly so – [but] you can do rape jokes on stage and that's not a problem." Why does he think rape is now less of a taboo than racism? "I don't write the rules," he says. Nor, it seems, does he seek to challenge them. Capurro told me, with some distaste: "For a lot of comics, it's OK to talk about raping women now. That's the new black on the comedy circuit."

To which Jessica responds at Feministing with What's So Funny About Rape? 

What I truly don't understand is how anyone could possibly think that joking about rape is being edgy or somehow fighting against the mainstream - which seems to be what the comics in this Guardian article are arguing. They say they're taking taboos head-on. But the thing is, rape jokes and mocking violence against women are mainstream. They're not a taboo at all - they're the norm, sadly. So all of these comedians giving themselves a pat on the back for being sooo controversial - when all they're doing is upholding the status quo - really fucking irk me.

Because if their rape jokes were actually challenging the mainstream, they'd be subversive, not holding up what American culture already perpetuates - that rape is a-okay. I think what is particularly telling is that so many of the people arguing that jokes about sexual assault are fine are dudes - the demographic that tends to be ones who, well...rape. (And who get assaulted at much lower rates than women.)

On a related note, last fall I had a positive experience talking with a rape-jokey comedian after a show.  An excerpt of what happened: 

...So, the headlining comedian was doing fairly well. Not exactly my cup of tea, but whatever. And then he gets to a rape joke. Ugggh. 

For the first time, I was determined to say something. Immediately after the show, I went up to him. It went something like this:

me: "Hey- great job."
dude: "Thanks a bunch!"
me: "I'd really like to give you some feedback about something that really bothered me"
dude: "Sure thing, what is it?"
me: "You know, that rape joke was really off-putting"
dude: "What rape joke?"


me: "The one about a girl drinking too much at the bar..."
dude: "Oh. Yeah."
me: "Well, I just wanted to let you know that it's probable that more women than you think who are here tonight can actually identify with that happening, and it's not a pleasant experience to come out to a comedy show and have that be laughed at"
dude: "Yeah... uh... thanks for saying something."
me: "Thanks for listening."

Nice enough. Maybe he'll take that part out. Maybe he won't. At least I didn't feel powerless as an audience member. 

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Rejection Show: Elna Baker

Mormon comedienne and storyteller extraordinaire Elna Baker talks about rejection.

(You may remember Baker from her incredible This American Life story about working as a doll nurse at FAO Schwartz.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Comedy is feminist when it helps me understand how power works and how it can be fucked with": A Chat with Jessica Halem

Jessica Halem can do incredible things incredibly well. She was named one of the "Queers that Make Our City Great" by Timeout Chicago and was nominated for "Best Female Comedian" at the 2008 Chicago Comedy Awards. She also served as Executive Director for the Lesbian Community Cancer Project in Chicago for five years, overseeing record levels of fundraising and expanding the organization's mission into one that was trans-inclusive. I first saw her perform at the Lincoln Lodge last spring, where she brought the house down with joyously raunchy tales of dildoes and fisting. Jessica left Chicago for the Pacific Northwest last year, and I needed a Jessica fix, so she was kind enough to answer some of my questions about activism and comedy.

When did you first know that you loved doing standup?

1995, Beijing, China during the Young Women's Talent Show at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women. I was given the job of emcee and had to keep thousands of feminists from all around the world laughing. I felt the surge of bringing laughter and light to those who needed to let off some steam. I don't remember doing jokes per se but I remember the energy of being an enthusiastic fool for the night. That's when I knew I could be both an activist and a stand-up and in fact, it was a powerful tool to be both.

What does feminist comedy look like? Do you have any guidelines for what you will or won't make jokes about?

How about this for feminist comedy: A bloody tampon, wire hanger and Sarah Palin walk into a Rape Crisis Center...

