A conversation with Marina Franklin, comedian
Jack Riedy | Friday, February 3, 2017
This Saturday at 10 p.m., standup comedian Marina Franklin will perform at Legends. The New York-based comic has an impressive range of credits, including performing in San Francisco’s Sketchfest, hosting her podcast “Friends Like Us,” writing for HBO’s “Divorce,” and appearing on the “Jim Gaffigan Show,” “Chappelle’s Show,” and “Louie.” Before she takes the stage this weekend, Ms. Franklin spoke with The Observer about political correctness, international travel and house music.
In one of your jokes you say that your favorite part of doing comedy is traveling. Are you enjoying your time on the road? The joke is about racism in England so I understand that might have been facetious.
You have no idea how psychic you are. I haven’t done that joke in years, and I was wondering this morning why I don’t do it anymore. I thought, “Oh right, because people are too sensitive.” People would take it the wrong way. The joke is about people not knowing they’re being racist.
Which seems relevant.
Yes! It does. It may make a comeback. I like traveling. I’m glad to come to Notre Dame. My sister went here. My family’s from Illinois, so when I moved to New York to pursue comedy I did it all on my own. My dad has now passed, but that’s something he said he was really proud of. He said to me, “That’s pretty incredible what you did.” I was young and crazy and didn’t think of the consequences. But, the consequences for this have been pretty good.
Where else have you been on tour?
It feels like a tour, but I just have a lot of dates in February. The last one was Towanda, Pennsylvania. Have you ever heard of that?
I have not.
It’s near Scranton, Pennsylvania. This is when I realized I’m still from Illinois. I just go, “I don’t know any other places in the world.”
Is there a difference for you between performing in Towanda, Pennsylvania, or on a college campus?
Well, the show in Towanda was at a theater, not a club. I did not do my research, which I told them from the stage. They were predominantly white, I’m black, and so it was a little different. It was a small town that predominantly voted for Trump as I found out from the stickers on the cars. They were older, a typical theater crowd. They were very nice! That’s different from performing at a college, absolutely. College students are open-minded, and I feel like they are on the right side of history right now. Right after the election, I was at University of Iowa. You could drive through and see most people were Trump voters. But the weekend after the election, the college was really upset. We were feeling it. Chris Rock or Jerry Seinfeld said they’re too sensitive, but I did not find that to be true actually.
It’s refreshing to hear you say that about college students because I feel like, I don’t know where it came from, but there’s a stigma that’s developed about them. Do you think that’s generational?
It’s most likely because they have been out of the scene. They come back into the scene and it has changed. There was political correctness that was going on, but the bubble has burst on that. I don’t know why students get the bad rap. The bookers sometimes will say, “No curse words, no sexual content,” especially if it’s a religious school. Chris can say shocking things, more so than me. I will have to imply some things, but college students get it.
You mentioned that Towanda had an older, white, Trump voter crowd. I don’t know if you consider yourself a political comic, but does that affect your performance?
It does. I had a great time, but it throws off my timing. Normally I would just have fun and enjoy the moment, but instead I’m wondering why they are listening more than laughing. And it’s because I’m telling them something they’re not used to hearing. I had a Q&A afterwards, and I did get the question, “Did you not do your Trump jokes tonight?” I don’t have any. I just don’t find the situation funny right now. The audience gets too divided. I’ll do it for students though. The weekend after the election, performing for students was the best thing I could have done. Even if they did vote for Trump, I find they are still more open. Towanda was nice, too! Even the guy who booed when I said I missed President Obama was a pretty nice guy.
Do you think outbursts like that come from inexperience in comedy clubs?
I think that’s part of it too. They wouldn’t do that at a play. I’m very conversational, so you don’t feel like you’re listening to a joke. Lately, people just start talking to me. Sometimes, it’s a compliment because I know they feel comfortable enough. In New York City, people are meaner about it.
Have you had the opposite, where you get light applause instead of genuine laughs?
You want people to laugh, not to clap. When you’re starting the premise of a joke, and it makes people feel good, they’ll clap. The turn is gonna be rough. When the joke is told with beautiful timing and lands the way it is supposed to land, that clapping is beautiful. Because we’ve all agreed.
Are there other topics you don’t write about? It seems like a lot of comedians have a hard time making current events funny.
As of this year, engaging people in topics like that is tricker. I was never a current events comic. My angle is my personality and experience as it relates to everything going on in the world.
Your IMDb has a stellar lineup of credits. Is acting your side gig or your focus?
It’s all the focus. I always want to be a good standup, but when I get cast in “Trainwreck,” people come out to see me perform.
Is it tough showing up on set and holding back from suggesting bits?
You have no idea. I have to go with flow. Part of the time, you’re cast because they want you. They will say, “Do Marina.” It’s a relief. For example, I do a joke about not being sassy. The descriptions of parts for black women are all about “loud and sassy,” so if I try those parts, it’s not even acting, it’s an impersonation. If I’m cast for a part like that because of my act, I wonder if they even get the joke.
After this string of shows, what’s next for you?
It’s pilot season, so it depends if I get a part. The next three weeks could change my life forever. It’s a long process for network shows though, so standup is my constant. Rubbing my belly is standup, rubbing my head the opposite direction is acting. I’m also taping something for Wyatt Cenac for Seeso. On top of that, I have my podcast to take over my life. I need an assistant. It’s all juggling. I don’t have kids so I guess there’s no excuse.
I know from your material that you’re a Simon & Garfunkel fan. What other sort of music do you listen to, if you do while writing?
I am Chicago, so I am a house-head. Last night, I went dancing until three in the morning. I listen to it all the time, but not when I’m writing. It makes me feel like I have to move. It’s not techno, stress that. I’m a pretty good dancer. They were recording me last night actually, I had the moves. Dancing requires no thoughts, just feelings. And that’s a metaphor for life. When you’re not thinking about it, that’s when people gravitate towards you.