A Chat with Claudia Cogan


Photo credit: Anya Garrett

The last time
we spoke with lesbian comedian extraordinaire Claudia Cogan, she was an
up-and-comer with a dream of becoming a “modern lesbian pirate.” While we’re
unsure of any high seas adventures, she’s definitely been busy lately, as a
co-founder/performer in a new queer stand-up series called Under the Gaydar.
Infectiously silly and self deprecating, she’s among the funniest women of her
generation — and that’s saying quite a bit, given the proliferation of
excellent lesbian-oriented comedy we’ve seen in recent years.

The New York based Cogan was able to lend her time (and funny bone) to AfterEllen.com recently, in which we discussed
unemployment, Under the Gaydar, and her “lesbo-taining” career goal.

AfterEllen.com: To begin, how did you get into comedy in the
first place? I understand you did improv and sketch comedy before going into
stand-up, so what was that transition like for you? I can imagine that stand-up
is scary when you’re used to having other performers onstage with you.

Claudia Cogan: Comedy as a career I did not see coming. I
spent my teenage years watching stand up from idols like Sandra Bernhard and
Judy Gold and sketch comedy from Monty Python and Kids In The Hall. It never
occurred to me to do it myself. Then I saw an improv show in New York City and I thought, “I could totally
do that.” Riffing and being calculatingly silly really appealed to me and I
signed up for a class.

Stand-up was part of the comedy evolution. After I got started, I wanted to try everything and
reserved stand up for last since it was the scariest. Turns out, it’s the most
addicting. It is scary to be alone but when you have a good back and forth with
an audience, you don’t feel alone at all. You have to be willing to push the
audience or they will push you away and discovering how to do that is
fun.

AE: How do you come up with your material? Do you take a notebook around or
have any specific process from which the magic happens?

CC: The process involves the rare moment when you notice something unusual
that no one else has yet. The easiest thing to do is make fun of someone
goofing up but it’s more challenging to find something we all tend to do and
make fun of that. There is a notebook near me at all times or I send myself
texts. So if you see me blazing the keys on my “crackberry,” could be a new gag
cooking.

AE: Do you ever get sick of people saying things like “lesbians have no
sense of humor” or asking “hey, you’re a comedian — tell me a funny
story!” Do you have any pat responses for this sort of thing?

CC: That stereotype is pretty moldy. First of all, some of the funniest
comedians are gay women. Ellen, Rosie, Wanda Sykes, and that is just the
beginning. So you know they’re just boneheads to ignore. Also, lesbians are
busy. We don’t have time for bad jokes. For real, I’ve got to make gluten-free
cookies this weekend. Unless you’re donating a bag of almond flour, out of my
way.

The expectation people
have that I’m going to prove myself right then and there is a little
frustrating. No one meets a surgeon and goes “Oh, you’re surgeon. Take out my
liver right now.” If I do tell a joke, it never works in that context. I
usually say “if you want to have an awkward person-to-person encounter where
you are liable to leave disappointed, we should just have sex.”

AE: So, your blog headline reads, “laughing out loud crying inside,” which
is fantastic. On the side of the old adage “laugher is the best medicine," do
you feel like comedy is therapy? Survival?

CC: Like a lot of comedians, I got my start as an outcast. [I had the]
wrong clothes, wrong sneakers, big schnoz, delayed puberty, snorty laugh — the
whole package. My strength became teasing people who teased me. At the least, I
was intimidating with wise-ass skills: bold on the outside for sure, waiting
for popularity and acceptance to kick in deep down. I have to admit that that
old protective facade still motivates me. Thus, my crying inside. Let me assure
you, I’m having a great time now as a grown up. Yippee for graduations! Oh and
not giving a crap what others think anymore.

AE: Have you thought about making more digital shorts like Funemployment?
It was pretty hilarious — especially the cooking segment.

Claudia Cogan’s Funemployment short

CC: Thank you! I have a wacky women on the street bit I made with comedian
Jackie Monahan that I need to finish editing. Check my youtube. If you’re
dying for podcast size bites, check out Gayest Week Ever, a vlog on newnownext.com where comedians comment on select gay TV moments.

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