It's hard to say what feminist comedy looks like...I know what my comedy looks like as a feminist living in this world and talking about my experiences and perspective. But just like women comics, or black comics, or gay comics, there are no two same feminist comics or one way to do feminist comedy. I'm not interested in pretending the categories of men and women (or straight and gay, etc.) are stable, constant identities that can be summed up or understood easily (or stereotypically to be more precise.)

I like comedy that helps us understand that there is, in fact, no stable category or binary or identity. I like comedy that plays with notions of what lesbian means, or female means, or feminist means. For me feminist comedy is a way to talk about power and how it operates. On an everyday level in big and small ways. Comedy is feminist when it helps me understand how power works and how it can be fucked with.

The topics that I cover are easy to choose because I stick to my personal experiences (with some embellishment of course) as an antidote to how hard life is for everyone. You can't go wrong as a comic if you find the funny in your everyday life. Everyone can relate to that. Or if not relate then really value insight into what life is like for you. I hope I get on stage and folks think "oh, this is gonna be good. I'd love to hear what this cute, short, Jewish, queer girl thinks about XYZ and I wonder if that could help open me up to a new way of thinking." Ok, really, I just hope they think...damn she's hot.

You perform for a lots of audiences that are queer or queer-allied. Did you start out seeking out these audiences, or did you do the mainstream open mic/ comedy club circuit at first? Has finding venues that attract queer-friendly audiences been a challenge? How important has exercising some control over the kind of audience you perform for been to the development of your onstage voice?

One of my main goals is to bring funny to those who need it most. Who has a voice or experience that is not getting voiced on stage or on screen enough? My hope is that folks who are working hard everyday living their lives on the margins or differently or in fear or struggling in some way will find a chance to laugh with me. So, that means I need to perform in venues or shows where they know it is for them. They don't show up at their mainstream comedy club on a regular night thinking they will find their life being valued on stage. And they are probably right.
Yes, I've done open mics and comedy clubs with no special advertising and done fine. I approach every audience with love and compassion and that comes through. But my goal is to uplift my brothers and sisters who need it most. So, I end up being picky and finding the right venues or getting involved with advertising so a "mainstream" show can be a chance for the queers to come on out for a good time! Some of my best shows have been mainstream venues where I've got a few queers in the audience who have just had the whole night flipped for them! I love that!
My dream audience to entertain for a night would be full of sex workers, artists, trannies, leather daddies, bears, butches, femmes,
teenagers, old lesbians, HIV+ folks, non profit workers, politicans, cancer survivors, and my ex-boyfriends. Let me be THEIR fool!

I might need to put that answer on my wall. Have you ever felt torn between "serious" activism and devoting time to your comedy? What performers do you look to for inspiration about how comedy can be meaningful in people's lives?

I am inspired when I make my friends laugh who are working in the trenches everyday as politicans, activists and social workers. Nothing like knowing your activist friend has her iPhone on as she waits for an important meeting with a Congressperson. Or a politican who appreciates dirty comments on his Facebook status updates!

I also love keeping up with my comedy heros like Margaret Cho and Marga Gomez via their Twitter and Facebooks who make life on the road look like so much damn fun! They and others have been doing comedy work a lot longer than me. As someone who has only recently switched to more comedy from more non profit work...I love learning how to do this well!

Most importantly, I'm inspired to do comedy as a tool for social justice everytime I make a 17 year old queer youth laugh or a long
time HIV+ gay man laugh or a gray haired lesbian from the rural part of Virginia who drove an hour to see me. I make them laugh through a story filled with equal parts love and misery from my life and I know I've lightened their load just a little bit for a little while. That's justice. That's change. That's comedy.

What should we look forward to from you in the next 5 years?

