Lorelei Ramirez on Comedy, Identity, and Evil
I first saw Lorelei Ramirez perform stand-up in the basement of Asia Roma, a Chinese-Italian spot on Mulberry. Midway through their set, they paused to wave to a friend in the audience. I spun around in my chair; all I saw was the back of many, many heads. I looked back at the stage, puzzled, when Lorelei said something along the lines of, “Sorry, I just haven’t seen her since the accident.” That’s when I knew it was love. Ramirez is a visual artist, comedian, performer, and writer who seamlessly combines the macabre and slapstick in everything they do—which is a lot. This January, they performed “Lorelei Ramirez: Alive!” as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. They also organize and host the monthly show “Not Dead Yet” at Brooklyn’s C’mon Everybody and co-host the podcast “A Woman’s Smile” with the comedian and actress Patti Harrison. Both on-stage and online, Lorelei ventures to the depths of human depravity, finding humor in the darkest of places. So, naturally, I suggested we grab a coffee.
You recently released a video called Pervert Everything with Adult Swim. How did that came about? What was that process like?
Some ideas came from characters I already had done live, and then I made new characters based on things that I hate and some things that I’ve seen on Youtube; that’s where it started. I worked with John Lee from [the production company] PFFR. They did like, Wonder Showzen and The Heart She Holler, Xavier: Renegade Angel. A lot of shows. They’re a very cool collective of people. And I was at a point where I was just stuck, but then I met John and he was like, “Oh, I’ll help you get the money from Adult Swim.” I’d met with Adult Swim before and they didn’t give a shit. They don’t give a shit. I’ve talked to a lot of mostly female creators about how it’s so hard to even be considered for things. Or, if you’re femme presenting it’s just, like…people don’t care at all. Which is so weird because it’s like, the more people the gatekeepers let in, the more…I don’t know, stuff they’ll have? And on top of that I’m just a weird person and my ideas are weird. And if I’m not willing to talk about my trauma or my identity, people don’t care. People only wanna hear, like, “Are you brown? Tell me your story about being brown!” “Are you trowns?” Trowns. Oh my god. Like a clown that’s trans: trowns. [Laughs] Yeah, it’s, like, really frustrating.
CL: You’re pigeonholed because execs are like, oh, you’re part of a marginalized community and thus everything that you do has to be about that.
LR: But it’s not the whole story. We also want to have other people relate to us, you know? I know if I’m in a room full of people I can make people who don’t have my same experience laugh. I can make people who don’t consider nonbinary identity a real thing laugh. I very much believe there’s, like, common ground a lot of people share. And sometimes markers of identity keep us from exploring that. And that’s why creativity or any form of art is such a good bonding tool.
CL: So if your identity isn’t necessarily the core of it, how does your identity figure in what you want to make? If it does at all.
LR: I was never thinking about, like, being a “woman of color.” There’s nothing I like or that I’m interested in that is about what a woman is, so I made fun of it all the time by, like, inhabiting an idea of what a woman is supposed to be. But four years ago the most I knew was, like, androgyny. That’s it. And all my friends were queer but we didn’t use the word queer. So it’s funny learning the terminology and then feeling stronger in an identity. Being like “Oh, wow, there’s actually a place for somebody like me in language.” That’s really powerful and has helped me feel like I’m in charge of my body and what it means to me, rather than something I have no control over. For me, pride in your, like, womb, or genitals, or shape is so funny.
CL: I’m thinking of a character you did on The Special Without Brett Davis, where you’re this vulgar woman offering people in the audience rimjobs—not “what a woman is supposed to be”—trying to hang with the popular girls. I read online someone described The Special as, like, the closest that you could get to a punk mentality on late night. Do you feel like punk is an adequate or an accurate description of what you and your collaborators hope to do?
LR: I mean, not everybody. Recently I had a meeting with a psychiatrist who’s a trans woman and she was like, “I used to hang out at The Stand Comedy Club with...”—it’s, like, bad straight dudes who, like, have harmful language and are bad. And then I was like “Well, everything I do is to offer a different perspective to those people.” And she was like, “If you really think about it, people like us, who are nonconforming with their given gender, are usually thinking in nonconforming ways. That’s the way we see the world.” And it really resonated with me because it’s permeated all of my life, to always question everything. Even with accepting nonbinary identity, I’m still critical of it because I’m critical of any learned terminology that is readily available. You know, I’m sure in a few years there’ll be more terms and I’m sure I’ll find something in there.
CL: Needing language is terrible! But you’re right about this just ever-expanding vocabulary that we have, the reason being that these words—they’re not enough. They can help give you a sense of who you are, but inevitably you’re gonna find you run up against the edges of a term and you, like, spill out over it. Anyway, returning to your not identifying with womanhood and so playing these womanly characters. I feel like so much of your work is caricaturing these traditional roles by just, like, leaning into them so hard that it becomes so obvious how absurd they are to begin with.
LR: I like playing with stereotypes and then just kind of, like, fucking them up a little bit. I feel like most of my characters sound like they know what they’re saying, but they don’t know anything. I think that’s what’s funny about them, is that there’s a sense of security in their identities that’s not really there. It’s just a façade.
CL: I’m gonna get so up in queerness right now, but do you feel like there’s something about queerness or growing up and feeling weird that sort of forces you to look where people aren’t looking? And do you feel like that helps you to embody characters?
LR: Yeah. But I don’t know how much of it is queerness and how much of it is just being weird. I’ve just always felt like I never belonged and I’ve never had a place. Even within queerness I can also feel not part
CL: Like, there are cultural things that you just don’t identify with?
