Often when we think of “dark” or “edgy” comedy, it is a person (man) telling a joke about an issue that has nothing to do with them: “These people are in the news; let’s throw a rock at them, from a distance, playfully.” That’s them. Or it’s like a dead-baby joke about a baby that never existed, with the joke-teller being as invested in its fake life as a teenager lugging a sack of flour around. For Rosebud Baker, the best dark jokes come from a personal place, when you actually have skin in the game. On Whiskey Fists, Baker’s debut hour-long special that premiered on the Comedy Central YouTube channel this week, she talks about topics like her sister’s tragic death and domestic abuse in ways that are both boundary-pushing and honest.
On Vulture’s Good One podcast, Baker discusses Whiskey Fists, taking in audience feedback, and personal stand-up material. You can read an excerpt from the transcript or listen to the full episode below. Tune in to Good One every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.
On the Intro of Her Special
What makes comedy shows special to me are those moments when something goes wrong. That’s partly because of how I came up doing comedy. I was not doing comedy in Brooklyn. I wasn’t really being supported. I was doing comedy by myself in a club. I wouldn’t call it a club — I don’t know what it is, but it’s LOL comedy club and it’s in Midtown, and they have these barkers that tell tourists Tina Fey is going onstage. So, they go and pay eight dollars for tap water, and then I come out and they’re expecting Chris Rock. They’re upset; they’re not happy. And I did four to five shows every night in that club. I remember having five minutes of material and being left onstage for 20 minutes because the audience wouldn’t stop fighting about their checks because they were being ripped off. I would leave that club, go home, and read the Yelp reviews of it to make myself feel better about how badly I’d done.
This is something that I’ve worked so hard for. I’ve sacrificed. I’ve missed family graduations because I was on the road. And then I shoot my special and it’s the most important night I’ve had in these last nine years now, and it doesn’t go perfectly — a night where any imperfection, any negative reaction is devastating. And I was like, That’s hilarious too. Any time I’ve ever taken myself seriously, in any capacity, but especially comedy, it’s going to go wrong.
So, we were sitting in the green room, and I didn’t have an idea for the intro, and I thought, Well, why don’t we just get some footage of people standing in line outside and ask them about how excited they are? And they were all like, “I don’t actually know her.” I was like, “Put all of that in.” It reminded me of old specials with Dave Attell where people would be standing in line being like, “I can’t wait to see Dave.” This was just not that, so I wanted to get that. I wanted to humble myself.
On Taking in Feedback About Sensitive Material
I’m currently working on jokes that surround the topic of miscarriage. It’s something that I went through last year; I had recurring miscarriages. I had one three weeks before the special, to be honest. I decided I wanted to wait, because I knew I would write about it later. But you can hear the beginning of a joke in my special that goes into pregnancy, and then I had to rework it.
But before that, I was telling these jokes and they were going great, and I got a DM from someone who was really upset with me, who was like, “You’ve ruined my birthday.” I ruined her birthday. First of all, there’s a lot of jokes right there, but I was like, Let me take in what this woman is saying. The truth is, I thought to myself, I understand why she’s so upset. I really do. But I didn’t have the same reaction to my miscarriage as she is having to hers. And at the end of the day, I would have to pretend that I did in order to make her feel better. And I won’t cross that line, because that’s just inauthentic. There are times where you owe an apology, and I don’t see why you wouldn’t just apologize. But then there are times where apologizing is really just pretending to be someone you’re not. So, I was like, Well, let me see if I can [write the joke in a way that might work for this person]. Let me do this in a way where it’s not dismissive.
The other thing is, when I was starting to tell the joke, it was still fresh, and the urge to immediately do a joke about it was really my urge to get past the sad: Let’s move past that. Let’s get to the joke. The truth is if you’re doing that onstage, you haven’t done enough work offstage. You can’t be going to the audience to fix this stuff; that’s psychotic. So I had to think about how this made me feel, how I feel doing these jokes, and if I am ready to do them or if I should revisit them later. So, I stepped away from it for a bit just to see what else comes up, because something else will come up. I’m just going to get a little space from it for now and then get back to it when I’m ready.
On Keeping Dark Material Personal
I don’t see the point in doing a joke about something that is … Well, no, that’s not true. I do see the point just to laugh. But it’s not for me. First of all, where I learned public speaking was in AA rooms. I was sober for years before I started comedy, and the things that people laugh at in a 12-step meeting are very different than the things that people laugh at in a comedy club. I saw people trying to joke about things that weren’t their experience, and people would go after them for it.
How do you defend yourself when you really have no experience with it? So I thought, Well, I’m comfortable talking about this stuff for the most part. If I’m not, I’m not going to say it. If I’m comfortable talking about it, then I can joke about it. I want people to walk away being like, Oh, not only was that funny, but I feel better. Things are bad, but they’re not so bad.
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