I've recently joined PhinLi Bookings, an agency for LGBTQ and sex positive talent. I'm excited to work with folks who get that I'm not looking to make my material easily palatable for TV or host a gay marriage rally. So, in the short term, I'm looking forward to being on the road more hearing from and talking to a new generation of queers in colleges and smaller towns. That and some regular yoga and meditation, I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself. I'm open to allowing the universe unfold in front of me. I'm working on being able to hear what it has to say.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Heyday of UkeTube

Molly Lewis as "Molly: Kickass Destructo-Cyborg Thing" by Len Peralta

By Russ Rogers

We are on the cusp of a new Ukulele Renaissance. The Ukulele had a short fad popularity in the 50's. This was inspired by The Arthur Godfrey Show and the availability of inexpensive, plastic ukes. Seriously, millions of ukes were sold. Then, Tiny Tim had a hit with Tiptoe Through the Tulips in 1969 and set the Ukulele back as an instrument by 40 years. Playing the ukulele became synonymous with being strange and fey.

Thanks goodness for strong Ukulele Godesses like Danielle Anderson who are at the forefront of a growing popularity for the much maligned and misunderstood Jumping Flea, the Ukulele.

Now, there are many factors that are leading to a resurgence of the Ukulele. The instruments are cheap (which makes them ideal starter instruments in these tough economic times). They are easy to play, with smaller necks and fewer strings than a guitar.  And the nylon strings on ukes are easier on the fingers than the metal strings on guitars!  But all the skills you learn, the fingerings, picking and strumming techniques will translate directly to playing the guitar.  It can be a gateway instrument.

But I don't think the influence of YouTube (or as I like to call it, "UkeTube") can be overstated. In this age of DIY entertainment, the uke lends itself to being filmed in videos. It's small size fits in the frame! It's tone lends itself well to funny songs that are a bit cynical and snarky. And that's just perfect for YouTube!

There are a TON of cool Ukulele Channels and players to be sought out and discovered. But I do think that because of the ukulele's small size, it lends itself especially well to accompanying both women's voices and silly songs. So perhaps it's natural that many of the women who have gained fame playing on UkeTube are also funny.

Now, if you are listing UkeTube sensations, yes, you might start with Danielle Anderson, aka Danielle Ate The Sandwich.  She's phenomenal, quirky, charming, smart and funny.  Plus she has a beautiful, evocative voice.

A few more on my list:

Julia Nunes is the Queen Bee of UkeTube.  The Madonna of the Uke, both for her popularity and versatility!  She has over 100,000 subscribers. She recently played the music festival Bonnaroo. She is selling a couple of independently produced albums. And I think she's very funny.  Her covers are great and she has some fine original songs too!  Here's "Maybe I Will":


Julia has a huge fan following, has toured the United Kingdom twice, has recorded two albums and opened for Ben Folds several times!  And this has all been done while she still attends college!  Highly recommended!

Of course, Garfunkel and Oates are Wisecrack favorites. And their uke player Kate Micucci, has some great solo songs too!  Here's "Dear Deer." 

But I don't think any discussion of women, humor and UkeTube could be complete without mentioning Molly Lewis (aka SweetAfton23).

Molly Lewis isn't as professionally experienced as Julia Nunes, Kate Micucci or Danielle Anderson. She hasn't recorded an album, not yet. But her YouTube channel already has 16,000+ subscribers. Molly sprang to fame two years ago with a wicked ukulele cover of the Britney Spears hit, "Toxic."  And Molly has a bunch of great cover songs and a handful of very funny originals. She's a rising comedy, music and ukulele star.

Check out "MyHope":

Molly's made a deal with Hank Green's Label, DFTBA Records. And recently she won the internet songwriting contest, The Masters of Song Fu!  

I've only mentioned four visionary female voices on UkeTube and pointed out a few of their videos.  If there is another Ukulele Godess or an even better ukulele video that has been overlooked, please put the link in the comments.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tweet, Tweet!

All the cool kids are doing it. Wisecrack's doing it (@wisecrackzine), I'm doing it (@lpark1984), and even some of your favorite comedians are doing it.
Tweeting, that is. It's the newest craze but it's actually a pretty interesting way to see change happening and stay connected to people in 140 characters or less.

Thanks to this list of "85 Comedians to Follow", I am following some funny ladies:

She talks about everything from her new show Drop Dead Diva to the everyday observations that we've come to love from Cho.

