Published on October 5th, 2016 | by Jessica Phillips Lorenz0
KATIE GOODMAN is a MUTHA in Comedy: Interviewed by Jessica Phillips Lorenz
Having agency in a career that requires an agent isn’t the easiest thing to do. Building a feminist comedy career might be even harder. What happens when you don’t want to tell someone else’s story? You hustle to tell your own. Or, if you’re Katie Goodman, you write, produce, cast, improvise, and tour your own story. You perform at Planned Parenthood benefits and let potential clients know that they may not want to book you if their organization cannot abide your politics. You play the elite, Seven Sister college circuit. You find your audience and make sure they can find you—about a million already have on YouTube.
I sat down with Katie Goodman to talk about jokes, writing, her all-female comedy troupe Broad Comedy, and what happens when your kid’s friends watch you sing a song called MILF. Also, let me tell you from experience, if you ever find yourself unsure how to write the introduction to such a person as Goodman, it’s helpful when they have authored book about improvisation that includes several writing exercises to get your creativity flowing. – Jessica Phillips Lorenz
To start, Katie laughs at my notebook that says, “Yes way rose.” I tell her it was my mother’s day present. We get to talking about kids… mine are 20 months and 5 years old. “Oh, you’re IN it,” she says. Her son is 13: “A different kind of in it.” Most actors are wary of sharing their age, for fear that it will keep them from booking work. Within the first five minutes, Goodman told me her age…
KATIE GOODMAN: “I’m 48. And now I’m at the age where soon you start mothering your parents… I have eight parents because everybody is divorced and remarried. It’s just weird: The Shift. I’ve actually really taken to it, I like worrying about them. It’s payback.
MUTHA: It’s a different way of thinking about your parents and your role. I think we always see ourselves as kids, in some ways.
KATIE GOODMAN: My friends come over and the kids are all playing while we’re talking about our parents. It used to be we all talked about marriage and divorce and babies and now we’re talking about our parents.
MUTHA: I want to talk to you about the double-life of the actor-mother. How did you get where you are now? Personally, I started as an actor, including writing and performing one-woman shows. Then I got into teaching yoga and creative dramatics to young people. And now I’m getting my masters in Educational Theatre—to be certified to be THE drama teacher.
KATIE GOODMAN: That one-woman show thing is hard. It’s lonely!
MUTHA: The cast party is just you, drinking alone.
KATIE GOODMAN: Yes! I’m always backstage… like waw wah.
So, I have my solo career and I’ve got Broad Comedy…
We are interrupted by a decaf resupply and find that we also have that in common.
Which, I’ve been doing for 15 years. I would perform solo pieces in between the sketches and the musical numbers, though, to let everybody change costume and then I realized “Oh, these are really fun.” My solo musical shows have been running about five years.
MUTHA: You’re wonderful playing the piano.
KATIE GOODMAN: My recommendation is don’t quit in 8th grade.
MUTHA: Wow. You taught yourself?
KATIE GOODMAN: If you are real piano player, you can tell I’m just barely pulling it off. My idea is to be funny enough that no one is really paying attention.
As I’m sure you know, the first solo show is just so fucking terrifying…
MUTHA: It’s the scariest, scariest feeling. Are you an improv-trained actor?
KATIE GOODMAN: Training doesn’t help! (We laugh.) Well, it does help because then you know you can save yourself. To tell you the truth, improv is the least scary thing. I’ve toured with the troupe “Spontaneous Combustibles” for 20 years. Same guys. Most of the time, I’m the only woman in it.
MUTHA: (Pointing to my notes) Ahhh. “Women in comedy…”
KATIE GOODMAN: I teach improv workshops to non-improvisers, as a self-help tool. Here’s a story I tell in my book, Improvisation for the Spirit. When I’d only been a parent for about a year and was basically hating it, I wrote a monologue about motherhood. But I had one of my actresses do it, because I was too scared that someone was going to call social services! So, I’m standing back stage, sweating. The first joke was about wanting to launch your child off the porch railing—and it got a humongous laugh. I realized I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
MUTHA: When my daughter was born, she was colicky and I ended up writing a show about it. I thought: I have an objective. My objective is to make the baby calm. So I set it in this framework: get the baby to sleep. On stage, I was afraid about how I could be judged as an actor, as a comic performer and as a parent. “Well, if that mother knew what she was doing, then she wouldn’t have a show.”
