erin judge writes this

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

December 2, 2013

how (not) to talk to yourself, the artist

In my previous post, I outlined a few of the things you should (and mostly shouldn't) say to the creative people in your life. Now I'd like to remind all the creative people out there that we really need to watch what we say to ourselves, too.

Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself an artist, if you're a highly competitive person, you should probably stop reading right now. If you're sincerely motivated by the desire to Win or Be Number One or Claw Your Way To The Top No Matter What It Takes (TM), then you and I have very different values. Seriously, if this is the kind of thing that pumps you up:

...then go get your thinspiration elsewhere. I am not about that shit.

No, this advice is for the people like me who hover somewhere between total self-assuredness and utter self-loathing. It's amazing how narrow that gap can seem; it's easy to momentarily lose your footing in one and wind up inexplicably in the other. And that slip/transition does, oddly enough, go both ways.

If you've been throwing creative pasta at the wall for long enough, you've already read all the advice about sticking it out and not reading your reviews and inspiration/perspiration ratios and the importance of showing up. I'd like to refine that and modify it and give you two things I've learned that, from my perspective, yield the most relief from anxiety and access to continued creativity. I'm happier when I keep these things in mind, and my muse tends to hang around for longer. It's win-win-win, assuming my muse is an interested party.

1. Giving up is not an option. Hopefully, any hyper-competitive alphas who sweat pure testosterone and cortisol have already left the conversation to go do burpees until they get rhabdo, so the rest of us can reframe this concept in a more literal and less aggro way. I have no intention of screaming "QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION" in your face until you poo yourself. This is about freeing ourselves from non-existent deadlines and harmful ways of viewing the passage of time.

A lot of artists struggle with when. When will I finish this book? When will I get an agent? When will I get my first gallery show? When when when? The answer to that is unknowable. Either sometime or never. That's the best you can do.

Most of us who make self-expression a huge part of our identity don't actually have much of a choice about that. For me, writing and stand-up feel compulsive, inevitable. They're like air and water. I can't really live without them. 

When you finally acknowledge the power of your personal motivation to make art, you can stop being so fixated on the false timeline of benchmarks (awards, fat paychecks, television appearances, whatever). You can stop telling yourself that, if by thirty-_____ years old you still haven't ______ yet, you'll go do something else. Because even if you go do something else for money, you will never want to stop doing your art. 

You do it because you love it, not because it makes you famous. So you never have to give up. 

Once you realize that giving up creativity is not possible, then you can take your time and chill out and let your art life run its course. Maybe someday you'll be massively commercially successful. Definitely someday you'll die. In the mean time, if you're creating because you're driven to create, you never ever have to quit, even if you don't make enough money to support yourself for years at a time. Or ever. You can take a break, stop for a decade, scale back, try something new, free yourself, and always know that your creativity will be there because it is a part of you. You cannot give up a part of you. You will always have it. (Perhaps you can kill it. But you'd have to kill a lot of yourself to succeed with that... and it's probably a discussion for another time.)

2. Always be kind to yourself. This is a good reminder for absolutely anyone, but artists seem to need it more than most. I think we get caught up in trying to see ourselves the way "they" see us, in an effort to refine our arguments or reach our audience or find a pathway to greater exposure. It can be pretty maddening, and can quickly devolve into full-scale multi-angled relentless self-criticism.

Fortunately, loving yourself isn't the gateway to smug tone-deaf cockiness that many of us fear it might be. You can still be disciplined about your work and be kind to yourself. You can still grow. In fact, it makes growing easier.

Rejection comes quick and often when you're attempting to find recognition and recompense in a creative field. Many of us are taught from an early age that all forms of rejection are preventable, within our control, and totally our fault. "He dumped you? Is it because you gained weight?" "You didn't get the part? Well, you probably didn't practice enough." And so on. Our internal derisiveness ultimately grows to be even more harsh and critical than anything we heard from family, peers, teachers, or coworkers along the way.

If you can manage to catch yourself before you create some pathetic and self-hating narrative to explain away your struggles, if you can manage instead to offer yourself comfort and care and kindness, the pain of those disappointments quickly loses all its power. And that pain can be big pain. That pain can be destructive pain. That pain can suck your soul  and shut you down and cut off your access to that creative part of you, sometimes for a long time. Nipping it in the bud is an act of self-preservation. It's a good deed, a mitzvah, a service to the world.

No matter where you are in your artistic life cycle, always be kind to yourself. Kindness will carry you through your development, kindness will nurture your natural gifts into maturity, kindness will reward your hard work when nothing else and nobody else does. 

That's all I got, kids. Those two work for me. They're not much like the typical American motivational slogans, but I guess I just don't jibe with the typical American motivations. But just in case you like my advice and you're a NASCAR fan, I can make you a patch too:

There it is. Namaste, bro.

November 7, 2013

how (not) to talk to the artist in your life

Here is a thing I hear a lot: "You're so brave. I could never do what you do." Maybe that's because so many people are afraid of public speaking, or perhaps it's because of the open-ended professional ambiguity that comes along with what I do.

Here is what I do: I tell jokes, and I write. I do not disarm bombs. I do not travel to war zones and provide medical care. I do not raise a child with special needs. I just say stuff and type stuff. I deserve no medals. I deserve negative medals. I should be the one giving out medals to the people who listen to and read what I say and type.

Here is one for you:
Still, I've noticed that a lot of people who genuinely wish the best for their creative loved ones make some common mistakes in talking to us. This post is an attempt to clear those up with a few simple DOs and DON'Ts.

1. Don't ask actors if they got the part after every audition. Auditioning for a commercial or a TV series is not like applying for a job. Even if you get the audition, which seems like the equivalent of an interview, you are still statistically very unlikely to book the part. A lot of actors' family members are used to their little Sarah Bernhardt landing the lead role in every high school and college production. In the real world of professional acting, it is not like that. In fact, don't even expect to hear about every audition your loved one goes out on. When they book something, they will let you know.

2. Don't ask, "How's the book going?" Have you ever seen The Shining? Why that film didn't permanently terrify that question right out of everybody's mouth is a mystery to me. And even after a book is written, there are an awful lot of revisions and steps and potential heartaches left to endure before it hits the shelves... if, in the brave new world of publishing, it ever even gets there.

3a. Do say, "I liked that thing you posted online!" If you want to be supportive, following your loved one's independent projects is a great way to bolster them. Putting things up on the internet allows us to showcase our work and to guarantee that something we make or write or draw or produce will see the light of day. So yes! Absorb, react, share!

3b. But don't say "I liked that little YouTube thing!" if your loved one is producing a real web series. A lot of creative people's first breaks these days come in the form of professional blogging jobs or commissioned web series like the ones from Comedy Central Studios. Those types of gigs are significant professional successes and should be acknowledged as such. Ditto something somebody raises a ton of money for and spends a ton of time producing on their own. Caitlin Graham's No Method series is a great example of a serious high-production-value independent endeavor. (It's also very funny and a great way to learn more about the topic of this very blog post!)

4. Don't say, "You know what you should do is..." Because you probably don't know. For some reason, a whole lot of people think they're especially knowledgable about the creative arts and entertainment industries. But most of the advice I've received from non-industry folks over the years would be the equivalent of telling a teacher to try assigning some homework, or telling a lawyer to try flashing her tits at the jury. It's either rudimentary or outlandish. (If one more person suggests I ask Ellen DeGeneres to help me with my stand-up career, I'm gonna flip a table.) Unless show business is your business, don't just make random suggestions.

5. Don't say, "Hey, if this doesn't work out, you can always..." The very best way to decrease the likelihood of your loved one's success in the creative arts is by encouraging them to quit. If you find yourself reaching for words of consolation, ask yourself if the person you're talking to has actually failed at anything, or if failure is something you and your own desire for control are anxiously projecting upon them.

