erin judge writes this

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

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.

[Edit: 
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?


10 September 2014

doing 90

No, I did not get a speeding ticket. I traversed the continent.


I have a strong impulse to list every place we went and name-drop every friend and relative we stayed with or visited, but I doubt a straight-up trip log would be particularly interesting to anybody who isn't me. Beyond that, I'm afraid my reflections on the trip would read like those of a wide-eyed undergrad returning from study abroad: "It was aMAzing. Like I like can't even, like, describe it, you know? Like. It was THAT amazing."

Indeed.

I did learn a few things, though, and I figure a quick bulleted list never hurt anybody:

* Airbnb is fantastic and communitarian and offers the most interesting and reasonably priced places to stay everywhere in America. It is truly a game-changing travel resource.

* I developed some one-pot recipes for camping and backpacking that I'm sure I'll use throughout my lifetime. The critical ingredient in most of them is couscous, or, as I call it, "Lightweight Miracle Dots!"

* ATTENTION COAST-DWELLERS: Visit your college friends who live in the Midwest. They're tired of schlepping to New York or San Francisco to see your hipster ass. Plus they have an embarrassment of extra space.

* If you've ever kayaked ever once in your life, then you are no longer a beginner kayaker. So don't sign up for the "No Experience Necessary!" group tours, lest you find yourself acting out like a soccer hooligan during the poor guide's safety spiel.

* We are truly in the midst of a stand-up comedy boom/renaissance, and it is happening everywhere. If you find yourself in Western New York, go see Josh Potter or Mark Walton or Rick Matthews. Want some night life in Wisconsin? Check out Nick Hart or Sarah Connor or Greg Bach or Stacey Kulow, and definitely go to the fabulous Comedy Club on State. I met and watched so many exciting, interesting, funny comics on this trip. Cities like San Francisco and Minneapolis and Chicago are known for their strong comedy scenes, and they're great, but places like Madison and Buffalo (and Syracuse and Knoxville and Raleigh and and and...) are excellent comedy towns in their own right. It's a wonderful time to be a comic or a comedy fan. Or both. Like me.

...and, perhaps most importantly:

* Find a way to break free. Whether you're taking a day trip or a long weekend or a week or a month or a year, whether you're traveling by car or plane or bus or train or subway or bike, whether you have endless resources or a super duper tight budget... just GET OUT of your routine. Do something different. Go outside. Check out the free shit to do in your town. Find a nearby city or even a new neighborhood that you've never visited and just go there. So many of the "shoulds" in our lives involve adhering to our routine, spending MORE time at home or at work or at the gym or in any of the inherently limiting and circumscribed venues of our daily lives. Getting out of those patterns and places and known knowns opens you up and makes you feel so, so alive.

Holland Lake  -   Missoula, MT  -  August 19, 2014
Ahh, the mountains of Montana!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta go harvest some limes from our backyard here in LA.

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.