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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
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Ashley Ray (guest): For a very long time, black people in particular 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, 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. Um, especially when, so many of these, these deals, you still have to understand that like these are mostly white institutions still. And a lot of times like that message is, you know, too worried about what the networks want to get at, what the actual feeling and voice of the black writers want it to be. So I think it's, 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? I am Cmos, Alice, and this is the humanist with today's guest, Ashley Ray,
Simone Salis (host): Comedian, storyteller and cultural critic Ashley, raise 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 on onstage. She has performed for the theater, the Steppenwolf, the laugh factory, and clickhole both live and online. Videos at Williams college, graduate as a cultural critic. Ms Dot Ray also writes for the navy club vice and the Chicago reader expressing with in her assays and reviews, especially looking at TV and media through the lenses of the history of like television underrepresentation, representation of minorities in international media. Her stand up performances show how gender queerness and race of the power of constructive shocked 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 a rei.com. Actually, before I ask you anything else, [inaudible], it's spelled a,
A. Ray: a r, a y, y a y. okay, perfect. Okay. And um, you know, I think we have plenty of people in common, but I saw the article in the Chicago either, let's say you were like one of the Chicago Institute fall onto there and the Chicago reader in 2017. I was voted the second best Chicago first one viewing and I would say she does deserve it. She deserves it. Okay. Okay. So you essentially, I, I don't even fight it. Looking at your videos or also
S. Salis: so your performances and different, you know, in the Chicago comedy scene, especially with your standup routines, says storytelling with the Chicago. I'm the cupcake comedy club. The one run by
A. Ray: Martin Fellowship and yeah, there was a cupcake comedy cabaret. So Nice, isn't it my favorite shows in the city? Yes, an amazing showcase. They do a great job. I think Martin bakes like actual cupcakes before he asks all of 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. This is just a nice mood and that's hard to find in like in some companies, 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. Yeah, that's what I say. And also there is this live soundtrack with piano by Natalie. Yeah. But she's, she's uh, yeah. Natalie is so, so talented.
A. Ray: Yeah. I could probably sit in a room with her alone and watch her make songs on a piano and I'm sure it will be entertained all day. Yeah, she just improvises them. It's amazing. When did you decide to make people laugh? Like was that always a goal of yours or a. 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 spoken in college, like the one that goes with a rhythm and intonation, the very def jam, like I completed, I, you know, my group was called speak free, like it was very just like, and the brains when they fell they fell on my head, not yours and it was just, it's 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.
A. Ray: 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, like, like it's kind of like this race to 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. You were writing those things, but if people see that it's funny and also surgery realize it. You probably have like a critical eye towards your work. Yeah, I think it's. It's really weird because I think I.
A. Ray: 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 started doing is just 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, a skill. I had to harness a 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 figured out what actually works. Like what works for you. I mean it is a very hard question like comedian, like what works for you to make people laugh, but like I kinda like to get in front of as many different crowds as possible.
A. Ray: But I think Chicago's 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 side, 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 are going to hate me. Let's do this. And I just do my normal set. I'm like telling my jokes about white privilege and how I hate Wisconsin and how do they go. They loved it. 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 from the stuff that comes from a place where people sometimes are like, wow, I didn't know that you would make fun of that.
A. Ray: Like, you know, drinking too much or like problems with my family or dating my horrible, horrible dating life. Um, 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 Psi for you and feel pity for you, which also happens to me a lot on stage. I get a lot of pity. Laughs. Okay. You do get a lot of put laughs. Huddle. What kind of jokes? I think just because sometimes people are like, oh, that's like set. Like, um, I have a lot of jokes about how I was always pretty gay growing up. Like I kind of knew that 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 center on this one.
A. Ray: Uh, and so like from a young age I knew that like I was interested in women and stuff and my mom kind of knew too and she would send me to church to like hopefully like pray the gay away and stuff like that. And so I, 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. Like now it's good. I mean, years after really 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?
A. Ray: 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 people might like my comedy is because I, I don't like to play that angle. I like to, I'm more empowered in these situations. You're giving me credit for. You grew up, um, as um, you said, I grew up like as a queer, a young black woman. And your mom sent you to church? Yeah, I mean I'm from a very black family from the south, like my entire family is born in Texas. So you, you grew up in Texas? No, so it's funny because I was born in Texas, uh, most of my family still lives there, but I actually grew up in Rockford, Illinois, which is 90 miles northwest of Chicago and it's the third largest city in Illinois.