If you are the parent of a 20-something pursuing a career in the arts or entertainment, the best thing you can do for your kid is to figure out a way to deal with your own fear. You hurt when your kid faces rejection, but seeing you in pain does nothing to help him or her succeed. Maybe you want your child to find stability, but stability might not be as important to that kid as his or her creative endeavors. It's hard for a lot of people to understand or even imagine, but that doesn't make it crazy or unreasonable or ill-conceived or doomed.

I'm lucky to have incredibly supportive family members and friends, and it breaks my heart to watch other creative people struggling to explain themselves to skeptical loved ones. The artist in your life might be heading down a more difficult and confusing path than the one you would've chosen for them, but at this point it's simply not up to you. Be generous with love and encouragement, and try listening instead of telling them what to do. And have patience. Don't demand constant updates or sit on the edge of your seat waiting for good news.

Successes and "big breaks" aren't the real juice anyway. For those of us who make or write or draw or say stuff, the liberation we feel when we flow with creativity is what motivates us and keeps us going.

I bet there's something like that in your life, too.

October 31, 2013

ban unicorn jokes

As a feminist, I hereby blog that all unicorn jokes are terrible and should be banned. Unicorn jokes tacitly condone extra-appendage-based discrimination, uphold the false unicorn-nonicorn binary, and create a culture of beige that alienates rainbow-born and rainbow-identified individuals. Finally, and most damningly, unicorn jokes are problematic. Some feminist bloggers might even go so far as to call them very problematic.

I've been to at least five stand-up comedy shows ever. Given my expertise, I will now explain what is funny:

1. Personal stories about male ineptitude and general bafflement in the realm of parenting

2. Enlightened post-racial racial humor from and only from members of racial and ethnic minorities


Most comedians who tell unicorn jokes aren't unicorns themselves, and many have never even spoken to an out unicorn. They're ignorant, and they don't even consider the scores of potential unicorns in the audience. Cryptostatisticians believe that at least 1 in 32 and perhaps as many as 1 in 16 people walking around is actually a unicorn wearing a magical human suit. Presumably accurate, these stats could explain such phenomena as ice dancing, bisexuality, and the continued popularity of Cupcake Wars.

Traditionally, a non-unicorn animal of a similar taxonomy is called a "horse," and overuse of this default term constructs a widely-accepted baseline of non-horned horse hegemony.  "A horse is a horse, of course, of course." Or is it? Not when we dig deeper. Cryptoobstetricians believe that many horses are born unicorn, but the delivering veterinarian lops off the horn without telling the parents so as to spare them the "mythological stigma." If we allowed them to flourish, our planet would be dotted with unicorns as well as binicorns, trinicorns, etc. Instead, we mutilate them in the service of the non-horned horse hegemony, or we force them underground.

Making jokes about the deeply marginalized unicorn experience should be unthinkable. Also, unicorn jokes are just not funny. No unicorn joke has ever made me laugh, like, ever. It might be worth it if they were any good. But they're never, ever, ever funny and never, ever, ever, ever okay.

So in conclusion, as a feminist, I hereby blog that unicorn jokes are unacceptable and nobody should ever tell them. This entry is binding by my power as a feminist blogger, which is the very top level of the American social hierarchy, above bankers and politicians and the NSA and corporations and mainstream media columnists and television executives. Feminist bloggers want to control you, and we definitely have tons and tons and tons of power, so you must respect my unchecked authority and never, ever, ever write a unicorn joke and tell it when you work with Erin Judge. Never. Never ever ever.

Fucking never.

September 18, 2013


Hillary Clinton's First Three Executive Orders as President:

1. No more calling people bitches.

2. I am not baking any motherfucking cookies, bitches.

3. I am not bound by Executive Order #1.

(This post was shamelessly co-opted from an actual conversation with this guy.)

August 28, 2013

art for joy's sake

A couple of weeks ago, I performed at the Nines Festival with lots of other fantastic comics and some amazing musicians. I spent my afternoon laughing, telling jokes, dancing, and marveling at the magnificent creativity of the sculptors, dancers, visual artists, food venders, and talented producers who contributed to the feast of human expression and potential on display all around me that day.

I realized recently that, as an an artist, I'm no longer anywhere near as interested in feeling recognized and accepted and celebrated as I am in making my audience feel recognized and accepted and celebrated. And happy. This transition has been somewhat gradual, but where I am with it now feels good and right.

Here's to the art that makes your heart swell with love for yourself and the promise of your own creative genius.

(And if you're gonna be in California, Maryland, or DC over the next few weeks, come check out a show. I'll do my best to make you smile.)

August 13, 2013

spare me some change


It's inevitable.

It's also what most middle-class educated American women -- female members of what I call "the Googling class" -- desire for ourselves. Change. Reform. Get skinnier. Exercise more. Dress differently. Cook healthier. Keep everything nicer, neater, cleaner. Resolve. Improve. Be better.

And it's no wonder. Every cover of every women's magazine for the past 60+ years has featured a list of imperatives. Organize! Lose weight! Change!

Fifteen years ago, I bounced between severe anxiety and severe depression. I took medication but was too fucked up and too immature to manage it very well, so I had to deal with the problems of sporadic SSRI levels too. I saw a psychologist I trusted in high school and college (along with several I never liked through my college's counseling center and in town nearby), and I tried really hard to get better. I went to the hospital when my doctor told me to. I participated in the groups earnestly, shared and cried and tried to learn and grow and rewire my brain.

I did the work then, and I continued to do the work, as best I could, for a decade and a half.

And now I'm... well, I'm pretty much okay.

One of the most difficult transitions I've ever had to make is the internal shift required when radical change is no longer necessary. My entire post-adolescent life -- my identity -- is based on the idea that everything in my life needs to be WAY different. So how do I approach each day when the need to change is no longer such an emergency, when the idea of myself as a broken person in need of radical reform is no longer true?

Habits are hard to break, and the habit of resolving to overhaul your whole shit turns out to be no exception. Every day I have to talk myself down from radical self-improvement projects, potential cross-country moves, and other brave and lofty and utterly unnecessary life makeovers. It turns out this last step to self-acceptance is the one where I finally accept that I've already accepted myself. And then, well, what do I do?

I guess... I blog, apparently. Sometimes all you can really do is blog.

July 25, 2013

love: it's a no-brainer

I can't change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to... 

So goes the hook from the much-lauded Mackelmore song about how actively mocking and degrading gay people is wrong. Hooray for all that (but I personally think his stance against designer labels is way more contrarian and refreshing in the context of contemporary hip-hop culture).

And then there's this article from the LA Times entitled "Why Bisexuals Stay in the Closet." Synopsis: because a) nobody believes us, and b) those who do tend to think we're insatiable sex-crazed homewreckers. As an out bisexual, I can attest that, while the latter comes up only rarely, the former is constant. "Are you really bisexual?" outpaces "Hey you were funny!" as an audience response to my stand-up by a ratio of 3 to 1. (Which is especially crazy considering how hilarious I am.)

I would argue there's another big reason, one that ties into that aforementioned heartwarming hook. "Being gay is not a choice" has become a major justification for expanding not just marital rights to same-sex couples but even the most basic employment and indeed human rights protections to gay people everywhere. The logical extension -- "Because who on earth would choose a fate so awful as being gay?" -- is not just implied but often explicitly stated as part of that argument.

