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Learning About the History — and Future — of Stand-up Comedy

With Rachel Blackburn

Michael Lueger: Welcome to the Theatre History Podcast, a podcast produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. Hi, and welcome back to the Theatre History Podcast on HowlRound. I'm Mike Lueger and it's wonderful to be working with HowlRound once again on this show. We're doing a nine-episode season with episodes publishing every Wednesday. Just a quick note, all of these interviews were recorded earlier—in some cases a few years ago, in other cases, earlier in 2021. Today's interview was originally recorded in 2018. Okay, thank you for listening and enjoy the show.

Hi and welcome to the Theatre History Podcast. I'm Mike Lueger. On November 11th, 2017, Tiffany Haddish made history. That was the night she hosted Saturday Night Live, becoming the first Black female stand-up comedian to do so in the show's forty-two-year history. That striking fact illustrates the degree to a which mainstream stand-up comedy has been largely dominated by straight, white men, which in turn has done a lot to condition our expectations for what comedy is and what we should expect it to do. However, there's a new, more diverse generation of comics who are challenging some of those assumptions. And today we're joined by Dr. Rachel Blackburn, who's been exploring the recent stand-up comedy and how it's beginning to change. Rachel is an assistant professor of theatre at Columbus State University and a longtime stage director and performer. Rachel, thank you so much for joining us.

Rachel Blackburn: Oh my gosh. Thank you for having me.

Michael: Can we start by talking about a term that keeps coming up in your work? It's the term intersectionality; could you please help define that and explain why it's so important?

Rachel: Oh, absolutely. Intersectionality is a term that was coined by a Black critical race theorist and scholar named Kimberlé Crenshaw. And Kimberlé Crenshaw was coming out of the legal field in the early nineties. And basically, she saw overlapping areas of discrimination that were systemic specifically for Black women. And she was realizing that with Black women being subject to both racism and sexism, they were overly being—the population was unfairly targeted in overlapping ways that people who are not sitting with intersections of identity, that are some alternate identities or people that experienced discrimination from two or more facets of their identity. She was realizing that these women were going to jail and being incarcerated at greater rates, and she felt that basically antidiscrimination law was not doing what it should have been doing to help these women.

So she coined the term intersectionality to describe the fact that Black women, especially as defined by the legal system, were experiencing both sexism and racism. And with that is this idea that basically a lot of us have intersections of our identity that inform our worldview. So race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, able-bodiedness, or disabilities. Those are all things that shape how we view the world and how the world views us.

Michael: And I've noted that in your writing, you always make a point of identifying—as you talk about each of the comics who you study—you always make a point of talking about them in terms of those various categories: race, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, and so forth. Why did you feel that it was so important to do that?

Rachel: The short answer is that, that is a very shortcut way to describe their positionality that they're coming from in their comedy, which is pretty essential to getting at a more accurate and insightful interpretation of what their comedy's doing. But also on a deeper level, those that are considered minorities, whether that's race, gender, able-bodiedness, disability, sexuality, whatever it might be, those that are disenfranchised and put on the margins are often required to identify themselves and acknowledge those intersections of identity when they perform comedy. We ask of Black stand-up comics to acknowledge the fact that they're Black and to speak to their Black experience. A couple of the comics that I write about, Francesca Martinez and Josh Blue, both have cerebral palsy. If they came right onto the stage physically differently abled with their cerebral palsy and then didn't acknowledge it or talk about it, the audience would revolt or perhaps maybe just walk out confused.

Anytime someone identifies as something that's other, we are asking of them to acknowledge that. And so for me, when I was writing about all of these different comics, I was with Black comics, with differently abled comics, with homosexual comics, with nonbinary gendered comics, and so on and so forth. I was always having to say, “Listen, you need to know that this is part of their identity because this is what's informing their comedy.” But it would've been a mistake to not also do that for people who identify as white and heteronormative and able-bodied, because if we're not acknowledging those things about ourselves and only asking that labor from others, then we're not acknowledging the idea that whiteness, heteronormativity, these have been defaulted as mainstream or normal; they've been defaulted as normalcy.

So the act of acknowledging that about ourselves, or when I'm writing about a white, straight male comic, who's able-bodied and cisgendered, acknowledging that about him, I'm not just putting the labor of that onto these other comics. We're marking them in ways that are othered. I'm also marking everyone. So I suppose in my writing, it was my way of trying to acknowledge not just where their positionality is for their comedy, but just acknowledging that we all read the world from our identities and marking them as appropriate.

