A monthly column, Funny Feminism features conversations with feminist-identifying artists who use humor in their creative work.
I don’t actually remember how Heather Jewett and I met. Our introduction to each other could have been related to the riot grrrl movement, our many mutual friends or through simply living in Los Angeles at the same time. As a member of the now infamous queer electro-punk-pop band from the Bay Area, Gravy Train!!!!, Heather went by the name, ‘Chunx’ for eight years. Always a fan of Heather’s trailblazing honesty and fiercely feminist sense of humor, I clamored at the chance to interview her. Influenced by the campy and raw aesthetic of early John Waters films as much as she is by 80s and 90s blue-collar sitcom humor and by absurdist comedy, Heather Jewett is a force whose work cracks me up as much as it does inspire me to share my own voice with the world.
Equal pay shmequal shmay, I just wanna be able to eat bananas in public.
–Heather Jewett via Twitter
Heather Jewett: I know I’m not interviewing you, but I wanted to ask you about what happened when you were trying stand-up. Are you still doing it?
Cathy de la Cruz: What’s really amazing is that you were so supportive of my comedy when I first started going to open mics—maybe more than any other stand-up comic I knew at the time. Out of everyone I asked, you gave me the most compassionate advice. I asked the dumbest questions like, ‘How am I going to know when my three minutes are up?’ and you were like ‘They’re going to flash a light at you.’ And I was like, ‘Okay…’ I really had no idea how any of it worked.
HJ: [Laughter] So you’re still doing stand-up now that you’re in New York?
CD: Yeah, I am. But I should do it more. Right now I’m taking a class at the Pit (People’s Improv Theater) and it’s called, I kid you not, Flying Solo, which I think is the most sad and pathetic name for a comedy class ever, which is obviously why it appealed to me. [Laughter] I thought it was going to be a stand-up class and I was like ‘Oh cool. I’ll work on my stand-up routine and then I paid $350 and I got to my first day of class and it’s a solo show class, like a theatrical comedic solo show.
HJ: What is that? What do you mean? Like a one-man show kind of thing?
CD: Yes! I’m doing a one-woman show by accident.
HJ: [Laughter] Oh wow. So it’s way more involved than stand-up.
CD: I mean, yes and no. It’s so weird. It’s such a weird accident. I literally was like, ‘It’s non-refundable. I have to go through with it.’
HJ: Oh my god.
CD: It’s hilarious. In a way it’s not that different from my stand-up, but I’m sort of doing these things I wouldn’t do in stand-up—these kinds of gestures and actions, so it’s kind of ridiculous. I’m doing this piece about how I used to be a DJ. It’s about all of my failed DJ experiences. DJ-ing was always a shitshow for me, so I basically have a one-woman show about that. I have all these crazy experiences as I’m sure you do with Gravy Train!!!! At some point, I got flown across the country to DJ a WNBA after party. That was my life and I couldn’t even believe it. It felt like such mistaken identity the whole time.
HJ: Well I’m glad that you’re still doing stand-up because it’s really so daunting and I’m really glad whenever anyone pushes through that initial insanity.
ON THE INITIAL INSANITY
CD: Do you remember your first open mic?
HJ: Yes, it was on New Year’s Eve 2012.
CD: I cannot believe your first open mic was on New Year’s Eve.
HJ: Briefly, I lived with a stand-up comedian while I was in school and the horror stories she told me about male comedians in 2008 made me decide, ‘I’m never doing stand-up. I know I had my dreams when I was a kid, but I’m never doing that.’ She would tell me things like that a booker would say to her straight up, ‘I would book you on my show, but you’re not hot enough.’ and I thought, ‘I’m never doing that. I’m closing the book on that one.’ I just don’t have a thick enough skin and I had enough trouble at UCLA dealing with 21-year-old dudes that said ‘faggot’ to me all the time. I was 27. I couldn’t even deal with men writing screenplays that had no female characters. How was I going to deal with a guy telling me I was fat and ugly and stupid? I just wasn’t interested anymore.
