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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Juicy Comedy: An Interview with Tess Drake

Juicy Comedy: An Interview with Tess Drake

The Mass Media: You’re from Ohio; how do you like Boston so far?

I like it very much, I come through here now and again. Although, the last time was a couple of years ago.

TMM: There still aren’t a lot of successful women comics. Do you think it takes a special kind of woman to be comic?

[Laughs.] Oh, definitely. We’re never looked at as headliners; we’re always seen as the addition to the main act. So, there’s a certain lack of opportunity for women comics, which is why I started my own female tour.TMM: Tell me a bit about the tour.

There’s six girls besides myself. They’re all hot. I’m proud that we’re going around to different military bases. People don’t show [our soldiers] enough love, and they need it bad.

TMM: So, the college circuit is a bit different. Do you find it challenging, like maybe the kids are “too cool for that?”

No, not at all. College crowds are usually very receptive. But I remember my first show, a school in Delaware. They deserve their money back. [Laughs.] I was so bad, I had been doing nightclubs, all talking to people who’ve been married and had kids, and I get up there and I’m doing my act and thinking I’m so funny, and then I see that nobody’s laughing. They were all “what is she talking about?” They were real nice about it afterwards, though.

TMM: Do you ever adjust your material for whomever’s in the audience?

You have to adjust for everything you do. For colleges, for the military, for the clubs. A lot of schools are like pulling teeth. Kids aren’t used to being in clubs and don’t know that they can talk back, that that’s OK, so they stay quiet. Or when you bring up some subjects you can feel the atmosphere turn into “whoa, back that up.” But I didn’t feel that at all here [at UMass Boston], which is unusual.

I have several college experiences; I didn’t talk about all of them. Like hanging out with students in these b—–k places, where there’s nothing to do but go to Wal-Mart. So, we went to Wal-Mart. You collect some funny stuff on the road.

TMM: Do you adjust when your family’s in the audience? Often, comics tell personal jokes about their family.

My mom came to one of my shows; it was a big deal for her to get there. I definitely adjusted that night. She didn’t want me to, she just wanted me to do my stuff, what the people are paying me for. Whatever’s going on in your life, that’s what you do. I’m not in a family humor phase right now. I’m not one of those comics who thinks you can make everything funny. Like the news, or like after 9/11 happened, when I could only take the stage and say “God bless the people.” Some people had jokes but I didn’t find that funny. So there are things I won’t do.

TMM: Tell us about what you think of some other comics.

I like Cedric because he’s an overall entertainer. Not always the funniest, but he gives an overall show. I like Ellen [DeGeneres] because she’s clever; she takes little stuff and brings it home and you can relate. This is a real dangerous question. I like different things about different people. I’d love to see Chris Tucker. I’d love to see Eddie [Murphy] do his routine.

TMM: Are you ever at home, hanging with your friends, and they expect you to be funny, but you’re like “shut up, I’m not working”?

Yeah, sometimes that’s irritating. Sometimes when people ask what I do I just say I’m an entertainer, because if I say I’m a comic they instantly say “oh, tell me a joke.” Or when people invite to their parties just you can be funny. I’m just being myself, and they ask me to liven things up, and I say “Oh, I’m here to perform? Where’s my paycheck?”Or people who think they’re funny, that it’s an easy job, or they want me to use their material that is tailored for their friends. Just because you can tell a “knock knock” joke at work…

Student Question: Growing up and being African-American, did you feel pressure from your family about making it? Did they ask you to be a doctor or a nurse? What made you think you’d be successful as a comedian? Especially being a heavyset black woman, how do you feel going on stage?

Yes, I feel all the pressure, all the time. Especially living in LA, and getting parts in the cast of a show. I fight a lot of battles about auditions. Someone will send me something and I just say, no that’s not me. I won’t do shows that degrade women, or plus-size women, degrade black people. So, I get all those calls and I just say “no.” So, it’s a struggle. In Ohio, they taught me not to do anything that would make you not like yourself.

Student Question: How’d you get your first job?

Some people go to class to be comedian, but I think it’s just something inside of you, even if you don’t know it. Like back what I used to disrupt the class. I used to cut up, wherever they put me. I just started writing material, but it wasn’t until after my divorce that I called the clubs. They were like “it’s called Open Mic. Just come down.” Until this one club in Oakland gave me a chance. I just plastered my friends and family in the front row, and from that day forth, it’s just been going.