Comedian Marina Franklin has been one of the top names in stand-up today, and she has appeared on a long list of shows including “Chappelle’s Show”, “Last Comic Standing”, “Showtime at the Apollo”, “Craig Ferguson” ,”Tough Crowd” and “The Jay Leno Show.” She tours clubs and festivals around the country and has been called “viciously likeable.” Our own RJ Waldron caught up with Marina Franklin to ask a few questions for “The Set,” our new series of original interviews with great comedians.
RJW: I know you are from Chicago, I love Chicago, it’s such a great town. I have good friends from Chicago and they are just hilarious, I’m wondering if it’s just because it’s such a great town for music and comedy…?
Marina Franklin: Is it a Chicago thing?
RJW: Yeah, is everyone from Chicago hilarious?
Marina Franklin: Well, we do have good water. (laughing) You know what it is, it’s a good place to grow up, I think. It’s a good place to be free with thinking, I believe. It’s where I developed all of my creative thinking, where I started writing. I used to write poetry and I was in theater, and all of that stuff. I had a back yard! I know how to ride a bike. It’s those type of things that remind me I had a good childhood.
RJW: Speaking of your childhood, were you the funny kid? I know that you started in theater, so were you the kid making everyone laugh?
Marina Franklin: I was a very awkward child. Chicago is absolutely one of the most segregated cities, as far as diversity. There isn’t a lot of people interacting with one another. I grew up in Highland Park which was predominately white. Then we moved to the South Side of Chicago, so I was a bit of an awkward child trying to fit in. So, my comedy was really for my own survival to make people laugh so they didn’t mess with me. I headlined at Zanies [Comedy Club] for the first time and it was like doing those jokes, in Chicago every one just gets it. They were like, “Highland Park, wow, are you ok?” They know there are no black people in Highland Park. Then I was ten and we moved to the South Side of Chicago and there were no white people. It was such a strange dynamic. Here I am on the South Side and trying to fit in, again. It was a culture shock, adjusting and trying to change my accent. I was a bilingual child, going back and forth from my “blackcent” to my “whitecent.” So that is really what adds to my biographical funny. So I learned to make people laugh so they don’t mess with you.
RJW: Being the funny kid was a great way to prevent bullying.
Marina Franklin: Absolutely, it was absolutely my survival. That’s something that I believe was just in me. I’m not sure that everyone has that technique, but that’s how I dealt with it. That was my artistic route: to make people laugh and also be creative. I wrote a lot of poetry and I did theater, I didn’t really do comedy per se until I left Chicago, then stand-up sort of found me.
RJW: What a ballsy jump, to go from the structure of theater to stand-up comedy, where you are just up there and going for it. How did you choose to make that leap?
If I didn’t get a part in a play, then I created my own show.
RJW: You talk about your relationships quite a bit on stage. I’ve heard you say that it kind of comes with the territory. But, is that difficult for your relationship or do you just let it be what it is, and be honest about it?
My ex got mad because I would talk about how he lost a fight. I was like, “How come you’re not talking about it? You’re a comic, you should be talking about how you got knocked out.
RJW: It’s really like someone finding and reading your journal when you’re working out new material.
Marina Franklin: Absolutely. Like, I’ll talk about my sister and her children. Like how she told the baby to shut the fuck up in the middle of the night. I’m in the living room and I can hear this soft voice saying, “Shut the fuck up.” I’ve never witnessed mom insanity, I know it goes on, why wouldn’t it? So, I’m telling this story on stage in front of her and my brother-in-law, and I’m nervous. But, them laughing at it and feeling that relief as well, was the reward. And that’s when I go, “I win!”
RJW: So, is everyone in your family funny? They must have a good sense of humor.
Marina Franklin: They are all pretty funny, but with different styles. I have two sisters named “Ashley,” which really adds to the comedy. One is from my father, one is from my mother, so they aren’t related, but they are the same age. So I just figure if I say “Ashley” in a certain tone, then they’ll get it. “Ashleeee,” my dad’s Ashlee plays the guitar, and she does these guitar lessons on YouTube and she is so funny. She’s got all of these fans now. My other sister, Ashley, doesn’t even know how funny she is. She has a southern accent and we have no idea where it came from.
RJW: Since we’re talking about people being funny, I’m curious to know who makes you laugh more than you would like to admit? Is there someone that you’d never want them to know that they make you laugh so much?
Marina Franklin: I love watching Keith Robinson. He is a comic that all comics have to be around because he is just so funny. There is nothing that is not funny. He’s off-stage funny and he’s on-stage funny. The thing with Keith is that he’s not putting it on, ever. When you think about doing comedy, one of the insecurities is asking yourself, “Am I really that funny? Am I really authentically a comedian?” It takes awhile to realize, “Yes,” and then to own it. But Keith was one of those people that there is nothing he could do that is not funny. He is authentically a comedian. Just him walking, his voice, the way he talks, his stories, the way he makes people uncomfortable at the coffee table… he takes people out of their horse shit nonsense of taking themselves too serious. And he’s also very vulnerable, at the same time. He is brilliant to watch on stage. And I hate to admit it because I used to date Keith and it’s hard to admit that he’s funny. I’ll go on stage at The Comedy Cellar and I’ll tell the audience that I used to date Keith and they go, “Awwww.” We’re great friends now, but it’s that male – female thing were you hate to admit that he’s one of the best. Jim Norton makes me laugh without even thinking about it, at all. Todd Barry – I did a podcast with Todd Barry and I told him, he’s just one of those people that for some reason, I’m just laughing all the time. He’s so funny. These are people that I’ve been around for so long. Rachel Feinstein makes me laugh. Years ago, when we first started we were kind of the two women on the scene and you kind of get that envious thing. Then you find yourself laughing at them despite yourself. She just makes me laugh. Bonnie McFarlane, Dominique, Paula Bel – these women are hands down my favorites on the comedy scene. Amy Schumer, is brilliant, and Nikki Glaser, all these girls are just doing it. Oh, Tony Woods, he’s like my mentor. He’s the guy that people would say, “You’ve watched him too much, Marina, you’re doing Tony on stage.” I love Chapelle and Tony inspired him. He’s just amazing. Watching him is like magic.
[all images courtesy of www.marinafranklin.com]