Michael: So as a history podcast, I suppose we ought to talk a bit about the history of intersectionality and stand-up comedy. I wondered if we could start with Moms Mabley. Could you explain who she was and where she fits into the history of stand-up?

Rachel: Yeah, sure. I'll talk about Moms Mabley all day if you want. Moms Mabley—what's interesting about her is that Moms Mabley really came to prominence for white audiences in the sixties and seventies. And well, maybe earlier—maybe fifties and sixties is better. And she was a stand-up comic. Now what's interesting about her is that a lot of people say that in the history of stand-up comedy that they feel Bob Hope was the first stand-up comic because of the way that he structured his comedy performances. But Moms Mabley came from the world of vaudeville and the Chitlin' Circuit, and she was performing comedy on those circuits in the thirties and forties. So really, it's my own historical designation, but I would claim that she's the country's first stand-up comic, period. Not just first female stand-up comic, but first stand-up comic.

So Moms Mabley is very interesting because part of her stand-up comic persona was that she was this older heterosexual woman that was a bit lecherous and that she lusted after young men. One of my favorite lines of hers is, "He was so ugly, it hurt my feelings". But unbeknownst to her audiences, Moms Mabley was actually a lesbian and considered herself somewhat non-binary. And she dressed androgynously in private and with her friends and immediate family circle. So yeah, she rose to prominence later on, and she's often tokenized as the country's first Black female comedian. But again, I would say she's really the country's first stand-up comic. And unfortunately, sadly, her life is an example of—she had this whole hidden private world of the intersection of her sexuality and her gender and was not able to explore it in her comedy at the time. But that said, she did pave the way for so many more comedians to come after her, particularly Black female comedians to come after her, and to take up that mantle and move with it in new directions.

Also, interestingly, about Moms Mabley, CNN did a documentary series a couple years ago in 2017, and it was, I want to say a five or a six-part documentary series where each episode was devoted to a particular subject of stand-up comedy. And there was an episode devoted specifically to women, but the only two women that they spoke to, or even showed clips from on that episode, were Ali Wong and Margaret Cho. There were no Black women at all. If I remember correctly, I think there was a brief image, a still image footage of Moms Mabley, but they didn't talk about her. They didn't address her, didn't talk about how she really got the whole art form started in the US. Yeah, it's a shame. Actually, years later, Whoopi Goldberg took a real interest in her and did a documentary on Moms Mabley—I think that's on HBO. And there's also a woman, a performer, and I really regret that I can't remember her name right now, but she researched Moms Mabley and performed a one-woman show as Moms Mabley on Broadway in New York years ago.

Michael: Now, you just mentioned Whoopi Goldberg, probably a name and a face much more recognizable to most listeners. But you've said that there's some interesting history there as well. You especially point to her 1985 special Direct From Broadway as this underappreciated landmark. Could you explain a little bit more about that?

Rachel: Actually that's the best way to put it; underappreciated landmark, for sure. Whoopi Goldberg's performance in 1985 was a one-woman show called Direct From Broadway. And I have written about this show—until someone proves me wrong, I'm going to say it is the first truly intersectional performance that focuses on intersectionality and intersectional identity that we see in the theatre or stand-up comedy in this country. So the reason I say that Whoopi Goldberg, this show, is so ahead of its time. First of all, obviously Kimberlé Crenshaw hadn't yet coined the term intersectionality. Not that she invented the idea of it, because obviously Whoopi Goldberg and Alice Walker and the Combahee River Collective, these were groups that were talking about intersectionality and intersectional identity in scholarly or artistic ways. But just to give you a sense of how ahead of this time this show was, so Whoopi Goldberg in Direct From Broadway, she creates five characters and each character is someone who sits at the crossroads of identity of Blackness and another identity that… well actually, multiple. Two or three or four identities—the facets of their identity that place them in the margins.

So you have five characters and there are some things that are perhaps slightly outdated about the show, which is mainly the language. So when I say the names of these characters, I'm referring to how she refers to these characters, not my own terms for them. But she calls one character The Cripple, one character The Junkie, there's a little girl, there's a Jamaican woman. And these are all characters who are confronting intersections of Blackness and disability, Blackness and being female, Blackness and being young. Even though it's purely comedy, they all have stories that we see the confrontations they have with the world stemming from those identities and how the world doesn't respond to them in kind ways as a result of those identities. The Jamaican woman gets essentially hired by a white man and brought over to the US. And he really approaches her one of two ways: either as a sexual partner or as a maid.