Likes to geek out and recently talks about her love for affordable hotels.

This Midwestern stand-up's most recent tweet says: judged a childs beauty pageant today and stole the souls of a few would-be Jon Benet's. Their Moms were crying tears of blood. Hilarity ensues - a must follow!

Stand-up lady and co-creator of takes time out of her day to update us with her funny thoughts.

AT let's her tweeple in on secret shows, her projects and when her back massages take a turn for the worst.


Even the "Executive Transvestite" is tweeting it up!

This is just something to start you off. There are so many others to follow on Twitter. Let us know who you're following and who we should add to our list.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Weekend Wuv: Danielle Ate The Sandwich

By Katherine Bradshaw

Ukuleleist and YouTube sensation Danielle Anderson, AKA “Danielle Ate The Sandwich,” frequently pairs light and whimsical sounds with darker, melancholy lyrics (think poptastic Garfunkel and Oates meets sardonic Jessica Delfino). Her songs tackle topics from transexuality (“Born In The Wrong Body”) to everyday human angst (“Afterwards” and “Another Day”). Her homemade music videos, featuring her quirky smile and antics, are irresistibly enjoyable.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

British Coumediennes

The extra "u" is because they spell things wrong.

So, bored with American accents, I have begun watching British comedy on Youtube and Hulu and other content-thieving internet mainstays. It's refreshing to discover an entire world (well, country) of humor (humour? huomor?) I had been mostly ignorant of. Yes, I'd seen The Office and Monty Python and Hugh Laurie on House, but there's an entire industry of sitcoms and panel shows; from the immortal Are You Being Served? through my current favorite, QI.

But that's not why you're here. You're here to learn about female comics in the UK. And they are legion and awesome. So I'm going to start, as a minor blogging project, and as my introduction to you all (first post! yay!), a rundown of some of my favorite funny girls (sorry, Caitlin) across the pond.

But first, to wet your beaks, here's Jo Brand, who I will write about more in my next post:

Target Women: Hair

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Letter from the Editor- 101st Posting: Wisecrack Goes Meta

How about that?  100 posts.  Bust out the Boone's Farm, this calls for a toast.

Conversations about gender and humor happen all the time. Especially if you're a comedienne. Doubly so, if you're a feminist comedienne. Scholars like Regina Barreca and the late Nancy A. Walker have published many books on the subject; these conversations aren't anything new.  We'd just like to bring them beyond the bus ride after improv rehearsal, into the public sphere... the one in your laptop.  

Have we done it? Well, we haven't exactly gone viral. But we do have a steady stream of regular visitors and a healthy core of writers, campus liaisons, and allies.  We've sniffed out our own and discovered that at least half a dozen people hold degrees in comedy and gender studies.  And through hours of dedicated "web research," we've stumbled upon the likes of Marina Franklin, Amy Andersen, Garfunkel and Oates, and many, many other incredibly talented comedians. 

Perhaps most importantly, we've created a space to reclaim feminism in the context of comedy... or is it comedy in the context of feminism? (Cue mind explosions.) Either way, we've created a space where the marriage of feminism and comedy can simultaneously be taken seriously and thoroughly enjoyed. We hope to continue dispelling myths of feminism along the way, as well as encouraging greater intelligence, truth, awareness and intentionality in Comedy At Large. (That's right. It's our sneaky little agenda: World Comedy Domination via open letters to Lourne Michaels.)

We're slowly learning from our mistakes- no more blue text on a black background, I promise. As we mature, we hope to make the space more interactive and inclusive. If you have ideas, feedback, complaints or props, please consider this a solicitation (either respond in comments, or email wisecrackzine AT gmail DOT com). Lastly, we're disappointed by the lack of hate mail we've received. We take it as a sign that we're not saying juicy enough things. We'll try to step it up.

In the words of Lily Tomlin, "We're all in this together, by ourselves."

To the next 100 posts...   

Thanks for reading.  

