erin judge writes this

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I'm Erin Judge. I'm a comedian and a writer. I live in my Corolla. I will eventually land in Los Angeles.

30 June 2014

and it's only monday

What a week!

I spent all of last week at our family cottage on Lake Ontario, kayaking and cooking and hosting friends and skinny-dipping and mixing seltzer with wine. I returned to civilization on Sunday just in time to watch myself on Last Comic Standing after all, which was a very big honor for me. Now I have a month to plan a cross-country move to Los Angeles, including a bunch of comedy dates across the northern US. If you're keen on seeing me, keep checking my calendar as those bookings emerge.

But I have some extra time in the mornings and evenings this month, and instead of consuming clickbait and poking at SCOTUS on Twitter, I've decided I'd rather check out your art. Following up on my previous post about the need to engage and create, I want to spend more of my time and energy enjoying the fruits of the creative labors of my friends, my acquaintances, and the many other fascinating people I've never met in person who I know from the internet.

And if you've been wanting to ask for my input on something, this is a good time to contact me. If you sent me something to look at or read in the past and I never got back to you, hit me up again now. I'm not always perfect at responding, but I promise to do my best to get back to you. Also feel free to nag me if you don't hear back in 2 or 3 days.

I'm no great expert at stand-up comedy or writing or show producing or tour booking or press releases, but I've got experience doing all of that. And as I mentioned before, I'm also available for pep talks, encouragement, and just plain cheering you on.

This is me. I jump for you.

21 June 2014

fear of a green planet

I talk a big game these days about hiking and kayaking. I even drop the c-word from time to time, as in, "We're driving out to LA this summer, gonna do some camping." On a recent trip to the Berkshires, I searched online and found a waterfall on the Greylock preserve for me and my friend to climb around in. This still feels like a big deal to me, because underneath my Smartwool socks and breathable synthetic shirts (cotton kills!), I'm very much a recovering city kid.

I'm from Brooklyn. I did not see a rabbit in the wild until I was six years old. I remember it vividly: my grandparents had just driven me up to Cape Cod for a week's vacation. I wandered into the backyard, and there it was! Just like at the Staten Island Zoo! I stood stock-still, transfixed by the panting bunny, for at least three minutes. Eating blueberries right off the bushes later that week was a second unprecedented revelation.

My urban people were not the kind of urban people who went to national parks or sent their children on Outward Bound trips to build character and provide fodder for college entrance essays. "Camping? Not for me!" my grandmother would declare, laughing and shaking her head at the notion of sleeping on the ground. Who would put up with all that? Bugs. Weather. Wild animals. Murderers. No good. Not for us.

For many of my peers, living in a city like New York takes a lot of getting used to. You have to navigate the transit system, dodge obstacles, deal with confrontation, move quickly, avoid danger. And if you're not used to banging up against loud, insane people every day, the danger can feel ubiquitous. I notice rookie mistakes, like making eye contact with some stranger who's hollering randomly or even attempting to get your attention. NYC newbies are like old people who just got on Facebook. They have no filter. They can't tell what's real and what's just noise.

I'm faced with similar challenges when I find myself out in nature. I'm lousy at orienting myself. Despite my ability to navigate cities and roads, I cannot for the life of me learn to read a trail map. Sometimes I still lose the trail I'm supposed to be following.

And I'm no good at assessing danger in the woods. Every noise in the bushes makes me jump. For years, I would cross streams with tremendous anxiety about losing my footing. I guess in my head I thought I might injure myself and get hypothermia and have to turn back or be carried out. Here's what actually happens: your boot gets wet. Sometimes your sock. But you rarely even feel it. I just had no idea.

On top of all that, I cannot understate the fear of other humans we city folk experience in an unpopulated environment. In New York, a busy subway platform at 3am on a Tuesday is about as safe as you can get. It's well-lit, there are other watchful citizens around... Meanwhile, walking down an empty street and noticing a single human figure approaching makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. That scenario constitutes 100% of interpersonal encounters out in the wilderness. Every time I tell my aunt I'm going hiking, she asks if I bring mace with me, and not because she's concerned about rabid raccoons.* It's because, in her city logic, a woman walking through a low foot traffic area is a target.