My first open mic was on New Year’s Eve because my resolution that year was to try stand-up comedy and it took me 365 days to get the balls to do it. I could not fucking do it and it was the last day of the year and I was like, ‘You only have one more day. You have to go.’ So instead of doing something fun and getting drunk and hanging out with my friends on New Year’s, I drove to a comedy club in the valley at 5pm. I was stressed out for the entire week before and freaked out. I got to the club wearing a disguise—I wore glasses that I don’t have a prescription for because I was so scared of being seen and hearing what my voice would sound like in the microphone. Everything about it terrified me. I had to have some barrier between me and the audience so I had these glasses on. I went and had a shot of whiskey and I had my five-minute set prepared. There were like three or four people there. Nobody laughed. I was so uncomfortable the entire time—my heart was racing. I remember just wanting to look like I was comfortable. I didn’t even care if the jokes landed. The host right after I got off stage said, ‘You don’t have to be so nervous. There’s nothing to be scared of.’ And I wanted to die because of the vulnerability, more than because of my jokes not working.
I felt like they saw me naked. It was a terrible feeling and the next comic that went up made fun of me too and said something like, ‘What is it, like your second time on stage?’ And I said, ‘It was my first time!’ I yelled it out because they didn’t know. I said, ‘It was my New Year’s resolution.’ I was trying to win it back and be funny and I think he said something like, ‘What’s the point? If you waited this long, you shouldn’t have done it at all.’ Something that was so mean. I drove home at like 8pm. I felt so raw and just so overwhelmed because I had wanted to do that my entire life and I had been scared of doing that very thing for my whole life. I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t go out that night. I was processing the weight of what I had done. I had faced my greatest fear. I didn’t do it again for three months because it was a horrible feeling.
CD: I’m so glad you kept performing.
HJ: It was hard. After I did that, I told myself, ‘You’re just going to keep going. You’re just going to keep doing it.’ Every single day, I found a reason not to because of fear. I just didn’t want to feel that way again. The next time I did an open mic, [my experience] was the total opposite because guess who showed up? Maria Bamford. She was one of the reasons I decided to try doing comedy. I had been a fan of hers for so long and another friend of mine convinced me to go, and it was a totally different environment—it was at a sandwich shop. My friend went up third and killed. Then I went up. I did well and people laughed and I felt fucking amazing, and then Maria Bamford went up and I thought, ‘This is some kind of sign that I need to keep doing this because I’m having the best night of my life. I’m at an open mic at a sandwich shop and one of my heroes is here. This means I have to keep going and to not be discouraged.’ People got what I was saying. That’ll show you how much fear can get in the way. If my friend hadn’t been on my ass about going to that open mic, who knows how long it would have taken me to do it again. That night showed me how big the world is—how small my mind is in terms of what I think is going to happen. That goes with everything in life. You have a small perception of things and you’re just like, ‘Well, I’m bad at this and they made me feel bad and that’s it, that’s the end.’ That first open mic proved all my fears right. I went into that situation feeling like I didn’t belong there. I was scared and I didn’t think I was good enough, and they let me know that was true. And that was the confirmation I needed, that was all it took to derail my entire life because I was scared of what these assholes thought. It meant nothing.
ON COMEDIC BEGINNINGS
CD: I would love to hear about your comedic journey. From what I know, you were a musician in the Bay Area who went to study television writing at UCLA and then started performing stand-up comedy in L.A., and I’m sure there are other things that I don’t know and would love to hear about how you ended up where you are now creatively.
HJ: When I was a kid, I watched Saturday Night Live a lot. SNL raised me pretty much. Even when I was really little I was always trying to be the funny person. As I was growing up, that was always a big part of my personality and my way to make friends—using my sense of humor to make people laugh. When I was in high school, I started thinking about doing stand-up, which is really funny because I didn’t do it until I was over 30, which was all because of fear.