KATE GOODMAN: But really, they’re so relieved that you are judging yourself publicly, so they don’t have to judge themselves publicly.
MUTHA: Do you consider your “Midlife Crisis Tour” cabaret style? Or musical theatre?
KATIE GOODMAN: I got a Time Out New York critic’s pick in cabaret, but I’ve always shied away from the phrase, because it implies torch songs. I walk this bizarre line between the worlds of comedy and improv theatre, and theatre… and stand-up comedy… and I don’t play clubs, usually. I mean I’ve done Caroline’s and other clubs in the city, but when I tour nationally, it’s in 700-seat theatres and I have a grand piano. I don’t get heckled, which is nice because it’s too hard to heckle a song.
Some food arrives. Katie eats her poached egg. I have a croissant with several types of jam, in a jam caddy. We both admire the jam caddy and order another round of decafs. Conversation shifts to creating work and kids
How am I going to say this without insulting the comedy audience… the New York comedy scene is hard. There are a lot of conservative, Australian tourists looking for dick jokes, which I don’t really provide… It’s also super male-dominated.
MUTHA: You’ve only been in New York for five years. What do you think?
KATIE GOODMAN: I love it. I’ve lived in LA, Philadelphia, and Boston. But as a predominantly theatre person, it was the right choice. We could have done LA and could have been working in TV but…
MUTHA: Not your thing?
KATIE GOODMAN: (Laughs.) It could be, but I’m just so picky. We have a pilot—two pilots that we’re just starting to pitch—that I love so much. But, I’m not sure if I want to give up three years to somebody else. I mean you’re lucky if you get that much time out of a show. Everything is so misogynistic. This sounds like an asshole thing to say, but now that we’re at this level, I feel like we should just keep doing our own stuff.
MUTHA: Do you audition for regular projects?
KATIE GOODMAN: I don’t. I didn’t want to spend 15 years auditioning for shit that I didn’t want to do. Some of my actor friends will be ON Broadway and then book nothing for years… a dry spell. That is just not gonna work for me. I would get way too depressed.
So, we’re just doing our thing. Then, we’ll say yes or no to outside projects. And we’re not going to auditions and prepping all day and on the train and ending up only having five minutes in the room.
MUTHA: I hated it, too. So much of the stuff out there is garbage.
Lets talk about your songs! Your video “I Didn’t Fuck It Up” felt particularly poignant, to me.
KATIE GOODMAN: I had an interesting thing happen today about another one of our songs called “Probably Gay: The Homophobia Song.” It’s one of our more popular songs on our YouTube channel. The song is about a study in abnormal psychology, wherein they measured guys’ penises when they were watching porn, and the ones who were identified as homophobic got erections when they were shown gay porn. But men who weren’t homophobic, didn’t. So the punch line of the song is that if you are homophobic, then you are probably gay, right?!
And that guy who shot everybody in Orlando—he turns out to have been gay. Everyone is writing to me since, saying, “You called it!”
I’m not the first person to make this point, of course. But now I’m figuring out how I can use the song in my show tomorrow night because usually it’s lighter. I think I am going to say something like, “I do this song every show but I was thinking about not doing it tonight because, it’s sort of upsetting but I feel like I should. Or something… I’m not sure how to set it up.”
A little context and a glimpse into the future. The day Katie and I met was three days after the mass killing at Pulse. When I watched Katie later sing the song during her show, I knew what was coming. It reminded me of going to see shows in New York after 9/11. We were all fragile, desperate audiences. Asking our performers to give us a respite, a good time, but to be gentle, too. If you were able to hand over your trust to a comic who takes context into account, a gift of a moment can happen, which is precisely what was given to our audience in the Triad watching Katie sing. The room erupted in hooting and hollering and applause. My friend said she felt it “was cathartic.”
MUTHA: The other song I wanted to talk to you about is, “I’m Sorry Babe, but You’re a Feminist.” Do you see your comedy as educational? All the pop-ups in the video are so effective and fun!
KATIE GOODMAN: Soren edits and puts it together. He writes everything with me. He’s the red-headed one in our videos.
