Ashley Ray: Set Higher Expectations for Yourself
Ashley Ray is a comedian, writer, and TV critic sharing her personal stories and ideas while touching important topics like gender, race, and sexuality. As a cultural critic, Ashley writes for the A.V. Club, Vice, and The Chicago Reader. You can watch her shows and listen to her routines visiting ayrayyay.com.
"I think it's good for us to look at black culture from a critical lens, because we shouldn't just be happy with whatever they're giving us. I don't think that black art needs to prove itself in that way anymore."
— Ashley Ray
A. Ray: For a long time in particular black people have been asked just be thankful that you have the show, so what if it's not the show you want and I think now we're at this point in culture where I don't think that black culture and black art needs to prove itself in that way anymore I think it's good and okay for us to look at it from a critical lens because we shouldn't just be happy with whatever they're giving us. Especially when so many of these, these deals, you still have to understand that like these are mostly white institution still and a lot of times like that message is you know too worried about what the network's want to get at what the actual feeling and voice of the black writers wanted to be. So, I think it's the place of the critic to say and to kind of wonder you know where is this coming from in this show and what does this really mean.
S. Salis: I am Simone Salis and this is The Hoomanist with today's guest Ashley Ray. Comedian, storyteller and cultural critic Ashley Ray is a performer and writer who shares her personal stories and ideas, touching important topics like gender, race and sexuality while bringing her strength and honesty onstage. She has performed for the iO Theater, The Steppenwolf, The Laugh Factory and ClickHole both live and in online videos. A Williams College graduate as a cultural critic Miss Ray also writes for The AV Club, Vice and the Chicago Reader expressing wit in her essays and reviews, especially looking at TV and media through the lenses of the history of black television and the representation of minorities in international media. Her stand-up performances show how gender, queerness and race have the power of constructive shock through laughter for all the audiences if one is willing and strong enough to take control of it. You can listen to Ashley’s routines and watch her videos on arayyay.com. Ashley before I ask you anything else arayyay is spelled “a…
A. Ray: A-R-A-Y-Y-A-Y.
S. Salis: Okay, perfect. And you know I think we have plenty of people in common but I saw the article in the Chicago Reader that says you were one of the Chicagoans to follow on Twitter and…
A. Ray: As The Chicago Reader in 2017 I was voted the second best Chicagoan of all.
S. Salis: Who is the first one.
A. Ray: Ewing and I would say she does deserve it.
S. Salis: She deserves it. Ok so you…just accept that.
A. Ray: She is definitely a better follow than me I don't even fade it
S. Salis: Looking at your videos I also saw your performances and different you know in the Chicago comedy scene especially with your stand-up routine, so storytelling with Chicago, The Cupcake Comedy Club the one run by Martin Felshman and that was…
A. Ray: I love Cupcake Comedy Cabaret.
S. Salis: It's so nice isn't it.
A. Ray: One of my favorite shows in the city, it is an amazing showcase they do a great job. I think Martin bakes like actual cupcakes before the show. As, oh yeah he like asks all the comics like what cupcakes do you want, he'll do anything he'll do like gluten free, he'll do like vegan, it's crazy and he's an amazing cook and then he just brings like trays of them to the show.
S. Salis: It is just a nice and that's hard to find in like in some comedy scenes.
A. Ray: In comedy I think you know most of the time comics are just happy to get stage time so when there are producers who do extra little things like that it's just really cute.
S. Salis: Yeah, it's nice and also there is live soundtrack with piano by…
A. Ray: Natalie. Yeah, Natalie is so talented, I could just probably sit in a room with her alone and watch her make songs on a piano and I'm sure I would be entertained all day.
S. Salis: Yeah she just improvises them so like on the spot.
A. Ray: Yeah, it's amazing.
S. Salis: When did you decide to make people laugh like was that always a goal of yours or…
A. Ray: No it wasn't I was a writer for a long time and I knew that I liked sharing my own stories to connect with other people and to see how they felt about things and it took me a long time to kind of realize that what I connected to most was making people laugh. I think I did like a lot of spoken word which is very embarrassing; I did a lot of spoken word…
S. Salis: Why?
A. Ray: In college oh my gosh.
S. Salis: Like the one that goes with a rhythm and intonation.
A. Ray: Yeah you know like the very def Jam like I computed it I'd you know my group was called Speak Free like it was very just like and the rains when they fell they fell on my head not yours and it was just so corny but you know it was a way for me to get my stories out there and to see what people like related to like I would go to these matches and people would be like I love this piece about this I really related to that you know you have the feedback from the audience right away. There was always a part of me that was like this is so corny.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Ray: Like it's kind of like this race to like see who can be the most depressing or like the most emotional and I found that I was mostly writing things that I thought were funny and even though there were times when people would be like that was a sad story or wow that was like really brave they would still be like but it's cool how you made it funny. And then I realized I should probably just focus on the funny part.
