Westchester Jewess Seeks Help from Same

...is what I titled my e-mail to Julie Klausner, the hilarious writer and comedian whose podcast I listen to so religiously that I've begun adopting some of her speech mannerisms (the agreeing "sure," the short "mm-hmm"). I wanted to write about her for a publication I do some freelancing for and thought I'd appeal to her Scarsdale side for help. I offered up my stats: Edgemont A-School, Bet Am Shalom Synagogue, Lange's for deli, Chopstix for Chinese, big fan of Traprock Suite jewelry. I gushed and gushed and totally geeked out (that e-mail is mortifying to re-read) and ended the message by creepily telling her that I went to circus camp and my clown counselor may have been a classmate of hers. I knew that might come off as strange so I made sure to throw in a "Yeah, that sentence really happened" to let her know I was normal and aware.


photo courtesy of Mindy Tucker

She e-mailed me back and set up a phone date for that same day. We talked for half an hour while my boyfriend's old tape recorder listened in. In retrospect, I wish I had asked more questions, and I wish I had asked the questions I really wanted to ask. I interviewed her with a specific audience in mind, which was sort of limiting; the publication didn't even end up running it. That's fine, of course--I just wish I had asked her what Sharon Needles smelled like, and if that chick from Camp Nowhere is in the redhead Hall of Fame and how she got brave enough to say whatever the fuck she's thinking. Oh, well! I'm just thrilled I got the chance to talk to her.

How did you get started in podcasting?
It originally started because Patton Oswalt publicly dared me to on Twitter. He said “Why doesn’t Julie Klausner have a podcast?” It seemed like a good idea only because I had had that experience on the radio and it was something that was really fun and you don’t need to wear makeup for.

Is there logic behind picking who is on the show? Do you prefer to have a writer one week and an entertainer the next week?
I try to make sure the lineup has a certain element of variety to it. I don’t like putting two comedians on the same show necessarily. I like to have an author on pretty frequently. I like to have as diverse a mix of people as possible, whether that is with what they do or whether they’re male or female and have people of color. I try to do less celebrity chasing. I do interviews with people that I just want to meet and talk to.

I feel like there’re still more podcasts produced and hosted by men but it seems like the audiences—from my very informal friend-polling—are pretty much split. Do you get the sense that there’s an equal balance between men and women that listen to your show?
I don’t know…I have a blessedly diverse audience in that I have men and women from all over the country and a lot of gay guys like what I do, but what the fuck else is new? But yeah, it’s tough to know who exactly my audience is.

Do you think podcasts provide a safer space for women comedians in that there’s no, ya know, internet trolls in the comments section, and it’s not like you’re in a night club and audience members are heckling a woman on stage? Do you think there’s more respect in that way, that women who podcast are judged on their skills and not on their gender?
I don’t know if podcasts are necessarily a safer space as much as it is another way to kind of broadcast yourself. You always hopefully get feedback. I never did it as a way to isolate myself but I definitely did it as a way to connect myself to more people.

There’s this wave of awesome female partnerships happening in comedy right now—Ronna & Beverly, Jessica St. Clair & Lennon Parham, the Broad City gals...do you feel like women in comedy are particularly supportive of one another?
It seems to be the case that women in comedy are very supportive, I mean we definitely hire each other but men in comedy are pretty fucking supportive of each other too. When you are a minority it’s always good to stick together, I guess. I don’t know if being a comedy partner is gender exclusive; men have been partnering up for years. There’s definitely different schools of comedy that are more collaborative than others. Helping people who are talented never does anybody wrong. It’s never a bad move, especially if they’re nice, too.

I remember in college and high school, there was this thing where, like, you’d be in a room with all guys and another girl would walk in and there’d be this terrible sort of sideways glance that we’d give each other and it always bummed me the fuck out. In comedy, is there any of that kind of competition with women in comedy?
Well, when I was growing up I was more competitive with other girls and girls have that stage where they kind of think there can only be one girl and that they have to consider the other girl as a threat and I think that’s changing, I hope that’s changing. I know that I’ve certainly changed since I’ve gotten older. I hope that the external reality of it changes in that there isn’t just one girl on the writing staff or in an ensemble, that there’s no scarcity so you needn’t turn against one another in the first place.

What got you interested in writing a young adult novel?
It’s a project that I’d been working on for a long time. Shortly after I sold my memoir, I met with a couple of editors who were interested in talking to me about ideas I had for a YA novel. I was kind of like, “What could be an interesting story that I could share with a younger audience?” and I went back to my experiences at sleepaway camp, and I read some other young adult novels. I read some Gossip Girl, I like Gossip Girl a lot… I thought there’s a way to make this satirical and make it smart and funny and wrote from my own experiences that I cared about because…I don’t want to say other people can’t, but I have a hard time writing from a place of disingenuity. There’s something a little cynical about the YA genre where you can say “Oh, I can just phone it in,” and make a joke out of it, but for me that is not the case; you can’t put in the work unless you care about the subject and the final product. I hope it shows and I do hope it’s funny and something that adult audiences love, too.

You mentioned Gossip Girl, but were there any books growing up that you really loved?
I really liked reading Paula Danziger books when I was an adolescent, maybe 11 or 12. I remember she would write about girls with boyfriends who would make out with them and I remember thinking that was very exciting. I grew up with Judy Blume and reading a lot of different things that weren’t necessarily targeted at young readers but I always loved reading as a kid and I was definitely someone who was reading a lot of books over and over again.

Did you have fictional heroes? Any celebrities that you were obsessed with?
I was obsessed with The Monkees. I had a very good sense of what I should’ve wanted to be…I liked ladies that were larger than life and sort of, like, had big hair. I liked Bernadette Peters a lot and I wanted to be her. I mean we could all do a lot worse in life than to become Bernadette Peters.

How would you describe yourself as a 16 year old?
I was really unhappy and I didn’t want to be in high school and I wanted to jump ahead and be in my 30s and live in a Woody Allen movie…I wanted to grow up and I didn’t fit in and I had a really hard time with the restrictions of being a kid, with how my parents could say “No, you can’t go to this concert,” or “No, you can’t go into the city.” That drove me insane that other people were in charge of my destiny. I didn’t do well with that and I was waiting for that period of my life to end. And it does get better…it absolutely does.

What do you wish you had known back then? What would you tell your younger self?
I probably would’ve told her to go to the city more and see more movies and read more books and maybe try yoga. I didn’t do yoga then. I would probably say: everything you feel is completely okay…nothing that you’re doing is wrong or bad. You don’t even need to be patient to wait for time to pass because it will anyway. Just try not to beat yourself up when you feel lousy, just feel lousy.