Your Dick Isn't Funny: Comedy Advice From Rachel Mac
In coordination with Level Ground, we’re profiling the artists who are presenting groundbreaking art at the Level Ground Festival in October.
Below, Donald Scherschligt interviews comedian Rachel Mac about her stand-up show, Typecast, as well as gender, evangelicalism, and… dick jokes.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Scherschligt: What’s the idea behind Typecast?
Mac: Well, Samantha [Curley, Level Ground executive director] thought of the name, and I really enjoy it. It’s a diverse lineup. I try to make all my lineups diverse, but with an event for Level Ground, I take great care to make sure it’s not only a talented and diverse lineup but also one that I’m excited by.
Every comedian in our show has been typecast in some way before, whether it’s for their gender or sexual orientation or race. In comedy, we see people are so much more than the labels or boxes they’ve been put in, or we make fun of those labels. I think comedy is a really powerful tool to address stereotyping.
What’s your goal with this show?
I want everyone to have a good time, but I also want the audience to see that humor can come from many different kinds of people.
How did you start doing comedy?
I feel like I wasn’t really funny until college. I was one of the very few evangelical Christians at my public high school, so that made me very different. But then I went to an evangelical Christian college where everyone was more Christian than me. I felt like all the girls were more Christian, just as smart, probably hotter, and I needed something to put me on the map or compensate, you know? [laughs]
I realized that people really liked it when I said something very direct or surprising, and I started milking that. I remember being called over to different tables in the cafeteria, and people wanted me to tell them stories of, like, a date I went on. And I felt like kind of bad [about telling these stories]. I enjoyed the attention. I enjoyed performing in that very casual way. But I also felt kind of weird that I was entertaining people and not asking them questions.
Then, when I moved out to Los Angeles a year after I graduated and I started doing stand-up, it felt so right. I didn’t have to feel bad about telling stories and trying to make people laugh. That was the point! That’s what I was there for.
So many people are doing stand-up and the caliber is higher, the expectations are being raised. You can’t just talk about your dick and get away with that. Your dick isn’t funny.
– RACHEL MAC
Your comedy style is almost aggressively honest. You talk about your students, your dating and sex life. How do you come up with your material?
I feel like I can try to write and occasionally that will work, but often you have to let the inspiration come to you, which I know is very different than other art forms. Like, for writing a novel or short story, you just have to put in the work. But for stand-up, I just have to give myself times where I’m not thinking in order for things to come to me. Things will come to me when I’m driving or exercising or right before I fall asleep.
And I often know when it’s going to be a good one. And there are often times where I think of something and go, “Oh, man, I really hope this will be a good one,” and then you have to go to an open mic and realize [sighing] it wasn’t.
My students are very inspirational. They’re very funny. Being married, dating used to be very inspirational.
I didn’t know you were married.
Yea, for two years now.
Thank you. I feel like it was a big adjustment, and I didn’t really figure out how to find humor in it until recently. So I only have been doing jokes about being married within the past year.
What do you mean when you say you didn’t know how to find jokes about it?
I guess I was pretty happy, and there was no huge conflict or anything that was really coming to mind. I have a couple jokes about living with roommates because my husband and I live with two other couples. And that’s weird, so you would think I would have material for it, but it just often didn’t happen. You just gotta get it when you can get it, I guess.
This might be the obvious question to ask, but have you seen yourself typecast as a comic?
I will say people are making a concerted effort to create diverse lineups. Sometimes I am the only female comic on a show, and I wonder if that’s because they know they have to have at least one woman on a show. If that’s the case, then it’s like “You’re trying, I guess. I’ll take it.”
I have mixed feelings. Some women are like, “I don’t want to be booked just because I’m a woman.” But if I’m the only woman on a show, I know there’s hundreds of other women they could have booked, so maybe it isn’t just because I’m a woman.
So I don’t see myself as typecast in that way. I do think people treat me differently because I am a woman with an evangelical Christian background. A lot of male comics when I was starting off did not want to date me because they were like, “She’s a crazy Christian. She will latch onto you if you have sex with her.” And maybe part of that is true! [laughs] So God bless them for not just jumping into bed with me because I was was ready to explore.