S. Salis: You were writing those things but if people see that it's funny and also you start to realize it you probably have like a critical eye towards your work.
A. Ray: Yeah I think it's really weird because I think I, my first reaction is to turn to humor when I'm uncomfortable or when I'm dealing with something difficult or when I'm upset with someone the first thing I start doing is just is making jokes. So I think it was realizing that comedy isn't just like an emotional reaction for me but something that could be entertaining for people was like a skill I had to harness and then really finding my voice to say hey this is what actually makes me funny as a comic. But basically I think I just I just realized I had this kind of wit to just make fun of situations I was in and then I went to open mics and just you know got booed off the stage enough times until I figure out what actually works.
S. Salis: Like what works for you I mean, this is a very hard question like comedian like what works for you to make people laugh…
A. Ray: And like I kind of like to get in front of as many different crowds as possible I think Chicago is a great place to do comedy because you can get in front of so many different audiences. There's North Side crowds, there's West South side, like you can just do so much comedy in front of such a diverse group of people that like what works with one audience won't work with another audience. There are times where I walk into, I just did the Milwaukee Comedy Festival and I got there and I was like this room full of old white people is not going to like me they're going to hate me let's do this and I just do my normal set I'm like telling my jokes about my white privilege and how I hate Wisconsin.
S. Salis: And how did it go?
A. Ray: They loved it.
S. Salis: Oh, they loved it, okay.
A. Ray: They loved it so much all these people afterwards were just like you really told it how it is and you know I think it's just what works best for me is usually the comedy that that's really personal, the stuff that comes from a place where people sometimes are like wow I didn't know that you would make fun of that like you know drinking too much or like problems with my family or dating my horrible dating life. I think in the end it's things that are relatable and then just finding that way to make people think about it in a different way that makes them laugh instead of you know like sigh for you and feel pity for you which also happens to me a lot on stage I get a lot of pity laughs.
S. Salis: Okay you do get a lot of pity laughs, out of what kind of jokes?
A. Ray: I think just sometimes people are like oh that's like sad like um I have a lot of jokes about how I I was always pretty gay growing up like I kind of knew…
S. Salis: A good amount of gay.
A. Ray: Yeah, just like a good amount of gay, like growing up I kind of knew like I am not a straight person like as soon as I figured out how all that went I was like definitely you know I'm left-of-centre on this one, And it's like from a young age I knew that like I was interested in women and stuff and my mom kind of knew to and she would send me to church to like hopefully like pray the gay away and so that. And so I'll joke about that and I have a ton of jokes about it I like now I think it's hilarious but there are people who are just like oh my gosh that's awful I'm so sorry you had to go through that like wow and I'm just like what are you talking it's hilarious now.
S. Salis: Like now its good a few years after that…
A. Ray: I got through it you guys like we can laugh about it now but you know I think people it's, this is going to sound stereotypical but like as a, as a queer black woman I think people are eager to like look at my jokes or my stories in this like light of victimhood and they want to say like what you know how is she the victim here they want to look at the ways that I'm you know kind of casting myself in that role and I think a lot of what I do and a lot of why people might like my comedy is because I, I don't like to play that angle I like to, I I'm more empowered in these situations than you're giving me credit for.
S. Salis: You're like, like constantly went back and forth because of your mom's.
A. Ray: Yeah, and then because people in Chicago like don't know Rockford they're like oh you're from the suburbs and it's like I'm from Rockford we have more crime per capita than Chicago like I'm from the Southwest side.
S. Salis: You know as a person that was not, is not originally from Chicago it does look to me that like the suburbs of Chicago extend infinitely until they fade away.
A. Ray: Like Chicagoans are like there's Chicago there is the suburbs and then I don't know.
S. Salis: And then there is Iowa.
A. Ray: And then there is just like some corn fields and water I guess. It’s like there is interesting cities out there and.
S. Salis: What did you study in college, what did you focus on?
A. Ray: So, I went to Williams and I studied English and German and German history I was really studying like international media under that English degree. And then went to Germany and like asked people why they liked certain TV shows it was just kind of like hey so how come in Germany they loved How I Met Your Mother but they hate the Simpsons well they don't really hate it they just don't like it as much.
S. Salis: Really?
A. Ray: And it's like why do certain shows like find these international markets and others fail to do that and like what is it about the way TV shows represent certain cultural ideas or social ideas that you know work with some countries and don't work with others. So, just a real like look at international media.
