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Jena Friedman's Peacock stand-up special, "Ladykiller," delivers definitive proof that she is one of the bravest and smartest comedians working these days.
Friedman has described "Ladykiller" as "an hour of dark feminist stand-up comedy" and it most definitely is that — an hour of comedy that may make you uncomfortable, but will also make you think about issues in ways you've probably never thought about them before.
"Yeah. It is pretty dark," Friedman told Wisconsin Public Radio's "BETA."
"I think people have a very different reaction to you when you're on stage pregnant. And definitely my comedy has always been pretty morbid, but to be pregnant while you're doing it — that disconnect, I think, is a lot for people. But it was so much fun to actually perform," she continued.
Friedman gave birth to her child this fall and reached out to fans on Twitter to thank them for their support.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Doug Gordon: You sold your special before you became pregnant and before Roe v. Wade was overturned. How did those two events change the way you wrote jokes for the special?
Jena Friedman: Well, typically, comedians, before we tape specials, we will be working out jokes for at least six months or longer. Sometimes people will be touring a show for a couple of years before they tape, do like 100 or more shows before they tape.
Because I was pregnant during a pandemic, I wasn't really performing indoors at the clubs and I was writing jokes on the fly a lot more than I would have liked to. There are definitely timely jokes in there. Are they all as polished as I would have liked them to be? Maybe not. But that was just a function of trying to write material as the news is changing. And as I was physically changing.
DG: Abortion isn't a laughing matter for a lot of people, but you've covered it a lot before with your 2016 special, "American C*nt." Why is this subject important to you?
JF: Everything I do, I think is a laughing matter, to be honest. I think you can make jokes about everything.
When you say abortion is no laughing matter, I understand that people have sensitivities across the board. But the fact that we're not talking about it, we're letting people who really have no grasp of science or medicine or women's health dominate the conversation. And because they're dominating it, they're able to pass policies that are actually killing people.
The fact that if you have an ectopic pregnancy — which will never be viable — and you can't get it removed in certain states is atrocious. There are so many things going on right now that I think because everyone is so afraid to talk about them, we've let people who don't have the best intentions dictate policy, and we're in a really, really dangerous position. So I think not only is it a moot point whether or not abortion is funny, I think we have to just talk about it and take back the narrative because women's lives are on the line.
DG: You come across as very fearless on stage. You’re not afraid if the joke doesn't land. Your comedy has been described as confrontational. Is that how you see it?
JF: I don't know. I just always joke about what I find interesting or funny or absurd or what makes me angry.
I'm not trying to shock people. But I will say that there's one specific joke in the show that is a joke about miscarriage. And miscarriage is a sensitive issue. But as I've gotten older, a lot of my friends have gone through it. And I think because there's such a stigma around it, when it happens to you, you feel even more alone because you don't realize how common it is.
And I did that joke before I was pregnant. And it definitely got groans, but people laughed. But then doing that joke, being visibly pregnant, the audience is so much more uncomfortable. And I think because I knew the joke worked when I wasn't pregnant, it gave me the confidence to tease and bait the audience because I knew that that reaction was really just because they were looking at me and judging me for being pregnant, as opposed to actually taking in the joke and enjoying the joke.
(Here's the joke as delivered by Friedman in "Ladykiller: "In Indiana, there is a law where they want women who miscarry to have to bury the goop. And there's no word for the byproducts of conception. So let's just call it Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle brand.")
JF: I think I kind of come more from a place of "what do I want to say?" And it's taken a lot longer for that to resonate with people. But when it does, it's even more rewarding personally.
DG: The fact that you are one of the few comedians who is taking a more intelligent and thought-provoking approach to comedy makes your style that much more important and valuable.
JF: I'll take it. I did a show in Wisconsin at the Stoughton Opera House, a really fun show. And a lot of people came, I think, because they listened to ("BETA") and it was cool. It's more fun provided that everyone's civil. It's more fun for me to perform for people who don't know my comedy or know what I'm doing.