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“I Just Wanna Make Dumb Shit”: an Interview with Comedian Patti Harrison

by Juli Freedman & Teagan Hughes

Bad Habits Editor & Staff Writer

art by Amelia Connelly

[originally published May 20, 2022]


When I decided to embark on the mission of bringing a comedian to campus my first choice was 100% Patti Motherfuckin Harrison. I fell in love with her while staying up all night in my Barrows double (sorry Jude!) replaying this Comedy Central karaoke spoof where she belts “Yes my dad is police and he is noble and brave! And when my grades are good enough he lets me drive his truuuuuuck!” Since then we have seen the meteoric rise of Harrison from the cult following around I Think You Should Leave and Shrill, her tender performance in Together, Together, her recent box office flick The Lost City, and I must include one of my personal favorites: honing in her classic charming vulgarity in working on Big Mouth. Yet, if you have only witnessed Harrison on the big and small screens, you are really missing out. A Woman’s Smile, with fellow superstar comic River Ramirez, and Disease Sleuth are some of the most gut-bustin’ podcasts I would totally trap a baby in a hot car with me if that was the only way they were gonna listen. On her Instagram (@party_harderson) you can dive into her visual talents drawing M&Ms with bleeding assholes or Bart Simpson with gigantic knockers and a gun with the caption “I washed my pussy for THIS?!?” And then there is the rare opportunity that one gets to witness Harrison on stage. This is where her genius really shines. If you were not in Finney the night of May 4th, I am devastated for you. I just know that was one of the best shows I’ll ever see. She has this kind of grace and strong instinct that guides her shows from a raw earnestness to an off-the-wall absurdist dance performance that really captures all of your attention. She also just happens to be super fuckin chill, really supportive of young comics, has awesome politics, a real tastemaker, and is one of those people that is just so casually hilarious in conversation that it kind of makes you froth with rage. It was an honor to interview someone I have admired so immensely for so long, and to have the interview make me like them even more. Crazy.

The interview has been cut down and edited for clarity.

PATTI: The last interview, I felt, like, a big booger in my nose. And I was like, “is there a booger in my nose and Jane isn't gonna like me?” And then there was a huge booger in my nose, but I don't know if it was visible—I almost said “audible.”

JULI: [laugh] No, make sure to put that in the final cut. You had a good ride here? You all settled?

PATTI: Well, what I'll say is, um, I was a little bougie Mary Antoinette bitch and flew first class. I flew United. It was a red eye flight and I sat in a seat that was up against a wall that didn't recline, and there was, like, no TV. I didn't bring a neck pillow, ‘cause I just assumed the seat would recline, and it was one of those things where the window was, like, too deep set-in for me to lean my head against anything. I just tried to sleep sitting straight up on the plane and it was just cool because it was like having a worse experience than sitting in coach, but I paid like $1 million more for it. I will be marching tomorrow and I invite everyone to march with me, ‘cause this just can't happen to anyone ever again. I've been sobbing. No, I was, it was fine. It was, like, a short flight. Thankfully it was, like, four and a half hours. But I do feel loopy. I'm just gonna talk about how I'm a little tired for about half-hour, if that's okay. I've been to Oberlin one other time. It's kind of, like, overcast and foggy—feels like I'm in, like, Ireland.

JULI: [laugh] Wait, what's the last time you were in Oberlin for?

PATTI: I've only been here one time, and that was sometime between 2011 and 2013. I went to the improv festival [Oberlin College Improv Conference] here. I was on my college improv team and I met one of my best friends here. She went to OSU, her name's Mitra [Jouhari] and she was on their improv team. So both of our teams, like, performed and bombed, and then we kind of bonded. I always wanna say “trauma bond,” but that's not the right term, but it should be the term. I hope it's one of those things that colloquially changes. Because anytime I say something about it, I'm like, “oh, you, like, trauma bonded with a coworker because you both had a bad boss,” people are like, “no, that's not trauma bonding. Trauma bonding would be if your boss hit you and then hugged you.” Well, I don’t know if that makes a bunch of sense. But, um, anyways, I really, I had so much fun at the festival. I met Nicole Byers, Sasheer Zamata, and Keisha Zollar, who were on an improv team called Doppelgänger, and they came and did improv workshops, and it was so cool and it just felt really exciting. And that was a fun time for improv. I think I, like, I did a really bad Latinx accent on stage and just bombed, rightfully so. So, we all learn. Um, and so I sued the school and I won. I got 3 billion dollars.

