Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Sarah Haskins: So Quick to Get it And So Quick to Generate It

Written by Susannah Wexler

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Sarah Haskins is one of those comics whom I can’t stop watching. I don’t even watch TV, but sometimes I come home from work and search for her on YouTube. Other times, I eat lunch at my desk and follow a Feministing link to one of her clips (even if it is a clip I’ve seen a million times, I know that on the millionth and first viewing, I will still laugh). Whether she is talking about birth control being marketed as period control or noting that the WE network’s wedding shows “put the ‘we’ in wedding and the ‘end’ in feminism,”...                                     
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Sarah Haskins is one of those comics whom I can’t stop watching. I don’t even watch TV, but  sometimes I come home from work and search for her on YouTube. Other times, I eat lunch at my desk and follow a Feministing link to one of her clips (even if it is a clip I’ve seen a million times, I know that on the millionth and first viewing, I will still laugh). Whether she is talking about birth control being marketed as period control or noting that the WE network’s wedding shows “put the ‘we’ in wedding and the ‘end’ in feminism,” Sarah Haskins’s reoccurring infoMania skit Target Women,” is smart, funny, and has an uncanny ability to help you see—and I mean really see—the world in a fresh, honest way.
 
Comedy has been a boys' club for decades. From its inception, the Saturday Night Live cast has been predominantly male, and it wasn’t until 1999, well over twenty years after its debut, that it hired its first female head writer (the illustrious Tina Fey). And then, of course, there is Christopher Hitchens' (unfortunate) January 2007 Vanity Fair article “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” in which he writes that women are “slower to get it, more pleased when they do, and swift to locate the unfunny…this is women when confronted with humor. Is it any wonder that they are backward in generating it?”
 
Of course, women like Sarah Haskins can easily prove him wrong. As women rise in comedy’s ranks, they bring with them hilarious, and penetrating, cultural analysis. From “mom jeans” to yogurt commercial digs, female comedians’ satire enables us to both laugh and think. And Sarah Haskins is at the forefront of this movement.
 
So who is this witty wonder woman? How did she get her start and what would she be doing if she were not deconstructing advertisers’ critical messages (besides writing dope articles for the Washington Post)? After a few e-mails to Current TV, where Sarah’s show infoMania can be seen every Thursday at 10:00 P.M. ET/7:00 P.M. PT, I was lucky enough to find out.

Susannah: "Target Women" is amazing. It’s sharp, witty, and does such a nice job of helping people notice how crazy certain aspects of our society are (like, birth control is obviously marketed as period control, and this is obviously messed up, but for some reason, so few of us catch onto this). How did you develop the "Target Women" concept, and what is the show’s creative process?

Sarah: First, it is really nice to hear that. I write a half hour show on Current TV called infoMania. We look at the week in media and regurgitate it into your mouth.

[One day] I was perusing the TV for an idea and [ended up] watching several episodes of TLC’s “Secret Life of Soccer Moms”—a show, I should note, that is horrifying in its own right. [While watching this show] I saw a lot of yogurt commercials, and I thought, “Hey, these are really dumb.”

Susannah: The yogurt commercials one is great. And I love the wedding shows one too.

Sarah: “Wedding Shows" was our second "Target Women." We were very lucky that we found our niche.

Susannah: What has your process for developing and eventually presenting the ideas been like?

Sarah: At first we were going on every other week, but now we are going on every week. The show is on Thursday so [we start working on a new concept] on Thursdays and Fridays. It might be on something that has been on my mind, or other people’s minds, or suggestions that people e-mail us. We will look for that media, gather it, and shoot it.

Susannah: Cool. Now, I read somewhere that you did improv at Harvard and were involved in [the Chicago comedy troupe] Second City. Is comedy something that you always wanted to do, or was it something that you discovered in college?

Sarah: That is pretty much what happened. I sort of stumbled into it. I did some improv in high school. My friend Jake was doing an independent study in drama, and he asked if I wanted to participate. He taught us some improv games, and we learned some classic sketches—Kids In the Hall and some old Nichols and May. The performance was incredibly fun, and I was hooked.

Susannah: If you didn’t always want to be a comedian, what did you want to be? Or, what would you be if you were not a comedian?

Sarah: Seriously, I would probably be a teacher—or a writer maybe. [Growing up] I kept experimenting with what I wanted to do. I think that I was always looking for the door to Hogwarts. I mean, there wasn’t a Hogwarts back then, but if there were, I probably would have looked for it.

Susannah: So, what has your comedy training been like, and what have been some of your highlights?

