I’m on my way to Baltimore for a show after several weeks at home, the longest stretch I’ve had at home in about two years. Tonight’s show kicks off the start of my spring tour—I’ll be back on the road through June, at least—and I’ve been doing press to promote the various stops along the way.
Press is appreciated. Press says, “Hey, I’m relevant,” and press helps sell tickets. It also offers a nice stay-sharp challenge: Try to seem witty/interesting/totally professional during a phone interview without betraying the fact that you’ve spent the entire conversation wandering around your apartment in your underwear. Bonus points if you can cover the chewing/swallowing of the string cheese you were eating with the phone muted during that last question with a faux thoughtful pause.
And press is often predictable. There are some standard questions that pop-up video again and again. That’s fine. Lack of big surprises isn’t a bad thing. It allows you to develop some standard answers. I try to be as truthful as I can in interviews, though of course I’m also playing up my stage character a bit for effect. I don’t mean I create a whole new personality, invent stories, and speak with a non-Midwestern accent. I mean that I’m a human being who is complex like any human being and some parts of my life are lived just for me. I don’t invent. I just smooth the edges and don’t talk extremely openly about every damn thing because I value my privacy and also who gives a shit about what I think about every damn thing?
Still, with all this trying to be honest, there are at least three questions that I have perhaps never answered honestly. The real answers are too complicated for a 20-minute chat at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday. But they aren’t too complicated for you, A.V. Club.
Question 1: “Who are your comedic influences?”
To begin, I would like to reflect on the solitary time I said that no one influenced me. I was very tired that morning—apparently tired enough to believe that I had created comedy. I hope I never stop surprising myself with what a glorious jackass I can be!
For all comics, the real answer to this question is, “Everyone else working in comedy.” Yes, some comics may have listened to a particular album a bunch growing up, or have particular reverence for one comic’s career, but all comics started at open mics, sitting through hours of other comics also getting their start. We tour together, watch one another on TV, follow each other on Twitter, chat to and about one another, and monitor each other’s progress. We all have a podcast. Some of us have two.
The pipeline of content and information doesn’t just run from comic to comedy fan or audience member. We all know what everyone else has going on at all times. It’s harder to not know than to know. We’re jealous and proud of one another. We’re happy and pissed. And we are all working from a central and ever expanding bank of concepts and projects and ways of being. All of your favorite comics have been influenced by Lucille Ball, who smashed down doors and created her own thing and progressed comedy fandom, and all your favorite comics have been influenced by Dane Cook, who smashed down doors and created his own thing and progressed comedy fandom. It doesn’t matter if you love actually love Lucy or if you want Dane to choke on his own super finger—comedy, like every other life force on Earth, is propelled by evolution. You can’t look back at a stage in evolution and begrudge them. You can only add to them. Or correct them.
Right now I spend a lot of time thinking about Sarah Silverman and Maria Bamford and how they’ve been able to be so prolific and still so good. Every bit of content is pure genius. And you know who’s amazing on Twitter? Andy Richter. I love that guy. So my micro answer is Sarah/Maria/Andy and my macro is “the combined mental and emotional engine of several hundred minds—maybe a thousand?—housed in a bunch of comics I know and some who came before me and some whom I hope to meet down the line.”
Question 2: “How and why do you incorporate your sexuality into your comedy?”
As regular readers of this column know, that question is a bit far afield. I never talk about being a lesbian, onstage or off. And I never write about it. I don’t even have lesbian sex. And I’ve never seen The L Word, especially the Shane scenes. If you put The L Word on, I will leave your party immediately and go to seek the support of my friends at this coffee shop/dance club in West Hollywood called the The Planet where there are girls in tight dresses who do drag with mustaches.
And why would I talk about my sexuality? Because every other comic talks about their sexuality but most comics are straight so the references to their sexuality are invisible because they are speaking from the culturally normative viewpoint? Please. I learned long ago that if I talk about my life from the viewpoint of my own experience, a semi-professional comedian/cubicle dweller will write “Wait? You’re a lesbian? WE DIDN’T KNOW” on my Instagram and I didn’t get into show business to stomach that sort of imaginative and devastating criticism. There’s nothing more awful than finding out someone has been exposed to my work previously and that my message has stayed consistent!