A. Ray: Um, it is not a suburb but it's, its own city with its own suburbs. Rockford is this weird place where it's a pretty big city in the middle of nowhere. Illinois people don't really care about it and it has so much poverty. It has so much unemployment. It's a pretty depressing place to be from a, it was a weird place to grow up. I loved it. It definitely, I think made me the person who I am today. It's, it's weird because I like grew up in Rockford and then I would come to the city a lot because my mom's boyfriend, my stepdad lives in Chicago, so I just spent my all my time in like Chicago and Rockford, like constantly going back and back and forth with your moms. And then because people in Chicago don't know Rockford, they're like, oh, you're from the suburbs.
A. Ray: And it's like I'm from Rockford. We have more crime per capita that like, I'm from this fried. Yeah. Um, I, you know, as a person that was not originally from Chicago, it does look to me that like the suburbs of Chicago extends infinitely until they fade away. Chicagoans are just like the Chicago, there's the suburbs and then I don't know. Then there is Iowa, like I don't know, it's just like some cornfields and water I guess, you know, there's, there's interesting cities out there. And what did you study in college? What did you finish them? Uh, so I, I went to Williams and I studied English and German and German history. I was really studying international media under that English degree and then went to Germany and like ask people why they liked certain TV shows. It was just kinda like, hey, so how come in Germany they love how I met your mother, but they hate the simpsons so they don't really get it.
A. Ray: They just don't like it as much. Really. Um, 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 and represents certain cultural ideas, uh, or social ideas that you work with some countries and don't work with others. So just a real like look at international media and what was the answer to that survey because now I'm curious and I also specifically looked at how those representations for impact minorities and in those countries, particularly in whiter countries. So in Germany, why, why does the representation of certain TV shows like how I met your mother impacts their view of, 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.
A. Ray: Uh, so when they have these like imported American visions of minorities, what do they about it? Um, so I looked at that, uh, 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. Uh, but at the same time, the same kind of hopes and dreams. Um, 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, uh, inability to like to put things in emotional terms that they'll understand.
S. Salis: Hmm. It's interesting because as a person that comes from Italy, Italy is also pleased that has a lot of American culture and that's how 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. There are anything different from why Roman Catholic. That's it. That's what Italy is and exactly. And, and you grew up, grew up with that. You don't really understand all the different cultures that come from the United States at, for how weird the situation might be. It is seal at least the existence of a debate or a different.
A. Ray: Yeah. And the only things you are saying or from TV shows, you know, and so how does that impact you? How does that ideas about people? Um, and I think like it can be good and bad, uh, 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 you, how did it meet your mother, how I met your mother, they loved how I met your mother and they would, they would be like our men in America, like Barney, like we think Barney is the coolest American guy. Bernie 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 was like Neil Patrick Harris. Cool. Like just womanizing. Like they just. And I was just like, no, that's, no, that's a character.
A. Ray: Yeah, we'll put a period. Has a husband. He's like, yeah, like a very nice gay man and he's playing a role in America. He's not seen as like, cool, he's more like a Douche bag. Yeah, we make fun of. But we were laughing at him in different ways. They, they were like connecting and getting like lots of empathy in the hope, like have as a role model sometimes some people, and you're, you're rooting for him. And I, you know, in America were more like, oh, that's the Douchey, the city, which is like a Doosan. I mean, yeah, shirt Barney was like a funny character. Sure, sure. Uh, but, but I don't, you know, it's just people laughing at things but in different ways. And Tana kind of digging into why that is,
S. Salis: that's kind of a trope of TV, especially in like, you know, with modern American TV of the funding jerk, um, in, in, in 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'd be really heavier. Thousands is, I think it's more a prerogative of, of course the white character. It's like with the funny, Jerry can be Dr. House a Tony Stark. Those are people like, oh, he's cool because a jerk.
A. Ray: Yeah, that's the, you have the interesting like anti hero end of it where it's like, you know, the don draper's the 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 trope where there's the idiot, um, which I think I always point to like Steve Carell as the best example of, uh, 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's such an idiot that, that you just want him to be good. Yeah. So you have it on both ends and I think it's, it's interesting. It's definitely the kind of conflict that draws you to somebody, but at the same time is something that I love using in my comedy.
