An Interview with the “Culturally Gay,” All Around Hilarious, Amy Dresner
Originally published at cherrygrrl.com, April 23, 2011 – Read the full text here
Amy Dresner is a Los Angeles native, who certainly possesses the wit (and gene pool) of a standout comic. The offspring of a comedy-writing father and fashion-designing mother, she never lacked material growing up. But Amy always fantasized about being a comic, despite not immediately pursuing it. Now, she is gaining traction within and outside of California, and she is doing it by baring it ALL. Dealing with tough subject matter and laughing at herself every step of the way, nothing is off-limits for Dresner. She invited CherryGRRL to listen to her risqué and extremely funny exploration of addiction, recovery, sexuality and self.
CherryGRRL (CG): Thanks for chatting with us, Amy. First, we’d like to plug your appearance at “Comedy Night at Azul Starring L.A.’s Hottest Comics” in Palm Springs on Saturday, November 13 – because its producers, Michael Blackwell and Randal Black, are really nice people. What are you looking forward to about that show?
Amy Dresner (AD): What’s not to love? I get to do a nice and chunky 25 minutes. I love Daniel Leary (who is also on the bill). Gay men really enjoy my comedy, and Randal and Michael treat their talent like royalty!
CG: How does the audience differ when you travel from a city like Los Angeles, to a desert town like Palm Springs?
AD: In Palm Springs, half of the audience won’t be comics. And they’re more tanned.
CG: What was it like when you first made an audience, or a friend laugh at a joke? What impact did it have on you?
AD: I’ve been making my friends and family laugh for ages. It was always an easy way to get validation. But once I got on stage and made an audience laugh, it was a high. Not the greatest high I’ve ever had like some people say because, let’s be honest, I’ve done A LOT of drugs. I just felt like I’d finally found something that I was naturally good at, that I’d “come home” as lame as that sounds. I remember thinking, “Oh yeah, I should have been doing this all along.”
CG: Your father was a comedy writer. Was he a funny guy, and how much did his occupation influence you?
AD: My father is still–to this day, the funniest and wittiest man I know. When you grow up with somebody who has such an amazing sense of humor, and you see that it makes them a living, as well as making them extremely attractive to other people, you tend to want to develop it as well. On a fundamental level, comedic timing and the rhythm of words is KEY to humor and I absolutely learned that from a very young age. I grew up with it. It was impossible not to acquire it.
CG: You’re not a lesbian, but you have a really strong following from the LGBTQ community. When did it occur to you that you were garnering attention from both the straight and gay community?
AD: I live in West Hollywood, so when I first started doing comedy, I’d get up at the local gay clubs and bars that had comedy nights, as well as the big clubs. I got a great response, so it started to snowball. I did a lesbian ski weekend in Mammoth called “Powder,” “Gays R’ Us” at the Improv, The Closet, the only gay bar in Yuma, AZ, “One Gay at A Time,” a LGBTQ-sponsored sobriety event, etc. I recently discovered that I dress like a “soft butch,” and I have the mouth and sex drive of a gay man, so the LGBTQ audiences like me. I also bend conventional gender roles and make fun of myself a lot. I’ve been told that I’m “culturally gay.”
CG: As a Californian and a comedian, what are your opinions on Prop 8 and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
AD: I think you should be able to marry whomever you want. Love is where you find it. It’s a huge commitment and hats off to anybody who wants to take on that challenge. I was 38 when I finally got married for the first time. I was thrilled somebody wanted to be with my annoying ass ’til death. Until then the longest relationship I’d had was with my cat. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is stupid and discriminatory. Let me just say that one of my lesbian friends broke my husband’s wrist sparring, so I’d rather have the gay girls defending my country. They’re hardcore!
CG: Has being married provided you with additional material?
AD: Oh, hell yeah. My husband is very funny in his own right and our dynamic is really unique, so yes. Everything goes into my act. We were in couples’ therapy briefly, and that went in. Our arguments about sex, his weight, cleaning the apartment, my snoring… They all end up in my comedy. Occasionally, we’ll be arguing and he’ll say something and I’ll run out of the room to write it down because I think it’s such a gem.
CG: You have openly discussed your problems with addiction. How did incorporating it into your routine affect you? How do people in your audience generally react?
AD: I’ve had some really heavy experiences, and if I can transform them into something that makes people laugh, how cool is that? I talk very openly about rehab, IV drug use, psych hospitals, and suicide attempts. It is my attempt to 1. make ME less ashamed of what I’ve been through and 2. de-stigmatize it, in general.
Sometimes people get uncomfortable, but I just barrel through. I refuse to back away from the material. The challenge is to find a way to make it funnier without belittling it. I know some joke will make people feel uneasy and I dare myself to do it. Barry Katz, a big manager, once told a comic friend of mine, “Take what makes you hurt and make it funny,” and that’s what I’m trying to do.
CG: How important was humor in your recovery?
AD: It was the most important thing. It allowed me to stop feeling sorry for myself. When you make people laugh, you feel connected to them and I needed that. I had become very isolated in my addiction. It also gave me an identity; a cause. I was a comic, not just a drug addict… Suddenly everything became bearable because it could all become material.
CG: What is funny to you, and does what is funny ever change?
AD: I find so many things funny, especially things that aren’t supposed to be funny. That’s a big problem I have: my lack of sacredness. I’ve recently started group therapy, and I think it’s hysterical, much to the dismay of my therapist. I think it’s amusing when people take themselves too seriously. I love when people fall down or have something on their face and don’t know it. I find the whole pretense of ‘polite society’ completely ridiculous. I love irreverence, but I don’t like mean or degrading humor.
I think what is funny is constantly evolving. What was funny to me last year is not that funny to me now. I get bored with my own material quite quickly, so it has to be current and relative to whatever struggles I’m having and lessons I’m learning.
CG: How important do you take your job, as an entertainer?
AD: I take it very seriously. I don’t have children, nor do I want them, so my career and my marriage are top priority. Making people laugh gives me immense joy, but I’m also on a mission to get addiction and mental illness out of the closet. I want people to laugh but I also want them to leave saying, “Hmmmm, I never thought of it that way before.” You have to find that intersection between what you want to talk about and what the audience wants to hear about. My job has given me purpose, motivation and kept me busy. I don’t think I would have ever stayed sober without it.
CG: What comedians do you enjoy watching?
AD: Bill Burr, Louis C.K., Dom Irrera, John Caparulo, Mark Maron, Eddie Pepitone, Jim Gaffigan, Katt Williams, Gina Yashere, and Sandra Valls.
CG: Do you think that the news media can use more comedians (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers, etc.)?
AD: Absolutely. I think any time you lose your sense of humor, you shut down any real dialogue and just create more anger, judgment and resentment. People will always disagree but humor can keep things from getting too heavy, too personal, too divisive. On that note, I think they’re should be more comedic pastors and priests!