And The Cripple has experiences of course, being someone who lives with disability. The young girl is already facing the idea that she has a hard time seeing herself as be beautiful because her features and her hair do not meet the standards of Eurocentric beauty standards. So they’re all facing these things in different ways. The show ends with the character of The Cripple and ultimately, The Cripple gives us the last line of the whole show, which is: “Normal is seen in the eye of the beholder.” And what is really significant about that is that, the Americans With Disabilities Act hadn’t come out until 1990. And it wouldn’t be until the mid-nineties that we would have academic departments studying and doing disability studies at major universities across the US. That wouldn’t happen until 1994.

And at the center of studies and disability theory is what they call the social model of disability, which is to say that essentially disability, the way that Whoopi Goldberg frames it too, she’s essentially using a social model of disability when she says, “Normal is in the eye of the beholder”. So normalcy is not necessarily what we think of it is. Normalcy is a socially constructed model. So the idea that for example, perhaps someone living with the disability of only having one working leg, let’s say. To people who have two working legs, we look at that disability and see it as not normal and different, but for the person that walks around with one leg, that is their normalcy, that is their life. And essentially, they live in a world that’s determined socially that walking on two legs is what’s normal. But not necessarily, or it doesn’t have to be that way.

And so, centering on the question of, What is normalcy? is really at the heart of disability studies and Whoopi Goldberg is doing all of this in 1985. So it’s funny actually, speaking of theatre history, I was just teaching ancient Indian Sanskrit theatre to my theatre history students this past week. And I was talking about how they were incredibly ahead of their time in terms of understanding the effect that theatre had on its audiences and how to connect with audiences. And essentially Sanskrit theatre and people living in ancient India in the fourth and fifth centuries of the common era, they were really using audience reception theory to inform how they created their theatre. And then when I was talking about this with my students, I was like, “Guys, audience reception theory doesn’t come out as a body of theoretical work until postmodernism thousands of years later. Do you know how ahead of their time there was?”

So anyway, so I look at Whoopi Goldberg and I look at her Direct From Broadway happening in 1985. She is on the cusp. She’s really quite on the cutting edge of using the intersectional statements that the Combahee River Collective and writers like Alice Walker and Audre Lorde and these great figures are putting out at the time. They’re just beginning to talk about this. And Whoopi Goldberg’s already created a whole performance around this concept.

Michael: Another intersection involves race and gender and identity. And in particular, you point to Wanda Sykes and Margaret Cho as two really interesting examples that started to change the popular understanding of queer female identity in stand-up. Could you talk a little more about those two?

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. So Wanda Sykes and Margaret Cho are two queer women of color. And really—and again, until I learn otherwise; it's quite possible that there were other female comedians that were owning their queerness in their performances and I'm just not aware of them. But to my knowledge, Wanda Sykes and Margaret Cho are really the first two mainstream, nationally popular stand-up comics to own their queerness as part of their stand-up comedy. And Wanda Sykes is really exploring what it means to be gay and Black in the US and Margaret Cho exploring what it means to be a person of South Asian descent and queer in the US. And so really, they bust open that door from a national, mainstream perspective.

Michael: You identify a number of Black female American comics who have continued the work of comedians such as Goldberg, such as Sykes, but in doing so, they've also challenged some of the preconceptions of what's known as fourth-wave feminism. Could you explain what that term means? And also, what specifically some of these women are doing in their performances?

Rachel: So scholars are beginning to say that we're now in the fourth wave of feminism and third wave, being roughly... well, okay. First wave being pretty much any time, but a lot of people pinpoint the suffragists of the 1920s as first-wave feminism. Like, “Hey, we should be able to vote, right?” And then second wave is considered to pick up in the 1950s. And of course, that's the era of housewives who are essentially doing domestic labor and that's the only role for which they're considered. Now, I should comment, that's actually specifically a kind of white woman feminism. Black women, of course, were expected to do lots of different kinds of labor as maids and other things, so there's that. And then the third wave is picking up in the seventies and eighties and then perhaps early nineties.