In high school, I really wanted to do stand-up and I thought, ‘Well, as soon as I get out of high school I’m going to do that.’ And I really didn’t know how to go about it. I remember being a huge fan of Margaret Cho and just wondering, ‘How do you start being a stand-up comic?’ I didn’t know about open mics and I had no one to ask. I knew that I wasn’t ready for it probably, and stand-up was a terrifying thought for me then. I always thought, ‘I want be a writer for TV, I want to be on TV, I want to be funny. That’s what I’m good at.’ Writing and being funny were the only things I felt confident at.
Once I graduated high school, I moved away to the Bay Area and I was really into punk, riot grrrl, and feminist music. I found myself in a situation about a man where I was hurt and I wanted to respond with humor and I formed Gravy Train!!!! as a joke-band with my friends as a retaliation against this guy. Gravy Train!!!! started as my way of making fun of this guy publicly. It was never supposed to be a big deal. I never expected to tour from it or anything like that. I was good at making fun of the situation. It was the only thing that made me feel better because I had a broken heart and I wrote my feelings out in a comedic way. We set it to music and the humor of it just ended up spiraling out of control in the best way.
The humor was also a defense mechanism for me in terms of my not being very confident. I didn’t really know who I was at that age. I was in my early 20s and I didn’t have much self worth, and I wanted to make fun of myself before anyone else could. I used the band to make fun of everything, to exaggerate my personality, exaggerate my flaws, and just really make a mockery of everything that makes me uncomfortable which was sex, relationships, food, body image–everything I was thinking about that was rumbling inside me because I didn’t know the answers. I thought, ‘I’ll just take all of that and make it really silly, stupid, and over the top so that I don’t really have to think about those things because it’s all a joke.’ That became what I did for almost my entire 20s.
We got a response to the band that none of us could have predicted, and I ended up being able to tour the world with my musical heroes Kathleen Hanna and Bratmobile. I think the humor was the selling point of that whole thing and a lot of gay kids really responded to it and the whole ‘I don’t give a fuck about what people think’ aspect of what we were doing. I really think without the humor, that project would not have worked because we weren’t political. We were all just very silly and funny. We didn’t take ourselves seriously and we made fun of everything and that was kind of my favorite way to connect with people and always has been my favorite way to connect—through making light of life and self-loathing, which was also at the time the way I dealt with not totally liking myself.
Around the end of it, my other bandmates were starting to move on to other projects and I thought, ‘Well, what am I going to do? What did I want to do before the band? Oh I wanted to be a TV writer.’ I applied to UCLA’s School of Film and Television and got in, moved back to L.A. and [enrolled in UCLA’s] program, but I guess what I didn’t know at the time was that doesn’t mean you’re a TV writer.
CD: I’m curious about the difference you felt on stage performing in a band versus on stage by yourself performing stand-up?
HJ: A lot of people, when I first started stand-up, would just talk about how scared I was and everybody would say, ‘You’re a pro because you’ve been on stage for such a long time—you’ve got no problem.’ I just really disagreed with that because in my band, for the most part, for whatever reason, I still don’t quite understand it—it was like a zeitgeist or something, but we pretty much played to our fans from our second show onward. We were playing to our friends. [On] the first tours we went on, we had kind of a gentle crowd because [we were touring with] Bratmobile, so we already had gay people and feminists in the audience. We didn’t have to win anybody over. When I went on stage in Gravy Train!!!!—I fuckin’ feel like a douche saying this, but I felt like I was already adored.
We were playing for a lot of young kids who just wanted to see a party band. After a while we were just playing for our own crowd that came to see us. I would get wasted before every show, but that’s a whole other issue. I never felt scared. I never felt like I was being seen for who I was because it was a caricature—we were a party band, I was drunk, and the things that I was singing about were not… sorry to disappoint, but… those things were not wholly accurate. It was so exaggerated and so ridiculous that if the audience didn’t like me, they didn’t like my character, Chunx. I didn’t even go by my own name. Those were all things that helped in addition to the fact that I had three other people on stage with me. Music is different too because there isn’t that dead silence when you’re delivering a joke.
