An Ode To Oy (Of Sex)
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C/o Melissa Schwartz
C/o Melissa Schwartz

Comedian Alicia Dattner talks sex, Judaism and comedy with NY Blueprint on the eve of her new, one-woman show: “The Oy of Sex”

Most people wouldn’t put on lipstick to conduct a phone interview. Then again, Alicia Dattner is no ordinary person. Equal parts comedian, spiritual healer and self-acclaimed sex/love addict, the San Francisco-based stand-up comic and solo performer incorporates all corners of her identity into her new show, “The Oy of Sex”, which makes its New York debut at the end of March and is Dattner’s fourth one-woman show.

A native New Yorker, (well, sort of — she grew up in Connecticut), Dattner has always felt like a West Coaster at heart and after college she moved out to California, where she built her career in comedy. Preying on the most authentic form of vulnerability — her own — Dattner invites audiences to shed their conventional comedy expectations and enter into a raw realm of poly-dimensional humanness where the lines of crying and laughing will become as blurred as your eyes. Despite her thrilling tales and vast array of talents (she used to run a circus), perhaps the most striking thing about Dattner is that she has a sincerely nice demeanor and that she’s an especially easy conversationalist — she is also as eager to pour out compliments as she is to receive them, all of which makes her a four leaf clover in the in the comedy world. On top of that, Dattner may be the first and only person to ever consider getting a nose job so that she can look more Jewish.

NY Blueprint: First off, how are you?

Dattner: How am I? Well, on an absolute level, I am one with all that is, was, and will be … But time is an illusion anyway… On a more relative level, I’m a little hungry.

NY Blueprint: Well now that we’re warmed up, did you grow up with religion being a strong presence?

Dattner: I would say so. My mom converted to Judaism before she even met my dad. She was raised in an atheist-secular humanist- socialist San Francisco home. Humanitarianism is the closest thing they had to religion. My mom used to do Israeli folk dancing and lots of our friends were Jewish. We would light the candles and have dinner and rush off and put the candles in the sink where they wouldn’t catch on fire and then go to the movies.

NY Blueprint: How did your Jewish background affect your comedy?

Dattner: I feel like my grandparents and my dad were just so humor-oriented and that felt somehow very Jewish … They came from Yiddish speaking homes; I can’t imagine that humor wasn’t a huge part of their lives. Every other sentence was a joke.

NY Blueprint: How would you characterize the style of your stand-up, and is it the same in your solo performances?

Dattner: They are both highly self-revealing and raw. My interest is skating that edge of funny and painful, and if I can just share myself in a way that exposes me, then I can coax you into thinking about you, just secretly and stealthily, and then I won because I got you to laugh at something that you were supposed to cry at.

NY Blueprint: They can often be indistinguishable.

Dattner: Absolutely.

NY Blueprint: How did you transition from stand-up to solo performances?

Dattner: I started a circus and was doing stand-up and filmmaking. Comedy was always the number one, but I couldn’t stop doing the other stuff.  I thought ‘why am I not succeeding?’ and the truth is something wasn’t clicking for me and I had to do a lot therapy and spiritual work to find out why I was sabotaging myself.

NY Blueprint: What did you find?

Dattner: All of that work revealed that I wasn’t fully expressing myself, and that I didn’t feel safe or free, and part of that was that I had to stop making out with random strangers. … But I also discovered that I wanted to share a more full experience of me and not just some jokes that I’m worried wouldn’t be funny enough.

NY Blueprint: Hence the solo shows?

Dattner: I knew there was something I could give that I know I have in me, that I know wasn’t going to happen in the club. All that is to say I couldn’t walk into a club anymore and feel good. I just felt yuckky, energetically.

NY Blueprint: You mentioned a spiritual awakening?

Dattner: I kind of had a spiritual revelation where I just needed to go into 12-step recovery for sex and love addiction. I went to India, did a lot of yoga, and became a healer and coach, and now I basically just coach people with comedy.

NY Blueprint: What was the biggest challenge in transitioning from doing sets to developing solo performances?