A. Ray: I'd love playing stupid. Oh yeah. I love just being dumb and just like, like, no, wait, what is it? What does it mean? Wait, I don't get it. Do you play that with people too? Like when you're dating situation, you mentioned your data all the time. If I'm bored on dates, I'll play a game where I just act like I. I've never heard of anything they're saying, oh, that's awesome. Like that. Like this one dude was like, I work at groupon and I was just like, what's said? Wait, what do you do? Like deals like what? What kind of deals? Like at a store. Like it's not like it's a mall, but it's online and just asking so stupid until he was like, how does the community.
Speaker 4: I just started a new mailing list. It's the humanists weekly digest at text on leak 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 human.ist/subscribe Imc, Bonus Alice, and this is the humanists podcast with today's guest, Ashley Ray, comedian and writer.
S. Salis: You know, as a TV and a cultural critic, you've read reviews of shows like the shy, blackish, and from what I've seen, you, you see your theory harnessed in like both recognizing the flows and the merits of these, uh, shows from a cultural point of view as a critic who understands the importance of the presence of some shows culturally like the shy, like, you know, the Black Panther, the shy, you need the presence of some of those culturally, but at the same time as a creative writer and you analyze the characters in the script in an analytical way. What is your take on that? Because as a gay person, I remember thinking of
A. Ray: like will and grace or queerness fall clay, I need that because the more you will be like, I needed this because like where's our representation and 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 representations. Just be thankful that you, that you have the show. So what if it's not the show you want? Um, 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, 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.
A. Ray: Um, especially when so many of these, these deals, even though these, these networks are letting more people of color and they are accepting more diversity in their writing staff and in the producer's room, you still have to understand that these are mostly white institution still. Um, and a lot of times like that message gets blurred or that message is, you know, too worried about what the networks 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's this coming from in this show? And what does this really mean? How do we advance to a point that allows people, they're not in the norm, uh, the range of the norm to just have their own voice for who they are and not who they need to were present.
A. Ray: Because I've seen recently a show by hand, I gatsby and she hits the net. Did you see that? What do you think of that? The net was, was good and then that was interesting. I don't think it was comedy. I don't, it's not comedy like Nanette was, it 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. I 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 as standup 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 is, it's like, okay, it's great, it's cute. Like, yeah, there's some people who that message really connects for them and if they relate to it and that makes sense. It's something that I think is really relatable, but when it comes to like, like people being like, this is changing comedy forever as when I'm a little like, okay.
A. Ray: Like, like, okay, I, there's this comedian, uh, Jake Flores. And he said, no, he's really funny. He's, he's great. But he said Nanette is a wonderful speech about how comedy is bad. And that was the, that is the only thing I've read about annette that I immediately went, Yep, that's how I feel about it. It's a wonderful speech about how comedy is bad. 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. And she's been a comedian for 10 years. She is, she does comedy. Um, and she had said she was going to quit comedy before the net came out and then it Kinda was like a big break. But um, she has, she has, she has a big following. Yeah. And you know, this seems to be a trend of sendup co, like I don't, I, I don't want to be like the theorems, but there seems to be this trend in, in, in standup comedy that it goes more towards storytelling and honesty that actually struck her in jokes like a person that structures joke and I'll close the comedy nerd parenthesis, but my big Leah, thank you so much Italian pronunciation.
A. Ray: But he doesn't do that. It's not going to be. Or John Malaney. There are different people. John Mulaney structures jokes in like a, um, like a more constructive way, that kind of stuff. And like story of play on words. It wasn't comfortable and it's a lot more character work storytelling to get terrorists. More stories to and honesty from the point of view of a lesbian woman that went through like health issues and stuff. But no, 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 like Mr Kids and stuff. Um, so in terms of people using comedy to be more emotional and to tell personal stories, that's, that's nothing new. And I think that that's always been a cornerstone to comedy.
A. Ray: 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 death and sadness of his drug addiction. Yeah. Like it all comes together and in the storytelling and in the comedy, I can respect that about Nanette. I just think that also there has to be a part that I remember laughing at and I don't remember laughing at a single part. I mean, she's honest about that. She goes like, I can't make people laugh. So here is my audience feel about Netflix. It just put it on there as a one woman show and I think, uh, we wouldn't have a conversation about Nanette try it, you know, she's a comic and that's where the fan base is and that's where the press is coming from.