Well I've got your answer: bisexuals, that's who. Sure, plenty of bisexual people go their entire lives "passing" for straight, never so much as experimenting with members of their same sex, even though they know for certain they've always been attracted to people of both/all genders. But every single bisexual person who openly dates or partners with a member of their same sex is making a choice. A lesbian who feels exclusively same-sex attraction has two options: get her gay on, or remain celibate. (I suppose finding a beard is a third option, but let's not deal with such horrors here.) Most (but far from all) people seem to believe it's unreasonable to expect others to live lives of celibacy when they could have access to the fulfillment of love and relationships with members of their same sex. However (goes this argument), if you could love a person of the opposite sex, if you are capable of doing so, then that's what you should do.

There are reasons why bisexual people like me come out and stay out. One is that we don't actually think there is anything wrong with relationships between members of the same sex. Nothing. Not one thing. Not one single tiny little iota of a passing whisper of a notion makes gay sex any less moral or clean or pure or awesome than straight sex. The moral equivalency is utterly total and complete.

Another big reason is pretty simple: love is love. In Loving vs. Virginia, the plaintiffs didn't argue that they were somehow biologically incapable of being attracted to members of their own race. They asserted that two people in love should be afforded the dignity of recognition, that we should be able to marry whomever we choose.

The only thing that makes gay worse than straight is homophobia itself -- internalized and otherwise. When we no longer privilege straight over gay (or male over female, or white over black, or....), we as a society will not have to make arguments that focus on the inherent disadvantages of being one way or another. And that will be good, because those very arguments, though well-intentioned, serve to solidify and propagate oppression. "This group is less-than, so we must afford them some charity from our position on high." Once we stop condescending to one another, we will finally be able to acknowledge that the very binaries that define our oppressions and privileges are false. We are many, and we are all one.

I can't change the fact that I fall in love with men and women, even if I tried. But I don't want to.

Who on earth would choose less capacity for love?

July 15, 2013

social media-crity

Between June 26th and July 14th, I took a break from Facebook and Twitter. I didn't label it a "fast" or a "sabbatical," nor was I religiously strict about it. I checked most days for messages on Facebook (because that's where a lot of my professional colleagues reach me) and crazy shit on Twitter (like an errant "Test" I didn't write, which prompted me to deny access for a few apps and change my password and feel humiliated that two people RT'ed it).

Here is what I learned:

Twitter Miss
Despite barely participating in Twitter for three weeks, I nonetheless gained and lost 3 to 5 followers a day. I wound up with roughly the same number of followers I started with. Lesson: Never ever saying shit is dead even with releasing frequent pithy blah-blahs when it comes to expanding my influence. Bummer.

Not Like
Of course I know it's not necessary for me to weigh in on every news controversy or comedy world conflict. I just always thought I did it for fun. What I realized when I stopped for a while is that it's actually pretty stressful. From the extremely active and sometimes combative message board system on my college campus to the world of blog comments and lengthy wall threads, I've been fighting with strangers (and acquaintances! and family!) publicly on the internet for my entire adult life and most of my adolescence. But it turns out I feel better overall when I just... don't do that. Like, at all. Weird.

I Fucking Love Babies and Weddings
Let the haters hate. Babies and weddings are by far the best part of Facebook. And touching tributes to departed loved ones are neither tacky nor inappropriate. They're lovely and human. At its best, Facebook lets people share the big moments in their lives with family and friends (and a few highly-paid corporate demographers).

Resolved: I'll focus more on the lovey-dovey, touchy-feely aspects of Facebook, and I'll throw Twitter a joke or two from time to time without putting too much energy into following every little controversy and hashtag. And I will not let social media get me all stressed-out and worked up and combative and unproductively ragey. Because my righteous indignation is potent, yo! It should be employed in the service of actually fucking shit up, not just sitting around being mad at @IAmSomeJerkfaceIdiot or whatever.

To sum up, from now on, my relationship with social media will be more of this:

...and less of this:

June 26, 2013

tens of thousands of children

"The differentiation [between heterosexual and homosexual couples] demeans the [homosexual] couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence, 539 U. S. 558, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives." 
- Justice Kennedy, United States v. Windsor (via Andrew Sullivan)
Growing up in the North Dallas suburbs, I struggled to keep my gay family a secret from friends, peers, my teachers, and my community. Today, Justice Kennedy used the unfairness of my situation to justify the elevation of same-sex marriage rights to the federal level. He affirmed my dignity and the dignity of others like me, not to mention that of my parents.

I'm incredibly moved and grateful. 

[update: 11:46am]

I still can't believe it. I seriously keep crying. The Supreme Court just said the greatest struggle of my adolescence was humiliating and unfair. I haven't felt this validated by anything since Daria.

June 10, 2013

petty vandal

I went to a Texas high school: friday night lights, homecoming court, the whole shebang. Cheerleaders were elected by the student body. It was literally a popularity contest. In response to this climate, I pierced my face and smoked pot and put my head down and powered through until I finally got to college far, far away.

Every morning, I arrived at school right around the same time as a dude who drove a white Jeep and played some kind of sport (which I think might've been soccer). He was a real class act. He had a bumper sticker that said: 

I don't like girls who use four letter words, like DON'T, STOP and QUIT.

I would see that sticker and boil with fury and simultaneously marvel at yet another example of the school's culture of hypocrisy. Between all their expressions of homophobia and pole-praying, you'd think maybe one of this kid's many allegedly pious Christian teammates or teachers or school administrators might've said something to him about it. Or maybe his parents. Or maybe any of the girls he ever met in his whole life. And yet. In he drove, with the sticker, every day.

Alone in my rage, I seethed all year, hating the sticker and hating the school I had to show up at even more. I felt exploited and marginalized: my friends and our test scores raised local property values, but our contributions to the school were never celebrated with bonfires or mandatory pep rallies. The vice principal confiscated my eyebrow ring in the hallway (yes, it was bloody and gross), and yet this kid got away with his decidedly unsubtle rape-tastic sentiment every single day.

Towards the end of the school year, I got dismissed early one day, probably after several insane hours of high-stakes international test-taking. The kid was parked next to me. 

I ripped the sticker off his bumper and shoved it into his spare tire.

Of course, there are many benign and even sex-positive ways to interpret this sticker's content. One translation might be: "I prefer girls who enjoy sex!" Wouldn't that be something? But I don't think we can make any mistake as to what kind of attitude this dude was actually intending to express: "I expect to get whatever I want from girls, and the ones who put up a fight are bitches."

In comedy, arguments about limits on speech quickly conflate any kind of criticism with censorship. Personally, I think people should be allowed to say whatever they want, and by and large they totally fucking are. Nobody's getting arrested for telling rape jokes at comedy clubs, or even banned, from what I've heard. And that's a good thing, because freedom of expression is a human right.

But when I think about my isolated 17-year-old self and about how much satisfaction it gave me to fuck with this junior misogynist, I can't quite see what I did as akin to censorship. People like that dude had all the power, or at least the blessings of those with the power -- the cops, the administration, the community -- to get away with whatever immoral shit they felt like doing. My angry little act felt like a kind of much-needed punk rock vandalism, insipid and futile as it might've been, and I honestly still feel oddly proud that I did it.

So did I deprive this kid of his right to free speech? Or was destroying his property a noble act of defiance? Either way, one thing is for sure: if he really doesn't like girls who use four letter words, he would hate the fuck out of me. 

Then as now. 

June 6, 2013

myq kaplan is my life coach

(Editor's note: Myq's CD Meat Robot came out on June 11th. Download it here.)

As regular readers of this blog know, I've had kind of a rough year. Fortunately for me, I'm lucky enough to be good friends with the hilarious and talented Myq Kaplan...

....who graciously agreed to help me out of my doldrums by listening to me bitch and giving me little pep talks. In return, I secretly wrote down choice quotes from our conversations to someday share with the entire world.

So, dear reader, please enjoy the deliciously logical advice of Myq Kaplan, Life Coach:

“You can brag to me! I’m doing better than you!”

