Allison Goldberg and Jen Jamula are speaking to the audience in alternating rapid-fire bursts, with the familiar staccato of a Gilmore Girls-shaped machine gun. It’s Friday night at the People’s Improv Theater in New York, and the comedy duo is pretending to host a terrible daytime infomercial for an even more terrible relationship-advice book–one that coaches women to disempower themselves if they ever want to earn the affection of a man. The two are chastising the audience for having the audacity to express normal human feelings toward another person.
“I hate to tell you, but your instincts were right,” Goldberg says to the audience.
Jamula chimes in. “You could have kept this intense connection alive.”
“You could have avoided this sadness and confusion.”
“You could have had the relationship of a lifetime.”
“If only you’d understood the unspoken desires of men!” they continue. “If only you’d given him what he wanted!”
And on and on they go. But while they’re getting laughs, the routine isn’t some bit they’ve written. They got it straight from the website of a guy who fancies himself a “dating coach” for women; what the audience is watching is a comic reinterpretation of one of his blog posts. The words were originally intended as a pitch for the guy’s dating-coach services, where he encourages women to pay hundreds of dollars for e-books, videos, and audiotapes that feature him mansplaining why they must submit themselves to the wants of men. This is Blogologues, a sketch show co-created by Goldberg and Jamula, that takes the ridiculous and sometimes awful stories that pervade the internet, and performs them, verbatim, as comedy.
Since its inception in 2011, Blogologues has borrowed from the absurd to perform the absurd. They’ve performed threads found on brony forums, posts written by M-Preggers–an online community of men who wish they could become pregnant–and stories from sites like “Is It Normal?,” like the tale of a man who wanted to know if his obsession with burning cockroaches made him weird.
But over the last couple of years, as the absurd and awful have become more mainstream, most notably through hate groups like the so-called “alt-right,” the show’s source material has become increasingly more relevant. Hate speech and conspiracy theories, once relegated to the farthest reaches of the Internet, now rest comfortably atop it. “We thought ‘these are just the weird Internet haters,'” Goldberg says. “And now they’re in the White House.”
Goldberg and Jamula are hilarious, but they’re also more likely to land in online crosshairs. From targeting feminist writer Lindy West to hacking Saturday Night Live cast member Leslie Jones, hate groups on the Internet seem to find a new woman (and especially a funny woman) to harass every day. Jamula and Goldberg themselves have encountered internet harassment, with one of their sketches unleashing “a slew of hate and death threats from Twitter.”
“As with anything entertainment and internet related, you’ll always have people who don’t love what you do,” Jamula says.
That’s what makes Blogologues seem particularly important right now. Performing offensive speech exactly as it appears online makes it much more than a comedy show–it’s a way to reclaim power from the trolls.
Finding Humor on Breitbart
In their latest show, Jamula and Goldberg performed a Breitbart column written by the infamous Milo Yiannopoulos entitled “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.” Dressed in military-esque garb, they yell at three female audience volunteers in some sort of Catholic-school purity ceremony.
“Women on the pill don’t look right and don’t talk right!” Goldberg yells at the women on stage, repeating the words from the article.
“What could be worse?” Jamula adds. “Well, they can’t jiggle correctly either.”
The rant continues in exactly as Milo’s column does, citing a study that connects men’s attraction to women based on their level of fertility, before a drill-sergeant whistle sounds and the two shout “BIRTH CONTROL MAKES YOU JIGGLE WRONG!”–one of the nine subheds featured on the article. (Yes, they go through all nine of them with similar corporal execution.)
Goldberg says the duo didn’t really want to perform something from Breitbart, but after looking through material that surfaced during last year’s election, the Yiannopoulos piece was too perfect not to use. “If you didn’t know it was from Breitbart, it would’ve seemed like it was from The Onion,” Jamula adds. “It’s like a parody, but it’s real.”
More than a comedic reinterpretation, Jamula and Goldberg’s performance of the Breitbart piece is a rejection of its attempt to reduce them to its view. By using the language of the article in a comedic context, they underscore the message’s absurdity using the writer’s own words, thereby undermining its intended effect. “There’s a power in this because there’s a sense of ‘these words are coming from me, and not from you against me,'” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, who co-authored a study on the re-appropriation of stigmatizing labels. “There’s a shaming aspect: to say the words out loud shows how despicable those words are.”
A Brief History of Comedic Resistance
In the 1970s, feminist philosopher Luce Iragary defined this form of resistance as “mimesis,” and endorsed it as a strategy for women to undermine their own exploitation. As a strategy, mimesis is predicated on the notion that “negative views can only be overcome when they are exposed and demystified,” writes Sarah Donovan, a professor of philosophy at Wagner College. “When successfully employed, it repeats a negative view–without reducing women to that view–and makes fun of it such that the view itself must be discarded.”
The strategy is by no means new–in fact, a broader definition extending beyond strictly women’s oppression was used against the ruling class in 1960s Yugoslavia, and has rhetorical roots that date back to Plato–but given the current political climate, and the rising issue of Internet hate speech, this type of resistance is ripe for implementation. In Edinburgh this winter, for example, four women will perform a piece of verbatim theater called “Locker Room Talk” based on the misogynistic comments made by President-elect Donald Trump in that Access Hollywood tape that leaked during the election. By repeating the comments word for word, the women aren’t just condemning the language–they’re parading it in an attempt to get people to confront its contents.
In fact, one of most popular memes of the election was another mimesis meme–also Trump-inspired. During the final debate, as Hillary Clinton spoke about raising taxes on the wealthy to help fund Social Security, Trump leaned into the microphone to call her a “nasty woman.” Instead of just ignoring it, in which case it might become a rallying cry among Trump supporters, Clinton supporters re-appropriated “nasty woman” as a phrase of empowerment. Galinksy calls the move “a clear attempt at trying to revalue [the language].”
Which is exactly what makes the Blogologues go from merely funny to actually important. Intentionally or not, they have brought to light an engaging, funny, and effective implementation of subversion. By bringing the internet into the real world–and finding a way to undermine its ugly parts–they’ve found a way to neutralize and overcome it. Laughing at it IRL just sweetens the deal.