A. Ray: So going back to the question of 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 bars represent all black and just talks about human experience. Yeah, I mean we're definitely not there yet. Like even with this boost of like black TV shows, people are insecure black issue 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 but 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 where that responsibility has like left.
A. Ray: 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 gonna Watch this and be like, oh, well, you know, but I saw an insecure that black women don't like to give blow jobs. 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, 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. Um, but I think that, you know, in creating their stories they should probably think about how it's going to have that impact. So you need to
S. Salis: be thoughtful about it inevitably because of the moment that we're living in. But at the same time, if you want to shake that off, you just need to start to shake it off.
A. Ray: Sure. Just show it, you know, and I think blackish does a great job of that. Um, 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, um, you know, Oscar's so white and how black actors aren't as respected and within the episode they'll give you different points of view, you know, blow 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 undue responsibility to like, speak on these topics. But at the same time, you should be looking for opinions or thoughts on these topics that vary from yours and here a few of them, it's like a fine line to walk, you know, I'm not a minority or ethnic or gender responsibility. It's a human responsibility to reach out for different opinions from yours 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: shows. One thing that, uh, go to my attention is that you express these squareness also in the kind of like relationships and the kind of openness to you. Discuss about that. Have
A. Ray: you ever came out? Oh yeah. So I like, I, I came out, I mean my mom always kind of knew, but she didn't really know that I was dating girls. But 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 by polly just like I'm bisexual and Oh, you did only one session. You came out. And I just, I was like a troll and polyamorous. Let's knock this out. Let's do it, let's just pull this bandaid off. And uh, she just went, oh, so you're a slut. She's saying like, was it a, was it in a good way? It wasn't in as a super mean way, you know, 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 it's like a fem presenting person is like, as a woman, like it's hard to come out or to be proudly poly or non monogamous because people tend to look at it as like something that's like defensive or an insecurity.
A. Ray: 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. Um, 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. I'm 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. Uh, so if I'm saying that I'm poly, it's because there's some other problem or issue with me. 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 everyone's like, oh go you, you're a bachelor.
A. Ray: Like he's polygraph. Oh he probably has so many girlfriends. But as a late night show, like as a woman, like either people who will be like, Oh I, you deserve better than this. And I'm just like, what are you talking about? Like I like, I'm doing my best, my best life. Maybe it's just my assumption. But when, when did this happen with your mom? What age? Oh, as probably like 22. So it is quite unusual to like in your early twenties to go like, I mean orientation and the gender I get, but just also being like very kind of monogamy isn't for me as well. I think I kind of looked, I, I had a lot of things I've experienced pretty early on in life when I was in high school I started dating a guy my senior year and just thought that I was, oh, so unlove that like when he, like the summer before I went to college, he was like, I love you so much.
A. Ray: Like we should stay together, like please be with me. Like I want to get married some day. And so I was like, he's just the one for me. Uh, and he proposed when I was 19 and I said yes. And so I was engaged to be married, had a ring, wore it all through college, like just very much did the, like monogamy, we are one through all the stuff they say like health and sickness and thickness and then this and this 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. 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 be this amazing woman who's able to like, be married but like travel and have lovers and like, like, uh, wait, uh, able to be away from my partner and with my partner and be strong.
A. Ray: Uh, so like even in that relationship when I was engaged, we had talked about open relationships. Um, so I was like already comfortable with that idea. Like I dunno, there's something about when you're engaged to the person that you think you love, where you were like, yeah, like, we're so secure in this, like, why wouldn't I, why wouldn't I trust you to also share your love and your amazing this 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, it doesn't click with me. I like to have a lot of freedom. I like to be able to travel and to kind of do my own thing when I want to do my own thing.
S. Salis: I think, I think uh, you know, I don't necessarily think that one formula or the other, like you said, works for like everyone, but I think it would be more important to choose consciously what you want. Like if you, you, you should have how to manage your relationship with other human beings in general. It should be something more talked not to drive you towards one thing or the other. Just you know, how to be human.
A. Ray: Exactly. I think like, and I don't know, I think that's what my, like my version of polyamory or nom and Ahkamie 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 blah blah, blah. 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, you know, the person as an individual and how I connect with them in a, I connect with them and then I go, what do I want this relationship to be? To me it was
S. Salis: 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. It's just that, yeah, it's just like you, 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.