Dattner: There was a level of being able to hold a room for an hour and thirty minutes and telling a story with characters, that was the biggest challenge, to step up my skill level. And now I feel like every show I do (solo performances) has made my stand-up so much better. I can hold the room now at a whole other level.

NY Blueprint: What’s so appealing about solo performances?

Dattner: I love the freedom that I have and I do more physical humor and do characters at a whole new level. With stand-up, jokes are character based and they tend to be stereotypes, and there’s a way people just want to peg you. You go to a club and people just want to see generic comedy — “Make me laugh, make it funny!”

NY Blueprint: Make me laugh clown?

Dattner: Yeah, exactly, make me laugh clown. It [stand-up] can just be a generic flavor of comedy; it tends to be very two-dimensional, and I am a full human, and part of what makes my comedy so funny is that I actually have other feelings too and other thoughts and other experiences of frustration and delight and revelations.

NY Blueprint: That’s a lot of things. Is the writing process very different?

Dattner: Well, on the other side, with the theater and spiritual people you can’t be too negative; I feel like I’m on this path of sharing with both kinds of people. Look, I’m just gonna be f------ me, I’m not gonna try to be positive or negative, and just share the full range of my human experience.

NY Blueprint: Bam. Do you feel more at home in one form over another?

Dattner: It’s more about whether people come to see me or not; it stops being about solo performance or stand-up. I’m working on a new stand-up show now and I feel so at home there. Are people here to see me and get into that vibe? Are you here to be in a human experience or are you just here to have another hole filled for twenty minutes?

NY Blueprint: Hmm…

Dattner: (Laughs) I think there is a fair amount of people who do want to come out and see that and I would be excited for the day where there is enough momentum where I don’t have to deal with my promoting.

NY Blueprint: You mean, not having to deal with getting the word out about yours shows or not having your family members make up half of the audience?

Dattner: Yeah, it will be cool when people just come out to see me.

NY Blueprint: How do you think the San Francisco comedy scene compares with New York?

Dattner: I imagine San Francisco is a little more intellectual and a little more interested in the joke writing, and New York is more relational and crowd based and maybe a little more interested in connecting … and also making fun of people and being mean. I imagine San Francisco is more about the cleverness of the jokes.

NY Blueprint: Why and when did you move to California?

Dattner: I grew up in Connecticut and went to school in Massachusetts, I moved to San Francisco when I was 22. I wanted to move to California because I like the stand-up scene out here and I like the cultural climate, but also the climate literally. My mom is from San Francisco and my dad is from New York, and I just felt more like a Californian.

NY Blueprint: Where do you live now?

Dattner: I live in the coolest part of San Francisco, which is called Oakland. It’s basically like Brooklyn.

NY Blueprint: Are you very in touch with your Jewishness?

Dattner: I think so. You can never quite be Jewish enough for the next level of Jew, and you’re too Jewish for the non Jewy Jews. The whole not enough-too much thing just plays out in Judaism itself.

NY Blueprint: Does everyone in your family try to take credit for your sense of humor?

Dattner: That’s funny. I would say definitely my dad’s side of the family is pretty funny and has an interest in humor, and I have not always appreciated their humor. The hurtling towards it and the constant experience of being surrounded in the culture of humor is definitely in my family. My mom is funny is a subtler, less pushy way.

NY Blueprint: Like, not in an aggressive Jewish way?

Dattner: Right.

NY Blueprint: What can people expect from “Oy of Sex”?

Dattner: They can definitely expect to laugh, and I find if people come open and ready they get a lot more out of it, rather than that folded arms position that comedians love. People can expect to get a very raw and racy and yet kind of divine, beautiful experience of humanness, and pretty much all jokes in the form of me making fun of my life.

NY Blueprint: How does it differ from your previous solo performances?

Dattner: I would say it’s the best yet in terms of my level of sharing.

NY Blueprint: Whom would you most love to be compared to?

Dattner: I love Ellen DeGeneres, I just love her disposition. Maria Bamford — I don’t think people would compare me to her but I think maybe some kind of Louis CK or Mark Maron would be nice to be compared to …  if I’m getting to choose.

NY Blueprint: Do you feel like we are in a golden age for female comedians?

Dattner: I think we’re in a bronze age, which is better than a stone age.

