Rosa Escandón May or May Not Be a Psychic

Rosa Escandón. Photo: Lindsey Morgan

Rosa Escandón (@humancomedian) is a stand-up comic and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She performs with her sketch group Infinite Sketch and hosts a podcast called Psychic Friendz. She has also appeared on BuzzFeed Video and Seriously.TV, and is putting on a live show called Cher and Carol: Together at Last at the Tank in April.

This week, Escandón and I talked turtle diets, unfortunate anniversary dates, and being the love child between Sylvia Plath and David Foster Wallace.

What motivated you to pursue comedy?
I first started doing comedy in college. I didn’t do stand-up, but I was the comedy editor for the school magazine and was the head writer of a sketch-comedy troupe, Bloomers. Embarrassingly, I actually tried out for the stand-up team — yes, there was a stand-up team — and I was rejected. I auditioned with a friend and we did this joke about a lesbian ghost who liked “booooo-bs.” In their rejection email they said, “We especially liked the joke about the ‘lesbian goat.’” Truly some people just don’t get good comedy. Maybe this means I won in the end.

I am not sure why I started doing comedy in college, but I know why I started doing it in New York after: I missed it. I moved to New York for a job that I promptly quit after six months, and it was so boring. I missed writing. I missed being funny. I started to do stand-up because I didn’t have a sketch group to act out my jokes or a paper to write for, and it seemed the easiest thing to get into (now I know that was a lie). I told myself I would do it for six months until I found a way to not have to be onstage. I never thought I was a good onstage personality; I was a writer. Now I have papers and a sketch group (that I perform with). And I still do stand-up. I guess I fell in love with being onstage too.

A lot of my tweets are just things that I see around: bathrooms, packages from my mom, turtles. It feels weird saying this as someone who writes jokes, but a lot of the things that make me laugh the hardest are just simple moments that you catch out of the corner of your eye living in a place like NYC. I actually saw these turtles on my anniversary after taking a rowboat out on Central Park. It should be said that my boyfriend and my anniversary is 9/11, which makes our anniversary a pretty somber day around the city, so an old woman feeding turtles hot dogs was almost more ridiculous.

Has social media changed the way you write jokes? Do you think it has changed the comedy scene in general?
For me, it hasn’t really changed much about how I write. I kind of have online jokes and onstage jokes. There is some overlap, but I keep them pretty separate. Every once in a while I will shorten a joke from onstage to Twitter, but not often. However, I do think social media has gotten me to write more. I mean, if I write one stand-up joke I like a week, I feel okay, but social media pushes you to release something daily if not multiple times a day. I think I also put less pressure on them being good just because there are so many.

There was this great comedian who died earlier this week named Steve Whalen. He would often say (both onstage and off), “What have you written today?” He was always right. As a comedian, you have to write every day. I think social media helps me do that. I think in general, social media has made it easier to get into comedy. There are so many ways to put out comedy now. Thirty years ago, you had to get onstage at a club in New York; now you can get big on TikTok or YouTube or Twitter.

I spent the last year writing profiles about women and nonbinary people in comedy for Forbes’ “Under 30” section, and while I did cover a lot of traditional stand-ups and sketch comedians, I was always fascinated to hear from what I have been calling “comedy influencers” — these people who have gotten really big on social media through comedy. I think traditional stand-ups can actually learn a lot from them. On the other hand, I have been on shows with people who are internet famous for their comedy and have seen some of them do really poorly live. It’s really different being onstage.

This is actually a joke I did onstage, but it started as a tweet, which is really rare for me. I’m not a one-liner type of comic, so a lot of the jokes I do onstage are far too long for Twitter. Plus, a lot of my tweets are topical, and my stand-up truly is not.

This is admittedly an annoying question: What do you think the future looks like for women in the entertainment industry?
People ask me this a lot, and I like generally being hopeful. I think right now more and more voices are being allowed into the room. It’s still not a lot, but it’s more. In some ways, it’s hard for me to talk about women as a whole in an industry because it feels unfair. We talk about women like we are this one mass without really separating what’s happening for white women, what’s happening for brown women, for black women, for queer women, for trans women, women who don’t come from money (this is a bigger one than you would think when it comes to comedy). Because it is different. As someone who has written a good amount about women in comedy, when you start to look at who inside “women” is getting the most jobs, the most credits, the most opportunities, it still feels very homogenous. I hope that is what we work on changing next.

Last year, I was the only nonblack board member of the Black Women in Comedy Festival in New York. A couple of comics asked me about it. They were pretty confused about why I would be working on a festival that by design I would get no stage time from or press from. For me, it was about support, about helping to make something dope. I wasn’t thinking about me. I think as comics, we think about “me” a lot. I think a lot of people talk about more women getting into comedy and being more included through the lens of how it affects them, which I think is all wrong even if you are a woman. I think change to an industry is bigger than all of us, and we have to stand up and make sure it’s going the right way for as many of us as possible. That is how the industry is going to change.

While I am happy to see conversations about women in entertainment, I always feel a little sad that we still have to talk so much about gender as a binary. It’s still men versus women. I use she/her pronouns, but I think the next big conversation is going to be about nonbinary people in comedy, and I wish we had had that conversation earlier. I think while we are fighting for women, we need to be fighting for nonbinary people at the same time. Feminism, to me, is not about women first; it’s about equality. I think we need to extend that to anyone who isn’t allowed at that table: men of color, non-cis people, people with disabilities. While we fight for us, we also have to fight for them, or we aren’t actually helping this industry grow — we are just helping ourselves.

Tell us about your podcast Psychic Friendz.
It’s a fun little podcast. I co-host with my good friend Dash Kwiatkowski. The idea for the podcast came about when they found out about these Facebook groups where people ask for free psychic advice. Some of these groups have thousands of people who just want internet psychics to give them advice and help. Truly it’s everything from “My house is haunted” to “I lost my keys — can someone divine where they are?” to “Can you talk to my dead pet?” These groups are wild. So every week we try to give psychic advice to people in these groups. We might not be psychics, but we suspect a lot of these free Facebook users are also not. It’s honestly the most fun I have had with a project in a while. It’s great to be able to collaborate with a longtime friend as well. I told myself that I wasn’t going to become one of those people who talks about their podcast incessantly, but here we are.

As a white woman, I love true crime and crime TV, etc. I understand that my true-crime love is one of the most basic things about me, and I have made my peace with that. If you can’t make fun of yourself, who can you make fun of? (Well, actually, white women is always an acceptable answer, too.)

There really aren’t any other options for white women? Seems like y’all got choices.
Oh, for business and love and power? Sure. But things to talk about at parties? I am sorry, there are only two options.

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Rosa Escandón May or May Not Be a Psychic