by Ryan Meehan
Rye Silverman is a Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian and writer whose prolific voice has been described as sarcastic and dry with a hint of dark silliness. Rye has performed on comedy stages across the country, and has appeared on Open Source with Leon Krauze on Fusion. Rye was a writer for the Recycled Babies sketch group and has performed at the Women in Comedy Festival and most recently at the All Jane No Dick comedy festival in Portland. She was the creator of Comedy Revolver, a rotating-panel stand-up comedy show that has been featured annually as the flagship show of the Columbus Comedy Festival in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Having performed stand-up since the age of 19, Rye came out as transgender in 2009 and loves tackling challenging material that wouldn’t normally be considered comedy gold and pulling laughs from audiences across the spectrum, whether they wear skinny jeans or blue collars. We are delighted to have Rye Silverman as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: First off, what exactly is a gender rebel? What’s the difference between being a gender rebel and being transgender?
RS: Ha, well there’s not really a big difference, Gender rebel isn’t like an identity or anything like that, it’s just a shorthand for the fact that I like to play with and push back against gender roles, conditioning and stereotypes. I think most of them are outdated and a lot of them are oppressive and harmful and at the very least deserve to be challenged. So it’s more of an attitude than an identity, where as being transgender is the latter.
RM: How much of the transgender aspect of your lifestyle comes through in your stand-up act? Do you have a certain limit on how much of the material that is based on that lifestyle can be discussed in one show?
RS: It’s not so much a limit of how much can be discussed as much as it is, I just don’t want to only talk about that. I’m a comic not a lecturer so while being trans is a pretty significant part of my life and I’m going to talk about it, I know that I’m not usually talking to predominantly trans crowds, so I can only do so much of that stuff before the crowd is just like “Um, we have no idea of about 99% of what you’re talking about.” At that point I may as well pick an episode of Doctor Who and be like “Okay, so hopefully you all saw this show before I launch into a half hour of details about it.”
RM: What’s the biggest mistake that young comedy writers make? What are some of the ways that particular pitfall can be avoided?
RS: I don’t think the pitfall is in making mistakes, it’s in not letting yourself learn and grow from them. Your failures teach you a lot, but most of us need to fail a bunch before we start to notice it. For a while now the whole Malcolm Gladwell ten thousand hours thing was getting popular for younger comedians to reference in regards to doing a ton of open mics in a row, but then you’d see them a month later doing the jokes in exactly the same way, and not improving them. All that time is wasted if you don’t learn from it, if the Beatles played the same chord for ten thousand hours they wouldn’t suddenly have become the Beatles.
RM: What is “Comedy Revolver” and what sets that show apart from other group performances of its kind?
RS: Boy it’s been a while since I talked about Revolver, I haven’t done it in a few years myself but some people in Ohio are still carrying it on for special events there. The idea of the show was sort of just to capture the energy of comedians sitting around and riffing after an open mic, something that was a lot of fun for me when I was doing comedy in Columbus. The format of the show is pretty simple, one comic performs standup while three other comics sit around a table and can interrupt and riff on things the other comic is doing, but when that set is over the lineup rotates, so everyone spends time both on the panel and at the mic. I’m sure there’s other shows like it, and we even gave a lot of credit to Doug Benson for his Benson Interruption show which inspired it. Comedy Revolver is kind of a hybrid of that and a live panel-style podcast taping. I think what sets it apart from other similar shows is just the chemistry of the comics involved. We try really hard every show to book comics who will feed off each other well. Because when it doesn’t go that way it’s rough.
RM: There have been two instances lately where the subject of transphobia has come up in the entertainment industry as of late: One was the recent video that Sarah Silverman posted regarding the wage gap where she was in a doctor’s office and about to receive a sex change, and the other was an incident involving Dave Chappelle’s performance at The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail where a popular blogger wrote that his set was “riddled with transphobia and homophobia”. What was your take on those two incidents; and in your opinion when does comedy cross the line into going out of its way to be more offensive than funny?
RS: I think what bugs me more isn’t the incidents themselves, because I don’t think either of them was a case of someone going out of their way to be offensive, but more the outcry in response to them. I think both examples are talented comics who have very distinct points of view but also have gaps in their understanding of groups they’re not a part of, like all of us do, and is a totally human way to approach the world. But I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with a blogger seeing those things and having a reaction to them and commenting on them. I don’t find sincere criticism to be a threat to good comedy, because comedy is an art form and every art has its critics. What I hate is when either side starts taking it to social media and turning it into this huge angry back and forth. A friend of mine recently used the term “call-out culture” and I think that sums it up perfectly. I’ve been guilty of participating in that myself and am really trying not to anymore.
As far as when it crosses the line, I think it does that when a comic isn’t speaking from a place of honesty or a point of view, but is just retreading on tired tropes and stereotypes to mine easy laughs or shock factor. For me the usual litmus test is what people respond to their critics with. If someone’s only retort is something like “Hey, freedom of speech!” and nothing else, to me it feels like it was shock for shock sake. The comics I respect are the ones who have a reason they say the things they do and they can back it up when criticized.
RM: Do you find that most of your ideas for comedy come from things that happen as you go about your daily life; or that you are one of those writers who genuinely sets aside a time of the day to just write new bits?
RS: I used to set aside time to write and now I tend to pick stuff up as I go. I think the process is still mostly the same, I just go through it quicker than I used to. It’s like doing math as a kid, you used to have to show your work but eventually you can just do equations in your head. Having said that, I probably could do with sitting down with the intent of writing more often than I do. I miss doing that.
RM: What will the world of stand-up comedy look like fifty years from now? Do you ever worry about the long-term future of your art form, and what you can do to have the most significant effect possible?
RS: Wow, fifty years is a long time for an art form. I couldn’t even tell you what comedy will look like 5 years from now. I think secretly every comic sort of believes that if we jumped into a time machine and went to the future that it’d sort of be like in Bill & Ted when they discover the entire future has been defined by the music of Wyld Stallyns, only with our comedy. Also hopefully with George Carlin hanging around somewhere.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
RS: Nothing. 2015 is the year I pack it all in and go teach snorkeling in the Caribbean somewhere. But if you see me launch a Kickstarter campaign for a movie, please still donate, I promise to actually make the movie and not abscond with your money.
Official Website: chicklikemeblog.tumblr.com/
Rye on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ryesilverman
Rye on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ryesilverman
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