Hanging Out at the Intersection of Comedy and Art with Lorelei Ramirez
New York City has so much comedy that it’s nearly impossible to stand out, especially if all you’re doing is standup. However, some comedians are starting to think outside the stage, and they’re breaking new ground in the process. One such person is Lorelei Ramirez, a comic, actress, writer, painter, artist, and everything in between. If there’s humor in something, she’ll find it — you just might not expect where it’s coming from.
Her new show, “Deteriorating in Light Asphalt,” puts all of her interests in one funny, sad, scary, and personal package. I talked to Lorelei about her new show, her characters on The Special Without Brett Davis, and Brooklyn comedy.
You just opened a new art show at The Experiment Comedy Gallery in Brooklyn. What is “Deteriorating in Light Asphalt” all about?
“Deteriorating in Light Asphalt” is my interdisciplinary solo art exhibition, featuring works of art I’ve been making over the years and, most recently, inspired by comedy. It’s also the release of a new book of poems and drawings also inspired by my current comedic endeavors.
For an artist and comedian, The Experiment seems like the perfect place to host the show. How did you end up doing an art show at a comedy space?
Yes! It was the perfect place for that type of show. I feel as if I’ve been doing that sort of thing for a few years now. I started in the performance/visual art world, and then, standup. I slowly got to this place where a bunch of great people were collaborating in a very experimental way, still dealing with humor but very much informed by art, music, theatre. Trying to merge it all has always been an interest of mine.
My work has always been somewhat “humorous” in the sense that I mostly draw out scenarios and characters in horrible and sad situations that look kind of strange and hopeful. That’s the same kind of thing I do in my comedy and often at The Special. It’s always feeding into one another. I don’t think I can help it. It’s all fused, real and fake and imaginary.
The show plays on many of the same themes as your comedy. Do you come up with an idea and then choose a medium for it or do those things just hit when you start working?
I mostly just choose what I want to do, like I’ll think, “I wanna make a sound piece” so I’ll start doing stuff with my voice and sounds and such. If I choose to make drawings, I’ll sit with myself and try to figure out what kind of characters I want to do, what’s something horribly personal I haven’t talked about yet? So yes, I just exercise them straight to the medium I want.
Despite the fact that it can be very tragic, there’s a lot of humor in your art. In your paintings and sketches, there are depictions of people laughing, pretending to laugh, and literal “HAHAs” and “LOLs” on the canvas. While it’s funny, it is also kind of sad. Is it just in your nature to find humor in the very pitiful?
Yes! [laughs] You said it all. I feel like watching people on a stage talk about their personal lives has seeped into the work. Some stories are so cringeworthy and personal, it’s disturbing, but you’ll still see people make jokes out of them. It’s like a coping mechanism or an unnoticeable glitch where right after revealing all of themselves, they shut off with a little giggle, a smile, a ‘lol.’ There’s something so inherently sad in comedy and that makes it even funnier, I guess, the personal, the vulnerable people and moments.
You’re a regular on The Special Without Brett Davis, generally playing monsters or grotesques of some sort, which are almost like living representations of one of your paintings. Do you enjoy living in that world?
Yes, I love it. I love those types of characters. My mind is really fucked up, and I can really only think about the worst types of people, kind of like an extension of myself. Like what if all of everyone’s desires were amplified and they had no filters? What if they ran on raw emotion? What would happen if they talked to people and really trusted themselves? Chaos! And I love that, especially when it’s controlled and distinctly set up.
There’s also an element of fear and horror going in the paintings. Do you try to catch your audience off guard?
I guess I do? I love exploring discomfort but in a non-confrontational way. Like I won’t take my clothes off, I won’t just murder something or just douse myself in blood just because. It’s more about theatrics and emotional and psychological discomfort, trying to find a different way to push buttons.
Can you tell me about the sound element of the show? It was, frankly, kind of scary walking into the place.
Yes! That was the very talented Alec Lambert, also known as DJ Jeep Grand Cherokee. We’ve collaborated on a bunch of shows together. We have a similar aesthetic, but he’s way more extreme and in your face. He’s usually the masked figure on The Special and he’s got some cool noise pop groups.
Anywho, I love what he does, so I asked him if he’d collaborate with me. I believe I said, “make the room sound like it’s breathing,” in that that the paintings are fueling the environment. So he did! It was essential to the show for people to walk in and be somewhat molested by sounds, disturbing them a bit, taking them out of whatever moods they were in prior, and making their feelings part of the piece as well.
The art comes from a very darkly humorous place, but some of the comedy is more absurd — reminding me of the lunacy of The State. Do you find yourself naturally gravitating from one to the other?
Yes? [laughs] I love absurdity. If I can pitch anything, from placing a person in a wig in a scene at random, having people walk backwards for no reason at all, sudden wigs, etc.. I’ll do it. The style of the videos also has to do with collaborating with Colin Burgess (Couch Vids) and Mikey Heller (RICARDO). They are the best and funniest people, and we all have a similar sense of humor: absurdity first then everything after. So it also has to do with the freedom of that collaboration.
But I think both are fairly natural to me. I’m used to looking at things in a “dark” manner, like I’m never not thinking that I’ll get murdered and I’m constantly having nightmares, but also I love making light of horrible situations with something nonsensical. Like imagine a dramatic argument between two people that just lost their son… But like one of their noses is a beak.
The Brooklyn comedy scene seems very community-based. You pop up in shows all over the city, doing characters, standup, sketch, or any combination of them. How did you come to be involved there?
I feel like everyone in this scene kind of found each other. They were doing their own thing and showing up at standup venues and trying things out. Then we kind of all congregated. My first official run-in with everyone was this super great open mic called “No Jokes Allowed” hosted by Steve de Siena and Steve Whalen. You had to venture out of the regular joke telling and do more experimental things, which is really what I like. So I loved it and met awesome people that had their own voices already (Julio Torres, Joe Rumrill and more!) and from there was invited to do shows. There have also been people that have literally just shown up at a show and said hello like Brett Davis, Ike Ufomado, and Ana Fabrega. Meeting them was the most random but greatest thing ever.
Did being around this type of experimental comedy inspire you to try new things?
Everyone is so inspiring; I constantly want to do more because of my friends. If I could rip off my skin and make my teeth fall off as a gimmick… Oh my God that’d be a dream. But I’m kind of stuck in this regular body. But yes, yes, yes they do inspire me.
You just finished a run of the show “Actors” at the Annoyance. What was the drive for “Actors” and how did it end up there?
“Actors” was a wonderful dream. It started as it ended, completely nonsensical, absurd and just straight-up fun. I met Christi Chiello at standup shows and mics, and we thought it’d be a fun prank to sign up everywhere and perform as a duo called ACTORS, an over dramatic and deranged group of women who don’t know anything about acting. So we did it just for fun. Then people started booking us and responding well, so we tried it out at The Annoyance and they accepted us right away. So we went for it and wrote a new crazy show every week for two months and it was the most fun ever and a great exercise.
What’s next for you?
I want to do more art/comedy shows. Make more work. Collaborate. Get insurance. Find my son. Be a better husband. Find a way to make this my life.
“Deteriorating In Light Asphalt” is at The Experiment Comedy Gallery in Brooklyn through Dec. 1. For more videos, writing, and comedy by Lorelei Ramirez, visit www.pileoftears.com.