Photo by Sharyn Morrow
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Rana May, the West Bank comedian (who actually doesn't live on the West Bank anymore), so hilarious. Is it the scribbled graphs she makes to accompany her "informative" speeches on why we never should have had the American Revolution because England is awesome? Is it the funny poems she writes and then attributes to famous authors and essayists? Is it her deadpan delivery? Her punk-rock sensibility?
Most likely it's all of the above. May has been known to be controversial -- most notably for her speech about why there are too many bands in Minneapolis -- but that's all part of what makes her so great.
If you've never seen her onstage, you should get your butt over to Nick & Eddie this Sunday night, where May will perform along with the rest of the rag tag crew of the Riot Act, led by Laura Brandenburg and Paul D. Dickinson. We talked to May about how she got started doing comedy, and what her humor is all about.
How did you get started doing comedy?
The first set I did was for a Fourth of July party for Tom Loftus from Modern Radio. It was a party at a house in Prospect Park. Nils Lindahl had been doing Fourth of July speeches, and Tom decided he wanted a bunch of speakers.
After that, people started asking me to do literary events like the Irregular Reading Series. And then I ran into Paul D. and asked if I could do the Riot Act some time.
Do you always use Visual Aids in your speeches?
Yeah, it makes me less nervous to have something else for people to pay attention to. After I started doing it, people would say, "Have you checked out Dimitri Martin?" I said sure, but I didn't know who he was.
Do you make the visual aids first or write the speech first?
I always come up with a topic for a speech and then write it out. I think of visual sketches of the speeches in my head. When I'm finished, I make a bunch of half-assed graphs and drawings of how other peoples' baby's look or whatever.
Is comedy something you want to do more of?
I used to be in bands on and off, and I really appreciated the parts where I was drunk and I had a microphone and the equipment was broken and I just had to talk. I always thought about doing comedy or something.
It's gotten to be such a weird thing in Minneapolis. Anybody I've ever talked to spends all their time doing comedy. I don't really have time to practice four days a week. I've tried to do a couple of things a month for the last six months, but I don't have super-big plans. It would be nice to do a little more. I see a lot of comedians spending all their time working on it. I don't know. I just bought a house, and I have to go to work.
What bands were you in?
They were punk bands. I was in a band called Dirt Yard, and I quit that when I got a full-time job. And I was in one in 1999 with some other good friends. We were called the Young and the Restless. I cried when they wanted to change the name.
What do you find funny?
I try not to think about it too much. I might ruin it. My friend Chris dragged me to a standup night. All of the comedians were making fat girl jokes, or jokes about someone missing a limb. And then there was a joke using the word retarded. A lot of these [types of jokes] aren't making me laugh. It's the bullying class making a joke, rather than the opposite. I like really absurd humor -- to make people think about what they haven't thought about before. Humor is a way to protect yourself when you are young.
Did you use it as a way to protect yourself when you were a kid?
I wasn't made fun of a ton. My friends would be. I tried to protect them. But yeah, I've always done it. I was the kid who made the joke even when it was inappropriate.
Do you consider yourself an artist?
No. My mom is an artist. She went to school for art. I always thought art was something boring that old people did. But I used to really want to be a graffiti artist.
Do you have a topic in mind for Sunday?
Not yet. So far I've done bits on why there should be less bands and how more bars can lead to world peace. So all the really important topics I've covered already. I'm sure there's something bothering me that I can write about, like internet dating or something.
Why do you think that people in Minneapolis are still drawn to punk rock?
I don't know. There's so many definitions of punk rock. The basic DIY community behind it has now extended to a lot of different types of music. That aesthetic, that subculture... I don't know if it's a useful term anymore.
I'm a product of having been around Minneapolis for a long time and going to a billion basement shows, a billion warehouse shows, billion club shows. You're not trying to network, but somehow after all this time that's what it ended up being. It's great that after 15 years I can find a place where people want to listen to my speech.
The Riot Act Reading Series
8 p.m. Sunday, January 29
Nick & Eddie
Featuring Rena May, Laurie Lindeen, Regan Smith, and Christopher "Jug" George. Hosted by Laura Brandenburg and Paul D