With comedy, I’m worried about being authentic. I’m working on not hiding behind a version of myself and I also don’t get drunk before every show and I’m older so everything is different. I’m going onstage alone, I have nobody there to help me, the crowds that I’m performing in front of don’t know who I am. They’re not already fans of mine, they’re not already behind me. A lot of times you’re at open mics and nobody laughs and that’s painful, especially since I’m trying to be really honest about who I am now and trying to be vulnerable, which is what I was not in Gravy Train!!!!.
In Gravy Train!!!!, everything was very set-up so I wasn’t vulnerable. Even if it was under the guise of vulnerability, like ‘Oh I’m not skinny and I have STDs’—anything that could be seen as embarrassing, I was owning it. I wasn’t vulnerable and those things weren’t fully true—it was a mockery. Now I’m struggling with my persona because I know I can’t just be totally vulnerable—that’s not comedy. There has to be some strength in it—that’s the hard part, and that’s the difference—trying to find that strength onstage while still being vulnerable and really honest. I already did the whole caricature of myself thing and I’m not doing that now. That’s the main difference—that I’m trying to be authentic and show some vulnerability and talk about what’s really going on in my life. And that’s fucking terrifying because if that’s not funny, it’s just real sad. [Laughter]
I’ve had open mics where I just talk about the really rough shit and it’s not funny, and ain’t nobody got time for that at an open mic. I learned that really fast. The main things are just a) the audience is not automatically supportive of me, which is different from my band, b) I’m totally alone, and c) I’m trying to actually be myself without substances or defense mechanisms and that’s terrifying and really difficult. I had never really put that together before talking to you right now. I’m just trying to actually be myself now. I guess that’s what’s so hard about it. I struggle all the time with, ‘Why is this still so hard for me? Why is it so challenging?’ It’s more than being comfortable onstage because I’m definitely more comfortable onstage now.
ON SEXUAL HUMOR
HJ: My character in my band was like ‘I’m really sexual. I’m really in your face. Overall my M.O. is that I don’t give a fuck. That’s what’s underneath all of this. I don’t care what you think of me. And that’s what’s driving all of this—that I don’t give a shit. And that’s why I can be wearing this outfit and that’s why I can be saying these really heinous graphic sexual things. And performing sex acts on stage sometimes—because I don’t care what you think’. When I’ve been in front of certain comedy audiences that I’m uncomfortable with, I’ve gone there because I’m having trouble on stage and I just want them to laugh. I’ll pull something out that is really sexual, without even planning on doing it. I’ll just go into that character and it works. That is an issue for me because that’s not really what I want to do, but I know that it works.
The sex stuff is really hard for me to figure out—[I want] a way [to incorporate it] that is not pandering to a male audience because I want to talk about sex without doing that. It’s tough because that sort of sexual humor has gotten me out of some scary situations onstage just in terms of feeling like I’m going to bomb if I don’t do that. I haven’t done it in a long time, but my first year of comedy, sometimes I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I don’t want to use sex to get laughs from guys or use not just sex, but shock to get laughs.
CD: I was just going to ask you if you would ever have Chunx, your Gravy Train!!!! persona make an appearance and it sounds like in certain moments, she does.
HJ: Yeah, that character is a part of me and I’m good at that kind of humor. Since grade school I’ve been the girl who says the fucked-up sexual joke. I’ve always really excelled at doing the dirty joke—that’s my shtick. Gravy Train!!!! certainly wasn’t bad, but I’m just working on being a little more honest with myself at this point. I just don’t want to take that route always because it had kind of a detrimental effect on me just only going off sex for so long. Detrimental is too strong of a word, but people really thought that I was a person that I’m not, and I thought that about myself too. I was really confused about my identity after that band because I was like, ‘Wait! I don’t necessarily think that’s always funny.’ I’m not a promiscuous person, but people think I am and people think I’m cool with a lot of stuff that I’m actually not cool with, but I do have boundaries, and this all sounds very 12-step and there’s a reason for that. [Laughter] Long story short, Chunx will make appearances and that’s totally fine and it’s hard for me not to write about sex because I think sex is the funniest subject. I’ve always thought that—that’s why it was such a big deal in my band. I think it’s hilarious. I’m never not going to think that. But I’m just not relying on it so much for the cheap laughs. I can work harder than that. I’m challenging myself to work harder than that.
