Janine Brito loves blazers. As a lesbian comic with a self-proclaimed masculine streak, she talks about the joys of not having to dress for the male gaze and fantasizes about comparing mannish jackets with Hillary after a three-way with the Clintons.
A lot of things have changed in Brito's life since 2009, when she won the San Francisco Women's Comedy Competition, but her fashion sense isn't one of them. For one thing, she can be seen weekly on the FX late-night show Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell, which is slated to go daily this fall. Coming from San Francisco, New York's lightning pace can be punishing, but Brito loves it so far. "I live in the writers' room!" she jokes. "Essentially my day job is writing jokes with my friends. Even though we're there a lot, it's the best kind of busy. And it's allowed me to move to New York without having to live in a rat-infested room with a family of strangers."
Not that she doesn't miss San Francisco. Topping the nostalgia list are burritos, brunch, and "sex-positive, feminist sex shop" Good Vibrations. "We have Ricky's here, which is superfun, but it's a little sleazy, a little bit of a gag shop. Like penis straws and stuff. Whereas Good Vibes is like ..." She puts on a lilting, over-the-top hippie-chick voice: "'Come in, explore yourself, find your sexuality.' I miss that."
Brito's San Francisco-nurtured sensibility aside, she considers getting onstage a feminist act in itself, since it means placing herself in a highly visible position of power. Also in line with her politics, Brito subscribes to the "punch up, not down" philosophy of comedy writing: "Basically my general principle when I write a joke is, is this pushing pressure upward? I never want to attack the little guy." Much of her humor comes from her own experiences growing up in poverty; she has a bit about being watched by her mentally ill aunt that's too funny to be sad.
While the numbers show that, Bridesmaids notwithstanding, funny ladies are still the minority in writers' rooms, Judd Apatow comedies, and stand-up clubs, Brito isn't discouraged. "The whole question of are women funny – people kind of laugh at you. It's not even really entertained amongst people who know what they're talking about." Touring comics have it worse, she says, because in small towns there are fewer opportunities to see any comedy, much less comedy by women and minorities. "The thing I feel like it breaks down to is 80 percent of all comedians are horrible. But because there are fewer women, if you see a woman that you don't like, it's easier for you to assume, I don't think this particular type of person is funny."
Despite that grim ratio, Brito cites her comic brethren as a huge and positive influence on her writing. She loves hanging out with comedians, even if the constant joking gets tiring once in a while. ("I'm like, come on guys, let's be people for a second.") Her favorite part of the 2009 San Francisco Women's Comedy Festival wasn't winning, she says; it was meeting her peers. "I pretty much met every female comic in the Bay Area at that time. It created a network of women who were going through the same things as me, learning the ropes. That helped the most, just having a close-knit group of female comics that I could write with, or if we had a traumatic experience, we would call each other, whether it was comedy-related or life-related."
And being a lesbian onstage has its perks. "I can only speak to my own experience, but I think as a lesbian, and specifically a more masculine lesbian, I think I get away with being a little more crass." For instance, when the Kate Middleton topless pictures broke last year, Brito engaged in a vigorous round of hooting and pelvis-thrusting on Totally Biased, interrupting herself occasionally to express feminist outrage over the invasion of Middleton's privacy. Where another comic might have come across as lewd, Brito managed to look silly, self-deprecating, and unapologetic all at the same time, proving that she is as supremely comfortable in her comic style as in her clothing style. And, like Hillary Clinton, she can really rock a blazer. n
Janine Brito appears at Moontower April 24-27: Wednesday, 8pm, at Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th; Thursday, 10:45pm, at the Swan Dive, 615 Red River; Friday, 8pm, at Bethell Hall at St. David's, 301 E. Eighth; Saturday, 8:30pm, at the Swan Dive, 615 Red River; and Saturday, 10:30pm, at Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th. For more information, visit www.moontowercomedyfestival.com.
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