Comedians have a dearth of topics to cover. From sex to religion to politics and more, there’s always a wide swath of discussion for the stage. It’s not up to the comedian to make sense of it all; just to provide their take. This happens all the while comedians make their audiences laugh.
Jena Friedman uses her topics to an advantage. She takes a word that was once used against women and turns it into a powerful, almost common phrase. Her confidence soars as she takes the stage in a new Seeso special, American Cunt, as she talks all manner of feminism and politics, making every audience member laugh as much as they’re uncomfortable. I had a chance to ask her a few questions about her work.
First thing’s first: you’re very forthright with the word “cunt” whereas many, many women comics (and some women in general) try to stay away from it. There’s this notion that it’s crude or beneath the person. I think it’s fine and, when used in a creative way, is funny.
Jena Friedman: I actually think more men shy away from the word "cunt" than women, at least in America. I originally wrote the show for a UK audience, to premiere in the Edinburgh Fringe, so "cunt" in the title was just a nod to their usage of it, which isn't gendered as much as it is a term of endearment. But then as I was revising the show for an American audience, I decided to explore what the word "cunt" means to us and the fact that it corresponded with the most misogynistic election in American history was really just a stroke of... not luck, but something.
Speaking of dirty talk…It’s refreshing hearing a standup talk about politics on stage but have it be a direct conversation vehemently against a giant douche bag. With every news article, are you finding it easier to focus your sharp words against your target?
Friedman: No. I think the news is disorienting at the moment as we're all trying to figure out how to talk about what's happening, let alone how to process it. Also, the target keeps moving, in the way a puppet does when it has strings attached to it, so it's hard to really know where to focus the anger or what they say, especially in a humorous way.
After the election, phrases like “late night should be happy Trump was elected” because of all “the jokes that can come from it.” Do you think it’ll be harder or easier (comedy-wise) to move on these next four years?
Friedman: Harder. It's hard to write a joke on a joke or to be funny as our democracy is literally being dismantled in front of our eyes. Haha.
How do you feel about Seeso, Audible and the various other newfound outlets in terms of comedy? It seems that ten years ago, you could only go to Comedy Central and HBO for a comedy fix. Now there’s a new special every week.
Friedman: I love Seeso and the shows they're producing. I think it's cool that they're taking risks and I hope it pays off for them.
Feeding off of the last question, since there are so many new avenues for comedy, fresher comedians like yourself are able to get noticed a bit more. What’s it like promoting in your position in an age where there are millions of other voices and maybe only a thousand of them are funny?
Friedman: I've always been terrible at promoting myself, but if you just do your thing for long enough, people who want to find it will find it, especially now that there are so many avenues for comedy.
Your joke writing is very pointed. Do you see something that makes you emote or think and write down an idea for a joke? Or do you write whatever comes to mind?
Friedman: I'll jot down premises I want to explore and write a lot when I'm onstage, I tweet a lot too, for better or worse, twitter is like a joke book that talks back to me, and might one day get me fired.
You come off as comfortable onstage. Since you’re on such a stable path in the special, do you free yourself up for crowd interaction?
Friedman: First of all, thank you. That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. Second of all, as the for question, it really depends on the type of crowd it is and if I'm taping. If I'm taping anything, I try to steer clear of crowd work if I can help it.
Will you ever continue your interview segments? The last one with Ken Kratz from Making a Murderer was great!
Friedman: Yes, I am hoping to, I just have to find the right target, I mean subject.