Jena Friedman on how she got into political comedy and why she named her special ‘American Cunt’
The growing tension of this election season has caused many of us to tune out and seek escapism wherever we can find it as a way to free our minds from the 24/7 horror fest. And ya know, fair. However, this is not the case for comedian Jena Friedman. She chose to firmly lean into the current discomfort of our political climate in her new Seeso stand-up special, American Cunt. The former field producer for The Daily Show and current National Geographic explorer’s hour-long special kicked off at Seeso’s first annual Stand-Up Streaming Fest on October 20 and showcases Friedman’s ability to effortlessly blend the personal with the political — or rather, emphasize the ways in which they’re inseparable.
Whether she’s joking about the invisibility of older women, comparing political figures to feminine hygiene products, or daring to criticize short men (which she claims is a riskier topic than ebola), Friedman has a way of making her political values crystal clear while maintaining a self-aware wink as she leans into her punchlines. It’s difficult to create comedy that addresses topics from a blatantly opinionated ideological perspective while still keeping it fresh and human, but Friedman’s delivery style involves the right amount of vulnerability to pull off polarizing subjects like abortion in front of diverse crowds.
Although she’s been busy touring the world for American Cunt, she paused to talk with The Frisky and share some of her comedic influences, how she made decisions about the special, and what inspired her to name it American Cunt.
What inspired you to name your special American Cunt?
Jena Friedman: I originally wrote the show for The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with a U.K. audience in mind. They have a way more colloquial relationship with the word “cunt.” In fact, in Scotland, it’s actually a term of endearment.
Your comedy does a nice job of blending personal anecdotes with the political. Has your time writing for The Daily Show inspired that or have you always had a political bent?
JF: I got into comedy through a paper I wrote about it in college. It was a political economic analysis of Chicago’s improv scene, which sounds so unfunny because it was, but I think that is what inspired me to approach comedy from a political lens.
What’s the most surprising feedback you’ve received about your comedy? Have you received any weird fan letters?
JF: Definitely. Anyone doing comedy for a decade is going to get weird fan letters.
Did you have favorite comedic influences as a child that still influence you?
JF: Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Joan Rivers, Edward Gorey, and a lot of people who are still alive, too.
You have a recurring joke in your special about the invisibility of older women, which is a subject that often goes undiscussed. Are you hoping to bring up more discussions around gendered ageism?
JF: I would love that, to get the conversation going while people can still see and hear me.
What was your personal favorite part of creating the special?
JF: Having an outlet for the insanity that has been this election. There are some jokes in the show that may not be as relevant now as when I wrote them, but all in all, the show really encompasses what I think about this time in American history, and for better or worse, now it’s immortalized on the internet.
If you could travel back to yourself as a child and tell her about the future, how would you describe it?
JF: I would tell her to stock up on water.
Sneak peek the Seeso trailer for American Cunt to get a feel for the hilarious special.
If you want to catch more of Friedman’s refreshingly honest takes on politics and being a person in the world in general, be sure to follow her on twitter (@JenaFriedman), check out her global exploits with National Geographic, and of course, watch the full hour of American Cunt on Seeso for some respite from the emotional dredge of our political state.
We may only have a week left of the election cycle, but we’ll have four years dealing with the repercussions of this election, so no matter what, it’s important to laugh.