Between the 14th and 17th centuries was the age of the Renaissance. Art scattered the streets, poems fluttered through the inkeeps like birds on the winds, and people generally became self aware of what they truly believed. This may or may not be history but there is one thing the Renaissance and comedian Mindy Raf have in common and that’s the act of creation.
Raf has her hands in a lot of pots. She’s a standup, writer, joke punchupper, festival goer, actress, published author, musician and probably much more. Raf recently wrote a one woman show called No Thank You to be performed for the first time ever at The PIT Loft. She’s cultivated this work over a long period of time and now audiences will finally get a chance to see it. I was lucky enough to sit down with her this past week.
We’re here to talk about No Thank You. Where did the concept for the show come up?
Raf: The concept for the show came together the last time I performed a new half hour stand up show for the SoloCom standup festival at The Pit. I had a great time doing it. Afterwards, I really wanted to extend my material to an hour and see if I could write my standup within the hour of a standup structure. So I was putting together some of my new material with some of the older stuff. I found it was kind of weaving together into a specific story about how hard it is to say no or the right time to say “no” and “no thank you. So that theme, I realized, is woven into a lot of my standup and a lot of my stories. That’s where the title of my show came about. And that’s when Is started to anchor all of my material based on that theme
Would you say this took a big part of your personal life to get through?
Raf: Definitely. I think for anyone, I guess – not even becoming an adult – but in their twenties and thirties kind of learning, you know, who their people are and how they want to spend their time and what’s important to them. And that, specifically for women, but I think a lot of men deal with that too is just learning when to say no to people. And that it’s not okay to people please. And that you actually get more done and you’re actually happier when you eliminate things in your life. Get rid of that thing. Get rid of that people pleasing pleasure. And I think that connects definitely how I live my life but also in my writing too. Like how hard it is to get rid of old jokes that you are attached to that don’t really work for you anymore or people in your life that don’t really work for you anymore. That’s definitely been a running theme as of late for sure.
When you surround yourself with people, you mentioned earlier, do you surround yourself with other comedians or other creative people or do you try to stick the people who aren’t in the same category as you?
Raf: I don’t really think about it too much. I try to surround myself with people who make me feel good, bring me joy more than unhappiness. Not everyone can be healthy for you all the time. But I think 80% joy with someone and I can keep them in my life. If they’re creative, if they’re more logical, if they’re a comic it’s not really as important. Doing standup so much and performing and storytelling you have a lot of comedian friends and that’s great. But I definitely try to surround myself with people who aren’t just doing comedy as well. Different types of nuances and the type of that that people are interested in.
You’re in Brooklyn, right?
Yes. I’m in Bushwick.
Do you give yourself enough space to perform standup bits or parts of your show?
Raf: Locally? Definitely. It’s a combination of writing at home or talking to myself at home and actually going to step out on stage. I think there’s a lot of different moving parts that you’re trying to put together a longer form of structured kind of show. Especially when you’re trying to put standup in a narrative or combine standup in storytelling. With a lot of shows in Brooklyn or New York, you’ll maybe get seven to ten minutes or fifteen minutes. If you’re lucky, you’ll maybe do a feature spot and you’ll get twenty minutes or a half hour. You’re kind of weaving together little arcs that are shorter but all the while I think I’ve been trying to weave together a long form thing as well. You’ll go out and you’ll work bits and pieces and then you’ll come home and try to figure it out “Well that didn’t work” and scrap it all together or “That works now I have to figure out where it goes in the context of the larger piece.
Am I reading this correctly that you’ve done a full album, on vinyl, called LeibyaFair Live?
Raf: [laughs] That is correct.
You’re the first person that I’ve talked to that is doing a one-woman live show. What’s the difference between that comedy album and this live show?
Raf: The comedy album was a musical alter ego that I performed for years in the city. Her name was Leibya Rodgers.
Raf: And she was a chick rocker. I played guitar a lot of the time and auto harp. I’d wear a sideways mullet. She was kind of a satire of what people used to think feminists were. The negative connotation of feminism. This album was recorded in 2010. To give you some context, the character was performed in the city from 2007 to 2010 pretty regularly. Up until 2011, I kind of put her away for a while. [laughs]. That character did a later Mickey Avalon parody, which I loved. Instead of “My Dick” it was “My Vag.” There was a lot of stuff I did with her. I realized I had enough for probably a full hour so I got a little band together and we recorded it live at Arlene’s Grocery and put it on Kickstarter and mixed it for vinyl. I did a 12” record kind of a spoof, LeibyaFair, of the things that people think female musicians are supposed to be. It was very fun. But, in [No Thank You], I’m myself. [laughs] Not Leibya. It’s standup. No music, no band. Just me and just words. And stories.
You’re pretty comfortable on stage. I’m reading that you’ve done The People’s Improv Theater and Upright Citizen’s Brigade. When did you realize you were pretty well versed on stage?
Raf: I would always perform for family when I was little. I would always perform characters. I would write monologues and I would always perform at theatre troupe. But also when I was little, I always felt really comfortable on stage. I think I was kind of an anxious child, probably so anxious that I got up and found out on stage it calms me down and I get a lot of joy from it. From early on, I liked being on stage. I really love theater and performing characters, which is what I do when I started doing comedy. When I did musical theater, I was always doing funny characters. When I started writing for myself, I was like “Oh this is fun. I have a lot of control. I don’t have to worry about auditioning so much for another part. I can write for myself.” And then I started doing little characters and standup. Being on stage has always been fun.
Writing this show, are you able to go out and write other things for yourself? Or attempt to write anything else. Have you written for TV or web or anything?
Raf: I have. I just wrote a relationship column for CollegeHumor. And I’ve written for various websites. I’ve had essays published. I’ve written a young adult novel that was published a couple years ago. I’ve done some writing for Girl Code. I love joke punching up and helping people write screenplays. I’ve been freelance writing a lot for work so it’s something I’m still able to do. I’ve been focused just recently on writing this show so that’s been my main focus. But Ive always got some stuff on the stove. And I’m always working freelancer writing so I’m kind of always writing for other people and myself.
You wrote a young adult novel? That’s pretty cool.
Raf: Yes! Yeah, it was fun. I actually got the book deal through doing standup. It was very backdoor. It was not a typical way to get a book deal. But I had an editor in the audience of a standup show that liked my voice. She emailed me and I sent her some stuff and ended up writing a young adult fiction book.
What was the process of that like?
Raf: It was hard. I’m not going to say it was fun. At times, it was fun. But I think, honestly, it was really challenging. Now I think it’s great because I learned how to write a book. At the time, I’d only written short essays so putting together a long form narrative in fiction was really challenging but it was good. I’m really proud of it. It was a long process though.
Are you still performing at any festivals?
Raf: Not currently. I’ve done Bridgetown, SoloCom, New York Comedy Songs and UCB SketchFest in the past. This is the debut of this hour show so, after this debut, I’m going to tighten it up and get a run and maybe take it places. That is to be determined.