So when an interviewer asks me, “How and why do you incorporate your sexuality into your comedy?” I make sure to mime that my phone is a penis and do a jerking-off motion with it so that no one is stressed out by my non-normative perspective. Then I make a soap dropping/prison joke to protect my butthole from gay men and hire a very funny straight-dude cubicle dweller to go do my show for me because that guy is an accountant but could also totally do stand-up if he tried.
Secret real answer: I just look out of my gay eyes and my gay brain sees the world a certain way and then I talk about that. Also, I don’t know how to not see the world that way. My eyes are gay! I’m asked questions so often about being a lesbian that I made a webseries about it.
Question 3: “What’s it like being a woman in comedy?”
I have a vagina on my body—it’s in the regular vagina spot!—so for me there is a one question to rule all questions, and this is it. I wear this question around my neck on a chain. If I ever see a volcano, I am tossing it in there!
I’ve written about women/comedy previously for The A.V. Club here and here. Seemingly, every person in the world has not read everything I’ve ever written, so this question still comes up I’d say 80 times a week? And that’s just during the hair-braiding séances me and the other female comics have where we all write 10,000-word blog posts about how rape jokes are never, ever funny ever, especially jokes wherein we are taking down rapists, and then pick that month’s “female comic everyone can tell slut jokes about for some reason even though it’s 2015 and slut-shaming is a weird way to get laughs unless you’re calling yourself a slut then that’s still edgy.”
One of the best aspects of living in Los Angeles is the humility forced upon you. I used to think I was a maybe a hip, cool person with a decent jawline. Now that I live in Los Angeles, I recognize that I am a toadstool person with the personal style of a busty, gender-bending John Kerry. I had this reconfirmed last week when I saw Aimee Mann interview Kim Gordon. Confidential to Aimee and Kim: You guys are hip, cool people. Aimee’s interpretation of “What’s it like to be the girl in the band?”—the music equivalent of the women/comedy question—blew my toadstool face clean off. She said something like, “I feel like they’re really asking, ‘When you’re touring with a group of guys, where do you change? Like, do you have a separate green room?’”
I love this interpretation. It repositioned my vantage point on women and comedy. See, I’ve always thought that question was off-putting because women make up 51 percent of the American population and therefore, it’s troubling that we are still a minority in comedy, but also that we are asked to speak as a minority. Sexuality-wise, I am in a minority group. I understand that most people don’t know what it is like to be gay. When I speak about my life as a lesbian—and I never speak about my life as a lesbian—I speak to an audience of mostly straight people.
Women, however, are a majority of the population. Female comics are spoken about as if we overcome an obstacle in relatability when in reality half the audience absolutely understands period jokes from personal experience. The day our culture won’t need feminism is the day women are spoken about as if we are actually in the room.
Because of Aimee, I see that there’s also an aspect of the women/comedy question that’s unsettling due to the expectation that we have a stockpile of behind the scenes dirt to spill. And, conversely, that male comics and musicians don’t. It’s the idea that women have “experiences” in music and comedy, while dudes just do their jobs; even onstage, we’re offstage, commenting about green rooms when our male counterparts would never be asked to.
Want to fix sexism in comedy? Ask questions that put me onstage. You could even reference my being a woman in the question and go for something really divisive and way too personal but at least creative, like, “Soooo… you have a womb. I can’t remember seeing a female comic perform while pregnant. You gonna use that stage womb?”
This pregnancy question specifically: How are none of you interviewers on top of this? As a comic I can create material, but as a female comic I can also create life! I could potentially be onstage with a person growing in my body and then mime that my pregnant belly is a penis and do a jerking-off motion so that no one is stressed out by my absolutely normative female perspective. Please imagine that scenario fully and then take that image into the rest of your day.
Okay, let’s conclude. I get why the three questions above are the most frequent. And I appreciate the chance to mention the upcoming shows and projects and other nonsense that make up my livelihood. But if it’s in any way helpful to have some new topics to discuss, may I suggest: my crippling fear of flying and how stupid it is that I chose a job that requires constant travel; how I survived for a decade making less than $25,000 a year because as a stand-up comic the money comes later; and the 14 times I believed I would be murdered in my hotel room while touring and the locations of those hotels. And The L Word. I lied earlier. I actually know a shit-ton about The L Word.