Vanessa Gritton first caught my eye on Facebook. She came to my city of Houston for a festival and updated her status every few hours with some hilarious takes on a place I forget I live. After becoming a Facebook stalker of hers, I saw an incredible post that tugged on my heart strings.
Gritton's Facebook post touched on a lot of things that deserve more visibility, particularly non-white LGBT youth and the reaction their family and close community have. Here's a taste:
So TLDR: Talk to your family about gay and trans people over pan de Pavo this week. Thx.
It was beautiful.
Gritton is a comedian living in California finding her voice and having blast. Inspired by her hilarious online personality and her fearless use of Facebook as a platform for communicating her convictions, I reached out to her.
I didn't just want to show her love, I wanted to know everything about her. From her amazing charity festival to her rich culture, this Q & A did not disappoint.
Q & A with Vanessa Gritton
What is comedy like for you right now?
I’m really happy with where I am right now. I’m in this really beautiful sweet spot where I’m getting booked on shows I’ve adored and working with comics I admire but I don’t have quite a big name for myself yet that allows me to work on the projects I love. I have that room needed for failure and the growth that follows and a chance to fuck up a little bit and have fun. I’m unknown enough that I get to look for exactly what my voice is and no one is watching me closely enough to hinder that. I get to be the master of exactly what kind of comedian I want to be.
What are the projects you have going on right now?
I have a festival going on called List of Demands because I really love that Saul Williams song and because at this point with the direction of our government is going, I’m fully aware the checks and balances are no longer being held and I want our communities to know we see them and want to help. 100% of the donations go to the NAACP, The ACLU, The Trevor Project, Trans Lifeline, CAIR, Border Angels and Planned Parenthood. I planned this thing on three weeks notice and have this great team helping me and half the team watched me cry on election night so it really set the bar for the now daily “OH GOD WHY DID I TAKE ON SO MUCH” meltdowns.
Also I have a podcast I’m working on creating for mini walking tours of LA because passion projects are what keep me from hourly “OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE” meltdowns.
What was it like starting out as a writer/comedian?
I was recently separated and jobless so starting comedy is already hard. Starting comedy as a lady is even harder. Starting comedy as a lady, living in her car was stupid and hard and probably in the end is the one thing that drove me to get out of my car. The job, the apartment, everything that improved my life was just so I can do this thing that meant me staying up all night and tiring myself out. That which also nourishes me also destroys me or whatever.
What is your writing process like?
Everyone has a different process and mine is catered towards the fact that I absolutely need to give myself guidelines or I will ramble. I start with a list over a few weeks of quick notes I wrote down and fully write out wherever I want to go with the bit. I then take a red pen and cross out anything that doesn’t need to be said, takes too long to get to the funny, so that cuts it down about 70% percent. After about a week of doing it at mics I add any tags I came up with on stage and cut out anything that hasn’t worked. It’s exhausting and deeply emotionally satisfying. I now have an erotic Pavlovian response to red pen.
Where do you get inspiration for your writing?
I love shameless admissions. Not the “Oh look I’m a pathetic lady-child” sort of shameless but that “I donate to charity because it makes me feel a little superior at parties and I’ve never seen the Godfather but I lie about it all the time” sort of Shameless. There’s something so deeply silly and lovely about removing that veneer we carry and writing about it is such a thrill because it inspires me to write honestly. There’s a reason that the truth serum trope is so popular in movies. It’s uncomfortable and great.
What do you think separates your writing from the writing of men?
A big thing is I don’t have to maintain that image of masculinity that means I’m not phased by anything so I get to be very emotional with my writing. I get to get deep into it and really live it no matter how absurd it is.
Describe your heritage/ethnicity/race/family structure:
Please stick with me this is long and weird and frequently speculated on so it’s usually incorrect. There are like 4 think pieces about me where I am referred to as “local black woman” and I was almost a forced Rachel Dolezal so it feels good to finally get a platform once and for all to make this clear.
So my mom is Guatemalan and My dad is Salvadoran. On that Salvadoran side we’re Mizrahi Jewish (look up Jews in El Salvador, we got history).
I’m one of 7 kids. Mom had two from a previous marriage, dad had three and together they had me and my younger brother. None of us look alike nor do we have the same accents because of upbringings spanning New Jersey, Guatemala, and California. Our dinners look insane. It’s great.
What impact do you feel your gender and ethnicity have on your comedy?
My ethnicity is usually front and center. Being a first generation kid I have this constant feeling of “Ni de aqui y ni de alla” (not from here, or from there) so I’ve always felt like I only have my foot in the door with two different cultures but I’m not quite inside. It’s that constant feeling like an outsider looking in the helps me look at things with a different perspective and that’s where my comedy comes from.
Do you have a message for women/women of color that want to write/perform?
Representation is huge. Women of color start these chain reactions where another big haired little girl realizes there’s a place for her in comedy too. Even if we’re not trying to be an example for women or women of color, we are regardless simply because so few of us exist.
Especially being latina I have a platform to bring causes and issues to my latinx community that have unfortunately either not been discussed or are deeply hurtful. A lot of our programming still uses the sissy trope or simply being trans as a storyline to be mocked or discussed. We still have a huge issue with “machismo”. Latin programming can be funny without being homophobic and I will screech that from the rooftops.
As a performer I have comedy. If you’re not a performer, just have those uncomfortable discussions. I know I just told you to force awkward conversations at the table which is the antithesis of everything you have ever heard but please bear with me. Talk to your hella catholic abuelita about trans rights. Tell your uncle that “maricón” is a fucked up thing to say. Explain to them that as marginalized groups we can’t just fight for our (latino) rights. As latinos, we need to stand with the black, muslim, asian, native american, and LGBTQ communities because the powers that oppress them, oppress us. We get to be allies through discussion and education.