HyReviews.com's Comedy Interviews:
Carolyn Castiglia is one of the sharpest, quickest, and funniest comics in NYC—and, so far, one of the most underappreciated. If you haven't seen Carolyn on stage, you oughta.
Carolyn is best known nationally as Miss CKC on VH1's The (White) Rapper Show and ego trip's Miss Rap Supreme. She's also performed on NBC's Last Comic Standing, The Maury Show, VH1's BestWeekEver.tv, MTV2, MTVU, Nick at Nite's Funniest Mom in America 3, and Sirius/XM Radio; spent three years hosting the weekly NYC live comedy show Chicks & Giggles, a showcase for NYC female comics; and currently co-hosts the monthly NYC comedy show Meat & Potatoes at The PIT, and co-stars in the monthly sketch comedy extravaganza High School Talent Show at UCBT.
Carolyn is also a talented writer whose funny material has appeared in the
book The Idiot's Guide to Jokes, magazines ranging from Time Out
New York to Life & Style, and news periodicals ranging from
the New York Post to The Huffington Post.
In addition, Carolyn is a fine actress whose credits include two New York International Fringe Festival shows, Sex Myths and American Oligopoly, and the NYC comedy Anathemaville (for which she played five different characters); and she's among the subjects of the NYC theatre documentary PERFORM, which is a permanent installation at the Museum of the City of New York.
Most recently, Carolyn toured the Midwest and South as part of The Obama Girls of Comedy in October 2008. Carolyn's solo show, Brown Ambition, is slated to debut on February 5, 2009 at NYC's Ars Nova Theatre.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Carolyn in November and December 2008.
—Hy Bender, HyReviews.com
Carolyn Castiglia, Superstar
HB: Thanks for doing this, Carolyn. So how do you want to begin?
CC: I’d like my interview to start like the celebrity articles in women’s magazines, with the reporter super-excited about nailing such a big star: “Alright, I've got Gwen Stefani for Good Housekeeping!” And there’s this sweeping nine-paragraph description of the entrance. “Carolyn Castiglia waltzes in, and it’s as if a cloud has lifted from the cafe. She looked especially voluptuous in her polka-dotted sweatshirt, sweatpants, and Ugg boots.” Glam it up, y'know? And be sure to mention I look slighter in person than I do on television. That’s the most important part.
HB: You got it. (laughter)
HB: You just returned from a tour titled The Obama Girls of Comedy. Obviously, you’re happy about the results of the election.
CC: I have Obama’s photo up on my refrigerator. Every now and then, I give him a French kiss. And by that I mean, I stick my tit against the magnet of his face. (laughter)
I loooove Obama. For me it wasn't Election Day, it was Erection Day. I regret not being in New York when it happened; I wasn't around to lift up my shirt and get beads.
People keep sending me videos of Philly, and it's all hordes of black people running down the street going “Obaaaaaaamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!” It's everything my parents were always afraid of. (laughter)
If my dad saw those videos, he’d say, “See?! See?! Now they're going to rape white girls and get off!” And I'd be like, “Listen, dad, when I'm around all the black boys get off, you know what I'm sayin'?” (laughter) Thank god he's dead, so I don’t have to kill him with that comment. (laughter)
HB: Pretty nasty campaign, though.
CC: When I was touring in the South, there was an ad that ended with, “Barack Obama. Whose side is he on?” And I'm thinking why don't they just come out with an ad that says, “Barack Obama. If he's really half-white, how come his kids aren't striped like zebras?” (laughter)
I'm thrilled about the election, but it doesn't mean racism has ended. When I told my aunt I was voting for Barack, she said, “Well, you can't. He's black.” I know that, I have a color TV, I get it.
When I was in upstate New York I stopped into a Burger King. The guy behind the counter asked me what I wanted, and I said “Peace, Love, and Happiness.” He went, “Guess you're voting for Obama.” I said, “Yeah, I am. Are you?” He answered, “Yes, but I can't tell anyone. I was in the grocery store yesterday and somebody asked me who I was voting for, and I said 'The smart one.'” And he said, “You can't! He's black!!” (laughter)
Even my sister posted a John McCain poster on my MySpace page. I punched her in the vagina. She went, “I was kidding!” I said, “I'm not! Ugggh! That’s my black power fist in your wedgie!” (laughter)
Elon James White does a great comedy video series on ThisWeekInBlackness.com, and he said he kept thinking he was going to wake up the next day and it’d be “Hah! Psych!”