NY Blueprint: Does it bother you when people refer to you as a female comic/comedienne versus simply a comedian?

Dattner: Totally, but it’s actually just aesthetic. I mean I’m joking, but yeah I think it’s ridiculous. There’s this brilliant thing my friend just sent me, “Talking Funny” on HBO with Louis CK and Ricky Gervais, and I’m thinking, “Where’s the women?” It’s just so many levels of sexism in really subtle ways, where it’s difficult to point out. It just doesn’t feel good. [Imitates emcee] “We’ve got some breasts for you to look at while you’re listening to these jokes! Can you handle the multi-tasking? I don’t know if you can!” or “Now you’re gonna get to hear jokes and think about wanting to have sex!”

NY Blueprint: Do you still do any spiritual coaching?

Dattner: Over the years it kind of became more integrated. I had this sort of “I’m funny and dark — but wait — I’m spiritual and everything is beautiful and pure and light only” persona. I do healing work with people and clearing work and family constellates and Diamond Heart-inspired work, which is breath and bodywork, and meditations with people. It’s something I’ve been doing for seven or eight years now, and what I’ve basically done is I’ve taken all of that and do it in the context of solo performance or comedy workshops or coaching with people who want to perform or have more humor in their lives or be funnier or better speakers.

NY Blueprint: When you’re in a relationship/dating do you sometimes feel like you’re cheating on comedy?

Dattner: Yeah, oh my god totally. Because I should spend more time with comedy and I sort of broke up with comedy and I always know I’m gonna come back to comedy, but like I put him away to make this other guy more important, and just to say I’m gonna make a life with you even though I feel like my life is with comedy. The things I want to talk about are the men I’m dating, and I always have a little more allegiance to comedy and my audience even, than to the people I’m dating. But I’m willing now because I want to be in an amazing relationship.

NY Blueprint: What’s your next project?

Dattner: I am working on a new stand-up show that is basically about the same thing as all of them but more updated. So it’s stand-up and making fun of spiritual and new age stuff as well as joking about relationships, narcissistic and love-avoidant men, kind of a combination of all those delightful things ... I want to have a stand-up special.

NY Blueprint: Is that the ultimate dream?

Dattner: Yes.

NY Blueprint: Anything you want to add?

Dattner: I think it’s a very feminist experience to be in an interview with two women. We’re both mushing and melting and swirling and feeling similar ways. It’s not as important to me who is saying what; I’m more interested in the conversation and the uniting of what we have to say together, rather than who said what.

NY Blueprint: Well as a journalist I kind of have to keep track.

Dattner: (Laughs) Well that’s true.

You want to know something really hilarious? Before this interview I put lipstick on which is funny for a lot of different reasons: you’re not going to see me, plus you’re a woman, plus we’re not going on a date. I think it was just more of an “I need to unchap my lips” thing. 

NY Blueprint: Well, we could date. And for all you know I could be a man.

Dattner: Yeah you’re right, you never know.

NY Blueprint: May I ask what you’re wearing?

Dattner: I’m wearing one of those Groucho Marx glasses and a moustache and a tutu … and yes I wear it for all my interviews. I feel pretty, I feel funny, I feel pretty funny. For this interview I just decided to weigh less, so I weigh five pounds less. No, not really I only want to weight 1.5 pounds less, but just for this interview. I just wanna be slightly more toned under my arms, but I’m totally keeping my original nose.

NY Blueprint: I’m trying to get down to my baby weight before summer.

Dattner: (Laughs) I’m actually thinking of getting a nose job. I just want to look more Jewish.

NY Blueprint: Any pre-show routines?

Dattner: I like to levitate a little bit, I yodel, and then I like just kind of get on my knees and I just pretty much ask that all of the vulgarity and nasty gutter talk is received as supreme light and divine inspiration.

 

The Oy of Sex” opens on Wednesday, March 30 and runs through April 17 at The Bridge@Shelter Studios in New York City. $20, 7 pm. March 29th preview, $10, 8 pm. Theoyofsex.com.

comedy

Stand-up comedy

Stand-up

Jewish comedy

Comedians

one-woman show

Alicia Dattner

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