The Rumpus Funny Women Interview with Sarah Haskins

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Like most women, I am gay for Sarah Haskins. Unlike most women, I got to interview her.

Here are some things you should know about Sarah to get the most out of our interview:

- She wrote and starred in Target Women, a recurring segment on Current TV’s satirical news show infoMania, where she comments on products, advertising, and media aimed at ladies. Haskins smartly and hilariously explores television’s posturing and packing of women.

- infoMania “puts a comedic spin on the 24-hour chaos and information overload brought about by the constant bombardment of the media”; Target Women puts a bitch slap on the media for eroding the feminist movement.

- Show topics include: How to Get Hot ChicksLaundry, Hair, Lady Friends, The View, and Online Dating.

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The Rumpus: Sarah, you are a self-described liberal and feminist. You went to Harvard and have, I assume, met Al Gore (co-founder of Current TV). My first question for you is: what do men really want?

Sarah Haskins: To be cuddled.

Rumpus: To prepare for our interview, I watched every episode of Target Women. I memorized the theme song: “Sexy, clean, cool, fun, healthy, young, [something], underpants: Target Women.” My punctuation may be incorrect there. In My So-Called Life, Jordan Catalano asks Brian Krakow what’s “ironic”; Brian says, “When you realize the, like, component of weirdness in a situation.” You use irony so well to tackle absurdity and show the world what’s wrong with itself: learning from the media how to be the perfect woman is weird. This is a two-part question. First, how did you get the idea for the show? Second, how did you popularize it: Looks? Personality? Internship with David Letterman?

Haskins: Target Women was a wonderful accident. I wanted to do an on-air piece for infoMania, which, at the time I started, was expanding into a half-hour show. I watched a lot of television and in my search for something to mock, realized I’d seen about one million yogurt ads aimed at women. And so, it began.

I deserve no credit for the popularization of the segment. It was picked up by Jezebel.com, which made it very popular, and it was ably distributed by Current’s web team.

It would be awesome to work for David Letterman, but not in that special way.

Rumpus: It would be awesome to have sex with David Letterman, but only in that professional way. Do you in any way personally identify with that which you criticize/satirize? I started Funny Women, a column on TheRumpus.net for women humorists, because I was angry. I told a friend I wanted to write a television pilot, and he said, “But you’re not funny. You’re a chick.” He is wrong! I am hilarious, and I have the vagina to prove it! How much of Target Women came out of a personal passion/vendetta/spiritual belief?

Haskins: A lot of jokes I make are my response to being annoyed/angry to the point where I’m just bemused. Sometimes, I make a joke because first and foremost I’m a comedy writer and I need to put a joke in there, but many times it comes from being honestly shocked about what I just saw.

Rumpus: I went to an Upright Citizens Brigade show recently in New York, and I did this math: 8 members of the group; 6 men and 2 women. Is it accurate to say comedy breaks down to 25% women and 75% men? Am I grossly overestimating the female percentage?

Haskins: Nope – but, to the improv world’s credit, I felt very happy and supported when I was in Chicago doing improv, even with similar ratios. There’s always annoying gender politics lurking in the corners of such a skewed environment, but I felt like most of the guys I worked with were decent and non-sexist.

Rumpus: In your interview with Jezebel, “I Murdered A Screenwriter & Slept My Way To The Top,” you say, “hopefully as this generation moves up, and men get used to working with women in comedy, the argument that dudes need some sort of sacrosanct place to be gross and women don’t belong there will change. I’m referring mainly to the lack of female writers on those shows and the writing rooms.” How do you feel your efforts are instigating the change? In The Cougar, you reveal you’re only 29. How did you become not only a success, but also a successful female in comedy (like, did you ever go through a depression-and-sweatpants time?)?  What advice would you give to young women trying to “make it” in the male dominated arts/media world?

Haskins: I would be flattered if my efforts were instigating the change. I think, say, Tina Fey’s efforts are REALLY instigating change. The more funny ladies out there, the better. Also, I am now 30, rendering your questions moot, since I am an old lady crone.

But, to dispense some advice from my rocking chair – I just worked on stuff I loved with people I loved and respected. And all that work makes you better. As I mentioned above, the gender politics are there, but you, as a lady, are also there to be a comedian. So, hone your voice, whatever that is, and keep performing it in different places. Don’t let one set of people be your audience – that can be limiting.

Rumpus: [Hey, women of the world, write the above in your journal. I did.]

In 2001, James Woods wrote an article about hysterical realism, claiming contemporary “experimental” writers are too busy being clever to connect with human emotion, choosing solipsistic über-intellect over feelings. Zadie Smith (White Teeth) retaliated: “[Wood] says: tell us how it feels. Well, we are trying. I am trying. But as DeLillo dramatised [sic] (again, in White Noise), it is difficult to discuss feelings when the TV speaks so loudly; cries so operatically; seems always, in everything, one step ahead. Yet people continue to manage this awesome trick of wrestling sentiment away from TV’s colonisation [sic] of all things soulful and human.” You manage “this awesome trick” using TV. Your segment is a few minutes each week. That’s something. No question here, although perhaps you have a few thoughts…

Haskins: This is a huge compliment. Thank you. Deep down, I hate TV. Does this mean I don’t watch TV? No. For, alas, I do love True Blood and Mad Men and even, gasp, Gossip Girl. I love Zadie Smith and White Noise – so, I think maybe a humorous/satirical detachment is an appropriate choice when writing about such an overwhelming culture. They’ve influenced me, as has Kurt Vonnegut.

Rumpus: The common thread in all the television shows you listed is wondrous sexual tension. We have so much in common. Do you really have a crush on Colin Firth? Think it could ever happen between you two? How about among the three of us?

Haskins: Yes. Why? Do you know him? Do you know how I could get in touch with him? I am very clean and responsible.

Rumpus: I know him kinda, but only in that “I’ve masturbated to you” way.

A lot of your shows carry the underlying theme that advertising is about “not talking about it.” In Birth Control, you astutely notice that “birth control is sold as period control” and rarely marketed as how to have safer, abundant, and baby-consequence-free sex. In Your Garden, you show how nature has supplanted offensive words like vagina: “Some bushes are really big, some gardens are mighty small.” In Number Two, you coin the phrase “poopadox,” wherein we can’t get help with a problem we’re ashamed to talk about. Like birth control, marketers have figured out how to talk about something by talking about something else: instead of saying, “can’t squeeze one out,” commercials market “fiber.” What do you think about the theme of denying women our basic biological needs? To me it seems the cornerstone of sexism; you take away a woman’s right to talk about poop, and it’s a slippery slope to not voting for a female President.

Haskins: I think you nailed it in the above paragraph – using euphemisms perpetuates feelings of shame – like pooping and getting your period are weird. You know what’s weird? Never pooping or getting your period. That is what is weird. No one discusses this.

Rumpus: Yeah, let’s not discuss it. In an interview with Mother Jones, you say cleaning products are “stand-ins for a husband and a satisfying adult sexual relationship.” In Cleaning, you get sexual with the shower (“with” being the key preposition here and not “in”). You taught me three important lessons regarding cleaning and romance: 1) “If you’re giving your bathroom spout a hand-job, it doesn’t add to your number”; 2) No wonder we’re frigid with our boyfriends and have rules about weekday sex! They’re not mops! And bitches love to clean; 3) Lysol can protect you from STDs; when you use the disinfectant instead of the condom, I thought this might be a tactic for getting back at my ex-boyfriend. Or were you trying to prove some other point?

Haskins: I have other revenge plots for ex-boyfriends that are less likely to result in lawsuit. Here is one: sign them up for any and all email lists you can.