I'm so lucky that my husband and the woman I dated before him are extremely experienced in the outdoors. They taught me everything I know about how to feel comfortable in the woods or in a canoe or a kayak. These days, I do my best to observe my husband and absorb his knowledge, to retain the skills for navigating nature on my own. NYC newbies didn't grow up watching parents and grandparents and strangers and various caretakers negotiate the city's obstacles. They didn't get "around the block" privileges at age seven. They never rode the subway as kids. When you grow up immersed in something, you understand it instinctively, inside and out. It's now twelve years since I summited my first real mountain, and I still have so much to learn.

But I'm determined. The benefits of getting to know the outdoors far outweigh the horror of pulling off your first tick.** I want to get more comfortable sleeping in a tent, and eventually I hope to graduate to backpacking. For now, I scramble around familiar hiking trails and waterfalls in Ithaca, and I'm proud to say I went for my first solo kayak trip on a choppy bay off Lake Ontario just two weeks ago. My half hour on the water paled in comparison to what my husband was doing at the time (thru-hiking the Foothills Trail in seven days), but I felt proud of my little victory nonetheless.

I myself am extremely concerned about rabid raccoons.

** That first leech, however... I'm still recovering from that one.

12 June 2014

more art

Here is the transcript of an actual conversation that took place between me and an old friend at the Harvard Bookstore, sometime earlier this century:

HER: Ugh, Eat Pray Love!

ME: Have you read it?

HER: No but my friend from work said it was awful.

ME: I really liked it.

HER: She said it was totally classist. Like, nobody is so privileged they can just go do stuff like that.

ME: Which friend from work?

HER: The one I'm subbing for.

ME: The one you're subbing for because she took five months off to go to Australia?

HER: ......Yes.


Too often, women's criticisms of female artists raise the stakes from a question of taste to one of moral judgment. This isn't simply not for me; this is bad for everyone.

Stating that somebody's personal memoir is harmful to our collective cultural consciousness when her life is so similar to your own has but one implication: self-hate.

I knew it wouldn't be long before OITNB became "problematic." Girls had no chance. RuPaul is up to her neck in criticism. Meanwhile, tired sit-com rom-com stereotypes continue to dominate culture.

There's a particular sting that comes when you're trying your best to tell stories that haven't been told. You're a new generation, or an unheard voice, and you want to tell your story, or the stories of multiple fascinating characters, in a whole new way. You're up against, frankly, The Man. Dominant cultural hegemony is your main obstacle. Somehow, you push beyond that. It's thrilling, it's exciting, it's happening. Then, somebody you think might be on your team turns to you and says: "You do not speak for us. You do not represent us. People like us would be better off if you did not speak at all."

The world is unfair. No cultural revolution will ever go far enough to fix that, or even to fix what society's got wrong. We can push. We can make little dents. But we can't be the everything. We can't write the book or make the television show that is the antidote to injustice. Moreover, any story we create that realistically reflects this broken society will likely include portrayals of injustice. Those are not endorsements. Our personal experiences are still real even if they do align with the dominant narrative. Most good stories, like most lives, contain the expected and the surprising, the typical and the unique.

If your story has not been told, tell it. Make art. Forget the consequences. And there will be many consequences, and many criticisms, some blaming you for shit that happens long after you're dead. (Seriously, read this. It'll make your head spin around at least a dozen times. It's such an exemplar of the moral judgment of women artists by women critics that it's almost a primer. It's about Frida Kahlo, and it should be called "How to Find Fault in Popular Ladies.")

Don't fear judgment. Make art. Criticism is important, but we as women need to make more art and write fewer words that break down art by women.

As RuPaul says, humans are God in drag. See that in other women, and know it in yourself. Art by women can't be "just women's art" anymore when it finally hits critical mass.

We don't need to correct other women or judge them or write them off or digitally rage, at least not as much as we need to make more art. You hear it again and again: women don't submit as much.

We need to turn up the volume.