S. Salis: And what was the answer to that survey because now I'm curious.
A. Ray: I also specially looked at how those representations impact minorities and in those countries particularly in whiter countries. So in Germany why, why does the representation of like certain TV shows like How I Met Your Mother impact their view of you know Muslims in the country because they don't they, don't really interact with a lot of black people they don't interact with a lot of people of color so when they have these like imported American visions of minorities what do they think about it. So I looked at that and and what the answer really was is people hold a lot of the same biases everywhere and they're often just driven by the same kind of fears and insecurities but at the same time the same kind of hopes and dreams. And I think for me that that just kind of made the key to to entertainment or to comedy or just to interacting or reaching anyone an ability to like to put things in in emotional terms that they'll understand.
S. Salis: It's interesting because you know as a person that comes from Italy, Italy is also a place that has a lot of American culture and that's I grew up I grew up with TV shows and even late-night shows that we are very hard to watch there but but I grew up in a place where there is very little interaction with people that are anything different from white Roman Catholic that's it that's what Italy is and…
A. Ray: Exactly.
S. Salis: And you grew up grow up with that, you don't really understand all the different cultures that come from the United States that for how weird the situation might be it is still at least the existence of a debate or a difference.
A. Ray: And the only things you are seeing are from TV shows you know and so how does that impact you, how does that shift your ideas about people. And I think like it can be good and bad you know I think mostly though people relate to what they relate to but it starts to get into dangerous territory so like I would meet guys in Germany who loved How I Met Your Mother and they would be like our men in America like Barney like we think Barney is the coolest American guy, Barney is so cool we want to be like Barney and they really just had this idea that like every white male in New York City it was so cool…
S. Salis: Neil Patrick-Harris.
A. Ray: Yeah was like Neil Patrick Harris cool like just womanizing like they just and I was just like no that's no that was a character.
S. Salis: Yeah Neil Patrick Harris has a husband and two kids and…
A. Ray: Like a very nice gay man and he's playing a role and like in America he's not seeing this like cool he's more like a douchebag. You know like we make fun but we were laughing at him in different ways.
S. Salis: Yeah they were like connecting and getting like lots of empathy in the hope like as a role model sometimes some people and…
A. Ray: You're a rooting for him and you know in America were more like…
S. Salis: That's the douche of the situation.
A. Ray: He's like a douche and I mean yeah sure Barney was like a funny character.
S. Salis: Sure; sure.
A. Ray: But I don't you know it's just people laughing at things but in different ways and can kind of digging into why that is.
S. Salis: That it's kind of a troupe of TV especially at like you know with modern American TV of the funny jerk and the extreme of that can be and especially I don't know I never thought of this before but you can correct me and you really have your sentences I think it's more a prerogative of course the white character it's like with the funny jerk can be Dr. House, Tony Stark those are people like oh he's cool because he's a jerk.
A. Ray: I think yeah that's the, you have the interesting like antihero end of it where it's like you know the Don Draper's the like troubled hero who can be dark and mean to everyone who works for him because he's so smart and then on the other end of it you have it as like a popular comedy troupe where there's the idiot which I think I always point to like Steve Carell as the best example as you know as Michael Scott in the Office where he's an absolute idiot and you hate him and you're irritated by him. But you also root for him because he is such an idiot things that you just like want him to be good.
S. Salis: Yeah.
A. Ray: So, you have it on like both ends uh-huh and I think it's interesting, it's definitely.
S. Salis: The kind of conflict that draws you to somebody but at the same time…
A. Ray: It’s something that I love using in my comedy I'd love playing stupid, I love just being dumb and just like no wait what is it what does it mean wait I don't get it.
S. Salis: Do you play that with people too like with your dating situation?
A. Ray: All the time.
S. Salis: You mentioned your dating situation.
A. Ray: If I'm bored on dates I'll play a game where I just act like I've never heard of anything they're saying.
S. Salis: Oh that's awesome.
A. Ray: Like this one dude was like I work at Groupon and I was just like what's that, what is it, like what you do like deals like what kind of deals like at a store, like it's not like it's a mall but it's online, just acting so stupid until he was like…
S. Salis: I just started a new mailing list it's The Hoomanists weekly digest a text-only curated collection of interesting links and articles that you wish a good friend would have shared with you it's delivered every weekend to your inbox as simple plain text and you can subscribe now for free on hooman.ist/subscribe. I am Simone Salis, and this is The Hoomanist podcast with today's guest Ashley Ray a Comedian and Writer. You know as a TV and you know a cultural critic you write reviews of shows like The Chi, Blackish and from what I've seen you see you're very honest in like both recognizing the flows in the merits of these shows from a cultural point of view as a critic who understands the importance of the presence of some shows culturally like the Chy, like you know like there is Black Panther's, the Chy, you need the presence of some of those culturally but at the same time as a creative writer you analyze the characters and the script in an analytical way. What is your take on that because as a gay person I remember thinking of like Will & Grace or Queer as Folk like I need that because yeah, the L Word…
A. Ray: I feel like I needed this because like where's our representation we have something and I think for a long time black people in particular have been asked to just be happy to be thankful for the representation, just be thankful that you that you have the show, so what if it's not the show you want. And I think for a long time we've been asked to be happy with that and I think now we're at this point in culture where I don't think that black culture and black art needs to prove itself in that way anymore and I don't think that we should be expected to I think it's good and okay for us to look at it from a critical lens because we shouldn't just be happy with whatever they're giving us especially when so many of these deals even though these networks are letting more people of color and they are accepting more diversity you know in their writing staff and in the producers room you still have to understand that like these are mostly white institution still and a lot of times like that message gets blurred or that message is you know too worried about what the network's want to get at what the actual feeling and voice of the black writers want it to be. So I think it's the place of the critic to say and to kind of wonder you know where is this coming from in this show and what does this really mean.
