A Kate Berlant Article a Day—November Edition
Kate Berlant is a bona fide comedy genius, and there have been many articles, interviews, and discussions of her brilliance (even multiple tweets by Bo Burnham himself) and how she is poised to be one of the millennial greats.
As such, I have assembled my favorite pieces of writing about her, dating back to Jason Zinoman's glowing New York Times article from 2013.
Enjoy, and be sure to check out her one-woman play Kate if you can!
11/1: LA Magazine
Great look at her family, including how her father—artist Tony Berlant—influenced her career!
With Kristoffer Borgli:
I was talking with a friend the other day about what would’ve happened if there was somebody who was funny to everyone. Imagine if there was a comedian or someone that just made the whole world laugh. And it’s like, would civilization just collapse? If there was one person that was just universally adored across all cultures and no matter what they did, people would just be dying laughing.
***Inside or Infinite Jest? Haha
11/3: New Yorker
11/4: Blackbird Spy Plane
11/5: W Magazine
11/6: Vanity Fair
A meditation of a sort has begun, only the collective attention is not directed inward (oceanic breathing, relaxed jaws) but rather onstage. There, the object of the evening’s 90-minute study is the irrepressible Kate Berlant, whose one-woman show Kate gleefully unravels the form, overlaying self-confessional tropes, performance anxiety, and a clown academy’s worth of facial gymnastics.
“There are nights where there are certain expressions I hold for such a long time that my cheeks burn,” Berlant, a Santa Monica native, says from a friend’s loaner apartment on the Lower East Side. (Kate, in an extended run under director Bo Burnham, is up through February 10.) “I just really never want to inject my face as long as I live. The white-knuckle grip on youth—I think I just can’t commit to a life of that.”
But for her, lasting interventions would be a kind of “spiritual robbery.” The marks of the past make good material—even if filtered through her brand of self-aware artifice.
But the truest gift has been the permission to be herself. “I mean, I’m a hedonist. Last night I had a really fun dinner with a friend at Corner Bar—champagne and truffle pasta—and then today I’m going to try to just not speak and have broth,” she says. “The great thing about this show is that it allows me to feel like I’ve earned the decadence of doing almost nothing all day.”
I’ve decided to commit to no social media for three days, after a couple months of not looking at all, basically. It’s hard to resist. Probably the best thing I can do for myself, more than anything, is just not be on my phone.
It’s where I started comedy, the Lower East Side. Cake Shop, which is now gone, is where I had my show for six years, so it feels very comforting.
This article also features a photo of Kate with STRAIGHT hair—a rare sight indeed!
11/7: The Guardian
“I was really scared of writing this show. And it changed me because it forced me to work in a new way. It is a play, so – not a space for me to do my usual schtick. Which is very improvisational, defined by a non-structure and anchored in this persona, a sort of a version of myself. This show attempts to tell a story.”
Kate the show was born when her friend, comedian Bo Burnham (who had just finished his award-winning Netflix special, Inside), suggested she write something, properly WRITE something, for the first time, with a beginning, middle and end. It’s about – in parts – an actor searching for a traumatic origin story, trying to impress a Disney+ executive, and it focuses on her cynical attempts to cry on camera, tears being the truest evidence of her authenticity. It plays with pretension: in the lobby as audiences file in, they find a museum-like exhibition of her costumes and notebooks, and Berlant herself, sitting in dark glasses on a chair wearing a sign that says, “Ignore Me”.
Burnham and Berlant: this was her most recent wildly creative collaborative friendship, her work with Early being her best known. With their short films and last year’s special Would It Kill You to Laugh?, the comedians they seem most similar to are French and Saunders, that delicious blend of combative intimacy and performative narcissism, and joy at the absurd. They don’t hand an audience the laugh – you have to sit there with them for a little while, go on their awkward little journey to earn it.
She and these partners (including Jacqueline Novak, with whom she launched Poog in lockdown) have, Berlant explains, a shared language, a shared universe. “These are friendships that orbit my life and that continue to be so generative and inspiring – you simply can’t do it alone, nor should you try to,” she warns. After Burnham suggested she try something new (he went on to produce the show), they workshopped it for some months in the daytimes, and went for many dinners in the evenings and, it sounds like, laughed an awful lot before she first showed Kate to an audience. “Kate is a departure, but it’s still turning over the themes of my standup – a contemporary obsession with authenticity and persona, and you know,” she says, casually, “‘the search for meaning’.”
Everyone is performing, she reminds me, all of the time. “We’re always engaged in the text of our lives, the script of our lives, and life very often does feel like theatre. Ideally there are moments that break through and then, suddenly, you’re in life and it’s not a show any more. But I have come to find the show [Kate] actually does provide life. Oh, God,” she shrieks darkly, “Listen to me!”
Though from here it seems her career is quietly glittering, one joke of Kate is that the show is a fairly naked attempt for her to get work. “It’s a bare attempt to be seen as potentially deep or versatile.” She’s talking about being an actor, but also about the point of the show and possibly performing itself. “Or seen as attractive or seen as mysterious or interesting or complicated.” She leans into the light. “It’s all an attempt to be adored.”
One of my favorite Kate-related articles—a thorough dissection of the hot caramel payment system established in Kate and John Early's Emmy-nominated Would It Kill You to Laugh? Amazing read.
