“‘Women aren’t funny,’ he said while posting his 248th rage comic as Family Guy plays in the background.” That’s a tweet from Amber E., a.k.a. @rare_basement on Twitter. Amber’s hilariously honest and witty observations touch on everything ranging from working in retail and raising her five-year-old son as a single mother to sex, politics, and feminism, and she’s part of a new wave of funny ladies on twitter commanding legions of followers and shining a light on womens’ less-talked-about experiences and observations. Many aggregate websites have done small features about the female comedians who are rising in Twitter popularity, but my favorite funny women are everyday people–moms and students, retail workers and entrepreneurs–who offer humor and wit inspired by experiences we can all relate to.
I asked Amber–I always want to call her “Rare Basement” in my mind still–if I could interview her for a blog post about her inspiration, background, and how online media has been a platform for her humor and the impact it’s had, if any. She obliged, and I’m excited to share our conversation as well as some of my favorite tweets from @rare_basement and other amazing women who are using Twitter as a platform not only to make us laugh, but to question our assumptions about feminism, gender, and politics.
Meg: Who are you? What’s your story?
Amber: Okay haha well my name is Amber and I have always lived in southeastern Michigan. I grew up in a more rural area, took off to live with my grandma in a bigger city when I was 16, and have bounced around since then before ending up in the same neighborhood my dad grew up in. I have always loved reading and writing, I focused on fiction for the most part but eventually realized I am incredibly self-centered, and as such only feel comfortable writing about myself. I do not feel comfortable writing A LOT about myself, which is why twitter is a good forum for me as I am weak at constructing a narrative. As a kid I was involved in plays and improv and choir, I have always loved to perform. I never did very well in school. My senior year of high school I became very sick and ended up dropping out. Shortly after, I discovered drugs and had a few good years of partying before a heroin addiction made it necessary to get clean. Shortly after THAT, I found myself pregnant. So now I’m 26 with a five year old son, living with a boyfriend who is not my son’s dad and working whatever I can to support myself. So far that’s just been minimum wage part time retail as I have no real skills or education.
M: But did you always know you were funny? Was that an identity you just kind of came in to, and was it ever hard for you?
A: I never really thought I was funny. I thought everyone around me was funny. In high school I kept a notebook full of things I overheard that made me laugh, kind of a proto-twitter. I tried to figure out what kind of sentence structures were the funniest, what inflections. I found that most people were funniest when they weren’t trying, when they were just expressing their most honest emotion or reaction in a very simple way. “Jokes” weren’t my thing, I was just kind of obsessed with the way people spoke. I worked on emulating that, on eliminating self-consciousness to allow my actual dumb thoughts and ideas to come out in a way that would make myself laugh. When that doesn’t work I pay attention to the self-consciousness itself and express that. It was basically just an exercise to learn to like myself more, to put myself out there in a way where it was impossible to use my words to hurt me because I already knew how stupid they were, and I owned it.
I grew up with a great fear of sounding stupid, a fear that life was one big joke everyone was in on but me. I put myself out there to say “Hey I am a fucking idiot is anyone else a fucking idiot too” and found people to connect with. It’s an experiment in honesty and has the side effect of making people laugh, maybe because honesty is inherently funny? I don’t know. I feel pretty pretentious right now trying to explain this. The closest I’ve come to concisely stating what I mean is when I tweeted, “How To Be Funny: 1. think a dumb thing 2. say it”
M: So then how long have you had an online presence? Basically, how did you become an internet lover?
A: I’ve been online since I was 12 all over the place. I liked the internet when I was younger because it was easier to make friends with whom I had things in common since I was in a small town and no one really liked me. Plus, the internet made me laugh.
M: What are you doing right now? What’s on your plate for today?
A: Well, right now I am at my mom’s house on the computer while my son plays with her. I took him to get his shots and then to the doctor because he has a rash. Later I will go home, put him to bed, and sit on the couch until my boyfriend comes home. We will watch a couple episodes of 3rd Rock From The Sun and go to bed. EXCITING STUFF!!
M: Is your son funny?
A: My son is the funniest person I know. EVERYTHING he says is honest and unfiltered, even his lies (they’re so blatant!). It’s really amazing watching a person try to understand the world for the first time. I’m really in awe. I don’t think my twitter would be as popular without him. He is much funnier than I am, all I do is notice him.
M: So every humor writer has a favorite tweet or joke they’ve done or whatever…what’s yours?