Are you? I hadn't noticed.

“You’re a woman with a brain who has sex and says things!”

Thanks! Maybe I'll put that in my bio.

At some point in our conversations, I started venting my fears about having kids some day, which produced these gems:

“You don’t have to be bored when you’re pregnant. Read a book!”
“You could be a MILF. Now you’re just a LILF. You know, a Lady.”

Again, serious bio potential there.

And finally, one day I was really pouring my heart out when Myq suddenly interrupted me to say:

“Hang on, Erin. I just saw a pre-adolescent girl wearing a T-shirt that I also own.”

For the record, the shirt in question is this one:

In conclusion, I love you, Myq. Thanks for everything.

(You should love Myq too. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast and become his devoted fan forever. You can thank me later.)

May 1, 2013

the most underrated comics of my generation in nyc

I am not here to hurt anyone's feelings.

I'm not trying to say that I think these two individuals are funnier or otherwise superior to their comedy peers in any way. Quite the contrary. I see these two people around the New York scene(s), alt/indie and otherwise, on a very regular basis, and they're always killing it, but they just don't seem to wind up in TimeOut New York or on audition line-ups anywhere near as much as other comics with their experience level and general air of brainy hipness.

I was lucky to start stand-up at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square, which was and continues to be a welcoming breeding ground for fresh comedy talent. And there are similar venues, like the Creek and the Cave in NYC, that help promising young comics get a foothold. But every so often, comedians who seem so obviously like they should be landing TV gigs and hip showcase spots seem to fly juuuuuuuuust below the radar.

So, in my humble, individual opinion, it's all about these two:

Justin Williams

Damn is this dude funny. I've worked with him at the Cape Fear Comedy Festival, on his podcast at Three Dudes and a Broad, and in such far-flung exotic locales as Times Square, where I saw him tell an audience of aloof midtown jerkwads a subversive and hilarious version of "The Aristocrats" joke wherein the set-up was so ridiculously over the top and brave and the punchline so satirical and intensely brilliant that it makes me a little bit dizzy just to think about it.

Not only is Justin hilarious, but he's also something like five years younger than me, and his day job is fucking professor of African history.

Get up on this guy, America.

Meghan Hanley

I've known Meghan since I moved to New York in 2009, and I recently worked with her at the 2013 Women in Comedy Festival in Boston. She's smart and seasoned and hilarious and brilliant.

A couple of years ago, she did this joke relating the movie Precious (which she saw on a date) to the promos for the Karate Kid (2010) revival. This joke was so funny I refuse to even elaborate further.

She now hosts an awesome show at Sycamore in Brooklyn (with my Afterlife co-producer George Gordon) that is so impossibly hip that I don't even fucking know what to do with myself when I'm in there.

This woman is a delight, and her stand-up is on point, and she's blonde and stunningly gorgeous.

So what is the fucking hold up, already?

And there you go, comedy nerds and gods. Pull it together and check out these two brilliant individuals.

You'll feel silly that it took you this long.

April 30, 2013

before the hump: gail

I'm not an advice columnist, but if I were an advice columnist, it might go a little SOMETHING.... like this:

Dear Erin, So here's the deal. I'm 34 years old, and I'm at sea about my gender identity and sexual orientation. I was born and raised male, and it didn't work out very well for anyone, so I started living as me, which is Gail. Here is where it gets tricky.

Four year olds run around saying "Boys have a penis. Girls have a vagina." Wouldn't it be great if it were that simple? Some of us just don't have it that easy. My name's Gail. I look like my name might be Gail, or maybe Alison..but it's Gail. But I have my original equipment "down there". If I had surgery to make myself look more like a typical "Gail" down there, well, I could get naked in a locker room without scaring anybody, and maybe attract a wider variety of prospective partners. Other than that, I ain't feelin' the need to go "under the knife".

I feel like being in this in-between state will scare a lot of people off, and make me more socially awkward than I am with my clothes on. I am 100000% bisexual, but lesbians and bisexual women who are attracted to me initially, because they see Gail on the outside, tend to cool off when I tell them what they might see if we ever got beyond flirting.

Guys are WAY worse. They're SO insecure, except for the fetishists. There are guys who say "I watch so much shemale porn, that you're my fantasy come true."...These guys are usually the shittiest, most sexist bastards who wish they could have a 1950s housewife who looks hot, is submissive, can intuitively could give great blowjobs, and who can "think like a guy" about how a man wants to be pleased. (Some of them play this little game called "I won't say you're a guy, if you don't call me gay for thinking you're hot." Pretty gross, ay?). I know that there are a FEW guys who, if they saw the "right stuff" when I was naked, would be able to deal with my past. THOSE are some real men.

It seems like I can't be a lesbian, I can't be with bisexual women, and I'm not sure if changing my body is going to change all that. I'm seeing a shrink, and my shrink sees others like me. (Can you believe there are like tens of thousands like me???). My shrink says that if I don't feel the need to have surgery, doing it to get laid is a bad idea. That sounds right. But today there are all these LABELS! Everybody puts a NAME on everything. So...what am I supposed to be if I'm in between? "Transgender"? "Shemale"? Who's gonna fuck me? If I were ten years younger, I could be a hooker, but I don't want to do that.

What do you suggest? 

Gail, I like to see myself as a free-wheeling, iconoclastic brand of advice columnist. I dance to the beat of my own advice drummer. My ideas might be unconventional - even controversial - but I'm committed to putting it out there and saying what's in my heart. So here goes:

Do not have elective surgery to remove your penis unless you are absolutely certain.

Call me crazy, but it seems like the kind of thing one shouldn't sort of guess they might kind of want to maybe do. In my humble opinion, a baseline requirement for medically altering one's junk is being at least as sure as you need to be before, say, getting a tattoo. And you don't seem even remotely tattoo-sure here. So I'm with your shrink on this one: let's keep the status quo below the belt.

That leaves us with the rest of your question. You've clearly had a variety of disappointing and confusing experiences with men, and a number of non-starters with women. And it seems like you're struggling with how to, for lack of a better word, market yourself for dating and relationship purposes. The phenomenon of the online dating profile inevitably leads all of us to hysteria-inducing confusion over what labels to choose. ("What's my body type? Curvy? A little extra? What does that even mean?") It's a universal conundrum that's brought to an existential scale for you (and, indeed, the many thousands of wonderful folks out there like you).

But it's a mistake to focus too much on self-presentation when dating. Lots of people of every gender and sexual orientation fixate on themselves and what may or may not be wrong or right with them, so much so that they never manage to progress into the other-focused mode one needs to be in to actually find love or even just a fun hook-up. In sex and dating, it helps to have faith in yourself as you are and focus instead on what you want, on what you're looking for.

The crazy thing about that, of course, is that we generally cannot accurately identify what we really want. People fill out dating service forms demanding minimum IQs and baseline heights and ideal body sizes for potential mates, but, when push comes to shove, they end up selecting romantic partners on completely different criteria. In the end, none of us finds love by advertising our labeled selves on a billboard or posting a detailed want ad. We find it by interacting with other human beings. Even people who connect online generally exchange emails or meet for coffee to see if they get along, and those conversations are not typically about sex organs, bank statements, or professional resumes. They're just simple, friendly human interactions.

So, my advice is to be Gail out there in the world. Join up with others who share your interests. You could go the route of, say, political groups that promote the rights of LGBT people and sexual minorities, but I encourage you to look beyond those groups as well. For the sake of your safety and sanity, you probably want to focus on communities, interests and activities that are generally accepting of queer people. I would advise against NRA ski trips or GOP fundraisers. 