S. Salis: How do we advance to a point that allows people they're not in the norm, the range of the norm to just have their own voice for who they are and not who they need to represent because I've seen recently a show by Hannah Gatsby and she…
A. Ray: Nanette.
S. Salis: Nanette, did you see that, what do you think of that?
A. Ray: Nanette was good, Nannette was interesting.
S. Salis: I don't think it was comedy.
A. Ray: I don't, it's not comedy, it's like Nanette was a one-woman show and as a one-woman show it was fine I don't think as a one-woman show it like did anything incredibly courageous or different like as I'm gay, I'm black, I'm a woman, a lot of the things she said I was like I have heard other like queer woman around the world saying this especially women of color like I didn't think she was saying anything really revolutionary but because it was branded a stand-up comedy that's where people were like whoa she's changing comedy forever. But if you look at it as just a one-woman show which is what I think it's like okay it's great, it's cute, like…
S. Salis: It's honest.
A. Ray: Yeah there are some people who that message really connects for them and it may relate to it and that makes sense it's something that I think is really relatable but when it comes to like people being like this is changing comedy forever that's what I'm a little like okay hold on. Like, like okay I there's this comedian Jake Flores and he's…
S. Salis: Oh, I don‘t know him.
A. Ray: He's really funny, he's great but he said Nanette is a wonderful speech about how comedy is bad and that was…
S. Salis: It’s true.
A. Ray: that is the only thing I've read about Nanette that I immediately went yep that's how I feel about it. It's a wonderful speech about how comedy is bad.
S. Salis: So, yeah for whoever has not seen this show Nanette is this show of this comedian from Australia and I've never seen anything from her before…
A. Ray: She has been a comedian for that ten years she does comedy and she had like said she was going to quit comedy before Nanette came out and then it kind of was like a big break but she has she has a big following.
S. Salis: Yeah, and you know this seems to be a trend of stand-up comedy, like I don't want to be like the furies but there seems to be this trend in in in stand-up comedy that it goes more towards storytelling and honesty than actually structuring jokes like a personal structures joke and I'll close the comedy nerd parenthesis but Mike Birbiglia thank you so much Italian pronunciation but he doesn't do that that's not baby or John Mulaney there are different people John Mulaney structures jokes in like a more constructed way…
A. Ray: Yeah set up, punch line.
S. Salis: Yeah that kind of stuff and like story here…
A. Ray: He loves play on words.
S. Salis: How I was uncomfortable.
A. Ray: It’s a lot more character work.
S. Salis: Storytelling, Tina tells more stories to and honesty from the point of view of a lesbian woman that went through like health issues and stuff but…
A. Ray: You know I mean I think like Monique when she got out of jail she did a comedy special where she just really opened up about like that experience and how difficult prison was and it's incredibly moving like she cries about how she's like missed her kids and stuff. So in terms of people using comedy to be more emotional and to tell personal stories that's nothing new and I think that that's always been a cornerstone to comedy like it's always been the laughter and the sadness you know you don't get to just laugh at like Richard Pryor like running down the street on fire you also have to hear about the like death and sadness of his drug addiction. Like it all comes together in the storytelling and in the comedy I can respect that about Nanette I just think that also there has to be a part hat I remember laughing at and I don't remember laughing at a single part.
S. Salis: I mean at least she's honest about that she goes like I can't make people laugh so here is my audience feel about it.
A. Ray: Netflix had just put it on there as a one-woman show I don’t think we wouldn't have a conversation about Nanette you know she's a comic and that's like we're the fan bases and that's like where the press is coming from so.