Saturday, June 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Lorne Michaels

Dear Lorne,

I was watching an old episode of SNL the other day, one with Maya Rudolph playing Donatella Versace (a classic), and got to thinking about the gender and race of SNL performers. I did a little research.

Of the 35 seasons of SNL and 122 cast members, 31 have been women. And just a mere four have been female minorities. That's pathetic.

Why so few women? You don't seem to subscribe to the belief that women aren't funny. SNL has been home to many top female comedians of this time. Maybe you just don't know enough female comedians. For your sake, let me offer some suggestions.

My Comedian Wish List for SNL:

* Wanda Sykes - A sketch veteren with The Chris Rock Show; granted, she's about to have her own show, so you probably missed the boat.

* Kim Wayans - Wayans has 5 seasons of In Living Color under her belt.

* Christina Anthony - Second City: check.

* Frangela - It's a two for one and in these tough economic times, that's a comic deal! (Granted, they don't really do sketch, but they would be a welcome addition to the lineup. They would make great anchors for Weekend Update!)

* DSI Comedy grads - Bring a little southern charm to SNL! I can vouch for them, I've seen plenty of their shows and my funny bone was tickled without remorse.

*Marina Franklin- Another Chicago gem, also a Last Comic Standing and Chappelle Show alum.

*Melissa Vellasenor- Have you seen this girl's impression reel?

*Garfunkel & Oates - Cooler than sliced bread, with an already large fan base. Large fan base means more viewers, which is really what you want, Lorne. (Oh yeah. I can speak "biz.")

These are just a few suggestions and I know I've left out a lot of people. If you need more women comedians, check out our list on the left-side column of the blog.

Basically, there's really no excuse for the dismal representation of hilarity of the female kind on SNL. You are missing out on a huge demographic and the endless possibilities of new sketches.

Lorne, I know how much you like Kenan Thompson playing Oprah. But don't let it stop you from casting more women. Keep SNL cutting-edge. Feature more ladies.

Yours truly,

It's the Weekend!

Get your "Cats on a Treadmill" on.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jen Dziura: Spelling out success in comedy

Comedy and spelling have a lot more in common than you think, and Jen Dziura is out to prove just that. As a founder [editor's note- our apologies, bobby blue is the founder] co-host of the Williamsburg Spelling Bee, an intellectual triathlon for adults, the New York native has her sights set on conquering not only the world of academic bees, but that of smarty-pants comedy as well. And with the recent success of her one-woman show, What Philosophy Majors Do After College, waiting in the unemployment line seems like the least likely scenario for comedy's queen bee. Hear what Jen has to say as she checks in with Wisecrack to discuss the correlation between grammar and comedy, getting back on her feet after failure, and Pee-Wee Herman in drag.

Wisecrack: Have you always known you wanted to pursue a career in comedy? Can you name a specific instance in which life drove you to laughs?

Jen Dziura: You know, that's a funny question, because I'm not totally sure what I'm doing now is exactly about pursing a career in comedy. I've always felt as though there's a Venn Diagram at play -- there's comedy, and there's my Platonic ideal of being the best possible public version of myself, and there's some overlap in the middle that is my working space.

I saw Sandra Bernhard's "Without You I'm Nothing" on DVD in a Queer Studies class in college, and I think that was pretty formative for me. And then I saw Josh Kornbluth's monologue show about being a math major, but at the time (in college) I was training to be an action adventure star in the movies -- I was captain of the boxing team for awhile, I did martial arts and rock climbing and bodybuilding and wrote a screenplay that I would theoretically star in, about a teenage lesbian superhero.

So it all took awhile to gel and come around to my running an adult spelling bee and telling jokes about philosophy. I can no longer do as many pull-ups as I once could.

W: Is there an inherent relationship between good spelling and good comedy? How are the two connected?

JD: I'm not sure about spelling, but there's a strong correlation between irregular grammar and comedy. For instance, just take a basic joke form such as the "your mom" joke. Compare:

What I love about your mom are (noun), (noun), and (insulting noun).