CD: I’m wondering if there are any comedians who talk about sex in a way that you really appreciate.
HJ: It’s a mixed bag for me. What kind of rubs me the wrong way is when female comedians resort to, ‘But I’m a slut and I hate myself’ type humor. That is so common and I would never want to be the person to say, ‘You can’t talk about that.’ Everybody can fuckin’ talk about what they want; their experiences, but for me I feel like that’s kind of a built-in thing that many women feel like they have to do. That’s kind of the automatic joke: ‘Well, I hate myself because I’m a slut and I treat myself like shit.’ That’s what I’m trying so hard not to do—just going on stage and being like, ‘Yeah, I’m dating… I fucked a million guys last week.’ That’s not funny to me anymore. I think that a lot of people want to hear that. That style to me, kind of feels like the dick jokes of comedy for women. I know that self respect isn’t funny, but… I like Sarah Silverman. I like that she doesn’t go to that automatically. I like that she makes it absurd. She makes sex absurd. I love that about her.
I think she used to be really shock-oriented, but her last special has this bit where she talks about how to make the word ‘pussy’ grosser. She lisps the word ‘pussy’ over and over again to the point where it’s just so stupid. I don’t think she goes to any self-hating shit. That’s more of my thing right now and I’m not trying to be judgmental because I know I’ve made a career off that stuff too. It’s just hard to hear it all the time. It’s becoming kind of sad because you hear it in the world too in the way women talk about themselves. The culture is already pushing us to hate ourselves, and now we have to talk about how we let any dude fuck us all the time and that’s supposed to be funny. I’ll just say that’s not going to part of my thing. I’m seeing it everywhere.
CD: I totally get it and I’m reminded of how Amy Schumer has that really great skit on her show where all these female friends are complementing each other and then instead of accepting the compliments…
HJ: I love that scene.
CD: I think that’s the most brilliant thing ever. I sent it to a bunch of of my female friends and everyone was dying over how true it was.
ON BEING UNFILTERED
CD: I’ve been performing at a night called Say Everything and everyone gets ten minutes and you can go up with prepared material or you can just go and improvise. It’s called Say Everything because the audience is encouraged to interrupt you and ask questions. The last time I did it, I ended up ranting about Aileen Wuornos. Afterwards, I was asking myself, ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ That’s just buried deep inside?! [Laughter]
HJ: Oh my god, that’s amazing.
CD: So I completely understand what you said about both finding your voice and that the only way to do that it is through getting up there while also trying not to alienate people.
HJ: I feel like I’m finding my voice. I hate to say that because everybody says that, but it is really a thing. I had no idea if I was supposed to be my band character, Chunx. I knew I didn’t want to do that. I’m still kind of figuring out what I want to talk about and how to talk about those things without alienating people because I have a lot of feminist material and I know that scares some people, and I have to be aware of that while also not pandering to a male audience. There’s a way to do it that I’m working on finding, where I can speak to people without alienating them.
If I were just me unhinged, fuckin’ Heather Unplugged up there just going off, I’m not going to get where I want to get. I have a lot of harsh opinions. I’m pretty mean-spirited in my mind about the climate of getting up in front of a room full of guys, and the energy that I feel and the experiences I’ve had are not something that I’m happy about and don’t make for a happy-go-lucky whimsical fun performer. And that’s what I’m aiming for because that’s what spoke to people in Gravy Train!!!!—that silliness and irreverence and fun— that’s who I really feel like I am. I feel like that’s my essence: joy and connecting with people on a level of joy instead of spite or resentment, but it’s hard because I have a lot of that. [Laughter]
CD: My thoughts on one of the biggest comedians of all time being a serial rapist aka Bill Cosby also came out in my last improvised performance. I was wearing a “Cosby sweater” and I actually said because I was just riffing, ‘Yeah, I don’t like to call this a Cosby sweater. I like to call it my Roman Polanski sweater.’ Just making a comment about male celebrities who have done horrible things to women, but are not in jail.