So fourth wave—here's what everyone is saying defines the fourth wave. It's defined by the internet taking a hold of our lives in a significant way, which is why I actually would date fourth wave a little bit later than the mid-nineties. The mid-nineties, the internet exists but it hasn't become a daily part of our routine yet. And social media hasn't been invented yet. So a lot of people date fourth-wave feminism as starting in the early aughts and partly as defined by this integration of internet and social media into our use as a socially progressive movement that's activist. So that's part of it. Actually, one scholar dates fourth wave as beginning with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama debating in the primaries in 2008. And the reason for that is because when that was happening, and it was looking like it was coming down to either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama for the Democratic nominee, a lot of women of color and Black women specifically, were being asked: Are you going to vote with your race or are you going to vote with your gender? As if they had to choose one to side with.

And in response to this, a lot of things happened. There's an organization in Brooklyn, New York called the Black Women's Blueprint. And they really started responding to this and coming together as an intersectional body of women and saying: “Listen. Yes, we live at intersections of marginalized race and marginalized gender. And that does mean that we face specific problems that don't happen for other groups of people.” But what's interesting about fourth-wave feminism is that it's defined by the internet and social media. Also though, a lot of people are talking about how it's defined by humor, and this is where I've jumped in and said, “Okay, well, what does that mean? Let's look at this, let's unpack this.” And the humor part is really playing into street protests. Of course, it's part of the stand-up comedy world. And it's really infiltrating what have previously been considered serious mainstream news organizations, such as CNN.

So I feel like the traditional boundaries that previously separated all these things—stand-up comedy, news journalism, and street protests—fourth-wave feminism, all of these boundaries collapse in on one another and those lines get really blurred. Oh, and by the way, let me give you some examples of funny street protests just really quickly to help illustrate this. So there was a Cocks Not Glocks protest that was done in Texas, where evidently there was some sort of archaic rule on the books about you couldn't have dildos at school on the university campus, but you could carry guns. So they staged a Cocks Not Glocks where they all held out a bunch of dildos and saying, “These are more dangerous than guns? Really?” In 2014, there was a face-sitting protest that happened in the UK outside parliament in London.

So apparently they were trying to regulate some new rules for the porn industry, which included basically giving harsher ratings to material that included positions that are meant specifically for women's pleasure. And so, they staged a mass face-sitting protest. A lot of women sat on faces outside parliament, and I would highly suggest going on Google and finding images of this, because it's quite entertaining. Yeah, the Slut Walk had a great deal of humor involved in those protests, including having stand-up comics perform at the protest and this use of sarcasm and irony and all those things. So anyway, fourth-wave feminism is the idea that all of this is collapsing in on one another. Another big component of fourth-wave feminism is the idea that we're supposed to really be embracing intersectionality.

Where that is problematic is that, while this is being touted as, “Okay, this is the movement that's going to embrace intersectionality and white women, we are going to include our sisters of color and all these things. And also, inclusive of nonbinary folks and transgendered folks as well.” All of this is supposed to be happening presumably, but we can see these pockets of where, actually, the movement is failing at being intersectional. So an example of that would be 2017; they were planning the Women's March after Trump has been elected and they're planning it for the day after he's inaugurated, right? That Women's March starts off as a bunch of white women planning this march and women of color and Black women specifically, were coming in and saying, “Hey, we should be part the conversation from the get-go about this event.” So the ethos of, well, the ethos of fourth-wave feminism is, “Oh, we're being intersectional and we're being mindful about that." We're still seeing problems of not really living up to that principle, unfortunately.

Michael: I'm really interested in what you were just saying about how these different categories—news, comedy—are all collapsing into one another, in part, as a result of the emergence of this fourth wave feminism. If you follow comics on social media, you'll often see them sharing stuff where people basically say, “Shut up and tell jokes. Don't comment on politics or anything else that's going on in the wider world.” But in keeping with this idea of all these different categories blending into one another, you talk about a number of comedians who see their job as doing the exact opposite. In your words, they “blend public intellectual work with social activism through their comedy.” Could you tell us a little bit about who some of the more prominent comics doing this are and what exactly it means for them to do that in their work?

Rachel: This is really fascinating to me. And I see this as maybe one of the biggest distinctions of this era of comedy versus previous eras of comedy. So when it comes to stand-up comedy, there's always been amazing comics who were speaking to social issues through their comedy, right? So George Carlin and Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Moms Mabley in some ways. These were comics who were definitely being socially conscious in their work and where I make this distinction between that ilk of comic and what I think is happening now is that these comics are subverting, not just the comedy stage, they're subverting other spaces where it's been traditionally white, traditionally male, and they're blending their comic with news journalism, university debates, all kinds of things. And they're entering these spaces and they're bringing their comedy with them.

