Any attempt to pigeonhole Lorelei Ramirez is a danged fool's errand. Of course, she is a brilliant comedian. Ask literally anybody in Brooklyn's comedy community to say who they think is creating the most interesting and genre-bending performances, and she'll be brought up. Outside of that community, those same works are lauded as shining examples of performance art that people actually want to experience. Head to many of the artist book and small press festivals around New York year-round, and she's tabling her unsettling original drawings and zines. She's got dozens of bylines on VICE's Creators Project and Cracked.com. And she regularly puts out video work that would be equally at home at a film festival, in a gallery exhibition, or projected for audiences at a comedy show. The embedded example above, part one of a trilogy she wrote and starred in that was directed and edited by Max Rosen, feels like watching Maria Bamford skewering Martha Rosler after you've tried DMT for the first time.
Lorelei's monthly, NOT DEAD YET, happens again tonight, May 17th, at Starr Bar in Bushwick. Since she's not dead yet, she had time to talk with me about her tireless interdisciplinary output.
Have at it below, screedlers.
Hi, Lorelei. How’s your day going?
Hey, Sean, I’m doing well. Just running from the cops, they caught me exposing myself in the children’s wing of the library. No children were there, I was doing it to the books.
Okay! Moving on... I was talking over beers this past weekend with a couple of friends who have had lots of opportunities to see you perform. We were recounting some of our favorite characters and bits that you’ve done when it kind of occurred to all of us simultaneously: we couldn’t remember a single time that we’d heard you tell what most people would call a “joke.” We were way off?
I do write jokes. You just probably can’t tell that I’m saying one because my mouth is sewn up and it’s pretty hard for people to hear me. But yeah, my jokes are long, so it’s more like a joke ride than anything else, or like emotional pranks, or like a dead carcass with a funny duck inside that can’t get out.
When you’re preparing for a more involved show, like your hour-long Deteriorating Live at the Annoyance Theater last October, I’m curious what your organizational process is. It felt really sculptural. Each vignette had its own color, texture, and other formal qualities. Do you feel like you’re building a structure, or is it more intuitive?
I like that, what you said: sculptural. That’s nice, ha ha. If I have to be critical, opinionated, or distanced from what I do, I would say that yes, it is sculptural in that I play with perverting familiar stereotypes through the characters I play, specific words I choose, and my physicality. So, if I were a critic and looked at my work from that standpoint, I’d say the “sculptural” aspect is more about manipulating emotional responses. Yeah, that’s probably what I’d say. When I’m constructing a whole show, I try to think of how it’s going to be perceived but I really don’t know--so it is more intuitive--because I don’t have much control. At some point it’s all out of my hands. I have no hands. But really most of the time it’s just dumb shit I think about in my room, or annoying stuff that people say, “Oh my god no,” to, which makes me want to do it in front of people. I take out a pen and write it down: Go on stage, run in place for a while.
In an interview with Groundfloor Comedy, you touched on the bleeding edges between art and comedy. You mentioned some of my favorite people wading around in this pool like Michael Portnoy, Ieva Misevicute and Erin Markey, Do you see your work in conversation with theirs?
I love all of those people not just because of their work but because of how their minds work. For them, there are no limitations to genres, formats, or formulas. They kind of glide in and out of comedy spaces, art spaces, and theater spaces. It’s the ideal place to be. I also enjoy that and I think I have those same ideas when I approach things. But, they are much more established than I am, and really masters in their forms. I don’t think I’m there yet.
Oh, you're there, ha ha. Now, having a foot in both camps, are you ever skeptical about art’s recent embrace of comedy? Poets I know, for example, are sometimes a little squeamish about being invited to read at art events, like they’re just the evening’s entertainment.
I like art’s embrace of comedy, but I don’t like being studied--it’s something I get squeamish about. At most art events, it seems like the audience wants to watch and observe as opposed to have an experience or open up to something. In that sense, art events throw me off because my purpose--most times, ha ha--is to make people laugh or, as I mentioned, share an experience. If there’s a resistance then it makes it all pretty hard. But honestly, you get that from both art and comedy crowds. The most rewarding thing though, for me, is entering an art space or theater space--any place where no one is expected to laugh--and, you know… getting that reaction. It’s like, “OK...coooool, nice.” Then you can chill out, and swing your machete around.
For the uninitiated reader, you’re also a prolific illustrator. There’s a viciously grotesque quality to your drawings, and the text you incorporate screams equal parts nihilism and an almost perverted enjoyment on your part about how fucked up the world is. What were you looking at learning to draw while you were growing up? And are there any contemporary artists whose work, whether directly or indirectly, informs your drawing?
When I was growing up I was looking at Bob Ross, Pee Wee Herman, and Shel Silverstein. My mom would let me watch lots of horror films. I would, for some reason, manage to watch some R-rated movies and it generally went undetected that I was watching them. I ended up being exposed to some real fucked up portrayals of sexuality, women, abuse, and the like. As a result, that’s still always in my head.
