Sara Benincasa is one of my absolute favorite comedians that I have never seen live. She has one of the finest YouTube channels, filled with brilliant characters, excellent political humor, and two great vodcasts: Advice Time, where you get actual advice about issues you may be going through and Gettin’ Wet, where Benincasa interviews important cultural figures from her bathtub! Her Twitter (@sarajbenincasa) feed is pretty on point, too. She probably doesn’t remember this, but her Twitter introduced me to Die Antwoord many years ago. She’s currently working on her second book, and will be performing this weekend all over Sketchfest! She will be performing as part of The SF Sketchfest Dozen with Jonah Ray and Dave Thomasan Friday, February 1st at 8 PM and Saturday, February 2nd at 9:15 PM. She will also be doing You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes alongside Kumail Nanjiani at a special matinee show on Saturday, February 2nd at 1 PM. We had a few minutes to chat with her ahead of these shows, and this is what we talked about!
The last time you played Sketchfest, and San Francisco in general (I believe), you were doing your Agoraphabulous! show. Tell me a little about Agoraphobia, and what kind of response did you get from folks that suffer from this?
Well, “agora” means marketplace and “phobia” means fear, so my technical diagnosis is that I’m afraid of the mall. Which is so fucking untrue. I’m from New Jersey. The mall is a sacred place of peace and wonder to me. But I do fear traveling, and sometimes it gets way out of hand. Some of the stories I told in “Agorafabulous!” the stage show were about misadventures when I tried to go do things that would be easy for a normal person to do, like go on a vacation or, on some days, even get out of bed. I got great response from agoraphobic folks when they managed to get themselves out of the house and see the show. I also got great responses when the book version came out last February.
Whenever I think if Michelle Bachmann, I think of your amazing videos where you impersonate her. Has anyone from the Bachmann camp responded to your videos?
Oh, God, I wish. No they have not, sadly.
Has anyone been unwilling to actually get their clothes wet in your “Gettin’ Wet” vodcast?
I interviewed cartoonist Dan Piraro once and he wore a giant trashbag. Donald Glover, Margaret Cho, and Amanda Palmer all went naked, so maybe they really really didn’t want to get their clothes wet!
Who is on your “dream list” of people to interview on “Gettin’ Wet”?
Gosh, author Neil Gaiman was one, and that actually happened. I think if Harvey Milk were alive, he’d do “Gettin’ Wet.” I bet you anything. He’s on my dream list, along with Jesus Christ, the Buddha, and local NYC TV personality Pat Kiernan. Oh, and Lakshmi Singh of NPR News. Really, anyone from NPR News. I should get my friend Jean Grae, the rapper, to do the tub. She’d be fucking hilarious.
Why did you decide to end “Sex and other Human Activities’?
Well, it didn’t end, actually; it lives on as a podcast with my old co-host and a new co-host, who is fabulous. I had to leave to go to Los Angeles, and my co-host and I agreed that recording via Skype just wouldn’t give the same flavor as having both of us in the room. So I passed the torch. I’d love to host or co-host another podcast. I’m open to ideas!
Why prompted you to move to LA?
I wanted to develop my memoir as a TV show, and there were more opportunities in Los Angeles to pursue that goal. I also wanted some sunshine and a new scene to tackle as a comic. I’m a freelance writer (books and blogs) so I’m really portable.
What can we expect from your YA Novel that’s due out next year?
Wow, it IS coming out next year! 2014! Well, it’s smart and sexy and violent and tragic. It’s called “Great,” and it’s inspired by “The Great Gatsby.” But it’s set among teenagers in the Hamptons in 2014. I just saw the cover — it’s hot. It’s very different from what I do in stand-up comedy, which is also very different from when I speak about mental health at colleges. They are related but different muscles.
What do you do when people seek advice from you, and they reveal information that requires you to break the rules of confidentiality? (If they are hurting themselves, hurting others, or being hurt. But you know that)
Well, it’s hard for me to break any rules of confidentiality because I generally don’t know where these folks live. If I got an email saying “I’m going to kill myself,” for example, I could only respond directly to the person, not call the police in their town — unless they indicated where they lived. But generally people reach out to me when they’re still deciding, or before they’ve gotten to quite so low a point. If they’re still deciding, I can be a voice that says, “Don’t do this. Let’s talk more about the good things in your life. Let’s talk about solutions and ways that things can improve.” I can’t engage in a therapeutic relationship, but I can direct them towards valuable resources. For example, many folks don’t even know that some therapists will work on a sliding scale! So if affordability is an issue, I can explain that they DO have options.
When I speak at colleges about mental health, something I love to do, it’s easier for me to sit a kid down and point him (sometimes literally) in the direction of resources that might help. Often, the campus mental health team will come to my talk, so they’re on hand to talk to anyone who has further questions.
What inspired you to start your “Advice Time” feature?
Just the urge to help people, really. I’m not doing “Advice Time” anymore, actually. I answer advice questions on my Tumblr and I write a friendship advice column for Jezebel. Women can email friendship advice questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does the future hold for you passed the next book? What’s next on the ambition list?
Well, there’s a third book, due out in 2015! That one is set in modern times but will be inspired by “Lord of the Flies” — with teenage girls from a Christian boarding school. And I’d like to see “Agorafabulous!” on TV. We’re working on it. I’d like to do more comedy festivals. I would also not object to booking a role on a television program. But my numero uno goal these days is to write for television. Hoping to get a gig doing that this year. We’ll see what happens!