LR: I think the only thing I don’t totally agree with with some nonbinary stuff is, like—it’s almost the least visible identity and, if we’re gonna use it, we have to inform people about it. I don’t agree with the privilege of certain forms of queerness among people who are more educated. Just because I didn’t have this language before and it’s because I did not have the education. We should always be educating people we know, and we shouldn’t be so quick to attack people. But I understand the guardedness of queer communities as well, you know? I just believe that we should surround ourselves with every type of person. And I’m only one person, but I’m willing to do the work in this weird middle ground of gender and sexuality and race and culture. I’m like, “Well, I guess it’s my job to tell people about it, if they ask.” I can’t be the one that’s like, “Ugh, go look it up on Google.”
CL: You’re not taxed by that?
LR: Yeah! But, like, what? We’re not supposed to do any work? I feel like I’m always doing work. But we’re supposed to.
CL: Growing up, did comedy feel like a natural coping mechanism? A place to go?
LR: Well, I did art before getting into comedy. So I actually came to New York for SVA; I was painting. I just started comedy because I was at this point in my life where everything was very sad and bleak, and I was like, “Well, I mean, there’s nothing to lose.” And I’d always wanted to do comedy. So I went and I was like, “Oh, this is fun. Nobody knows who I am and I can pretend to be somebody else.”
CL: How do you feel like your art and your comedy intersect?
LR: I guess they both come from me so they must have something to do with each other.
CL: They’re both pretty morbid.
LR: Yeah, and intense. I don’t know much about astrology but I would say they’re both exemplary of my sign, which is Scorpio. Which is like notoriously intense and evil.
CL: Scorpios are evil!
LR: I’m not evil but I know I’m linked to evil. Like, where I go in my dreams is a bad place.
CL: You’re evil-adjacent. If I may speak candidly, I think there’s nothing wrong with being evil. Okay, maybe there’s something wrong with being evil, but I think that evil’s necessary sometimes. Or at least you need to be cruel to be great sometimes.
LR: I mean, there are really horrible people out there who are great artists.
CL: And that’s inspiring!
LR: You know, Roman Polanski. Woody Allen. Bill Cosby.
CL: Oh, they’re cruel in all the wrong ways.
LR: Well what’s the right way to be cruel? There isn’t one.
CL: I guess the non-sexual way?
LR: No! They’re all bad! I mean, I think the same thing, which is hard now, especially with, like, Twitter world. Like, whenever somebody gives me a lot of money and I can make something really evil, I’m going to get off of social media. Because I feel like it’s this pretend world where you’re in debt to everyone’s needs. And art isn’t that.
CL: I remember not long ago on Twitter you said that you can’t wait to have kids so you can hit them.
LR: It was just one line and it said, “I can’t wait to hit my child.” My friend has a big following and he shared it because he thought it was funny, and people thought it was real. But they only cared when somebody with a following put it out there. Because I’m nobody to them. They’re all gone now because they realized I’m nobody. But yeah, I feel like I do it responsibly enough, where I joke about things that I’ve had experiences with, not things that I haven’t. Fortunately, I have so much trauma that I can pick from everywhere and make everyone mad and I don’t have to tell them why I’m doing it. And I can just sit back and be like, “hehehehe!”
CL: What is so funny about darkness? And about disturbing people? Why pervert everything?
LR: Because it’s already perverted. Everything is bad. Everything’s disgusting. I think about fucked up things all the time. I think it’s funny because we can’t stop them. Sometimes I laugh with my roommate and I’m like, “Isn’t it so funny that rape will always be a thing? Like, that we are in 2019 and we’re talking about how we’re scared at night?” Like, “You mean there’s no way I can stop this?” Yeah, there’s no way. I feel like there’s a lot of taboo stuff that people don’t like to talk about that goes on daily. But it’s like, if we really look at that, I think that’s where the key to understanding our humanity is.
CL: And it’s far funnier to turn inward and really look at us…
LR: Look at these nasty people that we’re amongst, that we are! Isn’t that crazy?
CL: Mhm. Like, we have this in common. Yeah, that’s dark. And funny.
LR: Sex trafficking rings.
LR: It’d be so funny if I get abducted today.
CL: I’m imagining you in the trunk of a car just, like, cackling.
LR: Laughing so hard. But then I come back and I’m not laughing at the stuff anymore. I’m like an Elizabeth Smart.
CL: What else do you have going on beside comedy and art?
LR: Well, I’m about to go do this presentation at this thing my friend and I host called Incite Action. It’s a biweekly—we’re hoping biweekly—meeting group. And we usually focus on getting everyone together to do one activity. If you’re somebody who is so overwhelmed that you can’t be active, we want to be a group that you’re like “Well, I’m gonna go here this week and I know that when I go there I’m gonna do something.” So we’ve done, like, internet safety stuff. We did a self-defense class. We did the Black & Pink Party thing, like, sending postcards to LGBTQ prisoners during the holidays. So today we have a couple presenters, and we’re having people bring warm clothing and canned goods to take to this organization called Princess Janae Place.
CL: How long have you been doing that?
LR: We’ve been doing it since 2016, on and off. We started just to talk, to let things out. But we saw that, like, everyone came in with things against other people, like defense mechanisms depending on their gender, race, immigration status. And that didn’t allow us to reach a place where we could work together. And we were like, “If those dynamics are always at play, maybe we shouldn’t be talking about them all the time, and sometimes just do a thing.” Like, we don’t have to convince this other person to think exactly what we think, we just have to understand each other at some level and work together. Our group is mostly about reminding people that we’re powerful and we can do things, we just have to show up. Even if you show up silently at a protest, that’s something. We’re empowering people to do very small things that they’re in control of. I think that can sometimes be a better use of our time than thinking on a global scale. A lot of people forget it’s not only about our individual survival but about, like, elevating everyone around you, reminding them that they can make a difference, and educating people who don’t have what