They're not leaving the comedy back at the club; they're taking it with them into these other spaces of public intellectual output, let's say. So some examples of that: Ava Vidal is a UK–based comic. She frequently writes on Black and intersectional feminism. She gave a talk at a research conference at Cambridge University. She also was part of a debate talking about intersectional feminism at Oxford University—the Oxford University, right? So she's doing that. She's publishing in major London newspapers like the Guardian and the Telegraph and things like that. There's another comic, Dr. Hannah Ballou—she's been publishing in academic comedy journals about femininity and sexuality and comedy. In fact, when I was looking at her and I had just read some of her work in an academic journal, I thought, you know what? The most helpful theorist in helping me understand and unpack her stand-up comedy is her. So, there's things like that.

We also have Hari Kondabolu. Hari Kondabolu is doing really interesting work. Apart from being a stand-up comic, he's recently released a critical documentary film called The Problem With Apu. So he did that. He was, was featured on basically a public academic dialogue of a conversation between him and bell hooks—bell hooks, one of the biggest names in academic scholarly work, if you're looking at essentially race and gender studies. So anyway, Hari Kondabolu and bell hooks have a conversation at St. Norbert's College. And it's all about how the line between comedy and social activism needs to blur, essentially. So we're seeing that.

Figures like W. Kamau Bell—this is a comedian who hosts his own show on CNN now, United Shades of [America]. The way that he describes it is that, Anthony Bordain had went around the world and tried different cuisines. He goes and samples different cultures, and in particular, their racism. And sometimes it's a culture who's experiencing racism. Sometimes he's experiencing the culture that propagates the racism. So this shift of having a stand-up comic host a show on the CNN news network of all places, really speaks to this whole collapsing in on each other of the boundaries between these different fields.

There's also Francesca Martinez, who I mentioned earlier—a comic who lives with cerebral palsy. She also writes and publishes on this. And she spoke at the anti-austerity rally that happened in the UK. And that was essentially their occupy movement, that mirrored what we were doing here in the US with the Occupy movement. She spoke at that rally and her entire speech was around understanding intersectionality and connecting it with capitalism, actually, and consumerism and how there's an economic basis for the things that we do. And if we can unplug from that, maybe we can help dilute and eventually rid ourselves of racism and things like that.

So there's tons of examples. Carrie Cadet is a Brooklyn–based stand-up comic. She has written pieces for HuffPost and, I want to say, the Washington Post—and I'll have to check on that—but yeah, she's published quite a bit too. The list goes on and on really. But so, essentially, they're all entering these spaces of what were previously held by non-comics, but they're coming into those spaces and they're bringing their comedy with them. It's almost as if they refuse to separate. Ava Vidal did a Ted Talk on, can you be a conscious comic? Francesca Martinez, did a TED Talk on happiness as a political act. These are women and people who are blending academic work in academic spaces with their comedy. And I think it's really exciting to see.

I think particularly in the US with the politics in recent years, it's become incredibly divisive and bitter and angry. And I think the world is getting to a point, or maybe the US at least, is getting to a point where we're saying like, “You know what? I'm okay with seeing a comic on CNN, because we need to find a way to laugh about some of these things.” And laughter—as cliché as it is—laughter brings people together. It's the shortest distance between you and someone else. And there's a power in it too. If W. Kamau Bell is on CNN and he's making a joke about the racism that he's seeing in a particular place and culture, if you laugh at that, your body laughing is an involuntary response. He's got you. He won. He made you laugh. So it's quite radical, I think, seeing this movement into blurring the lines and blending these lines between what is social activism and what is academic work and what is comedy.

Michael: To that end, you also speak about one other example of this which is comics with transnational identities. Could you explain a little bit about what you mean by that and how they helped to round out the picture that you're painting of how comedy is changing?

Rachel: Actually, this ties in with fourth-wave feminism as well. Another ethos of fourth-wave feminism is the idea that we've gone global. And of course, that goes hand in hand with the internet. So I refer to these comics as transnational comics because they're transcending the national borders with their comedy. And what makes them all really interesting is that comics—I cite Tyran Vangosri, who's an excellent comic based in LA. I want to say his home club is the Laugh Factory, so you can see him performing there a lot. Tyran Vangosri, Gina Yasre, who was a London-born Nigerian comic who's now in the US, Amir Raman is another comic who's based in Australia. These are comics who, they find that their race and how their race is constructed by others, fluctuates as they go across national borders to other places.

