A Conversation With Adrienne Truscott, a Performance Artist Doing a One-Woman Show About Rape
In my most feverish anxiety dreams, I’m at work facing a tribunal of scary bosses, not naked but totally bottomless, and somehow more-naked-than-naked as a result. For performance artist Adrienne Truscott, dreams like this are the stuff of inspiration. In her new solo show, “Adrienne Truscott’s Asking for It! A one-lady rape about comedy starring her pussy…and little else!” Truscott wears a cropped denim jacket, boots, a wig, and, well, not much else.
The setting’s not within everyone’s comfort zone, but Truscott’s audience is in good hands. She’s a seasoned performer with a history of naked feminist shenanigans (notably as half of the Wau Wau Sisters) and her nudity is anything but gratuitous: the show has a very real and very timely point. Combining stand-up comedy and performance art, Truscott confronts both the idea that rape jokes are never OK, and also the very people who tell them. Using her impressive wit, exposed body, and multiple cans of Coors Light, she highlights and challenges the way we talk about rape.
At various moments, Truscott’s bare torso serves as a screen for projected videos of male performers, her neatly groomed pubes forming a tidy goatee on their faces. At one point, rapper Rick Ross appears across her belly to deliver his now-notorious lyrical boast about drugging and raping a woman. Truscott’s exposed body serves as a tool for Ross’s humiliation, turning the joke into an act of public shaming.
Minutes later she literally slips on a banana peel (accompanied by a “whoopsies” sound effect), just in case you felt like a laugh. That’s the most surprising thing about this show; despite its daunting subject matter and unpredictable energy, it’s also incredibly warm and engaging.
The next day, I sat down with Adrienne for a long conversation about comedy, rape, and anger.
Can you tell me more about your process for developing this show?
I was working for Olivia Cruises, and hanging out with some of the other comics late at night, we would crack each other up. And on one night in particular, we were discussing how, while it was a super amazing environment, as a comedian it also felt sometimes overly sensitive environment. So when we’d get together at night over bourbon or whatever, we felt like all that would come out, in the privacy of each other. And I made a joke about rape, which was followed by another joke about rape—which is actually the one I start my show with [Ed. note: It starts with “a lady walks into a bar” and ends with a sore vagina]—and I never imagined I would hear that joke from this particular dyke who is quite proper in some ways, with politics in the best place. She just let that one rip, and I was like, “Good lord!” Then a couple of us made them, and I felt like we were making jokes from a very different place than we’d ever heard them be made. In that space I felt like there was this license to be autobiographical, or just women talking about how the culture out there is so twisted that at a certain point you have to make fun of the surreal nature of the logic about rape.
Years and years before, in college, in a literature course about race, class and gender, a male professor tried to get us going by bringing in all these statistics, like, “You think it was bad back then when you’re reading this 19th century women’s literature books, but is it any different now?” One of the statistics was, “two in five women are sexually assaulted.” And there were about 10 people in the room, most of whom were women. With like two guys and him. And as a way to shock us, he was like, “I mean, that means up to four women in this room right now have been raped. How does that make you feel?”
I got so angry, and all of a sudden everyone was looking at us like potential rape victims. Some of us were, statistically or not, and the fact that the focus was on us in that moment got me so annoyed. I was like, “I’ll tell you how I feel. There’s two guys, and you, so which one of you is a rapist? Cause if we’re talking about this room, one of you had to do it, cause you can’t rape yourself. How do you feel?” That was a turning point for me.
Just starting this year I’m starting to see more campaigns on college campuses that aren’t like, “how to be safe,” they’re like, “how not to rape.” I feel that changing, in the last year or so. And that just weirdly or brilliantly coincided with a bunch of lazy comics making lazy jokes about rape. And at the same time, I found people who said, “You can’t make jokes about rape!” And I was like, “That’s really reactionary. You can talk about anything as long as you speak about it intelligently.” Then these comics just sort of laid themselves out for analysis, making it this ridiculously timely show.
I’m really excited to hear you say that you hear that shifting, because one of my questions for you was, why do we keep putting the onus on women to fix this? A recent article by Emily Yoffe encouraged women to drink less, in order to avoid getting raped. There was all this great conversation around that.
It is super complicated. I saw some girls in Sydney, Australia. People drink differently there, [both] men and women. They binge like crazy, and they drink really fast and they get out of their heads. And then I do see young women walking around in a state where I’m like, “Jesus Christ, I hope she gets home OK.” And it’s not that I want her behavior to change, it’s just that I also do understand what can happen in the world. But that doesn’t fix it.
A few months ago, Los Angeles filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler released the short film Meet My Rapist onto the internet. It’s a dark comedy that begins with Jessie encountering her rapist at a farmer’s market, and then attempting to get through her day as he follows her—first to a job interview, then to meet up with a friend, for dinner with her parents, and finally for a therapy session. It’s uncomfortable to watch, even when you’re laughing. Jessie talked to The Hairpin about her movie and her 94-year-old grandma’s online shopping habits. MORE
I got in some blog back-and-forth thing with some guys about this victim-blaming stuff, and I was just like, “Dudes, the minute you bring that up you just reveal so much about your lack of understanding.” Like, armies rape villages. It’s a military tactic. And women in India, or Muslim women, who don’t drink and don’t drive, who are dressed from head to toe in black—why are they getting raped?
The other thing that cracks me up about that is, there’s just so much energy put into that argument. Can you name me one other instance at your workplace, or in history, that a man hasn’t been given full credit for his actions? You know what I mean? How often does a man do something and they’re like…hmm…I think she’s responsible. So this is not the one instance when we’re gonna be like, “Thanks you guys! We should take credit for that!”