S. Salis: But going back to the question how do you think that we advanced to a point where people can have their own voice not necessarily as the gay guy or the black person…
A. Ray: And has to represent all black people.
S. Salis: Right and just talks about human experience.
A. Ray: Yeah, I mean we're definitely not there yet like even with this like to just boost of like black TV shows people are like Insecure, Blackish you have Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, like all these shows they all in one way or another like had to bend to white studios or they had to take on this burden of like representing all black culture, all black like opinions on something you know they've all done like moment, like topic of the week episodes like they're expected to reply to police brutality because they're a black TV show. I don't think we're at a point right now we're like that responsibility has like left us, like I think you know that's just the way it is like even when it comes to smaller web series you know we still aren't the majority we're still not in control of these stories so we do still have the burden of like people are going to watch this and be like oh well you know but I saw an Insecure that black women don't like to give blowjobs so isn't that true? You know like sadly there are people out there who are watching the show who probably don't actually speak to any black people so like that's always going to be this kind of burden I don't think that the writers and producers have any responsibility to write towards that burden or to carry that burden but I think that you know in creating their stories they should probably think about how it's going to have that impact.
S. Salis: So, you need to be thoughtful about it inevitably because of the moment that we are living in but at the same time if you want to shake that off you just need to start to shake it off and…
A. Ray: You know and I think Blackish does a great job of that you know sometimes they're a little clumsy but you know Blackish will have that topic of the week episode where they're like we're going to talk about you know Oscar so white and how black actors aren't as respected and within the episode they'll give you different points of view you know Beau won't always agree with Dre, and Dre might not agree with his father and he might not agree with the mother but they give you different point of views to kind of say you know black people don't even all feel the same way about this so how can you expect us as a show to sit here and have like one point of view and say this is the black opinion on this so I think it's like there are ways where we can you know create this culture and say hey you shouldn't be placing us on this pedestal where you're using or you're giving us this like undue responsibility to like speak on these topics but at the same time you should be looking for opinions or you know thoughts on these topics that vary from yours and here are a few of them. It's like a fine line to walk you know.
S. Salis: It's not a minority or ethnical or gender responsibility it's a human responsibility to reach out for different opinions from yours.
A. Ray: To get different opinions and to make sure your show is you know inclusive and representative of what you want it to represent you know.
S. Salis: In your shows one thing that got my attention is that you express the queerness also in the kind of like relationships and the kind of openness that you discuss about, have you ever came out?
A. Ray: Oh yeah, so I like I came out I mean my mom always kind of knew but she didn't really know that I was like dating girls when I went to like after college I remember calling my mom and being like mom I've realized some things about myself I'm bi-poly just like I'm bisexual and…
S. Salis: Oh you did it all in one session you came out as bisexual and poly.
A. Ray: And polygamous I was like let's knock this out let's do it let's just pull this band aid off and she just went oh, so you're a slut.
S. Salis: That's what she said. Was it in a good way?
A. Ray: It wasn't a super mean way no I was like she's not wrong she's also not happy about it and I don't mind. So you know I came out and I think as a woman it's like really hard to come out or is like a femme presenting person like it's a woman like it's hard to come out or to be proudly poly or not monogamous because people tend to look at it as like something that's like defensive or an insecurity like no one really believes you like people when I say to people no I prefer to be single and you know I prefer to say I don't I don't have a boyfriend even if I do have partners just because I view myself as single you know someone will say like oh well who's that person that I saw you with and it's like you don't need to worry about it I'm single like why are you asking and people don't, people just have this weird long-held belief that like no woman could ever actually want to be single so if I'm saying that I'm polly it's because there's some other problem or issue with me.
S. Salis: Whereas if you were a man like say you were Bill Maher and you would like proud yourself of being single and have plenty of partners.
A. Ray: then everyone's like oh go you you're a bachelor like he's poly great you know he probably has so many girlfriends.
S. Salis: And hosts a late night show.
A. Ray: Like as a woman like there are people who will be like oh you deserve better than this and I'm just like what are you talking about like I am so, I am doing my best, my best life.