Speaker 4: I am Simonus alice and this is the humanist. You can listen to every episode of the show on human.ist and on your favorite podcast APP. I created the humanist as an independent media project for thickened, logically aware contemporary humanists. You will find articles, a curated mailing list, and all the podcast interviews on human.ist. This is a challenging solo project that takes hundreds of hours each month with coding, writing, recording, editing, graphics and publishing. And if you would like to keep enjoying new content regularly, please become a pattern. Now on human.ist/shipboard. Today's guest is Ashley Ray, performer and to be critic.
S. Salis: So sometimes I asked if you grew up with any kind of like spirituality or religion thing from families because they think that's
A. Ray: was your family like that? It was weird. I went to church school when I was younger, so like for first, yeah, first through 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. Uh, but then she would sometimes randomly gets super into the church side of it. And would 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 is this thing that some people needed to make sense of life. But I never saw it as the truth. I don't. I remember as a kid, very young thinking like, 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.
A. Ray: Like when I was in sixth grade, I actually took a job as the church secretary at my mom's bath missionary Baptist church. So I had to go to church every Sunday to read announcements and to make programs. I got paid $10 an hour to be there. Uh, so that was pretty great. Um, so like I respect what religion means to people. And I definitely, I love Gospel music. Like, you know, 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.
S. Salis: So what do you do like for yourself? Like what beliefs you will hold onto 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 like I've been thinking about this a lot and like having a real change of like thought around it. I used to be someone who
A. Ray: 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. It's really hard to get to take that responsibility for years so, 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 going out to bars until 4:00 AM and like going to open mics until 2:00 AM. Um, and then just like trying to go to work the next day.
A. Ray: Um, and now I force myself to like get the amount of sleep I need to know that I'll be in a good mood the next day. Oh, that makes such a difference. Right? It took me 30 years to realize that I just need to sleep a little bit. Like if you get more sleep, feel better. And like if I put my stuff together at night before I go to bed, I'm not searching frantically in the morning and then I have a better day. And it's amazing what can happen if you eat right. If you leave, you know, taking care of myself and figuring out little self care, things like that have just yet like made me 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 and space for myself, especially in this world right now where I have so little control over so many things.
A. Ray: Um, so instead of relying or like an outside rules, you're applying the same thing that happened in your emotional life earlier. All senior, your routine and taking care of yourself a little bit later. Your choices for you. Like I'd probably like this is I'm like, this is a realization for me and there are probably people out there like, Duh, you idiot, like be self disciplined. But it's, 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 and 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.
A. Ray: So as an artist, what is this is also helping you as a creative person is an artist like to get a little bit of more routine, like that kind of stuff? 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 am not funny anymore. Like, what in color? Uh, I, you know, I, I, yeah. You know. Hi. Okay. I drink. Some people would probably say it's a lot. I, here's the story. I am American standards. I'm not able to say sorry. Here's the story. This is my story. I always tell to like, set the barometer of like my drinking because it's hard for me. I quit drinking. I haven't, I stopped drinking in January. So it's been a pretty long time.
A. Ray: Uh, back in October I drank so much that I, I got alcohol poisoning, uh, and I, I threw up so hard that I burst blood vessels in my eyes. I'm 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, no, he's just a nice way. They're just like, 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 thought it was the coolest thing and freaking people out and like people would bring their kids around me and I would open my eyes and it's more, um, well, you know, I was in therapy and my therapist was like, you probably shouldn't joke about this.
A. Ray: Why? She was like, you could have died. She was like, you, 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, you could die. So the thing that made you change your point of view on this, I mean, not really, honestly. Like I, I kept drinking until December and then I had a friend who decided to go sober and he was just kinda like, I just want more control over my life. Like I don't, you know, what do I get out of this? And I've 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 didn't have anything to do or I want it to get drunk and like watch the office and just sit in my room.
A. Ray: And I was like, yeah, you know what? Like this isn't putting me in the mindset that I want, this isn't benefiting me in a positive way. What do I have to lose by like cutting this out of my life? And it was easy. Once I kinda made that decision, it was easy to just stop drinking. Um, so thinking about what you wanted to do was sexual would actually triggered the decision because you, you, you kind of weight your goal, stores your behavior. I also decided I wanted to like, lose like a lot of weight so that, that was another factor is that you lose a lot of weight lately. Uh, I did actually. I like hardcore, started working out, like got myself on a fitness routine, like out myself on a hardcore diet. I've lost like 40 pounds, 40 pounds 40 and how long since January.
