If you do comedy in Minneapolis, you know who Rana May is. May, whose whimsical deadpan style has earned her the coveted Funniest Person with a Day Job title in 2014, hosts and produces a slew of shows around town, including Grumpy's Sunday afternoon Donut Party open mic, the forthcoming music-comedy mashup Mic Swap (Turf Club, March 16), and the newly launched monthly showcase Pssy Ctrl, which takes place Thursday night at the Comedy Corner Underground.
May is also one of the most consistently hilarious local standups and just in this last year she's had the honor of opening for Duluth-bred comedy luminary Maria Bamford and Nerdist co-host Jonah Ray, and was also named one of Five Minnesota Comedians to Watch in 2016 by Growler Magazine.
We caught up with May to talk about her favorite color, open mics, and why she doesn't think she's the Koch Bros of Minneapolis comedy despite our insistence.
City Pages: What's up, Rana?
Rana May: Hey Raghav. I know you're just saying "hi" but I feel like I want to tell you all my feelings right now. I'm not going to, though.
CP: Before comedy you used to perform at local readings. What prompted you to pursue standup?
RM: Mary Mack and Tim Harmston. I did a reading with her a few years ago and they were like, "Hey, try standup." And I was like, "Huh, that's a nice compliment. Maybe someday." Someday was like a year or two later.
CP: You host and run a lot of shows. Would you say you're the Koch Bros of Minneapolis comedy?
RM: I wouldn't say I mercilessly exploit humans or use my profits to destroy my enemies but it's something to consider working toward.
CP: Who are your comedy heroes? Besides me.
RM: I don't have heroes, just deeply flawed people whose work is inspirational. Maria Bamford, Steve Martin, Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart.
CP: Do you have a favorite color? If so, what is it?
RM: I don't have a favorite color. If you make one your favorite, one day it will just disappoint you when you hear it underpays its staff or stabbed a waiter who forgot the ketchup.
CP: What is your least favorite thing about going to open mics? What is your favorite thing about going to open mics?
RM: Being away from home for a few hours while only doing five minutes of comedy is frustrating. Seeing someone old or new come up with a new thing and just kill it and have everyone in the room see the potential and be supportive and congratulatory is the best. That is magical.
CP: You're co-hosting a monthly show tonight called Pssy Ctrl that exclusively features female comedians as well as POC and GLBT comics. Why do you hate straight white men?
RM: We do focus on women. I try not to say "female" because it's too scientific and I don't want it to come across as if we wouldn't book trans women. We love all our straight white men friends but for this one show, out of the 60 comedy shows a month in town, we prioritize booking hilarious people who get fewer opportunities to do comedy.
CP: What can male comics do to help reduce harassment and sexism in the comedy world?
RM: Gently call out their friends when they are being disrespectful to women and men and genderqueer people — everyone. There's definitely harassment in every form here. Every case is different, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to call someone out in a way that will lead to a conversation. Not everyone has the energy for that, though.
Back up women — and men — when they say someone made them uncomfortable when they did x or y. Google "misogyny" instead of making a woman explain it.
Don't repeatedly ask out people who you are also booking or giving time to. Recently one person — a guy — tried to call out stuff in a very public way, and it's led to a lot of men cornering women in clubs or just in private messages demanding to know if they ever felt harassed. That isn't a great way to handle that.
CP: What do you love about your Pssy Ctrl co-hosts Shelly Paul and Janna Syverson?
RM: I love that we are all super different. I love that they exist and they're both really amazing funny women with so much potential. And I didn't realize how much I missed really having comedy women friends until we started working on this show together.
CP: You've also been a social worker for years. If you had the opportunity to pursue comedy full-time, do you think you'd have a hard time leaving that job?
RM: No. I love the work I do, but it's emotionally difficult and I worry I'm getting burned out and can't serve my clients as well as I need to when my feelings start dying. Comedy has helped me not become burned out, and find joy in shit instead of always being stressed out.
CP: Where are your favorite places to perform in the Twin Cities?
RM: I love the Comedy Corner Underground. It feels like home. I love Acme, but every local comedian's goal is to work at Acme so I try to be pretend like it's just all okay, no matter what happens everything is cool. Sisyphus is a new amazing room and the crowds are always so awesome.
CP: Okay, serious question: If the main course at a restaurant is over $25 and there isn't free bread at the beginning of the meal, do you feel a little ripped off? I would feel ripped off.
RM: I can get bread out of a dumpster. But come see my new show. It's called Mic Swap. There will be five comedians and one band, but one comedian will do a song with the band and one band member will do comedy. This time it's my old pal Jesse Thorson of the Slow Death and Shelly Paul who will switch spots. There is bread on the menu, but it's not free. There's a dumpster down the street.