erin judge writes this

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I'm Erin Judge. I'm a comedian and a writer. I live in Los Angeles.

18 November 2014

sorry about your harsh bummer

a letter to comics who are going through a rough time

Dear Hilarious Person,

I heard about what happened. It sucks so much that [your late night appearance got cancelled/you got fired from your first TV writing gig/you didn't win that contest even though you had the best set of the night]. I know you must be feeling [embarrassed about all the promotion you did for your appearance/racked with self-doubt/angry at the injustice of it all]. Trust me: I know how you feel.

My first impulse is to [buy you a beer/give you a merit badge/get ill-advised tattoos together]. Set-backs like this are all part of the journey, just like [your first time on stage/your first bombing/the first time you piss off a blogger]. I know it's probably cold comfort right now, but I'm proud of you for making it far enough to get to this particular crushing blow. I'm confident you'll get beyond it, both personally and professionally, really soon.

I know you probably need to [cry/hole up/punch the wall] for a few hours. I just want you to know that, whenever you're ready to [talk/vent/hit a mic], I'm available to [listen/agree/tag along].

Now please enjoy this rainbow:

In solidarity,

07 November 2014

real tips for men in comedy

this dude is as special as you are

The funny and delightful Cameron Esposito recently wrote a piece called 10 Tips for Men Starting Out in Stand-Up. It's great, and you should read it.

Through social media and a few super-secret non-NSA-infiltrated untraceable comics-only message boards, I've learned that some male comics are miffed by this. Peeved. They seem irritated that this piece dares to be satirical.

Well, fellas, have no fear! I've made a sincere, straight-forward, earnest list of career recommendations just for you:

Real Tips for Men in Comedy

1. Take it personally whenever a female comic has a gig you don't have. Like, say, the number 1 spot on iTunes or writing for the AV Club.

2. Take it personally whenever a female comic talks about sexism in comedy.

3. Remember, rape jokes are a right, not a privilege. And they don't even have to be funny!

4. This is about you. You you you. When you talk about other groups of people, any visceral reaction we might have is an attempt to censor you. But when people paint your group in broad strokes, they're way out of line. And it is never funny. You have a sense of humor, of course, but this stuff is just plain reverse-sexism! This especially applies if your name is Matt or Dan or Mike or Shawn. Or was it Sean? I'm so sorry, I honestly cannot remember which one you are.

No need to thank me, bros. You are totally welcome.

26 October 2014

young and dumb

“Dinner’s ready,” I declare, flipping off the electric burner on the stove-sink-fridge combo unit. I load my bowl with veggies and beans  -- “orphan mash,” as we dubbed it back in the aughts -- and squirt too much Sriracha on top. Then I plop myself down in front of the normal tenant’s bed to watch my husband prepare his plate.

We’ve been living like this for a quarter of a year. Three months ago, we packed up our lives to camp, kayak and couch-surf across the country and ultimately land in a series of cramped, awkward sublets on the left coast.

“Good for you!” people tell us. “This is the time to do it! While you’re young!”

We are not young. He turns thirty-nine on a date of numerological significance later this year. I’m pushing thirty-four. My grandmother had five kids well before she was my age. We might start trying next year. We keep saying that.

Once upon a time we had our own dental plans and 401Ks. We met eleven years ago, working semi-serious full-time jobs at the same exceedingly serious academic institution outside Boston. (“No, not Tufts…”) Today our queen-sized bed and our tax records and our Cuisinart standing mixer are hibernating in a storage pod somewhere near Elmira, New York.

He sits down next to me and scoops some orphan mash into his mouth. “Baby.” He shakes his head. “This is so good. Thank you.” That’s how we are. We praise each other’s cooking. We say “thank you.” My eyes start to water every time I hear lyrics about love that lasts a lifetime. I never even knew those songs existed in high school.

We’re in Los Angeles for my career. I tell jokes and I write stuff. Three years ago he moved from New York City to Ithaca for his dream job, and I half-moved and shit got complicated. I was on the road or in the City a lot of the time, and somehow I was still not on stage enough and not with him enough. His dream job morphed into something far less dreamy. It wasn’t working.

“Let’s move to LA,” he proposed on our Christmas road trip.

“Serious?” I asked from my perch in the passenger seat.

“Why not? I think we’ve got one last young and dumb thing left in us.”

We call our new sublet “the yurt.” It is small and filled with musical instruments that belong to the teen genius who normally lives here but is currently on tour with his band. We chop our vegetables on a corner of the sink. We eat on the floor. We are young and dumb.

“I’m just so happy here,” I say, impaling a chick pea with my REI camping fork. “I love the city and the culture and the comedy scene. It feels like I’ve finally found my place in the world, you know?”