JULI: So this is, like, Patti Harrison's apology tour right now?

PATTI: [laugh] Yes. I'm coming back to reenact that fateful day! Um, no, I'm excited. I'm excited to be here.

JULI: Nice. We can get to some of these questions that we had. Teagan, what was the one that you wanted to get to first?

TEAGAN: I think, to start off with, do you think in terms of performing at colleges—it feels like some people maybe really like to perform at colleges; others, not so much. Do you feel any certain way about performing for specifically college audiences? Or, do you think it's comparable to other kinds of venues?

PATTI: I really love it. I just feel like it's such a specific kind of experience as, like, a performer, because I think the specific situation that I'm in right now is that I haven't performed for most of lockdown and I've only started to kind of get back into stand-up a little bit. I did a week of shows at the Soho Theatre in London last year, and that was really fun. And that was my first time performing, like, that much stand-up in, like, all of lockdown, I'd done, like, a few Zoom shows, whatever. But I haven't really done shows since. I did a show at USC that I kind of bombed at a couple of months ago, but it was still so much fun. It can be pretty forgiving because I think college kids are excited just to see, like, a comedian they know, even if you're not nailing everything. I feel like it's a fun place to kind of experiment and toss out new material. My past couple shows that I've done have been really rough, but, like, really fun. Not rough in that I'm bombing per se, but that, like, they're not airtight. I'm adlibbing a lot and leaving a lot of room to, I guess, have organic discoveries—please, like, cut my eyes out when you see me. It just feels reinvigorating too. Anytime I talk to college kids after shows, or anybody who's been coordinating the events, there's just this excitement about comedy. And that is really nice, because I think I've just been grinding in New York and LA for so many years. Like, I haven't been doing comedy for as long as some of my peers, but I do feel like you can get a little pissy and jaded, being oversaturated with it. So it's nice to not only meet people who are, you know, bright-eyed about it, and remind you why it's fun and cool.

JULI: That's so dope. There's definitely a lot of excitement about having you here. It's been like a big buzz.

PATTI: Well, everyone should know the show is gonna be loose! [laugh] This is gonna be really fuckin’ loose. I found out I can't use a projector. I, like, screamed when that happened. My PowerPoint! My 20-minute PowerPoint! I'm usually like, I can just do this long-ass PowerPoint. I'm a good training-wheels person for students who do the events for the school, because I throw a bunch of shit at you really last minute. But my temperament is very timid. I'm just happy to show up. And, um [laugh] and bring smiles.

JULI: [laugh] Well, let me know if you really need anything. I'm definitely on the team with coordinating stuff.

PATTI: I need 15 VR headsets. [laugh] Like, I mean, I need them. When I say “need them,” I need them. I'm in trouble. Uh, no, that's nice of you.

JULI: I was sort of interested too about your process as an artist, but not just stand-up, but also, you've been really into acting lately. I'm really a fan of your visual art. I've always been curious about that side of you.

