Every few weeks I get a Facebook message from an out-of-town comic friend saying something like, “What the hell is going on up there?” It’s usually accompanied by a screenshot of some vicious new piece of locally-grown amateur comedy scene trollery: an abusive anonymous Twitter account, a Tumblr post slagging treasured commentator Lindy West or some entirely new digital manifestation of cave man rage. The targets are invariably women, people of color and their allies. The perpetrators are uniformly white guys in their twenties who are angry about what they perceive as the steady encroachment of “political correctness” on “their” turf.
I’ve been doing comedy in this town for over eight years and I’ve never seen it this divisive and ugly. The level of atmospheric misogyny in Seattle comedy has reached such toxic levels that recently a cisgendered female comic asked me not to identify her show as “woman-run” in a blurb promoting it for this magazine. To me, in this climate, that was one of its main selling points.
These are times when I’m glad Seattle has the outspoken Elicia Sanchez. She’s a queer Mexican and Native feminist nerd with an analysis borne of life experience. She spent part of her childhood on the Quinault reservation and has an ear keenly tuned to detect oppression and unexamined privilege. The more abusive the trolls get, the more I want to hear what she has to say. She’s fearless in calling out the misogyny and racism in her community, and she backs it up by being very funny onstage.
You might know Sanchez from this article she wrote for Jezebel about her “Trek Mex” themed wedding to comix whiz Mark Allender (which I attended; it was one of the most insane and hilarious things I’ve ever witnessed). She also opens regularly for beloved adopted Seattleite Hari Kondabolu and keeps a hectic schedule producing three monthly shows: The Enematic Cinematic, Wine Shots and Not Too Late with Elicia Sanchez.
I caught up with Sanchez via instant message.
How do you stay creative while banging out three shows a month?
Having the shows keeps me on my toes, I think. I have to come up with ideas each month for bookings, sketches, songs and artwork for the Wine Shots poster, so I feel like that keeps me busy on top of my own solo bookings. Plus, I'm forced to do new material more often because I can't keep doing the same set at the monthly shows. I try out new stuff onstage at my own shows a lot. It's better that way because I have more time to work something out plus no one can get mad at me for fucking around at my own show.
I think you are a good example of someone who has "made their own lane" in comedy. Was that a conscious choice? What pushed you to do your own thing?
Well, I am really specific about what I like to do. Even though I get paid work, comedy is not my full time job, so I do what I enjoy and what I think will be fun. When I started I thought that you can't say no to any gig, but I've had comedians I really respect who are successful tell me that isn't the case. It's possible to do what you want and not be miserable. You just have to stand out and be really good at it.
I probably haven't mastered the standing out and being really good part, but I'm really good at being stubborn and only doing what I enjoy.
You're a pretty outspoken feminist. The other day you were explaining to me how Wine Shots went from being an "all female" show to an explicitly, stridently feminist show. Can you tell me again how that happened?
Well, when we started, the entire purpose of the show was because Sarah Skilling, Jennifer Burdette and I are close buds and we were often getting booked together on all-lady shows that were called “Lady’s Night” or “Funny Girls,” stuff like that. Initially, we wanted to have a show that was always an entirely female-identifying line up but that didn't advertise itself that way, as if being a woman AND a comedian was a novelty.
Eventually we decided the themes each month should be something we loved as kids, and those things were often marketed to girls. So the themes became pretty girl-specific.
We noticed other shows that were all-female lineups shied away from saying they were openly feminist. Because they thought that would seem too inclusive, I suppose, or make cis-gendered male comics and audience members feel like they didn't want to participate or attend. We decided, fuck that shit.
It's important to have spaces that are exclusive to certain groups that are otherwise marginalized. So that's what we decided Wine Shots should be. Celebrating what we enjoy as women and making feminism funny for the right reasons. Not to mock it, but to show how empowering it can be, and that people should not be afraid to identify as a feminist.
That's why we started giving away Diva Cups and had an entire show about periods. Because that's the joke cis-gendered men would make about a show like ours, and we were like, FUCK YEAH WE'LL TALK ABOUT PERIODS. We had tampons hanging from the Wine Shots sign at that show.
Can you explain the psychology behind why a woman in comedy wouldn't want to be seen as feminist?
When you get into a hobby that is dominated by straight, white, cis-gendered men, you are going to be made to feel as though you don't belong if you don't keep them comfortable. Say anything that challenges their position of authority and you're a bitch, a drama queen, “way too negative” and blah blah blah. It's just manipulative language to keep them comfortable and keep others quiet.
There is a sense some women struggle with—I know I did—who are involved in male-dominated hobbies where you want to be "the cool girl" and "one of the guys."
But comedians are like nerds in the sense that they feel ostracized by society. And white cis-gendered straight men in those groups can still hold on to misogyny and racism because it is all they have left that makes them feel superior. So you see a lot of that in what you would otherwise think would be a pretty supportive group.
IT IS. I've dealt with it as a nerd my whole life.
I know you are a repository of "stupid stuff dudebros say." What's the most ignorant thing you've heard someone say about women in comedy this year?
Well, someone said recently online that "comedy is the last space that feminists can’t censor.”Another female comic reposted this comment on her page and we were all laughing at this dude and then he wrote her privately and asked her to take it down. Oh, so you can shit on feminism for things you are completely misrepresenting, but we can't even laugh at your literal words you put out on the internet?
And that just goes with the misogynist manipulation of telling women not to be loud, not to be opinionated, not to question or rebel or defy the status quo. You are fed that being those things isn't interesting, necessary and self-empowering, but that it's catty, bitchy and obnoxious.
And that's why some women don't want to be seen as feminists. Which I don't blame them for— I was fed the same bullshit and believed the same dumb "I'm one of the good ones" self-hate.
One thing I've learned from you, in particular, is that female comics talk amongst themselves.
OH YEAH. Even people that may openly support your misogynist bullshit just because they are afraid of making waves are fully aware that you are a garbage person.
I think what some of these types don't understand is that for every one of them, there's a dozen people who are stoked that you're representing a different viewpoint. "Oh, they're not all angry bearded guys."
Yes. I mean, the purpose of comedy as a form of entertainment is to make people laugh, and really great comedy makes you think. So I don't understand purposefully being offensive. I'm there to make people feel better about their day. That's why they came to a comedy show, to forget their problems! Why the fuck would I then choose to dump more problems onto them?
I don't see being concerned about how you make your audience feel as some oversensitive “alt” thing. I see it as being an entertainer who gives a fuck about what they do. It's much harder to write jokes that could appeal to everyone than jokes that will offend half the room. Giving up on half of your room is lazy in my opinion.
Also, this idea of hating people for being "PC" and being the comic that "goes there" is not edgy. It's so corny and hack to me. You're literally maintaining the status quo and approaching comedy as it's been done since the '80s.
Changing gears a bit: you are a fan of really crappy movies and such. What's the fandom you're most ashamed of?
I'm kind of embarrassed about how much I love Red Robin and forensic crime shows and the Fantastic Four movies. I like a lot of dumb things I can't really defend beyond saying I like it. I'm also really into My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.