@RekhalShankar Wants to Be a Void

Rekha Shankar is a comedy writer, performer, and video editor in Brooklyn. She improvises at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and writes for MTV News’s Decoded and Reductress. She has made videos for Clickhole and Funny or Die, and has worked on a pilot for comedian Hari Kondabolu. She also makes videos with the group DUMB video, and her webseries Hustle comes out this fall. This week, Shankar talked to me about four of her favorite tweets, plus taking up space, auditioning as a woman of color, and innocuous but very large questions.

Shankar: I like this one because there was a time when my mom would send me emails and I’d read them and immediately feel bad about myself (e.g. are you pregnant, you look pregnant). So I’d have to hold off on reading them until I was ready or didn’t have anything important to do. Like if a cyber-bully was emailing me but I had to be accountable to them because they gave birth to me.

Does your family read your tweets? Do you ever have to censor your comedy because of family potentially seeing it?

My family definitely reads my Facebook posts, but I don’t know that more than one person in my whole, million-person family even has Twitter. I don’t overtly censor my comedy for them, but I think I was raised to lean more toward the “clean comic” side of things because of my family. My mom somehow finds my YouTube videos, though, and once heard me say the F-word in one of them and told me that was “trashy.” She’s the real one to watch out for, because if she finds something even slightly satirical that I’ve written, she will always take it literally and send me a multi-paragraph email about my “dangerous” lifestyle.

Oh. Still don’t know the answer to this one. I like Tweets like this because they are very large questions posed innocuously. There is almost no voice to them. It’s like a void is asking it. I want to be that void. Another thing I like about jokes like this is that they feel like a verbalization of a mood rather than a tweet that should be looked at for its exact content! Sometimes I even just tweet the word “hi” or “potato” for that reason. “Potato” is a mood.

What moods would you say most often inspire you to tweet?

I think feeling slighted or empty in some way often inspires me to tweet. Sometimes I will tweet directly after a bad interaction that I would like to make something good out of, and other times I literally just tweet “I’m Rekha” when I’m in a mood where I feel like taking up more space. Oh, and I tweet when I’m anxious about something/everything. A lot of times I’ll actually tweet from the POV of my anxiety, because it sort of helps me calm down if I personify it a bit.

Are there any other particular tweet formats you like using?

I love one-word tweets that just list objects or animals or the word “quack” - there’s something very cute and funny to me about that. I also love doing fake conversations between animals or conversations between myself and objects that are annoying me. Like I had one tweet I wrote after a backpack strap got caught in my office wheely chair, and I wanted to imagine that the backpack did it intentionally to be mischievous - so I wrote a little fake back-and-forth where I asked it not to get tangled, it said okay, and then after a beat it tangled itself in there anyway. I think I live in a Blue’s Clues-everything-talks-world on Twitter.

This is fun to me because it presupposes incorrect information and is generally a very funny image to me. I have no attachment to Spiderman so I think I can be creative about what I imagine him to look like. It’s my right.

What are your favorite subjects to tweet about? Are they the same or different from your favorite subjects to write/perform about outside of Twitter?

I like tweeting about animals, puns, anxiety, and daily minutiae. I usually write/perform those topics too. But sometimes the minutiae I write/Tweet about ends up being race/identity-related, and that I don’t perform as much. It just sometimes feels uncomfortable talking about that stuff in front of my [usually-white] comedian peers because I don’t think they’ll get it or be able to make me feel better – and that’s when I go to Twitter. Twitter is more of a blank space that I can talk into, in the hopes that what I’m saying resonates with someone else. And it usually does, which is nice!

Yes. This is funny to me because it is true and happens. I’m trying to be funny, obviously, but also want to comment on auditioning as a WOC: sometimes it feels like people call you in to check off some sort of box, but don’t call you back because they already cast the Dad, Mom, little brother, and dog, and they’re all Caucasian. (I framed it in dating terms because sometimes dating feels like that too.) I’ve been told I don’t “mix and match” well with some other people in a callback and that’s all code. So if I can, I like to be subversive or cheeky about this kind of thing because in reality it hurts my feelings when it happens, and has affected me and people like me for their whole lives, inside and outside audition rooms. And hopefully by putting a funny spin on it people like me can relate to it and go, “Yes, I too do not get called back because I don’t look like the ‘girl-next-door who’s hot but also approachable but not a model but also hot but also down to clown but also smart but also not a byetch.’”

If you could be sure that one person is looking at your tweets, who would you want that person to be?

Firstly, anyone that can hire me like in one of those “we didn’t know her but found her Twitter and said here’s a salary”-kind-of-stories. Other than that, maybe Rachel Bloom because I’m on a huge Crazy Ex-Girlfriend kick and love that show’s joke-writing like whoaaaa.

Jenny Nelson lives and writes in Brooklyn.

@RekhalShankar Wants to Be a Void