A: This is a hard question because jokes are the hardest thing to write! I dont know, I’m just gonna go with my first instinct on this one.:
sext: i am archaeologist and u are fossil. i dig in sand and slowly reveal ur Giant Bone! i gasp and say “i’ll call u… Tyrannosaurus SEX”
M: That one is one of my favorites too–I know I favorited it. You don’t have a computer, right? I’ve seen you say that you just tweet with your phone.
A: No, I don’t have a computer because I can’t afford the internet. I tweeted through text until I received a smart phone for Christmas, which was a wonderful surprise. It sucks because I can’t do things like watch tv online or play games or write (I would really love to write) but on the other hand thanks to twitter I would probably never do that stuff anyway. I do whatever takes the least amount of effort to pass the time, and right now that’s twitter.
M: Who are your influences in humor writing and comedy?
A: Okay I need to preface this by saying that anyone who follows me probably know about my cultlike devotion to Community. It is my favorite tv show, hands down. But considering how new it is still, I can’t say it has SHAPED my sense of humor at all. As a child I think I was influenced by stuff like The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Cartoon Planet/Space Ghost, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Far Side comics. As I got older I was mostly influenced by my friends, who I still think are the funniest people in the world. I like people who live to make themselves laugh, it gives me a lot of joy to see that. I like slightly-older sitcoms like 3rd Rock From The Sun and Newsradio that employ broad physical comedy with weird jokes and character-specific interactions. I don’t have a preference between highbrow and lowbrow. I’m really easily amused. I like puns. I like to see people get hurt, and I like it when people swear. Being insulted usually makes me laugh, especially if it’s creative. I was once told I “look like an overly cheerful cancer patient in a midgrade human hair wig” and laughed my ass off because DAMN sick burn and to be honest, they weren’t wrong!!
M: If you weren’t living your dream in retail, what would be your ideal job? Where do you want to go?
A: Oh god I don’t really have a clue. Retail is exhausting but I can’t think of anything else that would be any less exhausting. I don’t think I’d want to get paid to write because I don’t know how to write and I would have panic attacks until deadlines and then disappear from. I guess my ideal job would be winning the lottery and sitting on my ass all day, watching tv. I’m really lazy. I will do what’s necessary to survive but if work wasn’t, I wouldn’t do any. I would like to go to college someday, maybe to learn how to write, but I’m not sure student loan debt is something I would be able to deal with in the future. I’m poor enough with now with NO debt.
M: I would LOVE to see you working as a humor writer or maybe penning a column. One of the things that I think your fans love so much about you is that you’re equally good at super lowbrow butt-fart humor, but you’re also really good at bringing larger issues like politics, gender, and classism into your jokes. Talk about that…do you get generally positive responses from people?
A: Yeah the responses are generally positive because I think most people follow people who agree with them. I just post what I’m interested in and if people like that they can read it and if not, okay then. I’m not for everyone; no one is. I’ve gotten flak from conservatives for being pro-choice but it doesn’t happen often because most of them have no interest in reading what someone like me has to say. By far the thing that’s got me the most hate is making fun of Ron Paul but for the most part it’s a very funny kind of hate. “LIBERTY IS ALIVE, BITCH!” and stuff like that. The nastiest replies tend to be about really insignificant stuff like working in a record store, or admitting I recently had sex. It’s always unexpected when stuff like that happens. But in general the people I talk to have become good friends. I really truly love the friends I’ve made, and I’m very lucky that they allow me into their lives.
M: What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you because of your twitter account? I bet you get some weird followers.
A: I know this isn’t what you meant, but the strangest most surreal thing is being followed by and making friends with people I have been fans of for years. It’s terrifying and exciting and maybe my favorite part of twitter.
M: What five words best describe you?
“Demystifying the vagina through comedy?” “Dumb jerk never shuts up?” Maybe “Doesnt want to be lonely.”
Amber is one of the funniest people I’ve ever “met” online, and forming a little friendship with her through Twitter has been cool. Here are some other women I love following on twitter who not only make me laugh my ass off at their funny observations and 140-character one-liners, but who also use humor to advance the conversation about women, gender roles, and stereotypes in our culture.
What happened to me after following these women for the last six months or so was not just a lot of laughter, but feeling a little bit more okay about my own thoughts about sex, or getting my period, or being asked why I’m a feminist, or running out of clean underwear, or a million other embarassing and “not socially okay to talk about” thoughts I have on a daily basis. I’m sure you have thoughts like that too, and it sounds weird but just reading tweets from women who aren’t afraid to voice those things, who don’t censor themselves, is incredibly refreshing and validating. I love to see women who don’t cut each other down, own up to the insecurities they do have, and be honest about their experiences in a public forum. Life IS funny, and following these women has made mine better.
Follow some funny ladies.
Thanks for the interview, Amber!