If you ever watch those reality shows about the ladies who claim to not have known they were pregnant and wondered what kind of person could be so detached from their body ... that's me, apparently.
As a stand-up comic, there is something about sharing personal details about your life onstage that audiences perceive as an open invitation to say whatever they want to you afterward. It certainly makes sense; telling jokes that are rooted in truth exposes a vulnerability society normally tries to cover up.
When you share your truth, people feel like they know you, like they can open up to you. In many ways, the ears of comedians are a safe bet, as we are the least-likely people to get offended.
Yet, many of the things strangers offer up post-show shock me completely. And since I'm an openly gay female who frequently talks into a microphone about my love of masturbation, this is no easy feat.
Some of the most unthinkable comments I have heard are below. Brace yourselves.
1. “I don’t normally like female comedians, but you were really funny!”
If I had a nickel every time I (or other female comics I know) heard this one. It flies out of the mouths of so many, with such ease it is as if they truly believe they are giving a five-star review. In fact, this far-too-common sentiment epitomizes what is known as a “back-handed compliment.”
Someone literally uses the phrase, “Good job,” then follows it up with a little anecdote that figuratively slaps you right across the face. Ouch.
The most memorable time this line was spoken to me, was by a woman in a small Washington town who went into very gory detail: “I hate to say this, but when I first saw you I rolled my eyes. I don’t normally like female comedians, but you were really funny! Normally it’s some fat chick talking about being fat, or some slutty chick pretending to give a blow-job to the microphone. But you weren’t like that. You were so funny!”
Before I could thank her for her sexist remark (I mean, don’t a lot of male comics talk about weight-gain and mime-sex on stage with a stool?) she continued, “But you’re just the exception. I still think women aren’t funny!”
It took every ounce of strength in my body not to say, “Wow, sounds like I will single-handedly have to change a lot of people’s opinions.”
2. “We’re all swingers!”
The smallest town I ever performed in was, oddly enough, in California -- just six hours north of Los Angeles. The show was in a historic courthouse-turned-hotel that had just 13 rooms and was presumably haunted.
The entire community gathered together in the bar on the first Friday of every month to watch touring comedians, who I was told by the booker “have their work cut out for them.”
I was headlining that evening, so I prepared myself for the imminent challenges one faces when doing 45 minutes in a rowdy bar. Somehow I managed to rope them in and they were surprisingly on board with my act, gay subject matter included.
At some point during the middle of my set, the notion of "swingers" came up. I do not have an actual written-bit about it, so I am unsure about what exactly was said -- I just know that the moment it came out I could feel every single butt-hole in the room tighten.
At the end of the show, one of the local “Hill People,” (their words, not mine, when describing themselves) came up to me and filled me in:
“That was great when you started talkin’ about swingers. Right as you said it Bob’s mistress Carol came in, and he gave her a look like she wasn’t supposed to be here! See Bob and his wife used to run a swinger’s group, but it got busted up because everybody was sleepin’ with everybody and it got pretty messy. We’re all swingers up here!”
Moral of this story? The biggest secrets live in the smallest places.
3. “You’re like the leftover yeast…”
The dad of one of my childhood friends came to see me perform once. I never really knew him that well, but somehow he found out about the show and came to check it out. He approached me after my set, and I didn’t recognize him by face; only when he announced himself as my friend’s father, was I able to place him.
He proceeded to ask me if it were “really true” that I was a lesbian, and I did my best to politely respond that, despite his insinuation that I would assume a false sexual-orientation for the sake of a pretend act, “Yes, I was.”
He shook his head then and grinned, “You know what I think of that?” he asked, rhetorically. “I used to work in a brewery. At the end of the day there is this layer, at least three inches thick, of yeast waste at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. Perfectly good yeast we could use to brew more beer, but instead they clean it out and throw it away. That’s what I think of when I hear that a pretty girl like you is a lesbian. Such a waste.”
I thanked him for his extensive narrative on “The Purpose of Women” and told him to give my regards to his wife.
4. “We ain’t no ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and shit”
After a show in an ill-populated Idahoan community, a group of audience members offered to buy me a beer.
Normally not one to accept these kinds of offers, I threw caution to the wind and sat down with them. It was very clear that the foursome was comprised of two-sets of romantic male-female partners. I had been opening for another comic, so it is important to note that since I was onstage for just 25 minutes, I did not do any material about my sexuality.
For all these people knew, I was just a heterosexual girl, living in a heterosexual world. I promptly asked my new friends if they were from Idaho originally, and one of the gentleman replied that no, they hailed from Montana.
Before I could mention my appreciation for the state’s breathtaking-scenery, he cut me off, “But we ain’t no ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and shit. That movie ruined life for us in Montana. Everybody thinks we’re a bunch of faggots!”
No, I thought, but I do think you’re an idiot.
5. “Want some moonshine?”
Two kindly gentleman sauntered up to me after a set in Yakima, Washington and whispered in my direction, “You like apple pie?” I must have been visibly confused, as they quickly clarified: “Want some moonshine? Tastes just like apple pie.”
I told them I had to drive so it probably was not a good idea, and they gave me the full rundown of their system: One of them made the alcohol in his garage, and the other worked at a company that sealed containers. They would bottle the ‘shine in glass jars, and carry on their person a portable-sealer.
Therefore, they concluded, “We can drink while we drive. If we get pulled over, we just close her up, and the police can’t do nothin’ about it!” I took a long look at the criminals before me, and realized they had never told me their names.
6. “I thought being a lesbian was reserved for ugly chicks?”
Perhaps the most offensive of all the comments sent my way, this one now has a secure place in my act (with a very funny punchline).
Not only is this remark condescending and homophobic; it highlights the misogynists’ view of lesbians. While it is a thinly-veiled compliment to my physical appearance, underneath is yet another SLAP against the very community I belong to, and identify with.
The mere suggestion that being a lesbian is for "ugly chicks," indicates a belief that women choose to be with other women, only because they can’t get men. Lesbians by default.
It is deeply upsetting when people have the audacity to proclaim such a thoughtless notion. It feeds into the illustrious “yeast waste” opinion above, in that women exist merely to serve the sexual-desires of men.
I hate to break it to you, but women have more important things to do; very little of which has to do with a man.
As for how I responded to the male chauvinist? You will have to come see a live show!