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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Renata Tutko: Harbor Campus Lady of Laffs

Renata Tutko funny as she wants to be
Renata Tutko funny as she wants to be

Renata Tutko meets me for coffee at the the Wit’s End, where I ask her about the Boston comedy scene and her involvement with it. Offstage, she speaks in a courtroom waller (you know: the “waller, waller, waller” muttered by TV extras to make realistic crowd noise). I have to put my recorder in her lap. I didn’t think I’d ever again see a quiet, goofball, blue-collar, geek-cool comic, in the classic early ’80’s mold. But, I’m in luck anyway; we all are. And the comic in question is closer than you’d hope.

Renata Tutko is a young fourth year senior doing her five-year plan right here at UMass Boston. She is unassuming. One expects her to stand on stage with her hands limp at her sides, maybe clutching the mic stand for dear life. In fact, she did just that, when I caught her act at The Comedy Studio in Harvard Square. She imparts a sense of mumbling– but don’t worry, you can hear her. She waxes topical, gives the room a “taste of her world,” and goes quietly wild. She begins with college life, riffing on campus police. This could easily fail, come off like children’s private jokes. Everybody knows about cops, but we don’t con ourselves that college is “real life.” Renata makes the theme universal.

“I wonder if when these guys are like 8 years old,” she says, “do they go up to their mom and go ‘mom, when I grow up, I wanna be a hero….but not really. I wanna serve and protect, but only if a backpack is reported missing. What!? There’s a suspicious character in the library making it hard to study? 10-4. I’m on him likea badge on a real cop.'”

The audience is in stitches, young, old, pedagogue, and autodidact alike. More than this, they’re surprised. Going to Renata’s show is akin to having accidental conversation with a classmate you’ve never spoken to. She’s in the class, getting good grades without fanfare or hostile arguments. Maybe she sits in the back. But you find yourself waiting in a long line for coffee or a slice of pizza, and there she is, a little bored. She opens her mouth, and you discover she is bloody hilarious.

Listen to Renata and you will ride the stream of consciousness. Throughout it, she maintains the air of the invisible girl. Her humor encompasses life itself, not just gags to repeat while waiting in line for the keg. Her delivery is staid. Her ramblings are pleasantly wide, incisively wacky.

“If I ever were to really kill someone,” she says, pausing, “the first thing I’d do is quit my job and start working in the meat department. Seems like the only place you can walk around covered in blood and no one asks any questions. And it’s a white lab coat too. Doctors can’t do that. You see a doctor covered in blood you’re like ‘doctor, what happened?’ ‘I…. screwed up.’ You see a meat department guy like that and you just go [She shakes her head] ‘workaholic.'”

It’s clear that comedy is not just a hobby or side-job for Renata. It’s a state of mind and a consuming culture, of which we ‘normals’ perceive the faintest gloss. Sure, she knows all the comics in town, all of them. She speaks of them as she might her siblings, aunts, and uncles. She is in the comic milieu, perhaps even obsessed with it…in a good way. Chatting with her, I’m forced to imagine a parallel universe, very nearby, almost accessible, in which everything that happens is potentially funny.

Renata has a standing gig through the end of June, at the (aforementioned) Comedy Studio, in Harvard Square, on Saturdays at about 8pm. She’ll be featured on Thursday, May 11th, and will be doing sketch comedy on Sunday, June 25th at The Improv, also in Cambridge.