MUTHA: Yes. I’ve seen him. Does he perform with you?
KATIE GOODMAN: He used to but I think he enjoys writing and prefers not having the stress of performing so much anymore.
MUTHA: I wondered about working togetherrrrrrr…
KATIE GOODMAN: Ha! That’s usually the FIRST question I get.
MUTHA: My husband and I have worked together a bit. I did a solo show for years about Betty Boop. I haven’t done it in a while and I’m not sure I could still fit in the costume. My great-grandmother’s brothers were The Fleischer Brothers, who created Betty Boop. I explored Betty for some time and Eric helped me do the technical stuff because it was a solo show. At times it was… a leeetttle tense between us. Maybe because it was my project rather than something we created together, which is what you do. So how do you go about it?
KATIE GOODMAN: We are all over the map. First of all, he doesn’t write music, so that helps us maintain some separation of church and state. But he’ll go… “What if it was something like, (She sings a fast paced country style ditty) “Dinnggy dingy din din din dingy….” He’ll call me and leave that in a voicemail and I’m like, “I don’t know what that means, but OK.” He’s got an amazing ear and a great voice but was never trained musically. In some ways it’s almost better because he’s not caught up in the technique of it and we’re not arguing about chord structure. Sometimes, I have more of the initial ideas and then he’ll take the first stab at it. Or, Sometimes I’ll write the whole thing, a first draft, and he’ll take it and fix it, and other times we’ll literally sit in the same room—that’s more rare these days, we did that more in the beginning. Soren’s super power is that he’s great at structure, much better than me. I’m good at dialogue, concept, emotional content, jokes. Well, we’re both equally good at jokes. And these days, when we bring the Broad Comedy actresses a new sketch, they don’t know who wrote which joke. They used to know and say, “That’s a Soren joke.” But now we’re writing in the style of each other, and we don’t even knowing we’re doing it.
MUTHA: You have created a comedic partnership that has a specific tone and its own world.
KATIE GOODMAN: Right! We go there, we don’t go there. Even when I write something completely by myself, I want a reader! One of us is always fresh. At any point, one of us has not read the last draft.
MUTHA: I think writing is very similar to performing. You need the audience. You need that feedback. Speaking of writers… I want to ask you about your mom, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist, Ellen Goodman. How was it having her as a role model?
KATIE GOODMAN: Fantastic! My mom and I are incredibly close and pretty well-adjusted. In some ways what I do now isn’t that different from her work—I’m basically doing a feminist column on stage.
One thing I want to say about her is that she always asked my permission if she wanted to write about me. Now that my son is 13, his friends see our stuff. So, I’m actually having a little bit of trouble writing about teen stuff, because the only thing funny about it is the embarrassing stuff, right? So, I haven’t done that. But I can’t be on stage at 48 talking about when he was 2! That’s just weird. I’m trying right this minute to figure it out, if we are writing about him or not.
MUTHA: Parenting in the digital age, when do they start saying, “Hey Mom, back off?”
KATIE GOODMAN: Oh, it’s been for years now! We also send a note home with his friends from school, and kids at camp, saying “Don’t let them watch anything! Parental block Broad Comedy.” But some of his friends’ parents have let them watch my stuff… like, “MILF.”
But he’s only watched what we’ve let him. I let him watch all the political stuff and I don’t care about swearing, now, God. But, I don’t want him to think about whether I’m fuckable. And I don’t want his 13-year-old friends to think about it, either.
Actually, Soren read about me, in an article by my mother, before we met. My mother wrote about me going off to college he was assigned it as a junior in high school.
MUTHA: That’s very “in the stars.”
KATIE GOODMAN: I know! I loved it.
I had an interesting moment with my mom when I was nine, when the ERA didn’t pass. I came home, and I was whining about something, and my mom who is super steady, unlike me, she’s not a drama queen at all…. She just lost it and threw her purse on the chair and yelled something like, “My entire career was leading up to today and it didn’t happen and I just need a little….”
I remember it so clearly, because she never yelled. And it was the first time that I thought, “Holy shit, she’s a person.”
Katie Goodman’s next live show is coming up Oct 19th at The Triad:
And here’s that video… SORRY, BABE: