The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #64: Lianne Stokes

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Hi there! We’re the two brunettes who hate sex. Sara-Kate hates sex because it’s too aerobic—she once sprained her foot. She lives in Kips Bay, loves candy, and wears exclusively rompers. Elisa Jordana hates sex because she abhors the human penis and all its functions. Not a fan of balls, either. She lives on the Upper West Side and is currently dating her two dogs, Kermit and Chicken.

We love asking unusual women about their sex lives and what makes them tick. Today we’re interviewing Lianne Stokes, comedienne and author of the recently published memoir Below Average: A Life Way Under the Bar.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average age Americans lose their virginity is seventeen. However, the number gets lower and lower with the help of sexting and Game of Thrones. We want to give a big congratulations to Lianne, who successfully avoided all things penetration for thirty years. How on earth she managed to steer clear of male genitalia—especially in the stand-up comedy scene—is above both of our brunette heads.

Raised in Nyack in the early 1980s, Lianne was the daughter of an outrageous Vietnam-veteran father who scared away potential boyfriends. Now thirty-seven, Stokes lives in Austin, Texas and writes music reviews for HelloGiggles. She’s single and can be found on Bumble.

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The Rumpus: How did your career in comedy prepare you for writing a memoir?

Lianne Stokes: My life prepared me to write a memoir in the most unexpected way. I was reckless, crazy, immature, and honest. All made for some insane stories.

Rumpus: You come from a family of characters, and you do a fabulous job representing them on the page in a way that’s both humorous and sensitive. Was that difficult?

Stokes: The difficult part was putting my family out there because they didn’t ask for it. My father is a narcissist, so he loves any attention, good or bad. But, my mother is a business woman and a private person. I didn’t want to hurt her. I also never shared my truth with them. We’re not an open, campfire cry-style family. We’re tough. At my book launch I was terrified. I was about to read raw truth in front of the people who supported and raised me. I was unraveling. My friend Nicole Caplan approached my mother and said, “Are you prepared to hear things you won’t expect about yourself and the family?” My mother replied, “Oh, we know it’s about us. It’s always about us.” Exposing them was my biggest fear and they took it all like champions. I hope one day I’ll make enough money where I can all buy them their own dysfunctional island.

below-average-cover

Rumpus: Why do you think you waited so long to lose your virginity?

Stokes: I never planned on waiting till a specific age. I wanted to lose it to someone I was in love with and I never ended up in a relationship. That’s all.

Rumpus: How did your family shape your expectations for future relationships?

Stokes: I was a bit of an oddball growing up, and I couldn’t relate to boys. I grew up with a cartoon-character version of what men are like. My dad had a real knack for scaring away potential crushes. He starts every conversation by asking: “Do you hunt?”

Rumpus: As a teen, were you ever tempted to rebel against your father?

Stokes: My senior year of high school, I lied to my dad and took off on a road trip to Ohio, where my crush lived. I really liked this guy and wanted to surprise him by offering up my virginity. Sadly when I arrived, I chickened out and told my potential fling the real reason for my trip was to see a regional production of Cats.

Rumpus: What was it like being a virgin in college?

Stokes: When I went to Syracuse University, I imagined that would be the place I’d find love and sex—away from the watchful eye of my father, who at that point was claiming to be a practicing Wiccan and warlock. I viewed college as a place where everyone was sexy and dating and boozing. I had visions of myself in a hot tub holding a cosmo in one hand, a textbook in the other, while some babe of a man played with my hair and I swatted him away. My views changed when I got there though. I was in a really competitive program. We were about our futures. We worked hard. We played hard. We didn’t care what people thought about our sex lives. We didn’t think about it.

Rumpus: Did you ever feel pressured to engage in the hookup scene?

Stokes: Not every young girl feels pressure to fuck to appease her peers. That’s crazy. There’s not some girl gang roaming around campus saying, “I had sex five times last night, what did you do?”

Rumpus: What about after graduating college?

Stokes: I was eager to get started on my career after graduating. First I got an internship on Days of Our Lives and then another on Spin City. But I still felt like a misfit in the glamorous, sexy world of television. I was working for a bisexual woman who kept complaining, “My boyfriend and my girlfriend are so needy.” I had neither—I hadn’t even had my first kiss yet! When I landed a job at a Manhattan advertising agency, McCann Erickson, I learned all about the “sex sells” mentality when it comes to selling products. But that wasn’t the best environment for a young woman looking to meet guys. There were horror stories of high-level executives traumatizing young entry-level employees by having day sex in their offices. I was glad I wasn’t doing what they were. I wasn’t a woman yet. I was like a fifteen-year-old set loose in Manhattan to play with the bad adults.

