erin judge writes this

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

March 11, 2015

deconstruction of heck

I have loved Kurt Cobain with every fiber of my being since I was eleven years old. I grew up too fast in adolescence, at least partly because of grunge and how everything that grunge lead me to -- punk, riot grrrl, indie films -- hit me: very, very hard. I wore black every April 8th from 1995 until I went to college. I read biographies and bought bootlegs and hung out in fan chat rooms and generally worshipped at the altar of anything and everything Nirvana.

But I have to admit -- I need to admit -- that I don't feel any deep stirring so far from this documentary trailer. I don't quite understand what's supposed to be so epic and intimate and moving about it. Have people never before considered that Kurt was a baby at some point? Have they not imagined it? His baby self is a thought I had back when I was thirteen, when my imagined idea of his childhood was a very real reason I cried for him (and his wife, and his baby, and his short life, and his suffering), way way back when he died.

I know I have the curse/blessing of deep empathy. I imagine and experience the feelings of people around me so automatically and deeply that I have to expend serious effort to turn it off. I try hard not to project this onto famous people, because I understand that I do not really know them. I'm exposed to the mitigated version the media lets through, which might have little to do with whoever that person really is.

But tell me, who among us who loved Kurt Cobain didn't feel an intimate connection to his story? Didn't we all identify with him to the core? Who among us hasn't already imagined -- damn near experienced -- the weight of the profound, stultifying, mortifying injustices of the world bearing down on us, only to have that pain spill out chaotically into our own small lives, the proximity to the truth somehow making it harder to survive? Harder to stomach either mundanity or depth, harder to comprehend the absurdity of mass-media culture, especially in those rare moments when pop intersects with Art? Like, I mean, like, actual factual real deal Art? Art, which transforms us? Art, which uplifts us? Art, which humanizes us even as it compels us to express it, possesses us? Art, which humans flock to, which we recognize en masse when it's real, which millions of us grasp at and seek out just in time to see it co-opted and commercialized and sold on a T-shirt emblazoned with a pithy lyric and a proprietary photograph?

I'm not looking forward to sitting through the film. I'm not looking forward to watching the folks who knew young Kurt back when speaking "candidly" and performing profundity when they were simply proximate to his depth, getting all prophetic in retrospect and pretending to have known his inevitable trajectory all along. I'm not looking forward to crying at his baby pictures, nor at the pictures of his baby. I'm not looking forward to watching his whip-smart wry shyness juxtaposed against Courtney's masochistic exhibitionism. I'm not looking forward to heroin.

Alas, of course, I will watch it. I will certainly watch it. I will definitely watch it. Just as I dutifully paid my tithe at Bill's Records and Tapes every time some shitty "new" concert recording came out, way back before the file extension .mp3 entered the general consciousness, I will turn on HBO on May 4th and watch the Kurt Cobain documentary. And I will feel things.

But it probably won't be anything I haven't felt before. And what's worse, it probably won't be nearly as raw as the feelings I had about these very humans and events back in 1994, when I poured all my confusion and animosity about myself and humanity and the bizarrely oxymoronic alienation you feel when you really truly know in your heart that we're all the same into my grief for a familiar stranger.

Perhaps that's the real reason why I've been so irritated by the vaunted internet verbiage surrounding the Montage of Heck trailer, by the lack of emotion the same trailer caused in me. It's because it lays bare a true and undeniable fact about my thirty-four-year-old self as opposed to the creature I recall being in adolescence.

I simply feel less now.

In my positive moments, I can chalk it up to equanimity, even happiness. I'm less mournful because I have perspective, and I choose to live in the light. I feel the joy and glorious goodness of existence, the simple pleasures of a life lived consciously and presently among like-minded friends in this vast and adorably flawed universe.

But in my darker moments, I know I'm just jaded. I'm anesthetized by adulthood, by proximity to vices: alcohol, sex, social media, whatever. I'm a million miles away from the deep grief for our species that I felt when I first vibrated with angsty art, the simultaneous ache for each tragic figure and for all of
us collectively, for the ways we harm ourselves and each other, for the tragic piecing beauty of pain encapsulated in a bizarre metaphor wailed in a hoarse melody:

I travel through a tube and end up in your infection.