PATTI: Well, thank you, that is very nice of you. I feel like I have been kind of all over the place in terms of going for whatever opportunities I can. It's interesting to enter the entertainment industry as a comedian, because I think there's a lot of assumptions made about you. Because people are like, “oh, you are a comedian—you wanna act, right? Well, audition for this!” Or like, “oh, you're a comedian. So, you're a joke writer? So, you wanna write for TV? Do you wanna write for TV? Do you wanna write this?” So, it's a different path. It's a different way into acting…I've gotten to do stuff that isn't necessarily super comedic, which I didn't really expect to happen. I did this movie Together Together that's very wholesome. Not at all the movie I ever thought I was gonna do. It's painfully sweet. I initially told Nikole Beckwith, who wrote and directed it, that I don't know if this movie's for me. The script is really interesting, but it's just, like, a completely different thing. And then I met with her, and she was just rad. That is just kind of what I aim for—am I gonna have fun doing this? And is it not gonna eat up my soul to do it? I think creative process-wise, you know, I haven't been feeling super inspired in lockdown. I've been pretty depressed and kind of working on getting back into therapy and my mental health and stuff. From a creative standpoint, it's not a super prolific place to be in. I'm not making a ton in that regard, like writing my own stuff, which is why acting and voice acting is fun. I've done a lot of voice acting in lockdown. I think that's been a really nice thing to kind of supplement the lack of creativity that I’ve felt. So, as far as creative process goes, I think it's literally just like, I think of something stupid, I write it down in the notes app in my phone without context, I look at it later, I have no idea what it means. It’ll be like “blueberry head.” I like to write it down at 4:00 a.m., like, crying-laughing in my bed like “haha bitch, you are changing the world!” I look at it the next day and I'm like, what the fuck is “blueberry head”? What is “panda grandpa”? What is any of this shit? It's not a good fucking system. Don't use it. It's bad. When I say the show is gonna be loose tonight, a lot of things that I've worked into doing on stage are things that I kind of ad-libbed and got a good response, and I'm like, “oh great. I learned at that moment that this worked on stage.” I've never had a tight standup set, ever. A lot of my stuff that I do is—I just remember beats, I don't remember specific jokes. I'll have to perform the same bit 20 times before I start to remember a cadence. But I think the most consistent thing that I perform is comedy music. That's pretty much the same, but the riffing and stuff in between I think is where I have the most fun. It's anxiety-inducing. But when it pays off, you organically discover a lot of stuff that way. I feel like the hardest I laugh is in conversations with my friends. Sometimes, it's like an in-the-moment thing. I think something that's unnerving about comedy is how much comedy is people acting like they're speaking off the cuff when it's like, you've done the same thing 100,000 times. It's an art form that is built around lying and being good at it, which I love. It's really cool. I lie to my family all the time.

TEAGAN: We know that you moved from Ohio to New York, and we were wondering—

PATTI: Who the fuck told you that?! [laugh] No, go ahead. Sorry.

TEAGAN: We were just kind of wondering about how you found your comedy people in New York—if it was a really intimidating process, or if people there were welcoming, you know; just anything about that.

PATTI: It was intimidating, but I had people. Mitra, she was living in New York. She had moved there before me, and I think she was there for, like, a year before I moved there, but she was already taking classes at UCB [Upright Citizens’ Brigade] and had met other comedy people. Her and her friends asked me to do a show that they were hosting that no one, um, went to, except for, like, one person. It was a lot of saying yes to anybody that had a show. But it was really intimidating at first. Especially when you're going into a space and it can be really cliquey. I think the best thing in that situation is not to take stuff personally as best as you can, because comedians are the most sensitive, mentally unwell group. It's like, the odds of you running into someone who's a high-spectrum narcissist is so high if you're running in comedy circles. There were people who I felt miffed by, who I shouldn't have felt miffed by. I learned later and became friends with those people later. And I'm like, oh, if I would've worked harder to just focus on myself and doing comedy and being friendly, but not taking it personally if someone doesn't want to be friends right away or something. But, um, I killed a lot of people in New York. I killed a lot of people in New York. I feel really sad about it. Just like a ton of comedians. [laugh]

JULI: As a preface, I had a professor kind of put a gun to my head to ask this question about what it means to do comedy in this day and age.

PATTI: I'm so happy to hear they're giving professors guns at this school! Yes. Continue.

