Meet Julia Weiss

“Unfortunately there are a lot of men out there whose “something to prove” involves women.”

Photograph by Liz Paveza

from Slut Talk in conjunction with The Smear Campaign

Sketchpad Comedy’s Logan Short did an interview recently with Julia Weiss to discuss some of the bigger issues facing the comedy world today involving women and more specifically the amount of discussion lately around sexual harassment inside the improv community.

Here is the interview:

Peter Kim prefaced you as “brilliant and a force of leadership for the women in Chicago,” so let’s get right into it. The big improv theaters across the country have had/are having issues with sexual harassment and misogynistic behavior.

Q: How has improv, an art form whose core principles are support and agreement, developed such a widespread problem like this?

A: Our whole culture is figuring out how to respect women and POC as human beings deserving of respect. Improv wasn’t created in a magical vacuum where everyone was equal. It was developed in a culture that fundamentally fails to treat certain people like people.

Q: Do you think these incidents happen more to beginning improvisers, or does this happen at all levels of improvising? What does it mean either way?

A: I think that when you’re just starting out there are more people who can be predators. As you get older and gain clout, you’re a less attractive target. That doesn’t mean that harassment doesn’t exist at every level – it definitely does. I think you have a community full of people with a lot to prove. Unfortunately there are a lot of men out there whose “something to prove” involves women.

Q: Whether it’s during a scene in class, on stage, or a social setting, how can somebody recognize harassment and be an advocate of change?

A: First – we need to tune into the experiences of marginalized people. Most of this stuff simply goes unnoticed.

Second – we need to address it immediately. A lot of coaches or teachers will wait til things become a larger problem – and that’s more often than not to protect themselves from an awkward conversation.

Third – when people speak up for themselves, we need to stop dismissing them.

Q: How much of comedy is about challenging the status quo and being an advocate of progress in general?

A: Comedy SHOULD be about challenging the status quo and pushing for progress and social change. Unfortunately somewhere along the way, the art form was hijacked by lame ass white dudes with nothing to say. Luckily artists across the spectrums of race, gender, sexuality, etc.,  with stronger points of view are bringing back more integrity and a broader range of voices and experiences to the stage.

Q: Do you think it’s possible for people to be trained to empathize better, to feel more? Isn’t that kind of the whole thing with improv?

A: I think that’s a broader cultural issue, but I’ve seen men and women come around on this in the last several years. It’s possible to learn to empathize better. But for the teachers to take advantage of their students, who abuse their power within theatres and who fundamentally behave in cruel or predatory ways – they can’t unlearn that. They’re bad people and we should stop being friends with them, stop choosing to work with them, and stop giving them access to people they can hurt.

Q: You went to school for theater, you write plays and tour with Second City. How do issues like, but not limited to, sexual harassment and misogyny affect the way you approach your work in those areas? Do you approach comedy and writing with any particular intent? Is it different for comedy vs. theatre, improv vs. scripted?

A: I approach all my art as myself, the human I am. I bring my values, experiences and interests into everything I do. Sometimes I set out to make a particular point, sometimes a point emerges naturally by virtue of telling a story, and sometimes I just want to goof.

Q: You obviously write a lot. Please walk me through your process of selecting an idea worthy enough to write down to a fully produced, refined piece.

A: When I write, I generally let inspiration come to me. I live with it in my brain until it’s ready to come out. Sometimes I’ll set out to write something specific because of an assignment or a job and I have a deadline. When that happens my brain basically accelerates my normal process of waiting and then letting it pour out.

Q: What advice would you give writers to produce rich work?

A: Live in other people’s shoes. Be broke, be scared, be disappointed and feel those things fully. Take risks. Be sad. Be happy. Like stuff. Stop trying to be very cool. Listen to people, be friends with people, especially people who don’t look or think exactly like you.  It is honestly wild to me that there have been shitty humans throughout history who have created good work – so maybe my advice is garbage. But I think being a well rounded, curious, kind human who has lived a life and has empathy is the best compliment to talent.

Q: What advice would you give to comedians to be decent human beings?

A: Just be them. If you have to think about how, you aren’t one yet.

JULIA WEISS is delighted to be performing for the Second City! An Indiana native, Julia studied theatre at Indiana University. She is a regular contributor to The Paper Machete and a member of Improvised Star Trek. Julia has also produced several plays in Chicago including the acclaimed Tammy: A Coming of Age Story About A Girl Who’s Part T-Rex, published by Playscripts, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @Weiss_Tea.

You can learn more about Julia on The Second City website here.

For more comedy interviews check out Meet: Jo Firestone, Andel Sudik, Nick Vaterott and Peter Kim.

(credit bio)

Interview done by Logan Short


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