“Well, it’s a desert ecology,” he explains. “So there’s probably a lot of lithium in the groundwater.”

I am very lucky.

03 October 2014

not just another wednesday night

On Wednesday night at Meltdown I saw Dave Chappelle and it was a transcendent experience. I am also queer and I grew up in a gay family. And I am a comedian. So basically everybody should care what I and only I have to say about this particular internet non-troversy.

Here is a link to a Tumblr post about the show that I'm partly responding to, but I'm also responding to what other comedians on all sides of this question had to say about the performance on social media.]

A few bullet points about the actual event:

* Tackling material like Dave did is neither safe nor easy at The Meltdown. Meltdown is a room full of sweet youthful internet-savvy comedy nerds, not conservative suburbanites who watch Fox News.

* He said a lot of stuff about sexuality. He also talked quite a bit about decapitation. And lactation. And South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He's an odd and fearless man.

* The way he talked about trans people was, frankly, dehumanizing. But it was also about being himself out in the real world and encountering something outside of his experience and having those around him shame him for not instantly conforming to their/our way of talking about it.

Now, about "calling him out" for what he said:

I do honestly appreciate the deep commitment to plurality and to not hurting people's feelings and to promoting the rights of all the oppressed people that is at the heart of what such people (be they "white liberals" or "caller outers" or "progressives" or whatever) think and do and say.

Here's the story of how I started comedy. The year was 2002. I was 21 years old. There was probably an Orange Alert. I went down to NYC and saw a show at the Comedy Cellar, one of the best clubs in America. And I watched as 7 out of 8 comics ripped Arabs and Muslims and the poor South Asian American guy in the front row. I was horrified that the crowd found it so funny.

And then there was another comic who just didn't do that. One dude. His material about 9/11 was completely different, coming from pretty much the opposite political perspective. And the same audience was still laughing. Nobody had ever told me or shown me that was possible. I thought people either liked your opinions and agreed with you, so they would laugh and clap, or they didn't agree with you, so they would sit stone-faced. Not true. Comedy opens people up, in every direction.

A few months later, I left the womb of my women's liberal arts college and started doing stand-up. Right away, I was exposed to so much aggressive language, riddled with misogyny and violence and homophobia and ignorance. I learned in college (through the culture on campus, not the classes) that such language is extraordinarily dangerous, that we all need to change our vocabularies in order to avoid it, that to do otherwise is to be a foot-soldier of white supremacy and homophobia and oppression.

I had been taught to fear language and bias, my own included. I expected it to hurt me, so it did. But the people saying it were all perfectly nice to me. The people who sometimes espoused these views (or so I saw it) by using words that I'd been taught to fear didn't hate me or wish to harm me or think that I should not have equal rights. And those words? They didn't actually hurt me. Those taboos being transgressed didn't re-traumatize me. (And I will tell you all about my trauma history if you actually care to hear it. It's a doozy. Or, rather, a series of doozies.)

My rarified campus post-structuralist vocabulary was not and is not a universal language, available to all people whose hearts are in the right place.

Comedians throw out ideas all the time. Some of them they believe deeply, and others they don't. Lots of us want to be agents of social change, to push society in the "right" direction. Others just want to write really tight one-liners. And still others want to be agitators, jesters, agents of chaos, teetering on the edge of the taboos. And that has value too.

Dave Chappelle does not approach the stage from the position of privilege that you might assume. Keep in mind that this is a man who, at the height of his fame, fled the country. This was at least in part due to his perception of his comedy becoming a vehicle for anti-black racism rather than a satirical skewering of it. I can't imagine that pain. I also believe that I was laughing at Chappelle's Show for all the "right" reasons, because I'm a good little progressive white girl with a great big subtle brain and a heart of gold. But what do I know?

When your burden is to make the jokes that everybody gets, that never hurt anybody, that lift the downtrodden out of the trenches and right the wrongs of society, you get tripped up. Some people might be laughing because they enjoy seeing other people mocked. And some people might turn off their brains because you use a word that they have come to fear, either through real world experiences of violence or through being taught that the word only comes out of the mouths of people who hate them.

The best thing that I've heard that delves into these questions in a meaningful way is RuPaul's episode of WTF. Go listen if you haven't heard it. And, after twelve years in the trenches of comedy clubs and far too many precious hours spent reading wars of words online, I myself am on Team RuPaul. "All of us here on this planet, we are God in drag."

I believe that, and I believe this: Being your authentic self is the hardest fucking thing, no matter who you are or where you come from. Even for white dudes. The straight cis ones.

I hope my comedy can live up to that.