HB: Still, this is bound to cause some healing. I saw a clip of Whoopi Goldberg on The View, of all things, and she said that when Obama won, “I felt like I could finally put my bags down.” Even though she's lived in America her whole life, she now felt like she was really home.
CC: Wow. That's nice. I'd feel like I was at home in America too if I was co-host of The View, and won the Academy Award and the Emmy Award and the People's Choice Award. But good for you, Whoopi, you feel secure now that we have a black man in the White House. (laughter)
HB: Not that there's anything wrong with that.
CC: Not at all! Some people are saying “Now we can be beyond color.” You don't have to be beyond Barack's color. He can be President and be black.
HB: I remember attending a talk by Leon Gast, the filmmaker who made the documentary on Muhammad Ali When We Were Kings. He said that when Ali was on camera, he'd point to himself and say, “Ain't I pretty?” And what a lot of people didn't understand is that Ali wasn't being vain. He was saying, “I'm black, and that's beautiful. All black people are beautiful.”
CC: Yeah. I think an amazing thing about Barack is he's black and beautiful; and he expresses that without even having to say it. He just is. And it really resonates with people.
That goes for his wife Michelle too. His entire family is stunning.
Even his name. There's something sexy and reassuring about a name you can shout with unlimited vowels: “Obaaaaaaamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!” It feels like an African chant for the morning sun. Very celebratory and positive.
I think this is going to be the new Camelot.
Under the Skin
HB: So what's the deal about your being a black lesbian?
CC: Oh, you dug that up, did you? (laughter) I've always had a sense of intimacy with blackness. Not in the sense of objectifying black people—it's not a fetish thing—but a kinship that has to do with class and culture in America...and that leads to a feeling of soul.
I'll be exploring this in a new one-woman show titled Brown Ambition.
It's directed by Baron
Vaughn, and premiering at the Ars
Nova Theatre on February 5th at 8 pm.
HB: I'll look forward to that.
CC: Actually, you said something to me a couple of months ago that's related, and stuck in my head. It was, “You have this great working class sensibility.” No one had ever articulated it before, and it was really useful to hear.
One of the things I want to make clear in my show is there's a difference between a working class sensibility and a blue collar sensibility. I want to celebrate the genuinely average American—because I think that's who I am.
Yes, I live in New York City. Yes, I married a foreigner who has a PhD. Yes, I work in comedy. But at my core, I'm a small-town girl from upstate New York who has thoughts and feelings very similar to those of many other people around the country.
HB: And you co-host a monthly show at The PIT celebrating small town experiences and raw urban experiences.
CC: Yeah, Meat & Potatoes, with Shawn Hollenbach. We have NYC comics tell true stories about their growing up poor, lower-middle class, or in some other way having tough childhoods.
One of my favorites was Anthony DeVito, who talked about being a kid in Brooklyn. He said, “In the ‘70s in New York, everything was on fire. And if it wasn't on fire, it was smoldering because it had just been on fire.” I love that.
M&T is on hiatus right now, but will probably be back in a few months.
HB: I guess that covers the “black” part of my question. What about the lesbian bit?
CC: Oh, I like pussy from time to time.
HB: Ah. (laughter) You're great with gay audiences. In fact, this interview is happening because I saw you at Jenny Rubin's show The Back Room last month, and you totally killed. I've never seen anyone hold an audience more effectively or make it laugh harder.
CC: Thank you, Hy.
Alternative vs. Mainstream
HB: What's the difference between alternative comedy and mainstream comedy?
CC: John Mulaney was recently asked that question, and he said, “The alternative to comedy is not being funny.” (laughter)
Alt and mainstream have much more in common than differences. There's a base level of human experience that's funny: pooping, farting, peeing, having sex, and falling down. Those are embarrassments we all share. (laughter)
There is some difference in tone. Alternative comics lean towards the silly—you know, the ridiculous becomes sublime. An over-the-top retardedness, with a twinkle in the eye that says “I'm really, really smart.”
