Interview: Comedian Jena Friedman on the “White Feminism” Conundrum and Loving Infectious Diseases
This week, comedian Jena Friedman debuted her first hour-long special American Cunt on Seeso and it’s sure to offer up a refreshing take on today’s political circus. I know this because I saw a preview of her show in which she likened Bernie Sanders to a diva cup because he’s “better for the environment,” Hillary Clinton to a tampon and Donald Trump to, well, a douche bag.
Just before she took the stage, I got to speak to her about what it’s like to be a woman in the comedy world, and if falling into “white feminism” was ever a concern for her.
Comedians often put their personal lives out there. Is there anything off limits for you?
At the moment, it’s my personal life. I wanted the show that I’m doing [right now] to just be outward and political. So I don’t really talk about my personal life on stage but I don’t think anything is off limits.
Is there a reason for that?
I just wanted to do a show that was a little more outward. I do think as a comedian, especially a female comedian, you can talk about anything you want as long as you find your own point of view but I do also think personally, as a comic coming up in my 20s, I was encouraged to talk about sex and boyfriends because that’s kinda how guys listen. Like if a female comic gets on stage…I feel like we’re conditioned to talk about those kinds of things. I remember doing a show in London when I was 25 and they announced my name and the whole front row disappeared to get beers. You know, everybody wants to be a fly on the wall of a 20-something girl’s social life. So with this show, I tried to be more political and outward and not personal. But I also don’t wanna discourage anybody from being personal.
Right now, we’re hearing a lot about representation in regard to TV and film. Do you feel like comedians get left out of the conversation?
I actually think we talk about it a lot and I don’t think we should stop. I’m not tired of that conversation because I think we kinda always have to have gender and racial equality on the forefront of our minds.
There’s Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham, who are outspoken feminists, but who also raise concern about “white feminism.” Is that at concern for you as well?
I think being inclusive is important. I think when you take a stand on any issue, you open yourself up to a lot more analysis from the left. It’s hard to be a feminist and check all the boxes. It’s hard to be any sort of activist and check all the boxes. And also, how does that relate to being funny? So I think it is really challenging. But yeah, I think it’s important not to be colorblind. And I do try, there’s like a feminist meetup, trying to make sure that [there’s] representation of all types of women, you know, trans women as well.
What are some things that make you geek out?
Infectious diseases. Seriously. It’s astounding to me. I was really interested in, terrified of Ebola, Zika, different influenzas. I get really in the weeds and try to understand those diseases. If I weren’t a comedian, I maybe would have been an epidemiologist.
What else are you working on?
I have a pilot we just shot for TruTV and I’m developing a show in the UK. Then a film that I’m trying to get off the ground that I wrote and am directing.
You can catch Friedman in action with her American Cunt special, available now on Seeso and Amazon.
(image via screencap)
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