I sing along whenever I hear it, in a particular off-key tone, in a particular resonant voice. I conjure what I can of the strange unafraid genius who blurted those words into microphones on stages and in sound booths. I am humbled, I am small. I am twelve. I comprehend it now the exact same amount I got it back then. No more.  

February 9, 2015

smart trash

I'm at my mother's house this week helping her out after joint replacement surgery. This is because I am a good, good daughter. My reward so far has been repeated incidents of sit-com-style humiliation.

Yesterday my mother's Prius locked me out WHILE IT WAS ON because I failed to open the trunk correctly too many times in a row. Oh, and my mother always keeps her headlights on, so the lights were blazing too. FUN! I tried using the spare SmartKey (SO smart, that key) and pressing buttons in an up-down-up-down-yadda-yadda-select-start manner in an effort to cajole it into believing that I was, in fact, an authorized driver. No dice. The battery withered and died just as my friend finally figured out how to pop the manual key out of the SmartKey. The Prius's owner, who may or may not be on several different flavors of pain medication, claimed no prior knowledge of said manual key.

FUNNY STORY: the battery of a Prius cannot be accessed directly if it is dead, because a charge is required to open the trunk, and THAT is where the battery is! ELL OHH ELL! Me and the guy from AAA had to crawl in through the backseat! WHAT A RIOT! See, you can open the hood when the battery has no charge, but the joke's on you, dumb human, because the battery doesn't live under the hood!  Fooled YOU!

This morning, Mom asked me to make her some oatmeal, not on the stove, but rather in her rice cooker, and I went to college, so I proceeded to pour all the ingredients directly into the base of the machine, instead of into the special bowl insert part where they're supposed to go, which was in the dishwasher. I found this out because when I pressed the 'COOKING' button, which means 'START' or 'ON' in this case, the rice cooker only played a fraction of its normal "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" introduction before displaying the error message "HO4." I engaged in five seconds of pre-caffeine troubleshooting before I realized my mistake. Wah-WAH! HILARIOUS, right?!

As I struggled to clean steel-cut oats and soy milk out of the nooks and crannies of Japanese electronics, Mom's automatic trash can lid sure did keep me guessing! It popped right open every time I brushed past it or ducked underneath it, but when I walked up to it with a fistful of scraped-up organic oat mush, it remained static and shut, the coy thing! What a tease you are, automatic trash can!

After I fixed the rice cooker and made breakfast and called AAA and climbed through the backseat to the trunk and jumped the car and drove around for an hour and cleaned up the kitchen, I realized the floor was a mess. I asked Mom for a broom.

"Oooh, I have an ELECTRIC broom!" she offered with delight, and I was like"ANALOG BROOM NOW."

In closing, I'd like to thank this amazing piece of technology for making my life so much easier:

December 31, 2014

clickbait I intend to write in 2015

You're Probably Using Your Microwave Wrong You Asshole

Life Hack: Steal Someone's Identity

33 Ways To Click On This Highlighted Text Right Now

It Happened To Me: I Figured Out A Thing From My Life That Others Found Vaguely Interesting

69 Sexy Secrets For Starting Sexting Sects

Love Yourself EXACTLY As You Are, And STILL Lose That Weight!

The Cum-munist Manifesto: 27 Real Sex-Havers Who Are Taking Control Of The Means Of Seduction

#[Cause]: Why Twitter, Not People, Is The REAL Force Behind The Latest Struggle For Human Rights

I Can-'T: 14 Preserved Foods That Simply Cannot Right Now

42 Signs Your Everlasting Love Is Really Just You Dry Humping A Pair Of Boxing Gloves

Could You Be Bored At Work? Take This Quiz To Find Out

96 Ways To Combat Workplace Boredom

The Worst Mistake I Ever Made (FULL DISCLOSURE: That's Actually Following My Dreams, But This Is About Something Else, Involving Snorting Heroin A Couple Of Times)

How To Tell If You Should Take Up Smoking

Don't Eat This. It's A Computer Screen.

Lonely? Press To Release Dopamine

November 18, 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,

October 26, 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.

October 3, 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:

September 20, 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?