Now, please enjoy this rainbow:

20 September 2014

close enough

I've been ruminating on this for weeks, so I thought I'd post something about it here. In general I tend to believe that misogyny is a bigger problem than sexism, and I'm fascinated by what it means for people to be fully-actualized versions of themselves out in the world, liberated from social expectations based on sex or gender (or race or ethnicity or or or...).

So read on if you dig that shit.

My recent four seconds of fame on Last Comic Standing (which you can watch here, starting around minute 6) featured precisely one joke from my act. I loathe writing out my comedy, but since I had to type it up for standards and practices anyway, I'll just go ahead and copy-paste it here:
I’m married. To a man. I have a husband. I know, a minute ago I said I was bisexual, and now I'm talking about my husband. I guess it is confusing. The truth is, I dated women for years, and then I met my husband, and I was like, “Wow...... Close enough.”
[insert uproarious laughter and applause here]

After the episode aired, my real live actual husband received some gentle ribbing from his pals. One texted, simply: "close enough." Another posted "close enough" on his Facebook wall. A guy friend of mine pulled me aside and said, "I watched Last Comic Standing. I wish they'd showed more of you! They only aired the one husband-bashing joke."

Now, I'm not going to pretend that line gets laughs from a super enlightened place. "LOL, he's emasculated!" is at least part of the reaction. I often follow that up with my bit about how much said husband loves Jane Austen. Comedy comes from life, people.

But the truth is, my husband does have a lot of the qualities our society tends to associate with the feminine, and he decidedly lacks a lot of traits and interests that your typical "man's man" is expected to possess.

The dude really really loves Jane Austen. And he's quick to laugh at my dumb jokes. A partner who strokes my fragile comedian's ego is both absolutely essential and a traditionally female role to play. (He calls himself my "comedy wife," as in, "You head backstage. I'll go sit over there with the other comedy wives.")

He doesn't watch professional or college sports, and he knows next to nothing about any of them. He understands all the rules, but when it comes to players, stats, or even team names, he's just not that into it.

Even though he's an introvert, he's so kind and sweet that most anyone who meets him warms to him immediately. He has a disarming smile and a gentle nature. He loves birds and plants and books and baking.

And, perhaps most incredibly, he deeply, in his very soul, does not give a fuck what you think about any of that. I've never met anybody so effortlessly confident in liking what they like and being exactly who they are.

There are a lot of women who used to date women and wind up with a male partner. Chirlane McCray, the First Lady of New York City (pictured above with her family), leaps to mind as an example, and I know many others personally. Generally, those male partners tend to be open-hearted feminists who have no interest in traditional gender roles. They tend to be dudes who don't need to learn to respect women because to do otherwise would be unfathomable to them. They tend to be men who hear female voices in meetings, laugh at women's jokes, read female authors, and watch movies and TV shows with female protagonists all on their own. In short, they treat women like peers. Equals. Friends. Human beings, even.

Now, it's possible to be a woman and date a woman who treats you with a lack of respect. It's a sad fact that misogyny -- which I define as the hatred and fear of women coupled with the denigration of the "feminine" human traits that all people share -- creeps into plenty of lesbian relationships. Fortunately, the relationships I had with women and the ones I saw around me were, first and foremost, friendships. They were romances between peers, where neither person was expected to ask the other out or pay for dates or be the first to call or text after sex. Once you've had that -- once you've really escaped the gender politics of sex and dating -- it's generally not terribly tempting to go back.

Is my husband a "Real Man?" Well, it depends on who you ask. My husband is taller than me and very strong from doing squats and dead lifts. He's been known to trek out into the backwoods for more than a week at a time or chill out in a hut in the Panamanian jungle for a month. He loves Jackass and owns three huge red boxes full of tools that he actually knows how to use. Then again, if "Real Men" love Jesus, then he probably doesn't qualify. (My husband likes Jesus, but only as a friend.) Nor does he keep his quiver full or try to rule over our household.

But what is this obsession with being a "real man," anyway? As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out:

Men who have no horse in the "Real Man" race are the ones who get it. And there are many, many such men. I'm lucky to call lots of them my friends. My old pal Myq Kaplan tells jokes about it. (Watch the whole clip, but especially the part around 02:50.)

For a lot of people, calling a man "woman-like" is an obvious dig. The opening line from the Disney movie Planes is a clear example. But, from my perspective, "close enough" is not an insult. "You're like a woman" is only an insult if we accept that a woman is a low-status and weak and generally bad thing to be. I love women, especially women who also toss aside gender expectations and walk around being exactly who they are, without apology.

One last thing: The first time I ad-libbed the "close enough" line, my husband was in the audience. I made eye contact with him from the stage, and it just kind of flew out of my mouth, as if it were an inside joke between us. "You HAVE to keep that line!" he insisted after the show. "It's hilarious!"

So I did. What kind of a wife would I be if I failed to submit to my husband's commands?