S. Salis: And maybe it's just my assumption but when did this happen with your mom what age?
A. Ray: It's probably like 22.
S. Salis: So, it is quite unusual to like it in your early 20s to go like I mean the orientation and the gender I get but just also being like very conscious of…
A. Ray: Monogamy isn’t for me. Well I think I kind looked, I had a lot of experience pretty early on in life, when I was in high school I started dating a guy in my senior year and just thought that I was also in love that like when he liked the summer before I went to college he was like I love you so much like we should stay together like please be with me like I want to get married someday and so I was like he's just the one for me and he proposed when I was like 19 and I said yes, and so I was like engaged to be married had a ring wore it all through college like just very much did the like monogamy we are one through you know with all the stuff they say like health and sickness and thickness and thinness and harness and whatever like I bought into all of that and I mean even in that relationship like after about a year I kind of realized like traditional monogamy what wasn't what I wanted.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Ray: I was a pretentious horrible child I read a lot of Simone de Beauvoir and I was like well you know she was separated from her partner and I want to like be this amazing woman who's able to like be married but like travel and have lovers and like away, be able to be away from my partner and with my partner and be strong so like even in that relationship when I was engaged we had talked about open relationships, so I was like already comfortable with that idea like and I don't know there's something about when you're engaged to the person that you like think you love where you're like yeah like we're so secure in this like why wouldn't I feel, why wouldn't I trust you to like also share your love and your amazedness with other people. You know I went through we also we had a horrible breakup my senior year of college like two weeks before I graduated so when we broke up and I like I pawned the engagement ring I used the money to buy weed and I was like you know what I, I feel like I lost so much of who I was and who I wanted to be being in a monogamous relationship and I'm not someone who doesn't think monogamy like doesn't work I think it can work for some people but the way that I've been taught to do monogamy, the way that monogamy works with me in my life doesn't click with me and I like to have a lot of freedom I like to be able to travel and to kind of do my thing when I want to do my own thing.
S. Salis: I think, I think you know I don't necessarily think that one formula or the other like you said it works for like everyone but I think it would be more important to choose consciously what you want like if you should have how to manage your relationship with other human beings in general it should be something more talk, not to drive you towards one thing or the other just you know this how to be human like… A. Ray: Exactly like I think like and I don't know I think that's what my not like my version of polygamy or non-monogamy does I don't, I don't really like using those labels I think when I first started doing it I loved the labels I was like I'm solo poly try bah-bah-bah I loved like the ability to label myself and find different communities and that's helpful but like at this point in it I'm just like I'm someone who takes every relationship that enters my life and I look at it on its own merits and I look at it you know the person as an individual and how I connect with them and why I connect with them and then I go what do I want this relationship to be to me.
S. Salis: Yeah, it's just the kind of respect. You know the fact that for example I am married or I am in a monogamous relationship should not influence anybody else's happiness choice.
A. Ray: Exactly, it's just like you know giving people the respect to be like our relationship means this because of our personal connection not because you know society says this is what marriage should mean.
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Today's guest is Ashley Ray performer and TV critic. So sometimes I asked if you grew up with any kind of like spirituality or religion being from families because I think that’s, was your family like that?
A. Ray: Yeah, it was weird I went to church school when I was younger so like for first yeah so like from first to third grade I went to this like weird faith Academy Church school and my mom only I think sent me there because it was better than the public schools in the area hmm but then she would like sometimes randomly get super into the church side of it and would like just make me go to church for a few months and then she'd get over it. But I don't know I always sort of saw Church as this thing that some people needed to make sense of life but I never saw it as the truth. I remember as a kid very young thinking like how can we believe anything in the Bible when people didn't even have glasses back then I was just like they couldn't even see like when I was in sixth grade I actually took a job as the church secretary at my mom’s Missionary Baptist Church so I had to go to church every Sunday to read announcements and to make programs I got paid ten dollars an hour to be there ah so that was pretty great. So like I respect what religion means to people and I definitely I love gospel music like you know I I think I learned a lot about faith from my mom in the church but in the end for me it's always just been more like okay so but what am I going to do like I just have to do stuff.
S. Salis: So what do you do, like for yourself like what beliefs you hold on to ethically speaking because it doesn't have to be religious it doesn't necessarily have to be spiritual but as a human being I mean it doesn't have to but I'm wondering…
A. Ray: I think like I've been thinking about this a lot and like having a real change of like thought around it like I used to be someone who is very spiritually focused and I would just be really set on like my intentions in life and like because you have to really like take control and set boundaries and stick by them to be like this is what's good for me and my mindset and my routine and my schedules and this is what I need to do to get stuff done.
S. Salis: It's really hard to get you like to take that responsibility for yourself…
A. Ray: It’s so hard and like it included a lot of like cutting people out of my life who were like you know in the end distracting to that and really forcing myself to like settle into patterns and behaviors that you know I mean I used to be the kind of girl who was like going out to bars until 4:00 a.m. and like going to open mikes until 2:00 a.m. and then just like trying to go to work the next day and now I like force myself to like get the amount of sleep I need to know that I'll be in a good mood the next day.
S. Salis: It make such a difference it took me like 30 years to realize that I just need to sleep a little bit more.
A. Ray: Like if you get more sleep you feel better like if I put my stuff together at night before I go to bed I'm not searching frantically in the morning and I have a better day.
S. Salis: And it's amazing what can happen if you eat regularly healthy food.
A. Ray: It's really you know taking care of myself and figuring out little self-care things like that yeah like maybe so much focused on like you know the places where I have the ability to control what I can and to make a better world in space for myself especially in this world right now where I have so little control over so many things yeah.