JULI: Reading a lot of your interviews, you seem to answer a lot of questions talking about how you don't like answering the same questions. It seems like you just get a lot of attachments to bits that either you didn't necessarily feel like was your voice, or whenever you describe it, don't seem to put a lot of societal commentary onto it. I'm just sort of wondering about like your opinion in this sort of process where you get asked a lot of questions and then you respond about not wanting to answer the questions you get asked, and kind of what you feel about when people talk about comedians these days as being like, “they must live for this political moment right now, ‘cause it's so horrible, and now they get to make a bunch of jokes about it and save us all, and be these philosopher kings!”

PATTI: Well, I have to say first off, I hate this fucking question—no, I have thought about how many interviews that I've done where I'm just like, “I wish I didn't have to talk about—” and it's like, okay bitch. If I really didn't wanna talk on it, if I really didn't wanna listen to myself talk, I would email them in advance and be like, “don't ask me these questions.” But I don't, because I wanna be, like, on my soapbox. Everyone's working through their stuff. Yeah, I think that it's just such an interesting time. This very specific set of factors have become foundational in the discourse around our societal behavior, and how social media informs that, and how being a comedian on social media has changed the dynamic of what your function is. I don't know. I think about this kind of thing too much, in a way that I feel like I'm, like, conspiracy theory-pilled or something. I'm like, social media is just social media and the versions of it that we have right now suck. And I really would love to be able to be happy and off social media and feel confident in my career and feel like I'm not missing out on stuff or missing out on job opportunities because I'm not keeping up. Social media has become so integrated in the way that success in the entertainment industry for comedians is obtained. I think it creates a lot of people who play into behaviors on social media that are really unhealthy. I think behaviors just spread so quickly. Without people stopping and asking themselves why they're behaving the way that they are or why they're saying the things that they are on social media. I felt like that's a reason why I wanted to leave Twitter, is that it felt very much like people patting themselves on the back. It felt very unproductive. It was like an echo chamber; like scary animosity where there wasn't discourse. People claim that it's a tool for discourse. I don't think it is. I think any corporatized platform that essentially becomes an algorithm shopping base is not where you're gonna have your anti-capitalist revolution. I think people ingest messages through comedy, and comedians can get through to people. I think it would be more important if we were having comedians who are being more thoughtful about the way that they're speaking about things like politics. But I just feel like now what's incentivized is dunking, and dunking on someone politically. It's no one's job to teach anybody anything, like, no individual person's job, unless you're literally a teacher. Um, and then it's not even your fucking job. [laugh] Honey, walk out of the classroom! [laugh] Put on your Louboutins and walk out of the classroom! Leave those fucking little kids to die on their own. They can make their own little peanut butter sandwiches and learn about isosceles triangles on their own. I just feel like now, comedy as a way to get through to people would mean that at the core of that sentiment, whatever the joke is of the comedy, is appealing to the humanity of a person who disagrees with you, and you're changing their mind or something, or helping them open their eyes about something. There's just a lot of mean comedy right now—and I'm not omitted from that. I look at who I was on Twitter in 2016 and I cringe; I was so snarky and there was just so much animosity. I just feel like people are really scared right now. The advent of social media, the accessibility of so many things happening all at once—you, now more than ever, can see every horrible thing happening a million times a day. And there's the virtue signaling. And then it's like, this is happening as Trump's happening. And then it's like, okay, Trump, pandemic, Ukraine, police brutality, Roe V. Wade. I don't think we have the brain capacity to healthily process this much information. And I think this idea that a comedian's gonna come in, and we're gonna have another, like, Charlie Chaplin, that’s like [Charlie Chaplin voice] “everybody wake up!” There's just so much idealism on the internet, and I think idealism is hope so it can be a good thing, but it just doesn't practically play out in constructive ways. The majority of the kind of comedy that we're seeing is not, like, you know, changing the world. I think there's a lot of just divisive stuff. And again, I'm not omitted from that, which is why I just wanna, like, make dumb shit. Like, I just wanna make dumb shit. And I feel, when I talk about me not wanting to answer these questions all the time, a lot of the time they're about being trans and trans representation, and it feels insulting to me. I'm like, wouldn't it be amazing if I could just make stuff that was funny on its own. And then someone who didn't agree with me politically saw something that I did, and liked my work. And then that could help open a door to another branch of them, maybe being like, oh, if this person is cool and they believe in these things, maybe there's something to that. I don't know. I think people are just scared and acting out. It makes sense to wanna look to comedians or celebrities for political guidance. But I think it's a trap, and I think social media is the cheese on the mouse trap. Ha ha.

