Portland’s Bridgetown Comedy Festival starts on May 8 and it’s going to be awesome. We know that because we’ve been interviewing some of the comics and they are funny and great and you’re going to love them. Our second interview is with Sonia Denis, an up-and-coming comic from Chicago who was nice enough to answer our questions via email, even though she had just had one of her wisdom teeth removed.
The interview is going to blow your mind but first, watch this:
The Tusk: How did you get into comedy? What were your earliest influences?
Sonia Denis: I’ve always loved stand-up, but I never thought I’d ever be a stand-up. My earliest stand-up related memories are staying up past my bedtime to watch Comic View on BET, Def Comedy Jam, and Conan back when he was on NBC. I remember seeing Comedians of Comedy, a documentary which featured Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Brian Posehn and Zach Galifianakis. They went from city to city performing in rock clubs and small halls, places that weren’t comedy clubs. That was my first experience with alt comedy and it had a huge impact on my perception of what stand-up could be.
I started stand-up by accident. I lived in Washington, D.C. before I moved to Chicago. A month before I moved a friend of a friend who thought I was funny asked me if I wanted to do 5 minutes at his monthly showcase. Initially, the thought of doing stand-up was terrifying, but after I said yes I wrote every day for a month in preparation. I’d record myself doing the jokes on my Macbook then I’d make my friends watch the recordings so I could get their feedback. I cringe now thinking about that. The show never happened but when I arrived in Chicago I had a notebook full of jokes. After my first open mic, I was hooked.
The Tusk: Comedy is very male just in general. Why do you think that is? Do you think there’s any way to make the scene more welcoming to women?
Sonia Denis: That is a tricky question. When I first started, I met a few girls who only did all-female open mics and shows because of how misogynistic they thought male-dominated rooms were. They told me how the places they performed at were “safe spaces.” I didn’t really get it my first couple of months. I went to every mic I could and I didn’t pay attention to the fact that sometimes I’d be one of three girls in the room. Then I started noticing how sometimes men would say things about me on stage that they’d never say about male comics. Comments about my body or introductions like, “We like this next lady because she doesn’t talk about her period,” while male comics could get on stage and talk about masturbation for 4 minutes without any judgment. It wasn’t just men either. I remembering being at a comedy club and a woman in the lobby was going on and on about how women just aren’t funny.
The truth is there is a lot of sexism in comedy, but there is also a lot of homophobia and racism. If more women, gays and lesbians, and people of color were comedians, there would be less of it. The average comedian is a straight white male and when you don’t fit into that group it can be very intimidating. I’ve come to realize that the only thing you can control is how funny you are and how hard you work. You can’t control the biases and prejudices of club owners, bookers or audience members. Comedy isn’t a meritocracy, but if you’re consistently the funniest person on every line-up then eventually people will notice no matter what your gender is.
The Tusk: Have you been to Portland before? If yes, what did you find most surprising about it? If no, what do you imagine Portland is like?
Sonia Denis: I’ve never been to Portland, but everyone I’ve talked to about it has told me three things: it has the best donuts in the country, it’s Mecca for hipsters, and only tourists use umbrellas. I bought a nylon windbreaker with a hoodie last week. I’m really excited.
The Tusk: What do you want to do with say the next 5 years of your life?
Sonia Denis: That’s hard to answer. When I first started comedy I had a lot of goals with end dates. But the more you do stand-up the more you realize that at every stage you discover a new set of steps between you and whatever it is that you want to accomplish. I also discover things I never imagined I could do that I want to do. My long-term goals are constantly evolving. So while I have major goals like moving to LA to NYC or transitioning to doing comedy full-time, my immediate goal is just to keep working hard to get funnier. I just want to get to the point where I’m undeniably funny like the people who inspire me: John Mulaney, Toddy Barry, Maria Bamford, to name a few.
The Tusk: Is there anything else that you think the world should really know about you, Sonia Denis?
Sonia Denis: My friend, fellow comedian Rebecca O’Neal, and I created a ridiculous Tumblr called Hot Guys Laughing, which is just gifs of hot guys laughing. It blew up and no one cared that we created it because we aren’t hot guys. Also, I’m on Twitter at @sonideni.
You can see Sonia EVERY SINGLE DAY of Bridgetown. Go find her and bring a donut from Blue Star, you umbrella-less hipsters!