Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Alison Grillo, a New York City comedian, guest on NBC's Last Comic Standing in 2010, named by The Advocate as one of “Five Hottest Transgender Comics of 2013” and one of "Seven LGBT Comics You Should Not Have Missed in 2011," and a celebrity judge of the 2013 NYC Pride March. Hello Alison!
Sundays will sometimes find me in a pew of a Methodist church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where I’ll be struggling with questions of spirituality, seeking comfort and guidance in the preacher’s sermon, and very often mentally critiquing his/her rhetorical project.
Monika: You used to joke that you once worked as a waitress and before that, you were a waiter…
Though remodeled, and under new management, it’s still in many ways the same old unpretentious and welcoming place. On the oak-finished walls hang the same old photographs of the staff and the regular patrons from years past, and I’m still in some of the photos.
Closer to home, I performed at the University of Scranton, a Jesuit institution. I received a lot of laughs and support, and I emerged from the experience with new respect for institutions with a Catholic identity. Another memorable show was at Beloit College (Wisconsin), a very cool, very brainy liberal arts institution, populated largely by the sons and daughters of college professors, artists, and others of that ilk. The venue was professional and stylish, the audience was lively, and the post-show conversations I had with students and other members of the Beloit community were intellectually stimulating. A very special weekend, if a bit cold! (This was January.)
|Taking the stage at Wheelock College (Boston, October 2012).|
While I’m bragging, my friend Mike Motz and I did a monthly staged talk show for almost a year at the Broadway Comedy Club, and once at the People’s Improv Theater. It was called Jokes ‘n’ Gender. We had great fun, but drawing a consistently good crowd was difficult. There is too much competition in New York City.
Finally, the twelve-minute video about my college work, Big Girl on Campus (done with Mike Motz’s invaluable assistance), is perhaps my all-time favorite creative accomplishment, and a great introduction to me and my work.
Sure, trans art seems unique, and perhaps is now fashionable, or soon will be, but it’s related to the endless search for identity, which artists have been doing for sometime. As artists exploring gender and sexuality, we can be more frank than could our forebears.
One, in her previous life, had been a fighter pilot in Desert Storm, which seemed to me very cool. Some of my peers evinced a continuing romantic interest in women; we were becoming lesbians. Though I sometimes thought of TGSF as a “dress-up club,” for many women it was more than that. One by one my peers started taking hormones, and going full-time. Eventually I went that path myself.
|Bad Hair Day at Black Rock|
(Grand Junction, Colorado, April 2014).
My mother was not exactly pleased, but she made the necessary adjustments. She began to regard me as her daughter -- or at least she would use the word. Our relationship grew stronger.
But physically she was in decline, and she would pass away three years later, after she and her new daughter had had a couple of good Christmases together. I should also say that recovery from sexual reassignment was longer, tricker, and scarier than I had imagined, and the process (and other factors, including my mom’s death) forced me to battle depression like never before. Becoming a stand-up comic was part of my recovery.
Monika: A few weeks ago Jared Leto received his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club" as transgender Rayon. What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
I understand that it’s important to have a sense of humor about oneself, but there is also political correctness to consider. Political correctness leads to more respect for one another. Entertainment and respect are sometimes at cross-purposes. By the way, I don’t dig the word tr--ny, and if a non-trans comic uses it when I am around, I will usually “correct” that person. Actually, I don’t dig it when trans people use it, either. For a comedian, I don’t have a very consistent sense of humor. But who does?
Also, matters of sexual preference are different from our own quest, which involves identity. They’re different, mind you, but related. What I’m trying to say is, everyone in the whole LGBTQIA alphabet soup is involved in changing societal perceptions of what it means to be a man, a woman, a human being. Sexuality and gender both dwell in realms of people’s deepest hopes and fears. It makes sense for us to be allied with the LGBs, even if they seem, especially the LGs, to get most of the glory.
As a comedian, many of my best bookings have been in “gay” shows. Sure, I can make straight people laugh, but getting booked in their shows is often problematic. Politics, is what it is. And politics is about alliances. And alliances are often about working with people who are a little bit different.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Actually, I did do an Occupy Wall Street demonstration once, marched in an anti stop-and-frisk parade, and this past Christmas Eve volunteered at my church’s homeless shelter. My heart’s in the right place, but I’m usually otherwise engaged. I take no pleasure in saying that.
I tend to overdress for the weather, and I never, ever wear flip-flops. If money were no object, I would present to the world the image of an intelligent, somewhat quirky, mildly repressed (but potentially open to sexual exploration) girl with money.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?