S. Salis: So instead of relying are like on outside rules you're applying the same thing that happened in your emotional life earlier a lot like in you're like routine and taking care of yourself a little bit, your choices for yourself?
A. Ray: And like I probably am, like this is I'm like this is a realization for me and they're probably like people out there like duh you idiot you have to be self disciplined but it's really something I've had to learn and it's something that's given me a lot more confidence and in my writing ability you know I sit I sit down I forced myself to write and I forced myself to go to open mics and like now I dedicate my time and my space to the things that I want to do and the things that I know make me happy with my mindset and with my world and with my space.
S. Salis: So as an artist what is, this is also helping you as a creative person as an artist like to get a little bit of more routine like that kind of stuff?
A. Ray: Yeah I think so and I think you know that was the scary part of it like part of me was like oh well what if I like sober up and I stopped like playing around and I I'm not funny anymore?
S. Salis: Do you drink a lot?
A. Ray: I you know I I yeah you know I I drink some people would probably say it's a lot, I here's the story…
S. Salis: By American standards I'm not able to say sorry.
A. Ray: Yeah you know here's the story this is my the story I always tell to like set the barometer of like my drinking because it's hard for me I I quit drinking I haven't I stopped drinking in January so it's been a pretty long time but back in October I drank so much that I, I got alcohol poisoning and I threw up so hard that I burst blood vessels in my eyes so my eyes were just filled with blood for like two months there's just nothing that doctors can do about it they're like….
S. Salis: No it just needs to reabsorb itself.
A. Ray: It just needs to clear itself up so your eyes are just filled with blood but then even after that happened I kept drinking for like two more months and I thought it was hilarious I thought it looked cool I was taking so many pictures and like making show posters with them and just like thought it was the coolest thing and freaking people out and like people would bring their kids around me and I would like open my eyes?
S. Salis: Then why did you stop?
A. Ray: Well you know I I was in therapy and my therapist was like you probably shouldn't joke about this?
S. Salis: Why?
A. Ray: She was like you could have died, she was like you were asleep and you had alcohol poisoning and you threw up so hard and it wasn't like the first time that I had thrown up in my sleep either so she was like you could die.
S. Salis: So the therapist made you change your point of view on this?
A. Ray: I mean not really honestly like I drink until December and then I had a friend who like decided to go sober and he was just kind of like I just want more control over my life like I don't you know I what do I get out of this and I kind of reached a point with drinking where I was just drinking alone in my house wasn't a social thing for me it was just drinking because I'd have anything to do or I wanted to get drunk and like watch the office and just sit in my room. And I was like yeah you know what like this isn't putting me in the mindset that I want this isn't like benefiting me in a positive way what do I have to lose by like cutting this out of my life. And it was easy like once I kind of made that decision it was easy to just stop drinking.
S. Salis: So, thinking about what you wanted to do was actually what actually triggered the decision because you kind of weight your goals towards your behavior that made you decide like that.
A. Ray: I also decided I wanted to like lose like a lot of weight so that that was another factor that I was like…
S. Salis: Did you lose a lot of weight lately?
A. Ray: I did actually I, I like a hardcore started working out, like got out myself on a fitness routine, like got myself on a hardcore diet I've lost like 40 pounds.
S. Salis: 40 pounds in how long?
A. Ray: Since January.
S. Salis: That's a lot in a short amount of time.
A. Ray: I go to the gym sometimes twice a day and stuff work out a lot but yeah it definitely so part of why I quit drinking was because I was like I don't want the calories or the carbs.
S. Salis: So, how is your comedy, how is your company being changing in reaction to these behavioral change in your life?
A. Ray: Yeah it's interesting because I have a lot of jokes about being fat.
S. Salis: Material is out well I mean I think I've seen older material of yours and I'm not going to be able to tell oh you weren't all that fat you know your body image is what you want of yourself so I'm not going to say that but I think you were right.
A. Ray: I mean I've always been a bigger girl like you know at my biggest I was like over 200 something pounds and like maybe people couldn't like exactly tell how big I was but like I was big and I had a jokes about like being fat and I dated a lot of like shitty dudes who had said stuff to me about being fat so mostly the jokes were about that. And when I lost weight and I told those jokes like one time after a show woman was like that was really triggering that you know and I've had people kind of be like I don't know if you come you're not fat enough to make that joke anymore which is like interesting because I am still like well these are my jokes I wrote them and this is my experience in my life and I obviously I change kind of the context like I talked about you know all my jokes I update and I change kind of like as my life evolves so to me it's a weird thing where I'm like this is still my story like I'm going to tell it.