But there are tons of great options out there. Kickball and ultimate frisbee are just two of the many sports that feature co-ed adult leagues, and there are running clubs and yoga studios and hiking groups and lots of other places to enjoy solo sports with a group. There are queer book clubs and sci-fi book clubs, there are live events for people who enjoy the same online phenomena (xkcd has had some awesome meet-ups in the past), there are writing workshops and fermentation clubs and lots of opportunities to meet people you might not otherwise get to interact with. 

Even if you don't meet a special somebody, I suspect that making new friends and just being your regular ol' human self in a group setting will give you the confidence to proceed into the more overt dating worlds of bars and websites with a greater sense of confidence and less confusion over how to label yourself. And always keep in mind that others are capable of expanding and transforming their own identities based on who they come to love. I know gay men who date trans men. I know lesbians who started to identify as bi when their girlfriends decided to transition. I know several trans women who are married to cis women and have wonderfully supportive partnerships. 

Alas, it will be probably always be tough to figure out when to tell potentials about your anatomy... Based on your experiences, it seems like avoiding homophobic straight-identified men might be a good thing to try for a while. I'm not quite sure why you rule out lesbians and bisexual women so utterly. And what about other trans people? It seems to me that other out queer individuals, especially the more open-minded and curious among them, would make excellent potential dates for an awesome person like you. And no money needs to change hands!

What's clear to me, Gail, is that you're smart, you're interesting, and you approach others with an open mind and an open heart. I'm confident that you will find more and more people who share your awesome attributes and reciprocate your openness. 

And you just have to be Gail.

Hey, you! Want some sex and relationship advice? Of course you do. Contact Erin here

April 17, 2013

the nearness of tragedy

My friend Ailin and I joke about how we're always thinking and talking in the future tense. "It's gonna be great," we declare, even as we realize it's already great right now. I often take long walks in the Brooklyn neighborhood where I was born and now (sometimes) live, and I look out at the water and think, "I really wanna travel." I immediately recognize how hilarious this is, because I travel all the time. Just a few weeks ago, I had brunch on Newbury Street blocks from the Boston Marathon finish line when I was in town for the Women in Comedy Festival. And in January, I arrived at my mom's house in Texas with the rest of the Pink Collar Comedy Tour to find a box of kolaches from the Czech Stop in West waiting for us in the fridge.

I'm so fortunate to get to travel all over the country telling jokes, but it does lend a feeling of personal connection, of immediacy, to tragedies that unfold in any of the many places I've visited. Facebook and Twitter compound that for all of us, too. Tonight I saw a whole lot of people posting about how overwhelmed they feel, about how stunned and saddened and worn out they are by the multiple tragedies this week. I lived in the Boston area for over a decade, and before that I lived in North Texas, right in between Waco and Oklahoma City. Our country is big. Bad things happen. Sometimes they happen all at once, one after another. Sometimes it feels like too much.

The victims of Monday's tragedy in Massachusetts received some of the best trauma and surgical care anywhere in the world. The extraordinary skill of the area's medical community springs to mind every time I see Boston's Christmas tree. In 1917, in the midst of World War I, a ship packed with munitions collided with another and exploded in Halifax Harbour, killing and wounding many thousands. Boston sent doctors to help the victims, and now Halifax donates a tree to Boston every year as a way of saying thanks. It's incredible to me to imagine the shock of that brutal tragedy in the middle of an already punishing war. And, the very next year, along came the Spanish Influenza.

Many middle-class Americans today live our whole lives on the promise of the future. We work hard and worry a lot, hoping that we'll get to that someday, that retirement, that next pot of gold at the end of each little journey of sacrifice. We invest tremendously in our children, as we should. We expect a lot of our safety and security, and we collectively pretty much pull it off. Have you noticed how safe air travel has gotten? That's thanks to a little bit of luck and a whole lot of human ingenuity and dedication.

Enough bits and bytes have been spent maligning the mainstream media and the perils of the 24 hour news cycle today. But I do want to point out how the urgent, dire tone of the news, combined with the barrage of personal accounts on social media, make us all feel artificially close to these tragedies. Posts we see on Facebook or Twitter often come from individuals at the very the heart of the latest disaster. Of course, they've been re-Tweeted 100,000 times or reposted by a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, but the personal nature of the message we're receiving directly makes us all feel much closer to these tragedies than we actually are.

This can be good and bad. I'm always thrilled to see people raising money for victims or helping disseminate vital information using their networks of followers. But if even those of us far away from the latest tragic event start to feel hopelessness and despair, that's of no real help to the people on the ground suffering. As soon as social media and the news take us over that line from concerned fellow citizen into fellow sufferer, that's when it's time to disconnect, to step away, to feel our distance rather than our proximity.

The waterfront in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn I walked along today suffered minimal damage during Hurricane Sandy. Purple sandpipers still dot the rocks between my house and the pier on 69th St. I got home from my walk and, a few hours later, posted on social media about the need for blood donation in North Texas to help replenish the supply after today's tragedy in West. That's the best I can do for them from where I sit, thousands of miles away. My only other job is to avoid the pitfalls of despair and hopelessness, to stay grounded and realize that I'm safe and my loved ones are safe. Getting sucked into the worst emotions or mulling over the most dire thoughts about the state of the world helps no one. It's a lack of perspective. And it feels bad.

Feel sympathy. Feel love. Be generous. Be kind. But don't suffer for the suffering of others. What they really need is for the rest of us to keep our heads above water.

(And I promise I'll answer a relationship question in my next post. Boy, did I get some doozies...)

April 15, 2013

marathon monday

Nothing can destroy Marathon Monday for me.

As a Wellesley College alum, I remember it fondly as a day off not long after Spring Break, a merciful class-free morning of screaming for runners followed by a late afternoon of relaxation and fried dough on Severance Green. We would gather in front of Munger Hall as the first green buds and pink flowers of the late-arriving Massachusetts spring burst onto the trees. My Wellesley friends who came from the Boston area celebrated Marathon Monday with the greatest fervor. They’d grown up watching the Scream Tunnel on television their whole lives. The rest of us were new, enthusiastic initiates to our collective cheering duty.

I have a confession. Whenever something like this happens, I think: Please let it be white people. I silently hope the perpetrators are antisocial reclusive US-born men of the sort who simultaneously oppose abortion rights and child support enforcement, a bunch of AR-15-toting birthers who claim to hate the government while they live off their federal disability checks. But that’s my own brand of prejudice. In truth, any ideology can entrap the mentally unstable into committing heinous acts in its service.

But I fear the exploitation of terrible crimes for political ends, and, in my lifetime, two ill-conceived wars have been waged in the aftermath of atrocities perpetrated by Islamic terrorists. I sat in my suburban Texas living room a short drive from Oklahoma City on the afternoon Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah building, and no troops were subsequently mobilized to shut down that particular brand of extremism. So perhaps that’s part of the origin of my prejudice. When far-right Americas are the perpetrators, they’re treated – correctly – as rogue criminals, and thousands of civilians don't have to die to pay for the acts of the very few.

What I know for sure is this: the Boston Marathon will continue to be one of the most celebrated and well-attended sporting events in the world. And the tragic events that transpired this afternoon will never come close to the decades of joy, trans-national enthusiasm, and triumphs of the human spirit that characterize this extraordinary event.

And nothing will drown out the cheers of the Wellesley Scream Tunnel. We’ll be back next year.

April 12, 2013

underaged feminism

I went to high school in Plano, Texas, but somehow I discovered Ani DiFranco and Bikini Kill and lots of other cultural gateways to feminism before I reached my junior year. I was a transplant from Brooklyn, and I was growing up with (secretly) lesbian parents. I only confided in two friends about my mother's relationship with her partner, but I'm sure many others assumed, correctly, the truth about my family. At school, however, my primary identity was pretty much Angry, Loud Feminist. (Keep in mind that last word was always lobbed as an obvious insult.)

