Section: Arts

Patti Harrison talks queerness in comedy on panel

On Thursday, Sept. 7, Kenyon students logged onto Zoom for a Q&A session with comedian Patti Harrison, moderated by comic writer Guy Branum. The Q&A was centered around Branum and Harrison’s experiences as queer comics. 

Branum worked as a writer, actor and producer on Mindy Kaling’s sitcom The Mindy Project. Harrison, on the other hand, is known for her appearances in the Netflix show I Think You Should Leave and Hulu sitcom Shrill. She also discussed working on the podcasts A Woman’s Smile with friend Lorelei Ramirez and Disease Sleuth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Harrison also discussed her experiences writing among comic friends and contemporaries for the Netflix adult animated series Big Mouth.

The event began with an opening stand-up routine from Two Drink Minimum club member Catherine Jones ’22, where she told anecdotes about getting her blood drawn or fighting with her family on Zoom. 

Harrison discussed how she developed her own, distinct  voice of slightly absurd, raunchy humor while also combating the expectations placed on her as a trans woman of color in comedy. In response to being cast in tokenizing roles, Harrison said that she has learned to choose roles that serve her own “crude style” and do not place her in a box. 

Branum and Harrison connected over their shared “journey in accepting queerness” and how that journey varies from comic to comic, especially depending on the spaces they occupy. When asked about her early days in comedy, Harrison talked about getting started in New York City and finding safe spaces in which to perform. She recounted her first show, where she performed with friends for an audience. “There was no one watching the show who wasn’t involved [in the production] somehow,” she said.

Branum also asked Harrison about how she confronts her upbringing in a conservative, predominately white Ohio town in her stand-up. Harrison said that she has learned to be very careful about the audiences with which she discusses her hometown, as those coming from different spaces may use her work as an opportunity to mock a place they don’t understand instead of laughing at the absurdity of  her experiences. “The place where I’m from isn’t the place they think I’m talking about,” she said. 

Branum identified with Harrison’s comments and shared his own experiences growing up in a low-income family in a small town in California. “I’ve had kids whose parents are lawyers come up and tell me I can’t make jokes about this and [they don’t realize] I actually grew up poor.”

“The show absolutely flew by. I was having so much fun talking to Guy [Branum], and the questions prepared for us were really engaging launching points.” Harrison told the Collegian. “It was a blast talking [with Guy]. I’m thankful to the students and staff that brought this whole thing together. Hopefully I can see everyone in person when we’re out of the pandemic!”

 

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