Sarah: There have been a few highlights. I directed and performed at the iO [Improv Olympics] Theater in Chicago for several years. Some of the highlights included directing a weekly faux talk show called “The Late Night Late Show” and performing in a weekly improv show called “Whirled News Tonight” that used newspaper articles clipped out by the audience members as the inspiration for improvised scenes. [I was also in] American Dream…a comedy ensemble I was in that performed at the Playground Theater. I also toured with the Second City National Touring Company for two years.

Susannah: Not to get off on a tangent, but why do you think that there is so much talent in the Chicago comedy scene?

Sarah: Well, Chicago is the greatest city in the world. I’m just kidding. Second City has just had such a great influence on comedy. Many Second City comics go on to have great careers. Chicago also has an excellent grassroots comedy and theater scene. Like, there is Steppenwolf.

Susannah: I see. So, what have been some of the challenges [of your career]?

Sarah: For any actor, the challenge is what is going to happen next, and I know that my parents were worried about that,

Susannah: That makes sense. But you are in LA now, right? Do you see yourself moving back to Chicago, or are you pretty much in LA to stay?

Sarah: I really love LA and am pretty much here to stay. The tough part of Chicago is that I wanted to do comedy professionally, and there is a glass ceiling on that in Chicago. I am also from Chicago, and I think that I needed to branch out.

Susannah: That's makes sense. So, as a comedian, who/what do you find funny?

Sarah: I am lucky that I work with a lot of people that I find funny. 30 Rock makes me laugh. Eddie Izzard. This is probably embarrassing to admit, but I loved Wayne’s World and Austin Powers. Woody Allen. Kids in the Hall.

I am really more a reader though. I wasn’t allowed to watch too much TV when I was growing up.

Susannah: That's cool. So, I guess, what are some of your favorite books?

Sarah: I remember reading Erma Bombeck when I was a kid, and I thought she was hysterical. I loved her housewives’ column. I also love Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. For Kings and Planets by Ethan Canin. Amy Hempel’s “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried.” Stuart Dybek. Jung Chang’s Wild Swans.

Susannah: I love "In the Cemetary Where Al Jolson is Buried." I  teach a Creative Writing course and use it in some of my classes. So, how do you see these books influencing your comedy?

Sarah: I don’t know if they have influenced my comedy directly. Most of my comedy has probably been influenced by my Improv training, but the books have had more of an influence on my worldview.

Susannah: Ok. So, who/what inspires you?

Sarah: This is going to sound a little cheese ball, but just seeing something good inspires me. I just saw Slumdog Millionaire, and I am the only one I know who likes this, but The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I like to check out different art forms. I recently, for example, went to the opera.

Susannah: Oh cool. Now, looking forward, what are some of your goals as a comedian?

Sarah: I would just like to make a few good things and hopefully have a long career in many mediums.

Susannah: Now, over the years, comedy has witnessed the rise of some wonderful female comedians (Gilda Radner, Tina Fey, etc.). Yet, for some reason, women still seem to be in the comedy minority (or when they are in a comedy, they are relegated to wife/mother/girlfriend roles). Why do you think this is?

Sarah: I think that it is changing. I think that it is changing at the ground level at iO [Improv Olympics] and Second City, and I think that there are a lot of women involved in those places. There have been [a] few, and there will be more. And people like Christopher Hitchens will get off their high horse and stop saying that women can’t be funny in the same way as men. It’s like women are on this pedestal and lowering them to comedy will ruin their porcelain skin. I think, however, that things are changing.

Susannah: So, do you consider yourself a feminist? And, if so, do you remember how/why this ideology developed?

Sarah: I think that I grew up in such a positive environment. It was very supportive, and I think that I was able to do things without any sort of labeling. I went to a great school that was very progressive, so everyone was valued for what they brought to the table. My parents also separated when I was very young, and while I saw my dad all the time, I lived with my mom, and there was always this sense that you had to be independent.

Susannah: What advice can you give to other women hoping to break into the comedy scene?

Sarah: It takes a little while, so just be positive. So much of it is luck and lucky choices and sort of, I don’t want to say “fate,” but something could happen to you right away, or you might have to wait a bit. And try not to sleep with everyone you work with. That’s a joke. I would say, try to write as much as possible. Writing your own stuff helps.

Susannah: Great. Is there a question that you always want interviewers to ask, but for some reason, they just don’t?

Sarah: That’s a good question. I don’t think so.

Susannah: Well thank you very much for speaking with us.

Sarah: Thank you.

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