HJ: I think that situation kind of speaks for itself. I haven’t run into anyone who is a Cosby apologist. I haven’t heard anyone defend him in the comedy world. I feel lucky to say that because I’m sure that’s not the case everywhere. What scares me is the more pervasive attitude of ‘We can say whatever we want,” which is true, but my bigger complaint with men in comedy is not that I’m offended, but that I don’t think people are trying very hard. People just say ‘rape’ just to say it. Everyone’s so numb to it. I think [when] all these dudes are like, ‘Fuck Cosby. He did a horrible thing,’ there’s this sort of self-congratulatory air in that. These male comics are putting themselves on “our side” because rape is an obviously terrible thing and he obviously did it, but then at open mics, these same guys are applauding their friends who are saying horrible shit and they’re seeing that there are three girls there and nobody gives a fuck about what environment that’s creating. I feel like the Cosby thing is a way for men to be allies with women, because nobody’s arguing whether he did it, but you still don’t want to go to an open mic if you’re a girl. No one’s doing anything to change that. These same guys are letting awful men come say horrible shit. It would be cool if these same men who say they support women could work to create less hostile environments for women at open mics. That’s where male comics could actually do something and get involved.
CD: In New York, a huge city where there are 1,000 open mics, we have one, as far as I know, all-female open mic that happens once or twice a month, which is amazing, but it still feels like too little. I’m wondering if L.A. has anything like that?
HJ: Yeah, we have a couple all-female open mics, but I don’t even know if that’s the answer. I’m so grateful for those mics and at the beginning, I would only go to those because I felt safer. But I feel bad even putting that on anyone as a problem to fix, because I don’t know how it can be fixed. But it just doesn’t feel right that these dudes can call out all this bullshit about Cosby, about whatever’s going on culturally at the moment, and can stand behind those causes and write a think piece or a tweet that’s feminist-minded and that good shit, and they look like a hero on social media, but then why are open mics still so hostile? Those people are there. What’s going on? I don’t know how to turn someone off from talking about really shitty stuff when there’s only two women in the room and those two women are probably not going to come back to the open mic because they don’t feel good being in a room like that.
CD: I think it was my third open mic ever in Tucson—I was sexually harassed by the old guy MC all night. After I went up, he was like, ‘Whoa. Wasn’t she something to look at?’ and kept doing things like that all night and that became his shtick all night, like ‘God, I can’t stop thinking about that Cathy de la Cruz.’ And he did that to me all night while there were about 30 performers and about 27 of them were male and I didn’t want to leave because I didn’t want it to seem like it bothered me, but I never went back. I was so upset. I was even kind of afraid to walk to my car because he was smiling at me weird. Luckily, I had a friend with me and she was really disturbed because she never went to comedy clubs, so she had no idea that this might even be a possibility of something that could happen. Me, I was like, ‘Of course that happened. This world is fucked up.’ I got coffee a couple months later with one of the guys who was there that night, and he said, ‘I’m still really sorry about what happened to you that night. I wish I would have said something when I went up there.’ And I was like ‘Yeah, I wish you would have said something too, you jerk.’
HJ: I don’t want to go to an open mic by myself and neither do a lot of the women comedians I know. Even if I don’t feel unsafe, I don’t want to hear this shit all night. Like, ‘Rape, am I right?’ It’s like, ‘Fuck you.’ It’s just not fun.
CD: You had such a fanbase for Gravy Train!!!! Have you thought about seeking out those same fans for your comedy—a queer and feminist fanbase that maybe wouldn’t normally be into stand-up comedy, but would probably appreciate your work? Or did you want to go the more traditional stand=up route because of your interest in television writing?
