Ashley Glicken (@Exce11entFancy) is a writer and comedian originally from Illinois, but now based in New York City. She is a contributor at ClickHole and Reductress and a writer on the Magnet Theater veteran sketch team the Executives.
This week, Ashley and I talked coping mechanisms, giving books funerals, and her full-of-shit friends.
What motivated you to you pursue comedy?
I don’t know if I was ever motivated to pursue it. I just love making people laugh. It may have started out as a coping mechanism during a difficult childhood, but it’s the one that has brought me the most lasting and profound joy. To be honest, I’ve actively tried to not pursue it at many points in my life, because it felt so unattainable and absurd. When you’re disabled, people love to tell you what you can’t do, and for a long time I thought my problem was that I wanted silly things I couldn’t have. But then I got older and realized it didn’t matter what I did — I was never going to fit in and I was always going to be treated like an outsider; I would always be a “problem.” Sounds bleak, I know, but when I came to this understanding it actually freed me and allowed me to pursue whatever I wanted.
I finished reading a particularly stirring book one day and it didn’t feel like I was doing enough by just closing it and returning it to the library. I get that way about a lot of really good books. I think lots of people do. If I may risk being a bit sappy, every once in a while, finishing a book feels like saying good-bye to someone very important to you. I liked the idea of giving a book an ostentatious funeral. This isn’t a laugh-out-loud tweet, but it’s another one of those jokes that relies on an audience doing most of the work by creating a ridiculous mental picture. And wouldn’t it be ridiculous and delightful to do this with every book you read!?
Has social media changed the way you write jokes or the kind of jokes you write?
Oh sure, how can it not? But social-media comedy is very deceptive. You don’t even know if people have really seen your stupid posts because the platform might be lying about it (thank you, Facebook!), or maybe people just aren’t paying attention because it’s the internet and who cares? What I love about live performance is how immediate the reaction is. You know how many people are in the audience (and for the shows I do, it’s usually about four people) and you know what hits because … they laugh. But it’s hard to know online. It’s all very mysterious. But I’m also very mysterious, so I love it.
And yeah, I get stressed out and depressed sometimes when things don’t hit, but probably a lot less than most people. I believe, with all my heart, that the internet is as ridiculous as it is miraculous and as horrifying as it is sublime. And when something is that chaotic you have to resist the urge to stake too much of your identity in it. There will always be more than one way to skin a cat, and if social-media comedy isn’t my bag, I can find a different outlet. I know there’s still so much to create and discover. The same holds true for everyone else.
Is there anything you wish you could change about the comedy scene in New York? Is there anything you hope never changes?
Gosh, I would love for more comedy venues to be wheelchair accessible. That’s a given with me. But I want to see more diversity in comedy in so many ways. I want to see different kinds of disabled people perform. I want to see more blind and deaf performers. I want to see more disabled POC comedians. I want all these wacky intersections to get a chance. As far as change goes, I try to accept it as much as possible. Most of our misery comes from an inability to change. But I guess the one thing I hope never changes is that the people doing this work (comedy stuff) continue to build alternative spaces and communities that support creators and value friendship. I’m a real sucker for friendship.
I’m in a wheelchair and people say a lot of silly things to me, but I like this especially because I hear it from my closest friends and family: people who know me and love me truly! But even they don’t realize that the sinister insinuation in this statement is that the wheelchair is a bad thing that needs to be overlooked. But also, my friends are clearly so full of shit! Of course they see the wheelchair! So I thought about flipping the script and illustrating the absurdity of what it would be like to see my friends without legs. I really like jokes that encourage an audience to paint a vivid mental picture and sort of visualize the punch line instead of deduce it. When I’m doing my best writing, I think I’m doing that.
Does your wheelchair use influence your comedy at all?
Oh boy, does it! I will go through these phases (they last approximately three days, lol) where I try to avoid making so many jokes about disability. I worry I’m going to alienate people or box myself when all I ever want, as a creative person, is to be free of limitations. But gosh darn it, I can’t help it! Too much silly stuff happens to me. And when you’re in a wheelchair you can’t access as many spaces, so any opportunity I have to be heard I turn into a wee bit of a soapbox. It also influences my comedy in negative ways. I’m very nervous and shy (people who know me will disagree with this, but they have no idea). I’m hyperaware of the eyes of others.
What’s one thing you wish able-bodied people would stop saying to you or assuming about you, once and for all? Is it when they ask you this question?
Lol, nah. I like when people ask me questions because it gives me a chance to positively shape their narratives and perceptions surrounding disabled people. But I’m speaking for myself and not the disabled community at large — everyone has their own trauma in this department. Obviously I don’t want it to be the first thing people talk to me about, but I don’t mind talking about it unless the person is being willfully ignorant, cruel, or condescending.
The thing that really bums me out, actually, is that people are so afraid of me. It’s pretty sad because all I want to do is protect people and show them warmth and kindness. I have a bit of a reputation for being cold and cynical, which is endlessly funny to me because I think I perform it in a way where people should know it’s clearly a façade that covers a person who feels so much all the time that it crushes her. It’s like a character I’ve been playing my whole life, and I forget that people don’t know it’s a character. Oh, and people assume that I’m not funny. Or smart. And I’m not, but it has nothing to do with my disability.
I love sentences that sort of go on and on, like the writer is a kid describing something they’re very excited about. You can do that with anything, and it’s pretty funny and sweet. I also love taking self-serious things down a peg, and a movie like There Will Be Blood is a good target. I thought about giving it a dumb title and Fun With Oil made me laugh. It’s altogether a pretty stupid tweet, but it makes me giggle.
Any other movies you wish you could replace the lead in?
HA! Yeah, honestly so many. I have a running gag on my Twitter where I hypothetically ask the American public if they’re ready to see me portray random characters in film that range from your typical stock characters (pervert in a horror movie) to highly specific and bizarre creations that no one has ever been (the Joker’s own personal Alfred-like butler, who I’ve named Candace). It’s fun as hell because, for the most part, any character I say I want to play would be a break from the norm since there are so few disabled performers getting roles in Hollywood. But anyhoo, all of that is just a huge buildup to saying that I want to portray Santa so badly. I want to be the lead in a Christmas movie where I play Santa so much I can taste it. Just make me Santa, goddammit. The world is ready!
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