JULI: I really like everything you have to say, and there's so much to pull from that. There was this quote that you had that I really liked where you just talked about how there would be a mom that'd reach out and be like, “my kid is trans and really looks up to you,” and then they would go on your Twitter and see a tweet like, “Vanessa Hudgens is fucking a dog.”

PATTI: I'm just—I'm just sharing. I'm just echoing, or I'm boosting news. That was a thing that happened.

JULI: I'm interested in knowing kind of what you've been consuming lately. I know you said you weren't necessarily in a huge writing phase during lockdown, but has there been anything that's inspired you? I would also really love to know more about Disease Sleuth and the process of that. I'm a huge Disease Sleuth fan.

PATTI: Wow. Talk about trauma bonding. Um, no, that's really nice. I think that was, like, three or four weeks into lockdown. I was like, I'm gonna make the best of this. And what? Produce a podcast all by myself on GarageBand. It was so much work and I will never do that again. It just sucks because I spent so much time making that, and I think you are the only person who listened to it, which is amazing. But then it's like, my friends make a podcast; they go in, they're like, “yeah, I go in for a half hour a week, we do it 10 times and I make $45,000.” And I was like, I made this for free! It is a thing that I had so much fun making. The big thing is, I really had a blast making it and it was a very healing moment to make that in lockdown. I just texted everybody and was like, I'm gonna make this podcast and I'm gonna do a bunch of fake commercials. You just send me an audio clip of you saying kind of whatever you wanna talk about, or I can write something for you. So I wrote some commercials for some people. Tim Robinson wrote a commercial on it for Percy Amber's Popular School. It's an ad for a girl whose school can make you popular. That's his daughter doing the voice, which is so funny. And it's one of my favorite things in that. I can't remember what she said, but she's like “if you don't get popular in eight days, you can come and kill me.” [laugh] It's so stupid. It's so fucking funny. Wait, what was the other question, what I've been consuming? Yeah. Um, oh my God. It's actually trash. I play video games. I got Elden Ring and I started playing it, but it was too hard. It scared me. It was pretty scary to me. A lot more stressful than what I wanted, ‘cause I was playing Ghost of Tsushima and that game is a lot chiller. And I was like, oh, I would love to have this kind of vibe, but like in a mythological sort of like, Skyrim and Elder Scrolls aesthetic or whatever, but it's not that. So I've been watching this horrible, horrible fucking reality show. It’s Spanish, but it's called Love Never Lies in English. It’s so fucked up. There's six couples, they go to a resort. Do you know? Have you seen it?

JULI: No, what is it on?

