We’re spotlighting some of the chicest comedians RN, all of whom will be straight killing it at the JFL42 festival in a quick min. First, we chatted with Sasheer Zamata. Next up: Rachel Feinstein! Amy Schumer’s bestie dishes on the ups and down of comedian life, from dealing with hater couples and subsisting on cake to finding a BF who loves her work and making sad people laugh. (Stay tuned for our chat with comic extraordinaire Jen Kirkman next!)
We’re pretty jellies that Amy Schumer already claimed Rachel Feinstein for her BFF because Feinstein seems like the perfect bestie: smart, feminist and always has a hilarious story or mom-pression at the ready, and a warm, conversational style that makes you feel like you’re watching her hold court at your favourite bar, waving a G&T around. Her cool-girl vibe belies some serious craft: she slayed critics with her awesomely named Only Whores Wear Purple special last year and then landed one of the most coveted jobs in comedy—touring with Louis CK. If we can’t be pals, well, we’ll be happy to settle for the bounty of brilliant dick jokes, scathing sexual self-deprecation and ex-boyfriend burns her stand-up yields. We’ll bring the G&Ts.
You can catch Rachel Feinstein as part of comedy festival JFL42 in Toronto, Sept. 22 through Sept. 24.
What do you love most about being a comedian?
It’s a place you can put any ridiculous experiences. Some heinous moment for somebody else is a gift for a comic, because then it ends up in the act. I don’t know how other people process things. Any ridiculous, unacceptable thing that happens, for me, it’s so nice: “Oh, just place it in that stand-up bin” and everything’s fine. I need to fill up that bin, anyway.
What is the hardest part about being a comedian?
It can be a bipolar career: the highs are highs, the lows are low. And you can do four shows in a night but you’ll remember the one where somebody was glaring at you from the front row. Sometimes it just turns out that there was something in her eye—but it will still bother you all night. That sort of up and down, it’s hard.
What is the weirdest thing someone has said to you after a show?
One time, I thought I really killed, then I got offstage and this woman was motioning me over to her and her husband, and I got really close; I was opening my body language up for my compliment, as I thought I would surely get a compliment, and then the man just said, “Watch out when you talk about God.” And I was like, “Okay, very well, sir.” And they both let me know that they were just disgusted. The woman told me she wasn’t going to be able to sleep that night. I always think it’s funny when a couple is co-offended like that, like, “Wow, what fun lives you must have! You just walk around and go to comedy shows and let people know that you’re co-offended as a couple.” It was terrifying. I got scolded. I always get scolded! Yeah, I’ve had a lot of people scold me after shows, like, “Don’t do that!” And really in life in general and outside of standup I’ll get scolded. People feel comfortable scolding me.
What is it that you do that is so scoldable?
I don’t even remember the joke I did or what I said about God; I have no memory of what it was that made him so furious. I tell stories and people get offended by weird things. I told some story with a kid who had a peanut allergy and this woman and her husband wrote me a long email, letting me know that they were co-offended by the fact that I had mentioned somebody with a peanut allergy. Now you can’t say anything: everybody gets furious. They’re like, “that reminds me of a vague negative feeling I once had, so you must be evil and you must be stopped,” which I think is a really terrifying direction.
Speaking of scolding, there have been some high-profile comics who have come under fire for their policing of what material women should and shouldn’t do, but with so many strong women who are killing it right now, talking about a whole wide range of different topics, why do you think that their material and legitimacy in the industry is up for debate, even among comedians? Why is that happening?
I’m always really surprised and disappointed when that happens. You could talk about a range of things—whether it be sexuality or family or something annoying that happened at the drugstore or whatever—but I don’t understand why, when a woman says something sexual, people get so upset or somehow, or decide that they’re taking some shortcut, especially when they discuss a variety of other subjects. A lot of my favourite male comics do as well, but nobody minds if they’re naughty. It’s always confusing to me. I think it’s ridiculous.
What was the most meaningful thing someone has ever said to you after a show?
This woman came up to me and told me that it was the anniversary of her son’s death; he had died of cancer and she just wanted to go out and laugh. And that was really lovely. Comics have those kinds of experiences every day that really take us out of our own dumb narcissistic heads and makes you realize, no matter what, people go out and they just want to feel a little lighter or better after all kinds of things. It was so sweet that she took the time to come up and say that. We just gently held each other.
How do you practice self-care when you’re on the road?
I lay on my stomach and eat some pound cake. All of it feels unnatural, like you’re hurling your body somewhere: I hurl my body to St. Louis and then I’m in St. Louis and then I have to hurl it to their Global Gym. You just shove yourself there. I’m never the person that’s like, “Let’s get this day started. Let’s bite into the day!” I just make a couple of good things happen. And the rest of the time I’m just in bed, feeding, just trying to eat macaroni and cheese with a coffee filter because I can’t find a fork in the room. That’s my self-care regime.
Have you also seen a change in what women are comfortable talking about between when you started and now? Do you feel that we’ve made good progress in terms of representation of more women, including women of color, and queer voices, in comedy?
It’s absolutely more diverse. When I started, there was usually just one woman on a show—and there are still some shows like that—and people would say to you, “We just had a woman on; we can’t put another woman on.” Now, that doesn’t happen as much.
How do you balance doing jokes about your family and partners and maintaining your relationships with them?
Most of the time people don’t get mad at me. My mom likes to be in my act; she gets upset if she’s not. She’s always like, “Where was I?” There was one boyfriend I had that was really shy and I talked about his mom because his mom was a lunatic and so I would tell stories about her sometimes, and whenever I told a story about her, my ex would just take this quiet man walk around the block whenever I was doing this story about his mom. He was like, “I can’t…” and then he just left. And I always felt a little bad for his solo man walk that he had to take. “What’s wrong with me that I have to tell this story? This poor guy, it makes him so uncomfortable.” But then it’s like, that’s what we do. And if I’m forced to deal with her, then that’s a tale or two. But most of them are pretty cool about it. My boyfriend now is threatening to do standup. He’s not really going to do it but he thinks it’s funny to say that he’s got five minutes locked and loaded. He just told me that because he’s coming with me to JFL42: “I’m ready, just let me know what they need.” And I’m like, “They need none of you.” We have that conversation every day. Seriously: “I’ve got five golden minutes.”
In the show you’re touring now, was there any material that really challenged you or that you were scared to write about?
No. I can’t pat myself on the back for my bravery. I just talk about my dumb life. I don’t think changing the game for anyone. I just try to write about whatever I think is funny, but there’s nothing that I’ve done where I’m like, “The world’s not ready.” The world’s perfectly ready.
What are your inspirations for your tour outfits? What do you need to wear to feel good onstage?
I wear an aggressive amount of black. In LA, they can always tell you’re from New York, but black’s just easy. It’s easier than taking a risk—just throw on some black smock. I wear dresses a lot on stage; I also wear jeans and blazers. Keith Robinson always tells me I dress like a district attorney. I try to keep it not too distracting. There are some dresses that just don’t have the right look for stand-up, like some gentle peasant dress. You’re not going to feel right onstage in a sundress. Whenever I’m shopping, I always have to think, “Could I wear that onstage or would I feel foolish?” Like I can’t do that new blousy pirate wear. I don’t want to look like a whimsical pirate with that new sleeve thing that’s going on. I couldn’t do that on stage. I’d just feel like everybody was staring at a pirate and not listening to me.
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