Here's what life is like when you're known for your feminism (when you're known at all) at your huge, conservative, sprawling, football-obsessed suburban public high school:

Kids tell you that they're gay. I was often one of the first people friends and even acquaintances came out to. My "acceptance" speech became so familiar to me that by the end of high school I could recite it almost as a matter of rote.

Girls seek you out after they've been raped. They never used the R-word, but victims of sexual assault would find me and tell me the details and wait for my interpretation. When I asserted that what they were describing was rape, they generally denied it. But I hope in those moments I was able to offer some comfort and plant the seeds for future healing.

Dudes call you a dyke. In their defense, they were half-right, at least in my case. Still, it was kind of awkward for my boyfriend.

...and, finally:

 you don't even really remember sticking up for thank you years later for being their champion. Granted, I was probably a little too combative in high school. But in the years since, a number of people have thanked me for defending them against teachers and peers, often recalling anecdotes and scenarios I'd never even registered as particularly significant.

These days I try to use humor instead of righteous indignation as my main rhetorical device, and I strive to be more humble, gentle, patient, and understanding. Still. It's nice to hear that my attitude problem in high school helped me protect others at least a fraction as much as it helped me protect myself.

March 11, 2013


Last year, I spent some time working as a temp, because I am a writer and a comedian and sometimes we need to scrape together some extra cash. Everybody at my temp gig knew what I did at night. One day, a guy five years younger than me told me that another guy said I could probably do the job of four of the secretaries in the office. "Uh, I could do his job," I replied. Stunned silence.

Girls is the best thing on television right now, and it's certainly the realest. I haven't written much about it, mostly because adding my voice to the din seemed unnecessary during those first crazy commentary-overloaded months. Kelly from Vice pretty much covered it: Lena Dunham is a white woman in her mid-twenties who is writing and directing a show on a major network and it's making people insane.

And now the girls themselves are going insane on the show, and it's perfect, because their dreams are mocked and the advice they're given is flat and the boys around them get so much more fucking leeway both to fuck up and to succeed. And once you leave college, girls, you're not sex-positive anymore, you're a slut. Once you leave college, you're not a leader, you're an uppity little bitch. And once you leave your liberal arts college, you're not an A student or a senior studio art major with your own thesis show or class president, you're a girl.

You're judged and categorized by your looks more than you ever imagined possible. Nobody accepts you as a protagonist. Everybody -- everybody -- feels they have the right to criticize your opinions, your choices, and your cultural contributions, all in a jarringly condescending way. Your fiction and screenplays and pilot scripts and even essays and storytelling pieces are "not relatable" because, come on, no girl really thinks that way, come on, who is this girl, come on, she's just a whore, right, come on, black girls don't talk like that, come on, the lesbians in this should be hotter, and shouldn't you really just make a web series instead of something for network since, come on, nobody is going to want to watch this story which is your story about people like you?

Every woman talking shit about Girls seems so defensive, and it's because we're so sick and tired of not being taken seriously, of having our own stories marginalized and devalued, of competing with one another for a handful of precious opportunities in the arts and entertainment. And now Girls is confronting those feelings and the truth of that experience so clearly and brilliantly, and it's perfect and cathartic and real and good and wow. (If you're not on board, I urge you to watch episodes five through nine of the current season with an open mind.)

Because look at how privileged you are, girls. Look at you, you're young and pretty and you went to college. Nobody is shooting at you or raping you when you go to collect firewood, so why can't you just get it together and stop with your white people problems, huh? Oh and we know it too! And we get so mad at ourselves for being confused and complaining and needing help and seeing injustice in the fields in which we want to work, and we feel guilty that we're upset about something so trivial as injustice in the fields in which we want to work when we're walking around with all the privilege in the world, and so we yell at ourselves for feeling frustrated and then we tick, we panic, we drink, we cut ourselves. We hurt us, sometimes badly. Because the only thing worse than the shock of how the world suddenly disregards us is how laughable it is that we're bothered by it, how selfish and childish and whiney and cunty it is to complain about something like nobody wants to publish my story, and we double-internalize it and start to destroy ourselves. Lena Dunham is nailing this on her television show right now.

If you are a woman who went to college in the last couple decades or so, odds are the real world was an incredibly rude awakening. It's traumatic, frankly. Girls knows that, and the criticism of Girls is evidence of that, because Girls is criticized both by the people who seek to marginalize us girls and by us, the girls who are marginalized, because if Girls is the one shot we get for a whole fucking generation of being heard and seen then of course we all want to feel more represented by it.

I didn't grow up in a two-parent opposite-sex middle-class household with lots of stability in a college town like Hannah Horvath did. I went to college with my own story, and I met tons of friends from all kinds of different backgrounds with all kinds of different life experiences under their belts. When it came time to graduate, despite our diverse challenges and identities upon entering college, we all encountered the startling unfairness of the real world head-on in an overwhelmingly similar way. Whether we'd grown up in a trailer park or an inner city or a sprawling suburb or the Upper West Side, we all went to college and had our ideas taken seriously and grew as people and emerged poised to be leaders and colleagues and professionals and educators and attorneys and scientists and fully-fledged humans. But in a whole lot of those arenas of life, we were suddenly just girls, and the world came down on us very hard. What we have in common is the shock of that transition, from the educational system that validated and valued us as multidimensional adults to the socio-economic "real world" system that marginalizes, mocks, judges and ignores us, that in turn labels us whiney spoiled children for merely mentioning the double-standards. To the world where a 26-year-old office guy cannot recognize 31-year-old me as a peer. To where it doesn't even occur to him to do so.

I am not complaining, kids; this is called analysis. But I do continue to be pretty surprised by it all. And I am sticking up for the reality of the pain of that experience, and I am celebrating the fact that Lena Dunham is portraying it so adeptly.

My college friends and I celebrated our 10th reunion last year, and some of us lamented how much self-esteem and ambition we'd lost since college. Maybe those of you who think Girls is a navel-gazing narcissistic Klan meeting of sorts think we never should've liked ourselves so much to begin with. We thought we were actual people. How silly of us. We were -- we are -- just girls, and our problems are not really problems. We are your wives and daughters and sisters but we are not selves, not subjects, not I, not you. I'm done with all that. You can take me or leave me. I'm determined to reconnect to the 21-year-old me who knew what a smart, sharp, powerful badass I was.

I am.

March 4, 2013

one of these girls is just like the others

Oh, to be labeled an Exceptional Female!

"You're not like other girls," goes the would-be compliment.  Because most beings like you -- female beings -- are uncool, mystifying, shallow, petty, untalented, irrational, infuriating, terrifying, dumb, insufficiently sexual, too sexual, louder, quieter, worse, lame. Not you, though. No no. Because you're not like other girls.

If you're anything like me, you hear this all the time. And if you're anything like me, you're probably the only kind of woman any dude I know ever really talks to in his day to day life. So we all hear this all the time. Which is ironic. And odds are good that we like it when we hear it, which is the whole problem, or at least the part of the problem that we as women must confront.

All of us humans love to hear that we're special, and we all really are extraordinary creatures who deserve to be seen and celebrated. And we also want to believe that we buck convention and stand out as independent thinkers, that we've figured out how to be our authentic selves while others fall prey to self-imposed stereotypes and repressive social expectations. But people with no Y chromosome make up more than half of the human species. It is only through a deep systemic misogyny that we are invited to buy the argument that by being decent or competent people we are somehow exceptional... for girls.

