Rachel Kaly (@rachel_kaly) is a queer Middle Eastern Brooklyn-based comic, writer, and performer originally from Queens. She’s a writer for ClickHole and has a monthly show as Ellen DeGeneres at Union Hall.
This week, Rachel and I chatted about Lil Jon, NYC natives, and being annoying.
First of all, this tweet shows that I am an asshole, and also that unfortunately I am obsessed with being canceled. I use Twitter to read the news, which in some ways is very bad (but also good), and I’m really interested in what language/phrases get turned into memes. Like “slay bitch” is obviously something that comes from black women/queer people and now has sort of become a sound bite that is used to make fun of basic people who are co-opting culture without even necessarily knowing or caring … and how crazy is that? That two words can evoke images and understandings of different cultural groups and values? Maybe that’s too abstract and also violently vague for this write-up, but I feel like you have to talk about appropriation when you talk about Twitter. I also think my comedy can be singly described as “annoying,” and I think recycling and repurposing memes is precisely that.
Has social media helped your comedy in any way? Do you think that Twitter in particular has been a good platform for your humor?
I think social media has given me the gall to spend three hours making something at 2 a.m. and then posting it as soon as it’s done. The fact that Twitter is there 24/7 has been a motivating force for me for whatever psychotic reason. I also do sort of just get sentences that pop in my head throughout the day that couldn’t be anything more than a tweet because it’s so half-baked and dumb, so Twitter lets me expel those from my body.
Does being from New York shape the way you think about or interact with the New York comedy scene?
Absolutely. I think in some ways it’s given me a leg up on the type of stamina you need to be performing and working. I took four trains to school every day both ways, and I’m used to leaving my house at 7 a.m. to work and not getting back until like 11 p.m. after a show. I know how to live out of my backpack. Plus I think being from New York (and not being rich in New York) has instilled me with certain neuroses and paranoia that are objectively funny.
Everyone is queer (and yet not enough people are) so this is my hot take on being a “female” comedian who is also “queer” and “hates myself.” I also do firmly believe that I started fucking around with “…” before any of my peers … I am bae … I am legend … I am canceled.
Do the marginalized parts of your identity (queer, Middle Eastern) inform your comedy at all?
Definitely. I do think anyone who’s marginalized has had to work harder to get stage time and, more specifically, the type of stage time they deserve. And I think having to develop that hard work ethic is what makes me … sorry to be a bitch, but the word I’m going to say is prolific. I also think that in the alt-comedy scene, marginalized voices are being lifted up (thank God). And it’s not enough to just be like “I’m gay lol” — you have to actually say something interesting and unique. I think for me, Patti Harrison is the prime example of someone who talks about their identity in a way where it’s like, “Okay, yes, I’m this person, but also I’m just funny, and actually my humor is so special and specific because I don’t have a generic point of view.” Don’t quote me quoting her because actually she would say it smarter.
What made you decide to host a show as Ellen DeGeneres?
My best friend in college told me a story about how her childhood best friend’s mom was Ellen’s hairdresser, and Ellen had adopted this dog but Portia didn’t like it or something, so they gave it to this girl’s family. The adoption agency was like, “Lol, you actually can’t do that,” and Ellen flipped out. Then Matt Lauer (may God rest his soul) did a whole story on it, and Ellen cried on air about how she wasn’t the monster in this narrative. And then I started hearing from people in the industry that she’s not very nice. All my characters tend to be violent and terrible, and I thought it would be funny to pair that with America’s sweetheart. Obviously Ellen doesn’t deserve the vitriol I’m serving her — there are many more people who should be taken down on a monthly show. But it’s funnier that it’s someone pretty benign, and the news cycle has been catching onto her brand of toxicity, so it’s sort of just worked out for me. I pray she brings me on her show or sends me a cease and desist.
I make about one ten-second video every night at 3 a.m. by Googling famous men that I hate (Larry King, Ryan Seacrest, Mario Batali) and yelling over it in iMovie until I make myself laugh. I sort of find five things at a time funny and just make a bunch of different stuff about it for like six months. So right now I’m really into personal-injury attorneys, Mario Batali, and being gay. I like to make fun of people who suck and don’t want to change but are still happier than me.
What do you think will be the next five things you find funny and exclusively joke about for six months? Any predictions?
Off the top of my head with no critical thinking afforded it: the Momo challenge, Lil Jon, Elvis, YouTube vlogger Leeor, and the IDF. Happy to commit to this in writing.
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