Rumpus: Here is another one: start a blog called www.fuck[first name][lastname].blogspot.com. Do you know that even if you delete a blog after your ex-boyfriend’s students find it and report you that Google won’t actually erase your three-month exquisitely written mistake/triumph? Now you know.

Snapped, Oxygen’s true crime show about women who kill their husbands and boyfriends, establishes “equality in the true-crime genre.” “Snapped makes you feel like snapping is just another stage in a woman’s life. Childhood, adolescence, marriage, kids, homicide, prison, menopause. I mean, it’s something we’re all gonna go through.” With the global efforts to stop violence against women, here is a show about women being violent. Is it all just a matter of fighting back? Should we give all the women knives?

Haskins: [No response, which I'll take as tacit agreement.]

Rumpus: Speaking of love and violence, I loved your segment on Vampires. Vampires are hot because they’re “empathic,” “honest,” and could eat your face. They’re eternal, which is how we all like love. They want to protect you, yet keep you in constant danger of their unruly desire. They can’t have sex with us because, as Shakespeare said (I’m paraphrasing), “to die” is to reach orgasm, and women have a hard time “dying,” if you know what I’m saying, so why even try when we make it so hard? Are vampires a way for men to get out of getting us off?

Haskins: Wait. I thought vampires could have super hot sex with us? I thought that was the point. Now I have to go take down that craigslist ad.

Rumpus: I thought vampires were all about, “Yes. No! Yes. Ultimately, no.” Or is that too much projection? Also, why do we analyze the sexual proclivities of folklore?

Haskins: [Since I never asked Sarah the above question, she never answered it.]

Rumpus: What are you going to be in next? I read through the celebrity-gossip grapevine that you’re moving from television to movies. Universal has picked up “Lunch Lady,” a children’s graphic novel series written and illustrated by Jarrett Krosoczka. You and Emily Halpern are said to be writing the script, with Amy Poehler as the star. [Ed. note: to preview how awesomely they collaborate, watch Sarah and Emily's movie DILF. Not to give anything away, but this is said: "Fuck you, Dad fucker."]

What is the future of Target Women if you’re not in it? I consider you a frontrunner in changing the landscape of comedy, and losing you in Target Women is like losing my ovaries (you can take this as a veiled metaphor about a hapless and infertile future for us all).

Haskins: Watch Modern Lady with Erin Gibson! It’s the fun-quel – because it’s not a sequel because she is her own awesome person – to Target Women. I am going to write for a while and see what happens next.

Rumpus: Me too.

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[Interviewer's note: I wrote a few statements that I was too embarrassed to send Sarah, even though she's so nice. Here's what I couldn't write her but can write here:

I would ask if you feel intimidated as a woman working in comedy, but you answered this question eloquently in the Jezebel interview. You say, “I'm new enough at this that I don't feel intimidated. This may seem like a digression, but bear with me for a small anecdote. Once, when I was about eleven and my sister was eight, we were going on a camping trip. The day of the trip, in the car, on the way, I got scared and started trying to back out of the trip saying I don't want to go. And my Mom, turned around in her seat and yelled 'YOU'RE GOING! YOU COME FROM A LINE OF STRONG WOMEN!' And I think that attitude's infected me. There are also strong women in the industry, and a lot of them have been very helpful to me – so, I have a positive attitude right now. I want to do stuff, and I don't want anyone to stop me.”

I also want to do stuff and don’t want anyone to stop me. My idea is to wrangle all the strong women into a community, follow each other in Twitter, amp it up to Facebook friends, girl-flirt via e-mail, run into each other at a party, buy each other drinks, start opening up, maybe have a tickle fight, and then begin a revolution. I won’t ask you this directly, but I’ll put in the final version of the interview so that you can read it and contact me with a plan.]


Elissa Bassist edits the Funny Women column. Follow her on Twitter, and visit elissabassist.com for more literary, feminist, and personal criticism. More from this author →