Some say Steve Martin was the original alt comic. Then again, who's more mainstream than Steve Martin?
For me, the main thing that makes alternative distinct is that it embraces multiple forms of comedy—not only stand-up, but solo character work, improv, and musical comedy.
And because I come from a theatrical background, I love that kind of vaudevillian variety.
HB: That makes sense. I've seen you be great on VH1's White
Rapper, and as a comedic actress in sketch shows. And I've also
seen be brilliant as a stand-up doing material that most would consider mainstream.
CC: Yeah, I don't actually think of myself as alternative in my stand-up. I simply consider myself a downtown comic, because that's where I tend to perform most. I'd love to do more comedy clubs, though, and more on-the-road gigs. After all, that's where the money is; plus who doesn't want to reach a broad audience?
HB: What got you into comedy?
CC: My stock answer is, “It started from day one. My mother's vagina was the funniest thing I'd ever seen.” (laughter)
I think comedians are naturally funny people, and naturally insightful people. I wasn't the class clown, and I didn't start doing formal stand-up until after I got married five and a half years ago. But I was always a performer, and always thinking about things as an outsider looking in.
HB: How did your marriage lead to stand-up—aside from providing tons of material? (laughter)
CC: I was doing a lot of musical theatre out of town and wanted something that would let me stay in NYC. First I tried cabaret, with jokes in between the songs, but it wasn't fully satisfying. Then I gave stand-up a try, and it turned out to be a great fit.
HB: I didn't realize you took such a journey through the entertainment biz.
CC: A lot of NYC comics have. Livia Scott is a classically trained actress, and she uses that to create the amazing characters in her act. Glennis McMurray and Eliza Skinner do improvised musicals, plus Eliza is in the rock band Stickerbook. Adira Amram and Mindy Raf write and sing hilarious songs. These are the people I feel a kinship with and have ended up working with.
HB: For example, in UCBT's hybrid musical/sketch production High School Talent Show.
CC: Right. I enjoy continuing to nourish the “musical theatre dork” side of me. But I actually find myself loving stand-up more and more as time goes on.
HB: In what ways?
CC: I really value being in charge instead of having to wait to be cast for a part. Whether it's a paying gig or not, I'm able to regularly get on stage, jizz all over the place, and leave. Who doesn't want that? It's addicting.
I still adore musical comedy; and I'd still be thrilled to be Ana Gasteyer in Wicked. But as a practical matter, the most effective route is for me to first be Ana Gasteyer on Saturday Night Live, or something comparable. It's my stand-up, rapping, and sketch acting that's going to make me stand out from the crowd.
HB: You're a stellar stand-up and writer, but what you're best known for nationally right now is your rapping. How did that happen?
CC: VH1 was scouting for female rappers. I didn't apply, because I was worried a reality show might leave out context and make me look like a moron.
I don't even feel comfortable calling myself a rapper Schaeffer the Dark Lord calls himself “a rappist.” (laughter) I should come up with a term that better describes what I do—maybe hippy-hop.
Really, I'm a white girl with musical theatre training who got tired of six-year-olds sticking their hands up her skirt. Once I was playing Pippi Longstocking, and there was a meet-and-greet after the show. This kid comes up to me and says, “I liked your movie, Miss Pippi!” and puts his hands on my tits. (laughter) And I'm like, “Okay, Jamal. But this Pippi's not nine, you know, she's 25. And you just date-raped me. (laughter) And I don't think I feel very comfortable with that. Get this wig off my head because I'm going to beat you with it.” (laughter)
HB: So how did you end up on the VH1 national TV programs The (White) Rapper Show and ego trip's Miss Rap Supreme?
CC: A friend of mine sent them my info behind my back. (laughter) And when I came in to audition, they went, “Oh-my-god. Honey, your butt is so big, we need you!” (laughter)
I didn't even have a moniker. While the cameras were rolling, they asked me my name and I said “Carolyn Castiglia.” And they said, “No, your rap name.” So I had about a second to come up with one. My initials are CKC—middle name is Katherine—so I said, “Miss CKC.” And they were happy with that.
HB: You've also performed on MTV2.