And if you need a pep talk, just let me know.

07 June 2014

catcher in the ya

I enjoy Sara Benincasa's piece defending and celebrating YA's many adult fans, and I appreciate that she herself writes in that genre as well. Two years ago, I might not have understood this whole situation, but I've since learned more than I care to know about the world of separate and unequal book market categories. Now I realize it's not just the inside-the-box conformist thinking of one priggish Slate writer (and yes, I realize "priggish Slate writer" is redundant) that readers and writers are up against. The entire publishing industry perpetuates this genre judgment, and I believe it does so at its peril.

I have a novel on the market now, and some of the iciest rejections I've received from editors contain the criticism that parts of my book "seem almost YA." What they mean is this: "Part of this story is about high school, even though most of it is about being in your 30s, and that addles my publishing-category-obsessed brain." Flashbacks, and the echos of previous coming-of-age moments that we experience during transitions in our adult lives, are perfectly easy concepts for readers and writers to understand. And yet, the people who acquire, market, and sell books seem pretty convinced that stories cannot be told this way, especially not in a first-person novel with a female protagonist. Their industry model tells them -- tells all of us -- that, while consumers do read books from a variety of genres, no reader could possibly enjoy multiple genre experiences in the same book.

Our friendly Slate writer faults the "satisfying" (italics demonstrate contempt!) endings in YA for being too comforting, too unlike life. Another champion of challenging fiction is Jonathan Franzen, and I cannot think of a more satisfying ending than the one crafted for Freedom. This is nothing more than a retroactive justification for her knee-jerk disdain.

Our friend at Slate doesn't like YA because somebody woke up one day and decided to write a book about being a teenager. Teenagers, and particularly tweens, really liked it. In fact, that book and other similar ones did so well that "appeals to tweens and teenagers" became a publishing industry category. Then people started to write books with the goal of aligning with that category, and now it's a thing, and all these books are considered to be "for kids." And our friend at Slate doesn't think it's okay for adults to want to read books for kids. Why? Because... because... because the endings are too satisfying!

Bullshit. If anything is wrong with YA, it's that there are entire swaths of human experience that are now automatically classified as exclusively the dominion of YA. Stories that appeal to adults as well as older kids (as in, stories that appeal to humans) fall into the hands of the publishing industry and get labeled "For Teens Only."

A group of smart, courageous, unselfconscious, cool-as-fuck people who love to read have finally said "fuck that." They -- and they are mostly women -- want to read everything good, from Franzen to Austen to Rowling and beyond. They feel no anxiety about their taste. Canon elitism doesn't interest them. Genre bullying simply doesn't stick.

I set out to write a novel that dealt with the following themes: bisexuality and female sexual desire, body image, rejection, anonymity, secrets, friendship, and, most importantly, how hard it is for every single one of us to show the world who we really are. And I did. Now the book is trapped in a limbo of its own genre-bending. Is it YA or adult? Is it literary or for women? Is it queer or straight?

The answer to all of these questions is: it's both. It's all of the above. It is large, it contains multitudes. Sara's book and her article demonstrate that adult readers enjoy many of the themes that have come to be labeled as YA. Jennifer Weiner writes fun, intelligent, relevant novels for a primarily female audience, and she's smarter and funnier and more erudite than many of the darlings of contemporary lit fic. And as for queer vs. straight, a little show called Orange is the New Black is proving right now that blowing up this particular false dichotomy is super fascinating, not to mention hot as hell.

It's baffling to me that my book might never see the light of day because nobody can figure out what page of the catalog to put it on. That is so obviously an art-murdering attitude. Movies need to break out of that shit too. Cable television (not to mention Netflix) is a sea of genre confusion right now, and it's never been better. The broadcast networks, with their strict boxes, are scrambling to catch up.

If there's anything our literature-loving Slate critic should question, it's the genre regime of today's publishing industry. Books that don't fit neatly into predetermined categories have a much harder time getting published. She writes that she's been enjoying books by Charles Dickens in one sentence and implicitly categorizes his fiction as "great books for adults" in the next. Really? Dickens? If he were writing today, wouldn't at least half his stuff end up labeled YA? Or would he simply never get published at all?

