Written and photographed by Rick Perez
MAKING YOU FEEL
New York City’s subculture of comedy is a strange and yet fascinating world that I only encounter through the friendships I have with its members. One of these members, a powerhouse of a personality, is Caitlin Hefner. She regularly gives me an insight into this world, telling me stories successful and failed performances, late nights writing sketches, and attending countless auditions. The arduous task of keeping an audience entertained is normal for her. However, her view on how to please an audience is unique. To Caitlin, comedy can also be uncomfortable, and making the audience feel something other than amusement is just as important. “Comedy is more than just making you laugh,” she explains, “comedy is changing someone’s breath”.
I have known Caitlin for many years now, and I have always known her as a strong comedian, attracting an audience everywhere she goes. Fiercely independent and unapologetic, Caitlin always speaks her mind, letting the world know what she stands for. She has been known to dance on tables, make out with strangers, and constantly refer to her vagina as a ‘clit-dick’. Her friends even dubbed her, ‘The Circus,’ for her personality alone brings entertainment to any situation.
This situation, however, has a different side of her. Today, Caitlin and I are sitting on my roof in Brooklyn, me basking in the hot afternoon sun, she finding solace in the shade. She is little more subdued, a little more serious. She is opening up to me, revealing how she approaches comedy. “It’s hard to make someone laugh. Sometimes people’s minds are clouded with ‘Gotta make me laugh, gotta make me laugh’” she expresses, “But I think it’s more like standing up there (on stage) and making someone have an opinion, making them gasp, cry, AND laugh. When I get up on stage, and I make someone groan with distaste, that’s when I feel good.”
Caitlin’s talent of making people feel has allowed her to make a name for herself in the comedy world, specifically in improv, by way of the Annoyance Theater located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There, she started by taking their improv program, graduated, and then made the House Team. She went on to write and produce her one woman show, acted in a musical, and performed in a one act play. From an outsider, Caitlin is doing everything right. From her perspective, not all is what it seems: “I was doing all these characters and putting all this work in, and nothing was getting traction,” she says, frustrated, “People expect to laugh, and when they don’t, they go ‘Oh, she was okay.’ I wonder if they know they are allowed to have other feelings. Shit is fucking hard.”
What happens when there is no audience for your style of comedy? Do you keep going and hopefully someone will notice? Or do you try to go into another direction? Caitlin’s determination to find her audience is slowly taking her from the world of stage to the area of film and TV. “With acting, you can give me a drama and I can make you laugh,” she says,”You can get into that crazy serial killer mind and somehow make it funny.”
She is driven by actors who seem to have been able to find their audience. Caitlin refers to the Netflix show Lady Dynamite. “Maria Banford is so funny,” explains Caitlin, “she gets into her characters so perfectly and beautifully. The show is about struggling with depression, and it is hilarious, but then you get into these moments of reality, and you’re like DAMN!”
Knowing that historically, men have been at the forerunners of comedy and acting, I wondered if audiences would accept her more if she was a man. “I think it has to do more with the confidence of the performance” she says. “What I think differentiates men and women in comedy is that women second guess themselves. We care too much about what other people think.”
“Why?” I ask.
Caitlin responds. “Naturally, we’re nurturers. A baby comes out of our vagina and we want to care about it. Our genetics make us not want to offend. But we have to stop giving a fuck. Once we stop giving a fuck, that’s when we become good.”
Caitlin Hefner, the hilariously dramatic force that is unique in the comedy world, is determined to find her audience. Staying true to herself will bear its own fruit. Her ambition is truly inspiring to me, and to all artists trying to find their voice. Like Caitlin, we are trying to figure out which stage fits our performance, which spotlight shines our best qualities. And like Caitlin, we will eventually find that spotlight; we just have to stop giving a fuck.