What I love about your mom are (noun), (noun), and (insulting independent clause).

Both forms have a "surprise" at the end in that the third item in the list does not actually belong in a list of things the speaker loves about the subject, but the first joke template obeys the principle of grammatical parallelism and, despite the nouns chosen, will likely end up only moderately funny; the second violates the conventions of grammatical parallelism, and is thereby already funnier. Try it!

Another good example -- the other day, I made some vegan ravioli for myself, and they were kind of hideously green, due to some kind of spinach pasta situation. Also, they had come apart in the pot a little bit and were leaking things like peas and beans. My boyfriend looked over and said, "Oh look, you made boiled terribles!"

It was such a funny comment because "terrible," of course, isn't a noun. I don't think "boiled disasters," for instance, would have been as funny at all; a great part of the humor was in the surprising (and technically incorrect) diction.

W: You seem to have a wide-ranging array of interests, from comedy to martial arts to nearly every facet of academia. Can you describe the process by which you brought all of these things together to formulate a bankable career?

JD: Well, thank you for assuming that I masterminded the whole thing! I think it was quite a bit more haphazard than that. And it involved a lot of failing. I failed at running a dot-com, I failed at shopping around a screenplay, I failed at making a living as an art school model, I failed at holding a 9-5 job, I failed at getting myself into the traditional comedy club system.

I also tried a lot of things that didn't stick. The martial arts didn't stick. Some other things I've tried that didn't stick include skydiving and lesbianism. (No connection).

Somewhere in the middle of all the failing, when I was living in East Harlem in one of those hallways that people cordon off with a shower curtain and rent out as a bedroom (welcome to New York!), someone asked me to host an adult spelling bee. That was in 2004. And I've been doing that every other Monday since then. The high-water mark may have been when the New York Times ran a story about the bee on the front page of the style section, and that night, Bill Maher made fun of us on his show. It was in the "New Rules" segment -- as in, "New Rule: Adults must stop acting like children. The kids are going to spelling bees in bars!" I think the low-water mark was when Law and Order: Criminal Intent put out a casting call for, um, an actress to play a "female 20-something host of an adult spelling bee in a Brooklyn hipster bar." Seriously. I sent them something ("You know, I could just make a cameo as myself -- ever hear that story about the time Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest and came in third?") but didn't get anywhere. Finally, the episode came out, and of course it was awful. As in, the Brooklyn "hipsters" had bleach-blond gelled hairdos and earnestly said things like, "I just want to ROCK, man!" In other words, they were straight out of a 1987 Pop Tarts commercial on Nickelodeon. I never did get to see who they cast as me, because the spelling bee scene had been cut -- there was just a mention that the "hipsters" had attended a spelling bee before one of them was murdered. Jeff Goldblum got to be all, "Kids these days! Spelling bees! Pshaw!"

Anyway, the spelling bee happened and became very popular, and then I started running geography, math, trivia, and vocabulary tournaments for adults, and somehow word got around the internet that I tell a lot of grammar jokes, and then I was in a pilot for a show on the Sci Fi Channel that didn't get made, and every once in awhile something awesome would happen, like the time I had this piece on McSweeney's that was getting a lot of hits, and then someone posted it on, and then someone trying to be mean commented that I look like "Pee -Wee Herman in drag" and I said, "Oh my god, it's true!" It was a great feeling, like finding a long-lost twin. But a twin with his own playhouse!

Keep in mind, though, that this all happened really, really slowly, over a period during which I couldn't help being aware that I am aging, as are we all, and that Hollywood cares about this sort of thing an awful lot. I'm waiting to get some really good crow's feet so I can have diamonds embedded in them. Don't steal my idea!

So, no master plan. I just realized, over years of trying things, that I am good at hosting intellectual game shows and being nice to people even when they get the answers wrong, and that I'm good at telling jokes for smart, polite people. If I could just tour from library convention to library convention ... oh, a girl can dream!

W: What is your favorite word to spell, and why?

