Michelle Davis (@michellenbd) is a Brooklyn-based comedian, writer, and actor. She co-hosts Pass the Aux, a monthly variety show at Union Hall that deep-dives into a new diva every month.
This week, Michelle and I talked about Tiffany Pollard, her “summer of yes,” and learning about slavery at a liberal-arts college.
What made you decide to pursue comedy?
I wish I could say that I’ve always wanted to be a comedian and that I knew comedy was for me when I saw Monty Python the first time, like all great comedians write in their memoirs. But that would be a lie — I hate Monty Python. Sorry, comedy to me is Tiffany Pollard learning what “break a leg” means. I always wanted to be an actor, and that’s why I went to acting school. I realized that I was funny when I was assigned dramatic scenes in acting classes, and I routinely got laughs. I started judging the success of the scene on whether or not people laughed versus whether or not they were “moved.” I will never forget, while in an acting program in Amsterdam, we were told to tell a monumental life story that molded us into the people we were, and while most of my peers chose life-altering, gut-wrenching stories, I talked about the time I met a boy dancing to “Back That Azz Up,” who ultimately ghosted me. (To be fair, that was life-altering!) This was basically my first time doing stand-up. Fast forward to the end of college: I was depressed because I didn’t get into any grad schools for acting and started reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Then I started lurking at open mics until one day someone made me perform.
I am very bad at small talk, especially on dates. This is a very real thing that I said on a first date. In my defense, it is (1) true, and (2) the only fact I know about Portugal. My date responded with a “Hmmm! Didn’t know that!” So, while I am not “fun” on first dates, I am very informative and can remember random pieces of knowledge I learned about slavery in year one of liberal-arts college. And for some, that means something! (Not him; he did not text me back.)
This tweet was written during my “summer of yes” (a.k.a. my summer of spending money like I had my mom’s credit card like all of my white friends). This summer, I said yes to a trip to Europe, Cancun, New Orleans; I went to wine excursions, group dinners, the lot! This summer I also said things like “I sent you a Venmo request, but babe? Pay me whenever!” I am very nonchalant with Venmo requests, because I want people to think that I’m dripping in wealth even though I’m very deep in debt! I think this is the result of NYU culture! Anyways, this tweet was the result of my very erratic spending behavior this summer. I also am realizing that I wrote this tweet the day after a payday — dark!
Coming from an NYU comedy environment, you must have peers on the scene who don’t need to hold down a day job to pursue their careers. How does that make you feel? Do you think that the comedy industry is doing enough to elevate the voices and perspectives of comics who don’t come from money?
Yes, the experience of going to NYU is having a friend that you met in a writing seminar who requests you $4.57 for an UberPool, and then learning two weeks later that their father owns actual NBC. I went to the acting school at NYU and naturally have plenty of peers who don’t have day jobs or who have day jobs that are really just hobbies — something to get them out of the house on a Tuesday! I’ve become very used to that. I used to be annoyed by it (will never forget when someone from my class said, “It’s not my fault I don’t have loans — sorry my parents actually saved for college”), but I learned a long time ago that my life is inherently different from 85 percent of the people I went to school with: I’m black, my family’s not rich, my mom’s dead — the holy trinity! It sucks sometimes, but the play someone will write about my life will slap for sure.
I do think that comedy is good at elevating different voices because I’ve found that comedy is pretty black and white — you’re either funny or you’re not. Sure, those with more access can get into the doors, but once they’re in, talent rules, not wealth. An audience doesn’t care that your mom owns the Staples Center and that you can call her in the middle of Introduction to Theater Production to get Beyoncé tickets instead of paying $50 to join the Beyhive and waiting four hours for a pre-sale access code that does not work (yeah, I’m bitter).
Tell us about your monthly show, Pass the Aux.
Pass the Aux is a monthly “deep dive into a div-a” that I host with my BFF and Mercer Kitchen life partner, Danny Murphy. We choose a prominent diva every month (we’ve had Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, Mariah Carey, etc.) and find their biggest stans in the comedy community to do an entire set dedicated to their love of the diva. We also have drag performers who sweat out edges with performances dedicated to the diva of the month. I love hosting this show first and foremost because it’s so much freaking fun. Danny and I sought to create a show that was different, special, and ENTERTAINING, and I can say with pride that we’ve done that with Pass the Aux. For our Beyoncé show, I learned the entire choreography to “Diva” from the Homecoming special, and let me tell you: There’s truly nothing quite like making friends, family, and strangers alike watch you pretend to be Beyoncé. And not to brag, but I’d give myself an eight out of ten. (Don’t ask the audience.)
Burgers and fries is my favorite meal (Okay, she’s a guy’s gal) and I think it’s heresy when establishments make you pay for the two separately. It’s like ordering a soda and having to pay extra for ice — it is just simply not right. I would honestly rather pay for a burger that is $21 that comes with fries, than pay for a burger that’s $12 and add a side of fries for $9. I think the reason that I have such a guttural reaction to “adding fries separately” is that it suggests that fries are optional — that me wanting fries with my burger is a unique request! And you know what? It’s fat shaming! Yup, I just decided that now! You’re basically saying, “Babe, a burger is enough. Oh, you want fries too? Well, you’ll have to pay extra for that. Also, I’m scared for your health, fatty.” No, fries come with a burger. It’s basic math. I could write a dissertation on this. Cool, now I’m mad.
What if your burger came with tater tots. Would that appease you?
Absolutely not — tater tots are for breakfast. I feel strongly about that. I will always resent Napoleon Dynamite for making people think tater tots are an acceptable non-breakfast food. Moreover, I hate the trend of bringing another potato product into the burger-accompaniment mix. Just a couple of days ago at the airport (Okay, she travels!) I got a burger that came with homemade potato chips, which was annoying because it’s like, You obviously have access to potatoes. You’re just choosing to go out of your way to not give me french fries. I’m not going to Bermuda Bar and Grill in LaGuardia Airport to see your creative spin on an American classic. Why are we trying to fix something that hasn’t been broken since the beginning of time? Burgers come with french fries. I will be taking no further questions.
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