I tend to get this type of compliment from the men in my life with respect to my sex-positive attitudes and my unconventional stance on sexual ownership and jealousy in my own relationships. And I'm sure that, when some new girlfriend cries every time an ex-girlfriend sends a harmless text, my male friends really are driven to the end of their wits. Rightly so. Of course, there are plenty of men out there who behave in a similar way, perhaps storming off instead of bursting into tears (or however they express insecurity in their gender-normative reality). In that case, the dude in question is generally labeled insecure. In the other case, the jealous female is simply labeled as behaving "like a girl."

Here's an example of where I'm firmly in the "acting like a girl" camp: I tend to write and speak openly about the egregious underrepresentation of women in the arts and entertainment. I know for a fact that many of the most successful women working in these fields enjoy frequent public and private praise for never mentioning the gender gap. Those women get all kinds of primary and secondary benefits from being "not like other girls." The bitter pill they're inherently swallowing, though, is the logical conclusion of this "compliment:" You're definitely not like other girls, because a girl couldn't do your job.

Sometimes men in my life tell me flat out that they're not "typical" guys. And I always agree, with a nod to Socrates. The trait that truly distinguishes all of my friends and most of my acquaintances is the willingness to live an examined life. Everybody in my circle -- men, women, comics, artists, software engineers, bird scientists, doctors, lawyers, bicycle repair people, farmers, teachers, students, parents, children, friends, countrymen -- has made choices informed by a deep expression of who they are instead of what might've been dangled in front of them by society as the lowest hanging fruit. They've questioned the frameworks of traditional marriage and child-rearing, career, religion, philosophy, life, sex, and everything. None of them is strictly bound by race, culture, gender, tribe, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation. We live. We grow. We like what we like. We are.

And so, if you are such a woman, and a man (who also aims to take the road less traveled by) comments on your remarkable individuality in such a way as to suggest that other members of our sex are generally incapable of such transcendence, you must stop him. You must resist the urge to feel elevated, promoted, plucked out, exceptional. You must pause, you must question, you must urge him to formulate his impression in a different way.

Because girls, like boys, are so often remarkable. We make art and write books and formulate philosophies that rattle social conventions and force society to move and change and break and think and grow.

Smart girls and boys know girls are people.

February 14, 2013

like a little prayer

I started my first ever blog in 2003, back when I worked at the Berkman Center. The old Harvard blogware had its quirks, like how any mention of the name "Dave" would automagically hyperlink to this guy. But it was fun to have an outlet, and I wound up hanging around the periphery of the Internet Famous, both online and IRL. In the years that followed, I watched as blogs evolved from Livejournal to Tumblr, from overwrought teen girl angst to meticulously catalogued food diaries to whatever the hell this is. (I call it "Look At This Fucking Ostrich.")

According to the Pew Research Center, the Millennial Generation includes those born "after 1980," ergo any time between 1981 and rightnowthisverysecond! That particular delineation makes Yours Truly the Eldest Most Seniormost Millennial (b. January 1981). Despite the fact that I gabbed into a boxy cordless phone all the way through high school, I am somehow nonetheless one of the kids these days. Bieber, Hannah Horvath and me.

And so, perhaps for this generational reason, or perhaps for the aforementioned early-blog-adopter-related reasons, I have of late developed a deep self-consciousness about confessional writing. I still do it, it's just that I usually prefer to wait for somebody to ask me to. Which happens very, very rarely.

I don't operate under the delusion that I am a well-known individual. I'm a comedian and a writer, and I'm fortunate enough to associate with lots of people who have their own Wikipedia pages. Still, I have not been myself for what feels like a very long time. I don't know if any of my Facebook friends or Twitter followers or various blog readers have noticed my absence erratic presence online over the last year or so, and I don't particularly feel like I owe anybody an explanation (except for those NYC comedians whose kind and generous offers of stage time and personal support have not received adequate responses from me). In any event, I do want to explain it, to put something out here, if only to serve as my own record for what occurred that changed and shaped and shifted me during these recent many chaotic months.

Maybe on some level I believe this finally will make it all stop. Maybe I need to do a piece about my Really Shitty Year-Plus because writing about this period in the past tense will at long last put a lid on it, at long last curtail the seemingly endless flow of bad luck, sad vibes, and family tragedy. Maybe it's as simple as I really cannot take any more.

I just want to go back to being okay. I want to be Fun Erin, the good friend and family member who's ready to listen about relationship problems and help out on moving day. I want to be Comedian Erin, the funny and reliable colleague who's a great addition to the line-up and would be perfect for that one role in that new video. I want to be an awesome wife again. I want to feel like myself.

And really, I should just face it: when I'm doing okay, I fucking write about myself on the internet. And talk about myself. And joke about myself. All us kids these days do it. Bieber, Hannah Horvath and me.

So. Here goes. Feel free to stop here. Feel free to read on. Feel free to feel things. I know I will.


My Really Shitty Year-Plus
by Erin

Let me start by saying that lots of wonderful things have happened in my life in the past year and a half. My husband got his dream job, and we moved our primary household to Ithaca, which is staggeringly beautiful and an extremely cool place to live. I recorded and released my first stand-up album, So Many Choices, with the help of Dom Del Bene, the best producer a comedian could ever hope for. I started traveling with the Pink Collar Comedy Tour and co-producing The Afterlife, a weekly NYC show, all with fantastic fellow comedians, and I was very prominently featured at the 2012 Women in Comedy Festival. I cooked lots of delicious food, made a bunch of great friends, and drank Prosecco pretty much whenever the hell I felt like it.

Not long after my husband started his new job, I received a phone call from a member of my intermittently-estranged side of the family informing me that my father had attempted suicide. This was in November of 2011, and the next day I started out on the road to sit on the dais at my good friend Myq's roast at the Boston Comedy Festival. But I couldn't make it all the way there. Depressed and emotionally raw, I turned my car around in Schenectady and headed back to Ithaca. I felt incredibly guilty for not being there at the roast, even though I knew my friends would understand. I hated the feeling that I had to miss out on this especially fun part of this overwhelmingly fun career I'd created for myself. I had no idea how much more missing out there would be in the months to come.

I soon returned to New York City where I was happily performing comedy but miserably working at an especially soul-crushing temp gig. I'd spent lots of time away from my husband, but this two-household thing was a whole fresh bag of worm candy, as they say. I missed him achingly, and we worried about each other all the time.

I finally left that temp gig in February 2012. I told Grandma (my Mom's mom and also my landlord) that I wouldn't be able to continue paying rent on the apartment in Brooklyn, and she generously allowed me to keep it anyway. Being a sweet old lady, she was just so relieved and pleased that I actually wanted to be with my husband. If I still needed to be in the city for comedy, she said, I would always have a place with her, even if she did find another tenant. In the mean time, however, the apartment would be mine, free of charge.

I started traveling back and forth between Ithaca and Brooklyn quite frequently, and I began to reclaim my body from the havoc temping had wrought. Thanks to hiking and yoga, I quickly started getting into really great shape. The travel was exhausting at times, but I felt invigorated and creative.

Then, in late April, I was visiting Ithaca when I received another ominous phone call from the estrangey side. My father had again attempted suicide, this time in a way so gruesome that I will not explain it here. He had been med-evac'ed to a surgical ICU someplace. I honestly didn't think that he would survive.

The next day, my husband's coworkers were kind enough to invite us to a rugby game and the subsequent drink-up. I felt emotionally wrecked and furious and horrified and terrified, and the last thing I wanted to do was to hang around at home. So we went to the game, and then to the party, where I proceeded to drink. A lot. Hours into the afternoon I was swing dancing with my "new friends" (read: total strangers) when all the tightness in my legs (from the hiking and the yoga) and looseness in my motions (from the booze) resulted in an injury I'd struggled with repeatedly back in college. My patella dislocated. I hit the floor. I started to space out by the time my husband pulled the car around, mostly from the pain, which is always pretty severe immediately after my knee pops out. Plus I was D-R-U-N-K. Three days later, when I still couldn't put any weight on my leg without intense pain, I finally agreed to see a doctor. She sent me to the orthopedist who took some x-rays and informed me that my ankle was broken. "But it's my knee..." I protested vaguely as the nurse led me to a door labeled "casting room." She wrapped me up in a hard purple cast and locked my knee in a torture device called an "immobilizer." I stayed just like that for six weeks.