JD: For years, one of my favorite words was "apropos," because I learned that word as a young teenager from a translation of Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground" in which the book's second part is called "Apropos to the Wet Snow." Could that possibly have also rhymed in Russian?

Here are some of my favorite words from the Williamsburg Spelling Bee:

chionablepsia - snow blindness
rhinorrhagia - nosebleed
horologium - timepiece
discalced - barefoot, especially of a monastic order
poetomachia - an Elizabethan "War of the Theaters"
kakidrosis - smelly perspiration

Of course, that last one shares a root with:
kakistocracy - rule by evil men

Which reminds me a bit of:
hecatontarchy - rule by one hundred rulers

Which reminds me that this word is not "rule by eight rulers," which would instead be "octocracy":
ochlocracy - mob rule

And then there are the classics: lepidopterology, triskadecaphobia, trichotillomania, rhododendron, hyacinthine, hippopotamian. For the literature buffs: Lilliputian, Brobdingnagian, quixotic. Many of the hardest words are not from Romance languages: schipperke, aebleskive.

And if I'm going to go all meta on your ass: sesquipedalianism.

W: Ten years from today, what is the life of Jennifer Dziura going to look like?

JD: Hopefully no chionablepsia, rhinorrhagia, kakistocracy, etc.

In comedy, I'm really moving away from telling 15 minutes of jokes here and 15 minutes of jokes there.... I'm just going to develop one big show every six to twelve months, and do that show a few times, and then go back inside my head for a few months. I admire people like Mike Daisey, who do just that. Spaulding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia" was really seminal for me. Of course "seminal" is a pretty gross word. And it's funny, I've donated eggs -- maybe I should insist that creative works that really influenced you be referred to as "ovoid." Of course, that just means "egg-shaped," which, in virtually all cases of seminal works, is simply not true.

The going back inside my head business is really crucial for me, and I've come to terms with the fact that stand-up comedy does not create a huge overlap on the Venn Diagram with what I know my mission to be. I've never been one of those comics who needs to be on stage five nights a week. I'm going to save it all up -- you can come watch me once or twice a year. It'll be more special that way. You'll be more likely to buy me alcohol when it's over, because of the extra specialness. Hmmn, you know what's never happened? Cute young men don't come up to me after the show and ask me to autograph their chests. I would like to autograph some chests. I just realized that that's a goal.

My current one-woman show is called, "What Philosophy Majors Do After College." I'm doing it August 7th in New York at The P.I.T., and then taking it on the road. Then, a book, a comedy CD.... Over the next ten years, I'd like to do a live show a year or so, and do more projects for television, hosting a reality show or variety show, ultimately landing a talk show. (Have I mentioned that Dick Cavett is a national treasure? That's what I mean when I say "talk show.") I'm going to have some kids who are really good at spelling. And a nanny who makes mimosas.

Also, I just moved into this Wall Street apartment that has a 25th-floor balcony, and I put a hammock on that balcony, and every time I lie on the hammock and look up the side of my 50-story building, I imagine that Batman's on his way, which I think can only be a plus for my creative process.

Read more from Jen in her McSweeney's pieces:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Laurie Kilmartin On Balancing Motherhood and Setlists

(Photo by froggygrl727)

By Laurie Kilmartin, Originally posted on Babble

It was 8:45 PM on a Saturday night and the babysitter was not here. I had to be onstage, telling jokes at a New York City comedy club, at 9:15. I'd already left her a voicemail in my high school Spanish.
"Hola, uh, es la mama de William. Donde?"

I would be late for my spot if I didn't leave immediately. I wrapped my one-year-old son in a blanket and ran for the car. The babysitter and I communicated via I would write an email in English and convert it to Spanish. She would do the same, in reverse. I thought we were good for sabado. Damn. Merde?

I had four fifteen-minute sets that night, at three different comedy clubs. My final set ended at about one a.m. In theory, William and I could hang out in the car between spots, but while I was onstage, I'd have to hand him to somebody. I pulled up to the club at 9:12. Five or six comedians were standing out front. Some I knew, some I didn't.