Readers can read whatever they want, but they don't need me to tell them that. They've already got it covered. And writers can write for teens or adults or everyone, or just for themselves. I remain convinced that the creative process should be unbounded, but I don't need to be telling anybody that either. Writers with guts know that too.

Instead, I want to address the publishing industry:

Shake it up, smart kids. Let the art come first rather than the category, and you'll be astonished by the power of those genre-defying creations. Millions of brave, self-confident, pleasure-seeking, stimulation-hungry readers are waiting.

06 June 2014

last comic not pictured

I'm now at liberty to say that, while I was one of the Top 100 comedians selected to compete in the 2014 Last Comic Standing invitational round, I did not move onto the semifinals. Ultimately, we found out last night that I also didn't appear on the show. That's what I had expected, but I didn't know for sure, and I was not free to speak about it until the invitationals finished airing.

My friend Andrea found a promo video on the LCS YouTube page in April. It's since been removed from their active list, presumably after the show was edited. Below is a screenshot.

I have to say, LCS 8 was a fantastic experience for me. I got to travel to California twice, escaping this particularly ruthless upstate New York winter. I enjoyed working with every single person on the production team, from the talent and travel coordinators to the wardrobe people to hair and make-up to the directors to the PAs. Page Hurwitz knew all 100 of us by name. The producers gave us pep talks and expressed gratitude. I met comics from around the country, and we spent five extremely wacky hours chilling together with a bunch of cameras in the green room.

And I had a great set out there. Every joke hit, I got an unexpected applause break in the middle, and the judges had really nice things to say to me. Roseanne laughed at our banter and told me to move to Los Angeles. After my set, JB Smoove yelled "Give it up for Brooklyn! Brooklyn!" and pointed at me, so I finally got to feel like a hip hop star. (How come nobody says "Give it up for Brooklyn!" when they introduce Barbara Streisand? That's a missed opportunity.) 

It's tough to say why I didn't appear on the show. After over a decade in stand-up, I of course have tight 5 minute sets filled with personal details and tight 5 minute sets filled with silly observations. For LCS, I chose to go with the real deep shit, and maybe it was just too hard to find 20 seconds of quick-punch jokes that the editors could pull out of the context of the rest of the set. I'll never know.

Yes, I got to stand next to my name in big lights. No, I couldn't hear the judges laughing (they didn't amplify their mics until they started talking to us). Yes, I chanted "Kronberg!" in the Green Room (#gofuckyourselfben). And yes, I would do it again, at least with these producers at the helm. It was fun.

And now that I've seen the episodes, it's clear to me that the show is doing an unprecedented job of showcasing stand-up. There's a greater diversity, not just racially or of gender or sexual orientation, but of comedic styles, ages, and geography. I'm totally thrilled to see women who've been doing stand-up for more than 10 or 15 years getting serious air time on network TV. Too often, competition shows feature very young women who have a lot of potential but are essentially comedy fetuses alongside men who have been doing stand-up five times as long. That's not happening here.

It would've been nice to be on the show. Unlike a whole lot of comics, I've never auditioned or put my name forward for Last Comic Standing before this. I'm an odd blend of very bold and way too timid when it comes to putting myself out there for certain opportunities.

But I'm not disappointed. I've heard so many rough stories, of people getting bumped from Letterman and never rescheduled, or comics booking their first TV appearance only to have the show "phase out" stand-up right before their taping. It's showbiz. Shit like that happens all the time, and you learn not to pour too much anticipation into any one thing.

I'm most proud of the fact that I got this far without a manager or agent advocating for me behind the scenes. The producer who reached out said she found me on a Keith and the Girl network podcast. (Thanks Chemda and/or Myq!) And this fall, I'm moving to Los Angeles. My husband and I are packing up, driving across the northern US, and landing in LA after Labor Day. Because, love her or hate her, when Roseanne gives you a specific instruction, you feel pretty compelled to follow through.

I'm sure Kronberg has fucked himself at least once since she told him to.