New York and YouTube are both inundated with strong and frequently telegenic personalities nearly bursting with self-branding and an unflagging conviction that they are the next-big-thing. Comedian Rachel Joravsky is here to poke fun at them with a wry smile. Joravsky moved from Chicago to New York City, to attend NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for dramatic writing and has been drawing inspiration from quintessential New York characters ever since.
While at NYU, Joravsky wrote a sketch featuring a good-natured but tone-deaf heckler who can’t read the room. “That was actually written for my sketch group in college, Hammerkatz,” Rachel said. “I guess it is from personal experience, in the sense that when I think something is funny I’m all ‘yess.’ So I wrote a heightened version of that character for the stage. After I wrote it, the director of my college sketch group at the time, said ‘I think this would work better as a video.’ I was about to go abroad, but I thought ‘OK let’s shoot it.’”
The heckler was not only tone-deaf but also seemed similarly oblivious to the rules of style and taste. The outfit was a conscious decision on Joravsky’s part. “I think that dressing for that character is part of what is so fun. I did a character at a show last weekend, that was like a wild teen on the Maury Povich show. Half the fun of that character was just the weird outfit. Bringing that level of specificity —‘what would this character choose to put on their body’ —is part of what you can play with. For the heckler character I put together an incredibly random outfit. Once you see the character you think ‘OK this person would wear pleated high-waited khakis’ and that choice rounds out the character.”
Said pleated high-waisted khakis made another appearance at the People’s Improve Theatre on 24th street between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue last Saturday night. This time Joravsky played a girl scout who was selling boxes of cookies with her friend. Who wouldn’t want to buy cookies from two scrappy blonde girls in pink t-shirts and khaki pants—their troop couldn’t afford uniforms. There was just one flaw, many of the cookies appeared to be unavailable and the girl’s faces and shirts were covered in chocolate.
Growing up in Chicago, Joravsky’s childhood experience was different from the Girl Scout she played as a lovable hooligan. “I grew up in Chicago, and in most of the spaces I occupied as a kid I was one of the only white kids,” Joravsky said. “My dad had me play basketball with boys until I was fourteen, during that time I was usually the only girl and the only white kid. I was raised with this mentality from my dad that society attempts to segregate people and that should be actively combatted.” This mentality crosses over to her comedy, as many of Joravsky’s characters attempt to break or undermine gender roles and expectations.
Moving from Chicago to NYU, Joravsky was introduced to an environment of incredible privilege where she became increasingly class-conscious. “NYU was the wealthiest and whitest environment that I had ever been in,” Joravsky said. “You are taught another way of speaking — this higher-education language.
That higher-education language and her classroom experience has proved useful as Joravsky has been writing her one-woman show “Thirsty White Ally” which is being directed by Brooklyn-based comic/producer Bowen Yang.
“With my one-woman show, I perform as this character who is this uber self-aware, upper-middle class, woke, white, queer. During the writing process, I found myself pulling from the essence of those classes — the people in them who are so fully indulged in who they are, and what they have to say. ”
When asked for details about her one-woman show, Joravsky sounds excited and a touch nervous as describes what the show will attempt to address through sketch-comedy.
“The show plays with the concept of woke white culture,” Joravsky said. “I feel like there is this silent competition between white people of who can be the most consciously aware of oppressed people. There is this idea of owning up to privilege, and it’s a sad process really that involves coming to terms with so much self-hate. It is something that I have struggled with on my own.”
Joravsky plans to address her privilege but she is aware that she has to handle the issues that her one-woman show raises with great sensitivity. “The show will have to address my own privilege. I got to NYU, and I was a chip-on-my-shoulder middle class kid surrounded by all this exuberant wealth. But, at the same time I am now post-grad, pursuing comedy, and I am not in terrible student debt. If I want to talk about this stuff, and I do, then I need to be calling myself out the whole damn time. But that’s what’s part of what’s great about comedy — the little bits of self-hate that are sprinkled throughout.”
As far as the show’s title goes, Joravsky considers herself to be a thirsty white ally. “I always have been, always will be — even before I really was aware of the word,” Joravsky said. “I’ve struggled to figure out where I fit in, who to hang with — sort of like that feeling of not being sure which group to sit with in a racially diveded cafeteria. The show is an extension of this identity struggle that I am still figuring out how to navigate now as an adult. I know its heavy, but it will be funny too, I swear!”
Be sure to check out Rachel Joravsky’s one-woman show, “Rachel Joravsky: Thirsty White Ally” at the Annoyance Theater in Brooklyn on Wednesday, October 12 at 8:30. You can also check out sketch videos from her like this one at damnladylaugh where she originally writes and produces content. You can also find her opinions on Twitter.
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