A new monthly column, Funny Feminism features conversations with feminist-identifying artists who use humor in their creative work.
“Horror movies make me glad
I’m a non-homeowner
I got rid of my dolls
I left my Prom early.”
–Babe Parker via Twitter
Babe Parker met me on a street corner in New York City on a fall Friday night. She met me outside because she didn’t think I would be able to find her place amongst her neighborhood’s hyphenated addresses and besides, she’s “squatting in a Verizon store anyway,” the 29-year-old Texan native joked. Babe, like myself, grew up in a conservative town in Texas before moving to Los Angeles, where she was working as an actress before relocating to the East Coast.
One night back in L.A., tired of feeling like a “nameless headshot,” Babe stumbled upon some video clips of comedian Bill Hicks. “He spoke to me. It was like he was literally saying, ‘You can’t be a nameless ad, you have to be a voice.'” Soon after, Babe worked up the courage to perform at her first open mic.
Raised primarily in Chicago and having spent the bulk of her twenties in L.A., Babe moved to New York in the last few years because she believes it’s the best place to sharpen her skills as a comic in front of some of the toughest audiences. The toughness Babe speaks of comes from what she believes is the duality of cynicism and romanticism that is both so specific to New York City, and also so very good for comedy. New York audiences don’t have time for anything less than authentic and efficient, which is what she strives to be on stage and off. Babe and I talked about how we both came to really similar inner revelations in very different ways. “What you spent on therapy, I probably spent on headshots,” she joked.
After years of performing stand-up, Babe’s favorite audience was a group of about fifty teenagers at a performing arts summer camp in Manhattan this past summer. The energetically sober teen audience experience was a first for Babe, and caused her to realize that younger audiences—as opposed to the often 21+ world of stand-up—are such untapped territory for comedians. Now Babe fantasizes about going on a mall tour. “Just like Tiffany,” she said and smiled.
What I appreciate so much about Babe’s comedic style is that her material could be equally funny to both the youngest and oldest members in her audience. Take her bit about Katy Perry’s lyrics:
“What I find scary is this Katy Perry song. I don’t know if we have any Katy Perry fans in the house but I love Katy Perry’s music… She has this song called ‘Last Friday Night.’ It’s about this girl who has this night of debauchery with her friends and these are some of the lyrics: ‘There’s a stranger in my bed, someone’s passed out in the yard, warrants out for my arrest…” I’m like, what did you do?! And where is this going? ‘There’s blood on my dress. Someone hide the severed head.’ That’s the natural progression of this song. It’s a murder confession.”
I remember watching those teenagers laugh hysterically at Babe’s Katy Perry joke probably due to both their familiarity with Perry’s lyrics and also because they realized how absurd the song’s narrative was after hearing Parker’s delivery of the lyrics out of context. I laughed because Parker has this knack for picking up on how uncomfortable the most harmless aspects of youth culture can often seem to adults. One of my favorite Babe Parker stand-up moments was when she told a joke about watching middle-aged folks act panicked over teenagers simply being “loud” on the subway. “All they’re doing is laughing.” Babe said. “And we are so scared that they’re having a good time.”
Besides writing and performing refreshingly contemporary stand-up comedy ranging from a spot-on Lana Del Rey impersonation—in one bit, Babe imitates the singer as sort of a “spooky baby”—to commentary on pick-up lines men have sent her through online dating websites, Babe also plays music and works as a visual artist using painting as her primary visual medium. “I guess you could describe my painting style as silly and intense—somewhere between skepticism and enchantment… which is probably how you could describe my jokes.”
While we talked, Babe strummed her mint green ukulele. She told me that she went from a career focused on acting to one in stand-up because of the natural way stand-up and writing go hand in hand. That and her personal life was crumbling, and isn’t that the way so many comics find their way to the stage? Laughing to keep from crying, tears of a clown, and so forth? Babe also believes that writing improves with age and New York ages everyone, well, quick. We then laugh about her—okay maybe our—”emotional gray hairs.”
I tell Babe that my emotional gray hairs are coming from the fact that there are mice in the house I live in and she tells me about how when she first moved to New York, she shared an air mattress with a best friend. Our conversation reminds of me of comedian Aparna Nancherla‘s joke about how everyday living in New York is sort of like being forced to be a contestant in a reality TV show where tough scenarios just get hurled in a person’s direction relentlessly. Sometimes this hurling causes the kind of despair that makes some pack up their bags and go, while for others is a propelling force.
This propelling force is what got Babe to try her chops at stand-up comedy in the first place, but, unlike a lot of other comedians, Babe doesn’t choose to focus on negativity in her act. No need to dwell in self-loathing for Babe Parker. Babe is a self-proclaimed “nice comedian”—the kind of positive person who wants all those around her to be happy—and when it comes to stand-up she wants both her audience and herself to have a transformative experience. She recommends going to almost any open mic for anyone who needs a reminder of how far we still need to go as far as feminism is concerned. “Offending people often gets a laugh,” Babe says, “and some people just want to kill the room.”