Rumpus: So what was the final straw that inspired you to lose your v-card?

Stokes: When I was approaching thirty, I confessed to my shrink that I was still a virgin. She told me I was ten years behind. I said, “Come on. More like three.” She said, “No, Lianne. Ten.”

Rumpus: Where’d you meet the lucky guy?

Stokes: On the evening of my thirtieth birthday, some girlfriends took me out to a restaurant in Williamsburg called Sea. A random ginger-haired Scottish man started flirting with me at the bar. I went home with him that night.

Rumpus: How did he lure you back to his place?

Stokes: Well, I seduced him first. Then after asking me to buy both our drinks, I knew I couldn’t expect too much. He even said to me: “Don’t expect too much.” I said, “Oh trust me. You’re breaking ground for a whole new string of lowered expectations.”

Rumpus: Ha! How was the sex?

Stokes: A little disappointing, to be honest. He was a dud in the sack—not that I had anything to compare it to at the time. Now that I’m more experienced, I feel like I can look back and give an accurate assessment. It wasn’t great; it wasn’t awful. But I don’t feel it was about the quality of the sex. More that I had it and let that part of my life go. I feel most first times are like that. Though I have to say, I did enjoy the special mix CD the guy played while we were getting freaky—he called it “Babes in the Bed.” The important thing was that, as a whole, my first time set the stage for my future relationships, which have been better.

Rumpus: Have subsequent experiences taught you anything you wish you’d known then?

Stokes: No, I was definitely ready. But every relationship since then has taught me a little about myself.

Rumpus: Would you recommend other women remain virgins until thirty?

Stokes: I would never tell another woman what to do with her body. I think every girl lives her life by trial and error. People come from all different sets of circumstances and backgrounds. Embrace your mistakes and your triumphs. Both allow you to know what feels right for you.

Rumpus: What do you hope readers will focus on in your book, besides virginity?

Stokes: I didn’t write a book about being a thirty-year-old virgin. I told my story about not fitting in growing up, wanting to be someone else, feeling bad about my body, and being clinically depressed. I wrote about liking boys who didn’t want me, and not liking the ones who did. I wrote about rejection always feeling behind my peers. This is a book to empower women who feel like they’re not enough. We are all born unique; we should use that to power us in life. My story encourages girls to not be ashamed of who they are despite what society tells them. People of all ages are reading the book. Last week I got an email from women saying, “Thank you for your honesty and for reminding me never to give up.” And, that is why I shared my story.

Rumpus: If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would you say?

Stokes: I’m like a late-in-life Lindsay Lohan who’s maybe a little fatter and doesn’t do coke.

Rumpus: Who are your biggest inspirations in the literary world?

Stokes: Chelsea Handler, David Sedaris, and New York Times bestselling author Susan Shapiro.

Rumpus: Sex-wise, what’s next?

Stokes: This book ended in 2009. I’m not becoming a madam or switching teams. But, it would probably make for a good story.

Rumpus: What’s your advice to young girls trying to survive in the world today?

Stokes: Most girls aren’t in the popular group growing up. If you think about it, those seemingly perfect pretty girls make up a small clique compared to the masses who don’t feel like they don’t belong. The underdog is always the hero in every teen movie. Survive by thinking you’re beautiful, no matter what the media, boys, or anyone else tells you. And, actually be beautiful by educating yourself. Know that you’ll get out of your town if you want it bad enough, but in that process you don’t have to develop a superiority complex. Be kind to others, especially when you yourself are down. Have a strong character by competing with just yourself. Know that no matter how dark things are, you’ll end up the victor if you keep creating options. Never forget that you’re a survivor and simply existing isn’t what you’re made to do.

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Disclaimer: Sara-Kate and Elisa are definitely not virgins in any way, shape, or form. But they plan to abstain from sex until further notice.

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Author photograph © Grace Chu.


Elisa Jordana is a comedy writer, radio personality, and host of the web series Kermit And Friends. Previous credits include performing as the original keytar player for Cobra Starship, writing for The Howard Stern Show, Marie Claire, XOJane, and The Washington Post. She has made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Howard Stern, MTV, VH1, Sharknado, and Fox News. Sara-Kate Astrove recently completed her MFA at The New School and is currently working on her memoir, Sugar Baby. Her work, published under “anonymous,” has appeared in Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmo, Harper’s Bazaar, Redbook, and Yahoo. Sara-Kate lives alone in Kips Bay and once appeared on the cover of The New York Post. She will never turn down a Quest bar. More from this author →