PATTI: It's on Netflix. It is one of the craziest shows I've watched. Six couples go to a resort. And so there's a group pot, it starts at $40,000. And each time someone tells the truth, they get a thousand dollars, and each time someone lies, they get a thousand dollars taken away. It's supposed to incentivize everyone telling the truth and pushing each other to tell the truth, because each couple could leave with a hundred thousand dollars. The first, like, 20 minutes of the first episode they're all partying and having fun. And then they go into the lie detector and it's like, “have you ever cheated on her?” And they are like, yes, ‘cause they want the money. So then everyone's sobbing in fetal position. And it's so funny because there is an English dub, and there's, like, 12 girls in the show at one point. And there's, like, two girl voice actors doing the voices for all the girls. And then there's, like, a couple of guys, and there's a gay couple. And the guy voice actor they have is doing this gay voice so hard. [laugh] They're all speaking in Spanish, and you can hear the dialogue really quietly below it. There will just be people on all fours heaving, screaming, crying, like truly gutturally having a mental break. And the VO—the English dubbing never meets that level of energy. It's always like—it'll literally be like a girl who's like on the ground, screaming, like tears everywhere, having a full emotional breakdown, and the dub will be like [monotone] “how dare you put your dick in someone else that is crazy. You're a pig.” [laugh] It's so funny. They'll show the house footage, and it's just, like, two people dancing in the corner, and then there's just someone over sitting on a couch, crying, just at any point in the day, ‘cause they're all like processing all these horrible secrets that have come out about the relationship. What makes it really intense to watch is that there are a lot of reality shows that I feel like the people are so hyper-aware that they're on a reality show that they're really playing into it. And in this, everyone feels real. All the women are so gorgeous. All the men are [laugh] like so ugly. There's, like, one cute guy, and he fucked everybody on earth apparently. But he is devastated anytime his girlfriend is like, “it breaks my heart that he would have sex with someone else.” He immediately is, like, sobbing. It's just crazy. I don't watch a lot of reality shows, but that is what I'm watching right now. So I guess my actions speak louder.

JULI: You seem to also talk about it in interviews sometimes, but I wanted to know about your fascination with horror and gore movies. I didn't know if you had any recommendations, or wanted to talk about if that ever impacts your style.

PATTI: I mean, I do think gore and violence, graphic violence, plays a large part in my sense of humor. Because I think it's a coping mechanism from the shock of seeing it too early in childhood. Like, just watching way too many horror movies too early, unsupervised and, like, going to as a kid and seeing that stuff is traumatizing, and having no one to contextualize dead bodies on the internet. I think the way that me and my friends coped with it is, you know, humor. There are horror things that I like a lot that are super formative. I think Child's Play—like, Chucky was really scary for me growing up, and still is. I still have Chucky nightmares pretty regularly; not as regularly as I used to have them. I watched it when I was, like, four and was really traumatized by it because I had sisters that were just young, they're, like, kids too. So they thought it was funny that I thought Chucky was scary. So they would use Chucky as a bargaining tool, God, to make me brush my teeth. They'd be like, if you don't brush your teeth in 10 minutes, Chucky's in the basement right now and he's gonna come up and he's gonna talk to you! I'd be like, I'm brushing my teeth! [laugh] I don't wanna talk to Chucky! [laugh] Tell him, thank you for being generous. So I think it's like, Chucky is something I make a lot of jokes about now because it has, unfortunately, been such a huge part of my life. Recommendation wise, I just watched this movie called The Untamed that was really crazy. It’s this Mexican horror movie about this girl who finds this couple’s cabin in the woods where they keep this really grotesque monster in it. And it has sex with you. And like, it's the best sex of your life. So then she like starts bringing people to come in the town to have sex with it, because it changed her life. There's a story arc about repressed homosexuality. It was very interesting. It is a very graphic movie; it's pretty sexually graphic. They actually don't show the creature that much. My friend recommended it to me, and I thought it was gonna be, like, a creature feature, it's gonna be, like, a lot of creatures, but it's way more about the closeted brother who's really messy and toxic. We were watching the movie for an hour and it's just family fighting. And then the big sex monster comes and you're like, oh yeah, this is what this movie is about too. The big thing that fucks you. Uh, Riki-Oh, that movie has fucked me up. Did you ever see that? It's just, like, a martial arts movie. I think it's a Japanese movie, and it's just a guy going around, beating people up. I don't remember the premise of it, but the fighting, it's all practical effects and it's so violent. Like, it's over the top. He punches people's jaws off, or he'll punch someone through their head and it's just blood. From an effects standpoint, it's an incredible movie. So, if you can stomach blood; but some of this stuff is disturbing. Like, I think there's a part where a guy goes to punch, and he punches the guy's punch and, like, explodes the guy's hand. Jealous?

JULI: [laugh] that's pretty dope. I think Teagan actually might have to dip right now.

PATTI: I'm gonna run too, I think.

JULI: We've kept you for long enough. This was great.

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