But I wouldn’t say that I looked at much when I was actually learning to draw coming up. I just started noticing that I could render stuff that was in front of me. Also, I had a fucked imagination and I started drawing what I was thinking. Lots of blood and emo stuff, ha ha. I loved Hot Topic and Slipknot and stuff like that when I was young, so I pulled from those aesthetics, from horror movies, from serial killers and such. In Miami though, where I’m from, there’s a huge focus on street art and eventually I started pulling from that, making characters that defied the “normal way” to draw a person. When I properly started getting into art I looked up to Francis Bacon (who was, my god, a huge one for me), Henry Darger, H.R. Giger, Cy Twombly, Vito Acconci, Miranda July, people who made my heart swell.
Those influences make sense--abject themes can be mined for both scares and laughs. Comedians and artists are increasingly confusing the uncomfortable line between the two. What draws you to that space? Do you distinctly like making people feel weird or upset?
I like perverting the familiar; it’s fun to re-invent. The fear of change is interesting and should be explored, right? I do that as much as I can by taking something someone would recognize and then distorting it in some way. Most of the stuff that I talk about or portray are things that I genuinely fear. I’m a really paranoid and intensely emotional person. Embodying the things I’m terrified of seems to make people laugh. But I do dumb, stupid, silly stuff as well. In fusing the two, maybe it’s not... too uncomfortable lol.
It makes sense that you connected with artist/filmmaker/comedian Alan Resnick and the Wham City crew, who are infamous for their viral videos that transition from something mundane or funny into completely devastating violence. You just went out on part of their tour with them, right?
Correct. Ben, Robby and Alan, are so great. It was truly an honor to be asked to share the space and the audiences that they’ve made for themselves. They truly walk a line between silly or absurd and dark and I was so psyched to share that experience with them.
How was it performing in front of new audiences who hadn’t seen you previously? I imagine that it’s kind of refreshing to have new people to possibly freak out.
Their audiences were great and I enjoyed taking my stuff out of New York to see if it really works, you know? I’ve gone out and done comedy before for people that don’t really know me and, frankly, it always rules. It’s a different kind of exciting. Ultimately, I just want to make audiences laugh and have fun with me in the way that I like to have fun, which admittedly may seem weird or strange to some people. But honestly, when people do understand that it’s just silly, stupid fun, that’s the best--which is why I’ve started to kill myself at the end of every good show, just kind of like to honor the audience and let them know that “I can die now” and that I really mean that.
You’ve written a movie, right? And from what I remember, it’s not exactly a buddy comedy.
Yes, since I like mixing up genres, I thought it’d be fun to make this coming of age horror film. It’s about spoons and the deterioration of the self, but like kind of lame and romantic in the style of Garden State, ha ha. I can’t wait to make it.
And you’re also working on a new record?
Yes, yes, yes. I do a project with a friend of mine, Tynan Delong, and it started out as just like weird poems over samples that has since turned into true songs. I’d say there’s probably not much funny stuff in there, per se, but it’s fun to do. We are looking to perform them sometime this year. Making music together kind of takes away our crippling anxiety. I’m scared to share it, but what else is new?
As a comedian, if you could tell the art world something that it needs to hear, what would that be? And on the flip, as an artist, what does the larger world of mainstream comedy need to hear?
ART WORLD: Probably get regulated and make sure you remember that everyone around you has rights and gets treated properly. You’re a fucked up little bitch that really is disrespectful to women, people of color, lower socioeconomic classes, LGBTQ people, etc… you know the deal. Maybe get an HR department? Lol.
COMEDY WORLD: I would say the same, but in a social way. Be more inclusive to people breaking forms and formulas and ideas of “who” should be doing comedy. Stop thinking that one form of comedy is better or more “real” or more “raw.” All that shit is fake, all the constructs are fake, and buying into these false ideas of what-constitutes-what is only going to harm you when things start changing. Take chances and start representing the people you’ve been denying an identity to, the people you’ve basically been erasing from your platforms. Expand! Expand! Expand!
To round this out, you’ve got your monthly show, NOT DEAD YET, coming up at Starr Bar tonight, May 17th. What can people expect to experience at this series that you’ve been organizing?
You can expect to see some of the best performers in New York doing their thing. People that I look up to who are creating and inventing new things, and upholding existing formats in new interesting ways. Lots of voices that don’t often get to be heard, but are now, and lots of stupid stuff to so, PREPARE.
This month's NOT DEAD YET features comedy by: Cole Escola, Marie Faustin, Ikechukwu Ufomadu, and Maike Abrusci; music by: Nancy Feast and Showtime Goma; videos by Charlie Bardey; and Linus Ignatius; plus local zinemakers. There's a $5 suggested donation to support the Center for Reproductive Rights.