And these are comics who are—Trevor Noah is another great example of comics who perform in a lot of different countries and as they do so, they're having to rethink and retool their comedy. And also, they have to navigate how they are perceived in these different places as well. Tyran, for example, is a Black and Persian comic who performs in the Middle East quite a bit. And so when he goes to Dubai versus when he steps into Israel or Kuwait—I think he's performed there as well—they're going to look at him differently depending on how their culture defines race. All of these comics have to navigate that sphere. And I find that they do such interesting work to essentially be legible and read by others easily in all these different places. And it gives them a lot of insight into race in the US in particular as well.

Michael: This might seem a little bit off the beaten track for standard topics in theatre history. So I'm really curious: As someone with a background in the wider discipline, how do you see this subject fitting into theatre history?

Rachel: Yeah. So I'm someone who is currently teaching theatre history courses. And I find that looking at comedy history, even looking at recent comedy history, is such a great pathway for students and for anyone to become interested in history. If you are imagining conversations you might have in the future, and you're saying to yourself, “How would I explain what this was? How would I explain what it was to go from Obama to a post-Brexit, post-Trump world? How are we going to tell people about this in the years to come and how is performance so intimately connected and tied to these things?” Part of the conversation. So I think of this as theatre history, I really do. And I use this as a way to show my students, theatre history is a chance for you to dive into whatever performance you think is interesting and describe why it's important and the impact it had and the influence it had for years to come.

For example, I think Whoopi Goldberg's 1985 Direct From Broadway is still reverberating and we still have Whoopi. She's on The View or whatever that show is. I don't know. But the kind of questions that you have to ask when you're looking at recent history, and you're trying to understand it from a historical perspective of: What's the impact? What's the influence? Why does it matter? I think that's such a great segue for connecting to all the other eras of performance and theatre because we're asking the same questions. In that light, I don't see any distinction between stand-up comedy and theatre. People are creating a performance and why did they say what they said? Why did they need to say what they said? And why should we be listening now, here in 2019, to what they said? So, I think the same questions inform these areas and they're not distinct from one another.

Michael: So to wrap up this exploration of comedy and intersectionality and how those two things are affecting one another, could you explain a little bit about why you think it matters and where you see comedy going in the future?

Rachel: Yeah, sure. Well, my goodness, how much time you got, buddy? Why is it important? Well, because of what I was talking about earlier with these collapsing boundaries between social activism and comedy and journalism. With that happening, it used to be that there were current affairs and events and things happening out in the world. And then after the fact, comedy would comment on those things. But with the internet and the public discourse getting tighter and tighter and tighter in terms of time—the response time. You can have the Emmy Awards and as the Emmy Awards are happening, you're having comedians live-tweet their responses. But then things are happening in response to the live-tweets, right? So I think the big takeaway from all of this is that it's now like a chicken-and-egg question of who's shaping the public discourse and how.

Comedians are weighing in on these things and we just saw, for example, how Shane Gillis was hired at SNL and before even an episode could air, Shane Gillis got fired from SNL because of is his previous output. So, I think this is really starting to—comedy, for sure, is shaping the way that we understand the world. It's shaping the public discourse. It's no longer a response to the discourse; it's part of the discourse. And that's where I think our literacy of understanding intersectional identity, and how that plays into a lot of the comics that we're seeing and reading, that's going to help us understand the discourse at large in the world around politics, around current affairs, around comedy.

Shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, of course, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee’s show—all of these shows are really entering the conversation around politics and guiding it in some ways. And I just feel like, as much as I've written and thought about this, I can't even really pinpoint where the line was when we crossed it. But all I know now is that we have crossed that line and this is the world that we live in now. And for us to really maintain a savviness and literacy with public discourse, we gotta be in on the joke.

Michael: We'll post additional information and material in our show notes that will let you explore the history of stand-up comedy, as well as the ways in which it's changing. Rachel, thank you so much for joining us.

Rachel: Thank you, Mike. This was delightful and I really appreciate this conversation. Thank you so much.

Michael: This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of this series and other HowlRound podcasts in our feed on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you find podcasts. Be sure to search HowlRound Theatre Commons podcasts, and subscribe to receive new episodes. If you loved this podcast, post a rating and write a review on those platforms. This helps other people find us. You can also find a transcript for this episode, along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content on howlround.com. Have an idea for an exciting podcast, essay, or TV event the theatre community needs to hear? Visit howlround.com and submit your ideas to the Commons.

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