A. Ray: That's a lot in a short amount of time. I go to the gym sometimes twice a day and stuff, work out a lot. But um, yeah, it definitely. So part of why I quit drinking was because I was like, I don't want the calories or the carbs. So it sort of comedy. How is your company been changing in reaction to these behavioral change in your life? It's interesting because I have a lot of jokes about being fat. Your material is out. Well, I mean I think I've seen older machinery of yours and I'm not going to be a person. Oh, you wearing that, you know, your buddy images, what you want of yourself. So I'm not going to say that, but I think you were right. I mean I've, 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 exactly tell how big I was but like I was big and I had to jokes about like being fat and I had dated a lot of like shitty dudes who had said stuff to me about being fed. So mostly the jokes were about that and when I lost weight and I had told those jokes like one time after show a woman was like, that was really triggering that, you know, and, and I've had people kind of be like, I don't know if you can, you're not fat enough to make that joke anymore.
A. Ray: Which is like interesting because I, I'm still like, well these are my jokes. I wrote them and this is my experience in my life. And I obviously I changed kind of the context. Like I talk about it, you know, all my jokes, I update and I changed kind of like as my life evolves. So to me it's, 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 weigh about 160 pounds in 2015. I weighed 118. So the difference is 42 pounds to date three years ago in my brain. I'm still that person. Like what? Growing up I was fluctuating for um, personal stuff. Not Personally. It's not secret, I just don't want to waste time talking about myself in this. But I was growing up, I was about 120. Then I worked towards, like to feel better with myself just because I will just get up from a chair and faint and work towards that. 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. Um, I definitely like, 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 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 can like go to yoga and go to spin class and like two high intensity interval training and all this stuff. But like I still don't, I don't 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 feel myself.
A. Ray: Um, but I don't, I don't, I don't think there's, again, like anything else in my life or any other kind of identity, if you want to call it that 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 to 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. Like, okay. Um, I, I don't know, I still like look at life through that Lens. I still, like when I talked to a guy who likes says stuff to me, like, oh, you're, you're so thick or you know, they say something about my weight or how like I'm curvier in person. It's like, okay,
S. Salis: so he's just parts of your story and who you are in 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: And I guess like, you know, if I lose the rest of this way and I get super hot and then that's my lived through, you know, the standards and then that's my lived experience. Like I'll start joking about that too. But as it is right now, I haven't, uh, I haven't been like enjoying the fruits of like the, the losing 40 pounds, like labor, you know.
S. Salis: Well, I mean you started just change your sleeve for or for yourself.
A. Ray: Yeah. Um, I think I was, yeah, I was just like incredibly depressed. Um, you know, at the end of last year I was super depressed. I was 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 started doing a 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: just happens to them. I just want to say this, I was talking with two other different people that you have not thought that they were going 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 I go and then she, um, her name is in a previous episode and libra, 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 route, like life and mood can change that.
A. Ray: Yeah, it's insane. 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 workout. If I, if I like go to spin class, if I go do this then I can stay on track. I can keep focused and there is no recipe for any specific person like whatever works for you, but, but it's useful. Some like to kick started this process, but once you're 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: Um, what projects are you currently working on?
A. Ray: Oh, I have some exciting things going on. Uh, I'm going to be in the fly honey show, uh, the first weekend of September, September fifth through the seventh. I, uh, so I'm really excited about that. I'm, 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. Uh, and I'm also reviewing insecure for the ave club right now. So I'm excited about that. Uh, 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, is that it's at the den theater this year. It is an amazing show. They are such an amazing team. Um, I'm so happy and honored that they asked me to be a part of it this year and I'm so, so excited. I'm putting together a wild outfit. Um, so come to the fly honey show a September, like fifth through the eighth, something like that.
S. Salis: Ashley Ray on the humanist today. Thank you so much for being here today.
A. Ray: Thank you so much for having me. This was awesome.
S. Salis: Ashley, raise 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 Ave club vice and the chicago reader, you can watch her shows and listened to her routines. Visiting [inaudible] dot com. Don't forget to subscribe and listen to more interviews from the humanist on your favorite podcast APP. The humanist is a solar project created and produced by just one person, me. To keep enjoying new episodes and content regularly, please show your support now at hooman.ist/support, or just sign up to receive the free Weekly Digest on hooman.ist/subscribe.