HJ: I would love for my fans from Gravy Train!!!! to know that I’m doing this now. I really don’t know the best way to go about that. If I knew a way, I would, but I’m horrible at self-promotion. I did one show where the host talked about my band before and then people came up to me after the show and were like, ‘Oh my god. I was the biggest fan of you in Gravy Train!!!!’ But I don’t think they ever would have known it was me if the host hadn’t mentioned my band. I’m also probably a little reluctant to make the connection because I don’t want to disappoint people. I don’t know what people would expect from me knowing that I was in Gravy Train!!!! I think they probably expect something a little different than what I’m doing now. Maybe not. I have a really hard time gauging what I’m putting out there on stage. I’m still experimenting with what works for me and what doesn’t. Do I want to be louder? Do I want to be more relaxed? Do I want to be kind of more stoic and sarcastic? I try different things every show. Probably there’s a little fear that people who knew me from my band would want something more boisterous and more kind of brash and in your face, and that’s not really what I’m doing.
ON LOS ANGELES
CD: Is there a comedy scene in L.A. that I totally don’t know about that’s amazing/feminist/experimental?
HJ: I think there’s a lot of cool experimental stuff going on. My friend Casey Jane Ellison, a standup comedian, puts on a show at a feminist retail space and art studio called Otherwild. She hosts a monthly show there that I’ve participated in. Her comedy’s more experimental, and I felt like that was a good crowd for me. It was kind of the Bratmobile filter or the Le Tigre filter that I had in Gravy Train!!!! where the audience members are more likely to be open and cool people that have feminist ideals and they’re going to get what I’m talking about. It’s really great that people are showing up—like art crowds and feminist crowds. Different factions of people are showing up to comedy now because it’s becoming more wide-reaching and there are [more] one-off shows.
CD: Can you talk more about the alternative venues in L.A. and how that brings in different audiences?
HJ: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. You don’t have to suck off the President of Comedy Incorporated to do shows at some comedy club. There’s shows at barber shops, vintage stores, feminist bookstores… I put on a show at my dad’s furniture store. It’s not necessarily the two-drink minimum paying comedy scam. It feels very punk here and accessible. It seems like, at least in my neighborhood, the audience is thoughtful and smart. They want to laugh, but they’re supportive and interested. It’s a cool crowd. People get it. I probably wouldn’t have done many shows if there weren’t shows in places like that.
ON THE FUTURE
CD: Now that you’ve been doing standup for a while, do you feel like your goal is still TV writing or have your goals shifted?
HJ: I think my goals have definitely shifted. When I think about where I want to be in five years, yeah, writing for a TV show would be great, but I really just want to be able to express myself onstage in a real way and connect with people on a bigger scale. It’s become so all-consuming to get better at stand-up because it’s been so challenging. Stand-up has made me think so much about who I am. It’s had a really unexpected self-reflective effect on me. I just thought, ‘Oh I’ll try this thing and then I won’t be scared.’ It’s had a way different result. I question what I say to get what results and why I say things a certain way and why I go to certain subject matters like we talked about earlier, the ways I seek attention and what works and what doesn’t.
If in two years, I feel like I could go on stage and really know myself, that would be a success whether people liked it or not. If I could go on stage and feel 100% authentic and comfortable and also ecstatic with creative joy in the moment without self doubt and judgment, that would be mind-blowing—even if I wasn’t making any money. It’s hard for me to think about money being a part of it because it hasn’t been so far. [Laughter]
I try to be always out seeing shows because I think it adds to the momentum. To me that’s almost as important as performing because for so many years I felt like I didn’t belong in that world. Going out to see my friends who are comedians perform reminds me that I am in this world and I do belong there.
CD: And when you’re at a show you’re not performing at, you actually get to support the comedians by laughing versus being all-consumed about what you’re going to say.
HJ: Exactly. Or having fun which is what it’s supposed to be all about. Everything I’ve done in the past has been about, ‘Okay. Where’s it going to get you? How famous are you going to get? How much money is it going to make you and how many people are going to love you?’ And this is not about that. This is the first time in my life where I’m not driven by what other people will think of me. It’s challenging me to not make easy choices, and I feel really lucky that I got to talk about that with you.