11/12: San Francisco Chronicle
11/13: Paper Magazine
11/14: Rookie Mag 2014
I got really obsessed with conjoined twins and bearded women, and I started to feel like female comedians were like these bearded women who were put on display—we are doing this historically very “masculine” thing, but we’re women.
I’ve had a couple of women be like, “You really shouldn’t dress up onstage. You want them to focus on what you’re saying, not what you look like.” I hate that so deeply. It’s so dangerous. It misses the point so critically, this idea that you you have to be immediately categorizable as a woman, or else no one will absorb what you’re saying. Female comics answer to a heterosexually masculine sensibility that holds fierce animosity towards women who assert themselves as anything other than an object created for male desire. My comedy comes out of a lot of things, but declining to commit to an uncomplicated femininity and insisting on confusion are important to me! Women are either hypersexualized or desexualized. I haven’t had to pick one. I have refused to pick one. I haven’t picked one.
11/15: Queer Review
11/16: Mandatory 2015
11/17: Fader 2015
11/18: New York Times
One of the first major write-ups on Kate, this Jason Zinoman article is essential reading in the history of her comedy career
This is THE article that set off so many online readers about Bo's involvement in helping Kate on her one-woman play—he directed her in 2019, people...I think she knew his input was valuable!
11/19: Hey Alma
11/20: Flood Magazine
As separate stage presences, they’re both forces to be reckoned with: Getting tickets to Kate’s regular show at LA’s UCB Theatre, Communikate, is getting harder every month, and John received acclaim for his work onstage at the New York theater Ars Nova, especially his one-man show John Early: Literally Me. (Look no further than the video he and Kate did for the show—ostensibly a promotion for him, but in practice an obsessive, shot-for-shot recreation of the audition scene from Showgirls—to get a sense of their unapologetic, unfiltered expressions of love.)
They speak with brazen openness about anxieties, ego-driven fantasies, and petty jealousies, all in the tones of people who are striving to appear “fine” with everything. They straight-facedly articulate the hyperbole of the Internet and the exaggeration of nervousness to highlight these modern absurdities. Their creations are the consummate performers, taken to such extremes that the world is the stage and the stage itself is an afterthought.
When asked why she developed an interest in comedy, she says, “For my dad to pay attention to me,” in the cadence of a joke but with the blunt speed of honesty.
John and Kate’s social media presences, so integral to their rise, have also kept them navigating a rising tide of rage and negativity that erodes so much of the solid ground our real world depends on. “Because Kate and I are a male/female duo,” John explains, “it’s such an easy testing ground for misogyny. I do not get a tenth of what she gets online. We’ll tweet literally the same video, or we’ll have tweets that have the same political spirit, and the responses to Kate are so ugly.”
11/21: Huffington Post
Before Netflix recruited her for “The Characters” in 2015, she’d never written a script. She didn’t even have, well, characters. Instead, she had a synchronistic physicality that deconstructs the presentation of womanhood. Just like she learned in grad school.
The thing is, comedy is at something of a crossroads right now. The voices who stoke critical intrigue and appeal to attention-strapped millennials ― Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae, Michelle Wolf, Ali Wong, Bo Burnham, Lena Dunham ― aren’t the ones headlining basic-cable sitcoms or antics-laden blockbusters. They’re originating their own stuff, from evanescent protests against Donald Trump on Twitter and trendy-for-a-minute specials on streaming services to genre-agnostic TV projects that produce lukewarm ratings. Fame, for young performers, is more splintered than ever before, and at the exact moment that young comedians are aggressively tackling the social rites of gender, race and sexuality.
"She makes a lot of critiques of society through her impressions,” [director Boots] Riley said. “She’s not there telling you, ‘This is wrong’ and ‘This is right’ ― she just makes fun of people from a direction you don’t see very often. [...] She’s going to be a thing. She better get all the roles she can get real quick because people will start copying her style.”
The show contains a secret, needless Irish accents, hidden decals, sand, Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner, utensils, a destruction of the fourth wall, videos!, graphic design!, dance!, sarcastic philosophical questions that actually had me thinking “wait…,” and the proclamation, “A night at that theater can change your life.” Kate Berlant means that ironically, but Kate doesn’t. Before the show, I would have equally scoffed at it. But now…well, here I am, writing about how goddamn incredible this show was.
Except the show, directed by Bo Burnham, is less of a show of a show and more of a fully-immersive theater experience—four words I would never want to use to describe anything, let alone anything written, created, and directed by comedians. But but there’s no other way to articulate what Berlant has done. Kate is an emotional, hilarious, all-encompassing tumble into a weirdly compelling world that should feel insufferable and way too meta. But it doesn’t!
If all of Berlant’s past characters have an Olympic gold medal, then Kate is the “McKayla Maroney on vault at the 2012 Olympics” gold medal. It’s watching an artist (ugh, eyeroll) at the top of their game. And it’s fucking thrilling.
11/23: Hollywood Reporter
Mentions Kate, Jo Firestone, Kristen Schaal, Jenny Slate, Maria Bamford, Aparna Nancherla and a BUNCH of other female comics...wonderful read!
11/30: TimeOut London
She's a superb stand-up – able to create an hour of consistently funny observations from nowhere. New, Bo Burnham-directed show ‘Kate’ has played two hugely acclaimed seasons off-Broadway and now finally transfers to her spiritual UK home Soho Theatre for a month. Expect a techy, absurdist deconstruction of autobiographical one-woman shows and the concept of main character energy.
For the complete list of Kate Berlant posts, including Kate audience interviews, please click here.