If you’ve seen a comedy show at the University in the past few years, then you probably know Rachel Kaly ’17. The English major is a member of the Wesleyan Comedy Committee and currently splits her time between campus and New York to further pursue a career in the field. Kaly, the last Wesceleb of the 2016-2017 year, spoke with The Argus to share her thoughts on comedy on campus, getting money from the school, and what the future has in store.
The Argus: Why do you think you were nominated as a Wesceleb?
Rachel Kaly: I think my friends did it as a joke, I’ll be honest.
A: Do you think you have any celeb status on this campus?
RK: I think it depends…. I don’t know. It’s such a small school that in some circles I might be well known, in others I’m definitely not [in] the same way. There are tons of people on this campus who are amazing, but I don’t see them as much or we don’t make that much contact.
A: What circles do you think you’re well known in?
RK: I do comedy on campus a lot, or I used to. I took a lot of humanities classes, so theater and English people, a lot of my friends are people who study humanities. I mostly did comedy and performance stuff here, and I imagine that’s where people would know me from.
A: What comedy groups were you in?
RK: I was in Desperate Measures for two years. I’m kind of in Lunchbox. I was in it for most of my college career. And one year I tried to make an improv group for female-identifying people. I directed a play one semester.
A: That’s quite a bit to take on. Is there a reason you don’t partake in the comedy groups this year?
RK: I took some time off last year, and I’ve been going back and forth to New York this year and performing more in the city. It’s hard to stay involved when you’re off campus half of the time. I think that the comedy scene is not at all representative of the Wesleyan community, and I honestly think it needs to be burned down and build itself back up again, just starting over completely. It’s mostly white and straight. It’s mostly—well, not mostly—men, but definitely more men than women. It’s not a scene that I’m interested in being a part of anymore. So I took my leave.
A: Do you think that there’s a historical, institutional reason why comedy groups tend to be more homogeneous, or is there something about comedy at the college level that tends to attract certain groups?
RK: It’s both. I spend a lot of time thinking about this. I mean comedy is white for so many reasons. A way to get on stage is to take classes, which costs money and expects that people have time after work, that they’re not working two jobs. A lot of the teachers are white and men, so women aren’t likely to feel comfortable playing characters. Same with people of color, same with queer people. It is a pretty homogenous art form. If you look at SNL, it’s a ton of white people, a lot of guys. It’s very much an institutional thing, and I think that at Wesleyan, then, because the comedy groups are so white, [for] auditions, people tell their friends, and it’s likely that their friends are white. It’s a vicious circle of not being good and not doing work to make it better. I just think it needs to start from the ground up.
A: On a more upbeat note, what do you do in the city? Perform in comedy groups? Study?
RK: I’ve studied at a few different theaters.
A: [Pointing out Kaly’s Second City sweater] Second City?
RK: Second City, yeah, I did that for a summer. I’ve done some UCB classes, a theater called the Annoyance, which just closed, but was in Chicago. And I started a collective this past summer with a grant from Wesleyan, and I was able to meet a lot of really cool performers through that. I got to do some improv, some stand-up, and I’ve written some plays that I got to put up with my friends, and some sketches and stuff like that.
A: That’s great! I’m an avid watcher of comedy, but performing is just such a hard thing to do, to be so silly for people to laugh and put yourself out there. How do you do that?
RK: It took me a really long time. I’ve been doing comedy since I was nine. I performed one of my sets here that I did when I was 10, and it’s just like, “My mom is so annoying” for 10 minutes. But it honestly took me getting off of Wesleyan’s campus to feel comfortable playing around more, for the reasons I just talked about. But if you find a community that supports you, and you’re not afraid of the people watching you…. It’s just about finding where you’re comfortable [with] and people to do it with. It sounds so corny. But just practice. I did just that. I worked a full-time job, and I did comedy at night.
A: Is that what you want to do, going forward?
RK: Probably. I’m going to give myself five years to try it, and if I get nowhere, then I’ll try something, like go to law school or…be a teacher. Both are more valuable than whatever I’m thinking about doing right now.
A: And outside of comedy, what have you done on campus? What do you study?
RK: I’m an English major. I’ve also done a lot of theater classes. What else do I do on campus? Really nothing, I mostly do comedy.
A: Yeah, I’m more of a single-activity person myself.
RK: Yeah, there is a decent amount of comedy to do on campus, so it feels like a lot of different things, but they’re really under the umbrella of comedy. I did some writing. I’ve written some stuff that I’ve submitted to the English Department for awards.
I work at Espwesso, which I love. Rick [Hong Manayan ’17] and Mariah [Guarnaccia ’17], they’re my managers—they should have been Wescelebs, honestly. Now that I’m sitting here there are 1,000 more people who deserve this. I could just list their names, but I don’t want to leave people out. I work at Espwesso, that takes up a lot of time and is really a cool job. It’s a little weird serving other students who don’t have to work. It’s definitely a frustrating thing.
I’m trying to think what else. I do—it’s also comedy—the comedy committee, started by Willie Zabar [’16], I think in 2014. We bring comedic acts to campus. We book them and negotiate their contracts and stuff. So we brought Aparna Nancherla, she was here a year ago, and she’s coming again, which is really awesome. Chris Gethard…who else have we brought? So many more people. Oh, Judah Friedlander, last year, did Sprung Flung.
There’s money here, and it’s hard to find. That’s another thing. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to get money from this school. You can get the school to pay for you to bring one of your favorite artists here and hang out with them for the night, and make a connection with someone who can maybe help you after.
A: What do you want to do that you haven’t done yet?
RK: I wish I had taken more classes that I actually wanted to take. I wish I had a semester to take sculpture, a dance class, a music class, things that I actually enjoy that I didn’t think were worth my time but really are. I wish I could have gone to more lectures and other people’s performances.
I really haven’t been going to class that much this year, so I’ve had more time to do whatever I want on campus just by my own creation, and it’s been cool going to different people’s events. I wish I had spent more time being an active community member, more globally than just focusing on what I was doing.
A: Do you have any parting wisdom?
RK: I guess, take money from the school when you can. Once you figure out how, it’s pretty easy. Spend less time doing your work, unless you care about it, but spend more time taking a bath or something and going to other people’s shit.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.