God has bigger fish to fry than a joke about me masturbating with a crucifix, which everyone knows, anyway, I have never actually done.
– RACHEL MAC
The allegations against Louis CK and even Aziz Ansari this year have exposed this darker side to the comedy world. Have you seen the LA stand-up scene change in response to those stories?
I’ve thought about that a lot. I recently read Lindy West’s book, Shrill. She lived in LA for a time and really loves stand-up… and she took a lot of flak for writing about how people shouldn’t make rape jokes anymore. Men on the internet went insane. But she has made so many good points about letting victims tell their own stories, about punching up versus punching down. And people changed their minds about rape jokes!
I think that significantly changed the comedy culture. The stuff that she described, I do not see anymore. There certainly is gross shit that gets said on stage, but often, it’s not funny and those people don’t do well. If it is funny and it’s gross, I have more patience for it, but I find that in LA, a lot of the people that I watch and respect are doing interesting stuff. Their material is not vulgar for the sake of being vulgar. Their material isn’t demeaning to women or queer people or Black people. It’s not that people are purposely trying to be PC; it’s that so many people are doing stand-up and the caliber is higher, the expectations are being raised. You can’t just talk about your dick and get away with that. Your dick isn’t funny.
There seems to be a better awareness of who gets to tell which jokes. I’m thinking of recent sets like Cameron Esposito’s Rape Jokes and Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. Both contain these women’s unflinching tales of trauma, stories that really only they could tell. Do you think this awareness is a positive thing?
Well, [the question you’re really asking is] are only women who have been raped allowed to talk about rape? I remember going to Oddball Festival [Funny or Die’s former touring comedy festival], and Aziz Ansari was talking about men being creepy to women and how men need to give women their space. It’s not a bad message, but also, I would rather hear a woman talk about men being creepy to her. I didn’t feel like it was Aziz’s story to tell.
And now, after what we know about Aziz…
Well, yea, I guess maybe now it is Aziz’s story to tell.
I think I’ve started to question whether I, a cisgender white man, even have the right to laugh at certain kinds of jokes that use issues like racism and rape culture as a punchline. How do you get your audience to go along with you when talking about these uncomfortable topics?
I’ve done jokes about race. But it’s harder to do. I don’t know if it’s because I’m not ready to talk about these issues as a comedian or if it was just the material or if audiences just don’t want that right now. Talking about race, I mean, should that be my thing?
….At the same time, my friend Conner McNutt is a comedian in LA, and I just heard him talk about going to a concert. The rapper got people on stage to say the lyrics to the song, and this white girl said the n-word. The internet went crazy because some people were like, “She shouldn’t have done that!” But some people said, “But it’s in the song!” And Conner’s point was, “When in doubt, just don’t say the n-word. I’m never hanging out with my Black friends and leaving and thinking, ‘Oh, man, I should have said it! That would have made it better!’” I’ve seen Connor do that joke and people fucking die. It is such a good joke, and I’m not doing it justice. But he’s grappling with the n-word, and you trust him.
What about your Christian upbringing? Is your audience able to laugh at that?
I have been trying to reckon more with my Christian upbringing and recognize the humor in it… Until like last month, in my heart, I believed the world was 6000 years old. I would say I believe in evolution now but I couldn’t wrap my head around that. Christianity has a hold on me, and parts of it are still coming out, and parts of it are so funny. I mean, that wouldn’t be funny to my parents because my mom definitely doesn’t believe in evolution. She would say I’m being heretical and irreverent. It’s a complicated question.
My parents have not seen me do stand-up ever except for a show the night before my wedding where everyone did clean material. I’ve always told them they won’t like my stand-up videos so just don’t watch them unless you want to be offended.
One of my dad’s friends told him that he watched one of my videos. So my dad found me on YouTube. Perfect. [laughs] I’d warned him against it. But there’s a joke I have about masturbating with a crucifix, and Dad’s not a fan. He was like, “What do you think God thinks of this joke?” And I don’t think God does think about that joke. I think if God did think about it, God could handle it. God has bigger fish to fry than a joke about me masturbating with a crucifix, which everyone knows, anyway, I have never actually done.