CC: Yeah, on the show Sucka Freestyles. I appeared on that with my baby Adriana...because I couldn't find anybody to babysit. (laughter) Matt Sears, who got me the gig, said, “It's cool, just bring her with you.” So I'm on MTV holding my one-year-old in my arms and freestyling about her diapers. And the guy behind the camera's going, “That's great, so great, it's not like what anybody else is doing!” (laughter) And I'm thinking, “I hope not. I hope some gangsta doesn't watch this and decide, ‘Hey man, my rap act is good, but what I really need is a baby.'” (laughter)
HB: So your concerns were groundless?
CC: Yeah. Early on, I was worried about being pigeonholed. But now I realize it's pretty awesome that the rapping sets me apart; plus it complements my stand-up. I can perform a 20-minute joke set, and then come out later and freestyle. And the audience enjoys both.
There are lots of comics who are terrific at, say, stand-up and acting, and make careers by having each skill support the other. There's no downside to being good at more than one thing.
Funny, Fun, and Successful
HB: This interview wouldn't be complete if we didn't chat at least briefly about your three years as host of Chicks & Giggles, a pioneering showcase for NYC female comics.
CC: Yeah; it's because of that show people ask me all time about "women in comedy." And everyone I know sends me every article they stumble across about it. Ooh, Joan Rivers took a dump today? Fascinating! It's like, enough already. I don't call my black friends up and go, "Laquisha, hurry over to your TV—Roots is on PBS! Oops! I'm sorry, it's Reading Rainbow. I saw LeVar Burton and the R and I got excited. My bad. I'll call you when Star Trek: The Next Generation is on." (laughter)
HB: You're pretty happy about what you and co-producer Nichelle Stephens accomplished with Chicks & Giggles, though.
CC: I am. Our first show included Veronica Mosey and Chelsea Peretti. And over the course of the run, we ended up getting in almost every New York female stand-up worth mentioning: established comics such as Laurie Kilmartin, Bernadette Pauley, and Lisa Landry, plus up-and-comers such as Adira Amram, Desiree Burch, Michelle Buteau, Jessica Delfino, Becky Donohue, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Livia Scott, and Jess Wood.
HB: We're losing some of those women to LA right now. Kimmy Gatewood just moved, and Eliza Skinner and Becky Drysdale are planning to move soon.
CC: Well, you know what they say: You get good in New York, and then you get famous in LA.
There are lots of talented comics in New York, but limited opportunities. Like, it's wonderful Comedy Central is doing the Live at Gotham show, but the target audience is guys 18 to 35, so they tend to book guys who are 18 to 35. I watch Comedy Central, and love it. But the perception is that women will watch male programming, but men won't tune in for women comics.
Of course, there are TV networks for women. But they don't tend to do anything funny.
So that leaves two options.
You can go on the road and establish yourself nationally, and then come back to New York to work the clubs. It's lonely on the road, though, especially if you're a woman who loves socializing, and being near friends and family.
Otherwise, you can move to LA and get yourself on celluloid. Once you've done movies, you can go anywhere you want.
It's funny watching the attitude of new comics about how easy it's going to be. Once you've been in the game for a little while, you realize the better you get and the more opportunities happen, the harder it is. Because the closer you get to some kind of success, the more clearly you understand just how far away breakthrough success really is.
HB: Any final thoughts about Chicks & Giggles?
CC: I'm especially proud of two things about the show. First, every single week, the comedy was of consistently high quality. And second, it was always fun. I've been to shows where there are lots of laughs, but I didn't really have a good time. What helped us establish an audience—and a female comedy community—is that we had tons of fun with each other.
HB: I had great fun doing this interview with you. Thanks again, Carolyn.
To visit Carolyn's MySpace and Facebook pages, please click here and here. To read her blog, please click here. To peruse her Huffington Post essays, please click here. And for a preview of her Brown Ambition show (debuting February 5th, 2009 at the Ars Nova theatre), please click here.
If you'd like to hire Carolyn for a gig, TV show, or what have you, please email her at email@example.com.
Interview Copyright © 2008 Hy Bender
Photo at top left Copyright © 2007 Anya Garrett
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FringeNYC 2008 Coverage
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Comedy in the Moment: Del Close Improv Marathon
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Copyright © 2008 Hy Bender