"Hey!" I shouted, flipping on the hazard lights. "Can anyone sit with the baby? I'll pay you twenty-five bucks and I'll be back in twenty minutes." A comic named Maggie slid into the back seat.

"Thanks," I said, handing her the diaper bag. "Now, try not to kidnap him."

"You're no fun," she said. Maggie rode with us for the rest of the night, pocketing about a hundred dollars, which was not much less than me.

This wasn't supposed to be my life. I wasn't going to have kids. When I got pregnant by accident, I was forty and single. But also bored. I took a "Hey, why not?" approach to motherhood. My belly became a prop that I took on the road. We had a good time, the fetus and me. Indiana, Texas, Montreal. We flew to Alaska in my fourth month and L.A. in my eighth. My last show as a non-mom was the night before I delivered. When the baby came, I lost fifteen minutes of material.

And my lifestyle.

Comedians have the best lives. I used to stay up until four a.m. and sleep until whenever. Now, most mornings I wake up like the amnesiac from Memento. I have no idea where I am, or whose child is crying. Next to my bed is a helpful Polaroid of my son, captioned with the words: "You are his mother and his diaper needs to be changed."

William's dad is also a comedian. We took the baby on the road when he was six months old. My boyfriend would do his set, then run back to the green room, where I was waiting to pass him the swaddled baton. The emcee would kill a few minutes onstage until I arrived. It worked because there were two of us.

Now the baby is older, and there's often just one of us.

The boyfriend and I usually work alternate road weeks, but recently we each booked separate gigs during the same week. Neither of us could afford to cancel. We figured it would cost less for me to take William to Michigan than for my boyfriend to take him to North Dakota. I found a sitter online. She came to the hotel at seven p.m. I debriefed her on her mission as I saw it, which was to keep my son awake for as long as possible so I could sleep in the next morning.

"He's gonna start yawning in an hour. Don't buy into it. If you cave and put him to bed, he's gonna wake up at six a.m. And that can't happen because I will be dead by Sunday. I need you to keep him talking until eleven or so."

"Like, sleep deprivation? For a two-year-old?"

From the tone of her voice, I could tell she was not completely on board.

"Of course not! That's a torture technique. Jeez. All I'm saying is, when his eyes start rolling back into his head, point out the window and yell, 'plane!' That's it. Now, if he happens to spend the next thirty minutes looking for a plane that isn't there, well, that's his choice, isn't it?"

"Uh huh."

"Five or six times over the course of the evening should do the trick. And you don't have to say 'plane' each time. 'Firetruck' works. If you really want to keep him hopping, try 'Daddy.'"

I returned to the hotel at 1 a.m. I'd done two fifty-minute shows. I was tired.

"What time did he go to bed?" I asked.

"A little before eight."

Being home is hard, in a different way. After William was born, I cut back on the road work and took a day job writing for a now-defunct website. We had health insurance and the basic bills were paid. But I was in a frustrating position as a comic. 

Sunday-Thursday spots in New York City don't pay much, or at all. But they are the best shows to try out new material. There is no pressure to kill. And new jokes get fine-tuned for the weekend shows, which do pay. That system worked great before I had a kid. Now, I had to hire a sitter for those nights. And all of a sudden I was out $10-$50 dollars every time I did a set. I went from eight to fifteen development sets a week to about two.

My growth slowed, despite the fact that I had so much more to talk about. The problem was solved for me in January, when the day job ended. Now I'm back on the road, doing long sets where I have plenty of opportunity to sneak in new stuff. The corporate benefits are gone, but so is the stagnation.

And the boyfriend and I have settled into a groove. When we're both in NYC, we perform on alternate weeknights, or one of us will do an early set, and race home so the other can make a late set. We spring for a sitter on weekends and the occasional miercoles o domingo. My schedule's not the same as it was during the non-mom days, but is anything?