That is so good. Thank you. Like, in a deep way. Seriously.
Shifting gears a bit, I want to talk a bit about the larger context for your work. There are some other amazing female comedic performers out there whose work I think is in the same vein as yours, like Tara Jepsen and Beth Lisick, Jibz Cameron and Erin Markey. I see a common thread which is like, a bit of danger, some aggression, maybe some erratic behavior, that I think is really thrilling. I’m wondering if you agree that there are commonalities there, and if there are other things that sort of link you all?
I think that’s really true, and it’s something I’ve been noticing. It’s women who have been doing feminist performance art that’s kind of wild and funny and twisted, just leaving their costumes behind and going to comedy open mic nights. I’ve been talking to other women recently who are like, “I just started doing stand up comedy!” In like this sneaky voice.
Why is that, do you think?
We all come from this art performance world, and stand up comedy is not exactly revered as a brilliant art form from that vantage point. But then you think about how many comedians have had such a potent effect on culture by naming things and saying things about race or gender… If you think, “I’m a lady in a room with a microphone saying whatever I want,” that’s a dream come true! And you don’t have to be at a pro-choice rally! With all of those women you mentioned, the main thing is they want to make people laugh.
I like that it totally upends the humorless lesbian feminist trope. In the ‘90s I was like, “I shall not identify as a lesbian!” And a big part of that was wanting nothing to do with these stereotypes of people who have no sense of humor, who never have fun and never have sex. That’s part of why this is so exciting to me.
Yeah, same for me! And it does feel like a turn, and it feels tidal and it feels massive to me.
So this is your first one-woman show—what’s that like?
I’ve never really had any interest in solo stuff; I just never imagined I would do it. I’m sure it has to do with the subject matter, and also secretly wanting always to try stand-up. But it was kind of ridiculous and funny that I was like, “Why don’t I try my first solo show ever, and stand up comedy for the first time ever, and instead of doing a 10-minute set I’ll do an hour, and I’ll do it about rape! What could go wrong?” I’m someone who has taken on more difficult things in life by cracking a joke, which is great and not great.
So doing this feels like a natural way to talk about a difficult subject. Most people would say, if you want to talk about rape, comedy’s probably not the way to do that. But for you it makes sense.
It does make sense. And I think it’s also because I adore comedy. I do feel like comedy can be really paradigm-shifting political, amazing work. Like Richard Pryor—massive!
I am amazed by what you do on stage. Any one of those elements—talking about rape in public, being naked in public—would make me pee my pants. Is there any part of this show that scares you? Or a part of performance in general that scares you?
Not lately! When I was in my twenties I knew deep down I was way too uptight and terrified to be a good performer. And I knew that if I became a better performer my life would be better. Somehow I knew if I just keep going into this, which is terrifying, everything will be more interesting.
I love the presentation of the naked body as something other than erotic, or comforting or available.
Yeah, and it’s so funny. Being naked just from the waist down is a completely different way of looking at a lady’s body. It could be that some of those people [in the audience] are comfortable in a burlesque bar or a strip show, but this is presented just slightly differently.
I read a review of your performance in the fringe festival in the Independent, and then of course I had to look at the comments section, which is a bizarre place! One guy said, “Ridiculous. Why does this girl have to display her fanny to get attention? Great stand-up comedians like Dave Allen never showed his genitalia, did he?” I’m wondering what you would say to this guy.
Sometimes the statement itself is so revealing! I don’t have to do it to get attention, but I’m smart enough to know that it will get me attention. I very clearly exploited my sexuality for marketing purposes. I knew what I was doing with the photograph I put out there. I hoped that I was attracting a group of four guys out for a night, who are like, “There’s a lady with her pants off for free at 10 o’clock. What’s to lose?” Those are the people I want at my show.
And you’re like, fuck off, I’m a grown up. I didn’t have to do it, I chose to do it because I’m an artist and I have a long history of knowing how to use my body. And you wanna go, “If you sat in my audience, and I cracked jokes and interacted with you with my pussy out, you’d probably feel pretty uncomfortable, so who’s really getting the attention? Maybe I’ve actually put all the attention on you, sitting at a show watching a naked pussy.” Because I have all the power, I’m on stage, I have the microphone.
Ultimately it’s a lazy and insignificant remark from a person who’s not really participating in the conversation on a level that matters.
Well, thank you with engaging with him vicariously for the purposes of this conversation.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a debate with that guy, with or without my pants on! But ultimately I don’t wanna go down that road. I spend most of my days with funny people laughing and trying to make them laugh, and I love that! I’m a pretty lighthearted gal. I also know comedy and anger are always connected.
[Sometimes] I’m asked, “Why did you make a show about rape? What was it about the rape jokes out there that bothered you?” Of course I have strong feelings about all that stuff. So I can get pretty amped up, and I don’t wanna run the risk of, “Oh, see, we knew she’s an angry feminist!” But a comic like Bill Hicks or Doug Stanhope, they’re totally angry comedians! They’re tearing into the world, and they’re fucking brilliant and they’re allowed to be. No one’s like, “He’s no fun, I don’t wanna have a beer with him! What an angry grumpy misogynist!”
Yeah I think it should come as no surprise that Ellen DeGeneres was the first lesbian on television. She’s so gentle! A ray of sunshine! I think she’s never been angry once in her entire life.
Yeah, it’s a luxury we don’t have.
Top photograph by Allison Michael Orenstein, Art Direction by Signe Mae Olson.
Kira Garcia enjoys puns, feminism, textiles, and history. She lives in beautiful Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn with her girlfriend and two handsome cats.