S. Salis: Here's the thing right now I personally weight about 160 pounds in 2015 I weighed 118 so the difference is 42 pounds to date 3 years ago in my brain I'm still that person. Like what growing up you know I was fluctuating for personal stuff that person it's not secret just don't want to waste time talking about myself in this but I was when it growing up I was about 120 then I worked towards like to feel better with myself just because I would just get up from a chair and faint you know what I mean, so I work towards that and but in my brain I am still that I don't think my actual perception of myself caught up with what I am.
A. Ray: Yeah I definitely like I I know that I've lost this weight and I'm doing this work and I like see before and after it like I started seeing a trainer so she has me take pictures and I look at the pictures and I still am like I don't really see a change like to me I look and I still you know like I still fit into a lot of the clothes I did when I was like 40 pounds heavier, I still feel like that same person my life hasn't like drastically changed I still view myself as that same person yeah like now I am like go to yoga and go to spin class and like do high-intensity interval training and all this stuff but like I still don't I have that mindset like I think my whole life I've just been like a chubby girl and so like that's like how I think about myself and that's how I kind of always view myself. But I don't I don't think there's again like anything else in my life for any other kind of identity if you want to call it that at to me it's just like who I am like I don't have any sadness about it it's just like I've always kind of been like able to joke about my weight or is it just like be kind of open about it or just like yeah I'm going to eat Chipotle and then go to Starbucks and get a Frappuccino know like okay, I don't know I still like look at life through that lens I still like when I talked to a guy who like says stuff to me like oh you're so thick or you know they say something about like my weight or how like I'm curvier in person it's like okay.
S. Salis: So it's just part of your story and who you are in like different moments in time but it is reflecting with your audience and with your material because you need to adapt it to what people see of you in that specific moment.
A. Ray: Yeah and I guess like you know if I lose the rest of this weight and I get super hot and thin then that's my…
S. Salis: According to the standards of society.
A. Ray: beauty standard of society and then that's my lived experience like I'll start joking about that too but as it is right now I haven't I haven't been like enjoying the fruits of like the losing 40 pounds like labor you know.
S. Salis: Well I mean you started just changing mostly for yourself.
A. Ray: Yeah I was yeah, I was just like incredibly depressed you know at the end of last year I was super depressed I was like never really leaving my bed I wasn't like doing anything and a friend was just like you just got to get active like just try it and I started dieting and just like started doing strength training exercises and it just it got me out of bed it was something that like got me out of that headspace.
S. Salis: It just happens, I just wanted to say this I was talking with two other different people that you I would have not thought that they were going like through depression and like necessarily like you know kind of adjustments in their life because you see them I go like oh you're so great and successful and hold to get our family in a career and you're brilliant and that and then her name is in a previous episode Anlibra she is the director of the Second City Comedy Studies program she's a researcher in comedy and everything she says I need to do these three things in my life to keep the brain working in a way that is productive for me, I need to sleep enough, I need to exercise regularly and I need to meditate a little bit if I do those three things it's impressive how much my daily like life and mood can change.
A. Ray: Yeah I think I think that's what I had to do I had to find my like three or four or five things that it's like as long as I do this you know for a part of time like part of that was taking medication or going to therapy and now it's more like you know as long as I like work out, if I like go to spin class you know if I go do this like then I can stay on track I can keep focused.
S. Salis: Yeah there is no recipe for any specific person like whatever works for you.
A. Ray: Yeah like find that routine.
S. Salis: And medication can be useful some like to kick-start this process but once you're in like…
A. Ray: Yeah finding that routine is a scary idea sometimes and especially since I'm a Sagittarius I like hate the idea of routine and responsibility.
S. Salis: What projects are you currently working on?
A. Ray: I have some exciting things going on I'm going to be in the Fly Honey show the first weekend of September, September 5 through the 7th I think so I'm really excited about that. I'm headed out to New York and San Jose to do some shows over the next two weeks just a bunch of Chicago shows oh gosh and I'm also reviewing insecure for the AV Club right now so I'm excited about that but I would say come see me at the Fly Honey Show I am there for three nights in a row the Fly Honey Show is one of my favorite local shows.
S. Salis: Where's that?
A. Ray: It's at the Den Theatre this year it is an amazing show they are such an amazing team I'm so happy and just like honored that they asked me to be a part of it this year and I'm so excited I'm putting together a wild outfit so come to the Fly Honey Show it's September like 5th through the 8th something like that.
S. Salis: Ashley Ray on The Hoomanist today thank you so much for being here today.
A. Ray: Thank me so much for having me this was awesome.
S. Salis: Ashley Ray is a Comedian, Writer and cultural critic sharing her personal stories and ideas while touching important topics like gender, race and sexuality as a cultural critic Ashley writes for The AV Club, Vice and the Chicago Reader you can watch her shows and listen to her routines visiting ARAYAY.com.