Ultimately, my father did survive. But I couldn't -- I still can't -- wrap my head around what he did to himself, not to mention to all the people who have loved him and cared for him. We haven't spoken even once since then, but he's been on my mind every day.

When you have a broken leg, you're pretty much not allowed to exist in New York City. You just gotta leave. Having always been ambulatory myself, I never quite noticed all the concrete steps and narrow doorways and 18-inch stages and other impediments to accessibility plaguing the city's various apartments and public transportation options and venues. Getting around is one problem; performing is a whole other sack of canaries, as they say. I did a comedy show in Ithaca a week after I hurt my leg, and the chair I was sitting on literally broke underneath me while I was on stage. Somehow, the heightened reflexes of performance adrenaline enabled me to lift myself straight up on my good leg, and I didn't fall. But, having witnessed that awful moment, my very reasonable and non-hysterical husband insisted that I stop performing until I was much better. I took about 5 weeks off from comedy. It was the longest stretch of time I'd spent away from stand-up in ten years.

If you have a regular job and your life gets super shitty, I'm pretty sure you can just kind of hang in there and phone it in for a while. You might get a mediocre performance review along the way, but a typical career path comes with at least a little bit of built-in slack. When you're an "up and coming" comedian, however, there isn't exactly a day to day job you can phone it in to. In the 5 weeks I spent away from comedy, I stopped feeling like a comedian. I stopped feeling like anything. I felt lazy, irrelevant, exiled. I felt like a failure. I'm sure none of my peers viewed it that way, and most were probably unaware that I was even gone. But I felt so suddenly and so utterly alienated from the professional trajectory I'd imagined I was on before my injury. The self-consciousness and career anxiety I developed during that hiatus continue to plague me right now.

I spent the best part of spring holed up in our basement apartment in Ithaca. My mother and my mother-in-law helped out immensely, but mostly my poor husband bore the brunt of my neediness. And wow, was I needy. When you suddenly require both arms to walk, you just become a first-class slob. You can't help it. I couldn't pick up after myself. I had to take baths with my garbage-bagged leg jutting straight up into the air. I know millions of people have to deal with worse. But it was so much more stressful and painful and difficult than I would have imagined a simple broken bone to be.

Eventually, I got my hard cast off, and later that day I drove to South Carolina to start the Pink Collar tour, which started in late May and lasted most of June. My fellow comedians helped me immensely during the tour, but I also had to spend a lot of time lying down and feeling left out. Performing for twenty measly minutes wrung everything out of me. I would finish my set, crutch backstage, and lower myself into a prone position the floor. It seems so dramatic now, but I remember how necessary it felt at the time.

After the tour, I came back to Ithaca expecting one or two final visits to the doctor before I was at last done with my injury. Unfortunately, the orthopedist didn't find any new bone growth on my x-ray. Six weeks later, same deal. And six weeks after that, no new growth. My doctor wouldn't clear me to jog or hike or do anything stressful until my bone started to regrow. For the first time in my life, I truly longed to run, and I certainly took some cheat-hikes around a gorge or two. I felt so frustrated by my lack of progress. I'd been pounding calcium and complying with my painful and boring PT. Finally, the doctor made me get a "bone stimulator," a $4000 piece of equipment that does electromagnetism all up in your area. Based on my understanding, this device ranks somewhere between healing crystals and the AbGymNic (as seen on TV) in terms of sciencyness, but I used it religiously. By November, I finally started to regrow my ankle bone, but I was still not allowed to resume many physical activities.

In late November, as I continued to travel back and forth between Ithaca and Brooklyn, it became really clear to me that Grandma wasn't doing well. Each time I visited, she seemed a little bit paler and a little bit weaker. One day her leg was red and swollen, and she was clearly in a lot of pain.  She went to her regular doctor who presumed it was a skin infection and gave her antibiotics. This happened in late November. When I returned in early December, she was clearly much worse. Finally, a new doctor referred her to a vein specialist. After weeks of waiting and various appointments, she saw the specialist on December 20th, and he told her she had to be admitted to the hospital immediately.

What came after that was one of the worst periods of my life. As my whole extended family converged around Brooklyn for the holidays, Grandma's expectedly brief stay at the hospital kept getting longer and more serious. We spent days in the ER with her, which was extra-crazy since several neighboring hospitals were still closed or at reduced capacity due to Superstorm Sandy. The whole experience was horribly traumatic for all of us, and Grandma's condition just kept getting worse until it was in free-fall. We took her home to hospice on the 29th, and she died hours later, just after midnight on the 30th. Grandma always had a big role in my life, providing all the childcare my working mother needed when I was a kid and taking care of me every summer well into my teen years. I lived in her house from 2009 until she died, and I spent time with her almost every day.

And now, very suddenly, she is gone.

The grief stuff is still very much a part of my daily life. I dream about her all the time. Not as much as at first, when it was every single night, but she's still in there. I've had some other psych symptoms: mild hallucinations, visual disturbances, mood swings, uncontrollable emotional outbursts... all pretty normal for a grieving individual. I've had some intense periods of work and travel and other family crises thrown in as well, so even the aftermath of Grandma's death has been magnified by unrelated sorts of chaos. But mostly I'm still thinking about her, missing her, dreaming about her. All my tears right now, no matter what prompts them, are still, at the one level, for my Grandma.

And that brings us to right now. I have 391 unread emails in my inbox. My website calendar hasn't been updated in months. I desperately need new headshots, but my face is still so pale and puffy from all my wintry sorrows. I owe more people phone calls than I can even list. I'm behind. My performance calendar feels drastically underpopulated for the next three months, and, as much as it pains me to say so, it probably should stay that way. As desperately as I want things to return to normal, I'm nowhere close to healed. My novel is in serious need of a fresh draft, but I can't interact with all the playful characters I created right now. I'd probably just turn them all into wretched gothic wailers flailing around on the moors. The world needs no more of that. At least not from me.

I spent four hours last night constructing this incomplete and barely-spell-checked and winding and rambling and non-chronilogical and TMI-laden post. It wasn't how I expected my evening to go. But even if not even one single solitary person on Earth reads this all the way through, that doesn't bother me in the least. I wrote this to free myself.

On January 28th, I turned 32. I traveled for much of the day, felt alienated from my tourmates by of my grief-driven mood swings, and performed comedy for a small audience in Dallas, right near where I went to high school. I had been hoping for a bit of a hometown/birthday crowd boost for the show; the low turnout made me feel exposed and ashamed.

I've decided I get a do-over on this birthday, and now I think I recognize how it's gonna go down...

Starting from this moment, I'm going to take all the time I need to heal. I'm not going to feel frustrated or guilty, nor will I scold myself when I inevitably feel frustrated and guilty. I will do my best to be patient and kind. Then one day, I'll suddenly realize that I have lots of energy, an open heart, and tons of enthusiasm for my creative projects. Perhaps I'll be spending time with friends, or talking into a microphone, or hanging around the house with my husband. Maybe I'll be scrambling around a hiking trail all by myself, since I finally got a good x-ray in early January and am now cleared to do any physical activity I want. Then, right when I notice how whole I feel, I will tell myself, this is my birthday.

My faith in my resilience is strong. I know for certain that this magical day will arrive before next January 28th. It may even come very, very soon.