Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s feature is Ash Fisher.
My college Movement teacher for two years, Nate Flower– whom I worshipped–once overheard me telling a friend how I hate arrogance. Nate laughed and declared, “You’re the most arrogant person I’ve ever met in my life.” I think about what he meant by that, at least twice a week, for going on fourteen years.
I met Ash five years ago, in a Facebook group dedicated to queer femmes in search of solidarity, activism, and lipstick tips. We’d both recently landed on our feet– I’d moved back to Oakland after a year away, and she’d moved to Oakland from the East Coast. We became fast friends.
Apart from my love of Ash as a person, her work is truly inspiring. She’s a whip-smart comic with head-spinning drive. “I’m on my way to host a radio show,” is something she’s just as likely to say on any given morning as “I breathed some air!” She’s endlessly auditioning, hustling, leading, directing, interviewing, comedy-ing, producing… all while managing to keep approx fourteen thousand jobs, read three books, and have *really good* skin. You can find her work at Bawdy Storytelling, www.ashfisherhaha.com, manhaters.org, wearyourvoicemag
What themes or ideas do you feel your work engages with?
I’m a writer first, a standup comic second, and a dabbler in other art forms third through twenty-sixth. My work– which is play when I’m approaching it right– revolves around the same things my thoughts revolve around: gender, queerness, belonging; frank discussion on why it’s taboo to have frank discussion on mental health; secrecy, honesty. Sex is a favorite topic. I relish writing and talking about the things my Irish Catholic mother refused to talk about or listen to. Lately I’m hung up on general notions of balance, personal values/moral codes and priorities.
Specifically: my writing is a daily experiment in using humor to take the edge off my earnestness. If I’m not obsessing about that, I’m focused on using my earnestness to take the edge off my humor.
What part, if any, do you think art plays in times of political duress?
Oof, grand questions such as these seem to demand lofty answers of which I’m not capable. As a first year theatre major, I had to take two semesters of a class called Writing the Essay. One semester was subtitled “The World Through Art” and the other “Art and the World.” Every week we sat in a lecture while a woman whose name and face escapes me droned on about what art is. She cold-opened the first lecture with a clip from Sex and the City, and when the lights came up she was beaming with the smug self-satisfaction of a fortysomething who just knows she has won over these pretentious college freshmen with a ten-year-old clip from a TV show they can’t relate to. I skipped that class a lot.
I’ll defer to Jeanette Winterson on this one, an author, I just remembered, to whom I was first exposed in “Writing the Essay” (in the cool part of that class, where we read our work aloud in small groups twice a week): “A tough life needs a tough language—and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is.”
Can you remember the first piece of art– performance, literary, fine, street–you saw/read that wowed you?
My family owned a VHS copy of a dialogue-free, animated Swan Lake. It was dramatic and dark and made my chest pound as the score swelled and the princess or whoever she was ran around the castle or whatever it was. It didn’t seem intended for children, but that was often the case with 90s cartoons. I watched it over and over. I had never been so riveted, so viscerally affected by a piece of art completely lacking words. I didn’t know that was a thing. The feelings I felt from only hand-drawn images and classical music let me know that there was so, so much I didn’t know yet. I wish I still had a copy. I still listen to Swan Lake in its entirety once a year or so, closing my eyes, forever haunted (good-haunted) by my blurry, likely inaccurate memories of those images that so touched my soul some 25 years ago.
A lot of art has wowed me since. Here are some that come to mind, in an order signifying nothing important: Renoir’s In the Summer, The Simpsons, Edna St. Vincent Millay, She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb, Adversaria by Timothy Russell, The Maria Bamford Show, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues, Paul Simon’s Graceland, The Artist’s Way, The Blow by The Blow, 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields.
What work do you do in the world that you feel proud of?
For two years, I’ve co-hosted and produced a monthly queer comedy show called “Man Haters.” My co-host, Irene Tu, and I started the show in response to the tokenization, hostility and harassment most women endure in comedy scenes.
I am dizzyingly lucky to perform for a crowd of supportive, eager queers: eager to listen, eager to share feedback, eager to disagree, eager to exclaim in delight at our parallel experiences, eager to share and hold space with each other. Many folks have told me they’d never been to a comedy show before, since their (unfortunately often accurate) impression of mainstream stand up is of an art form dominated by racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and frankly, cruelty. Each month I share the stage with remarkably talented women and queers, and am honored to be a small part of showing the world what we can do when we decide to stop obeying outdated standards and make our own damn rules.
Ok, I’ll brag: we won East Bay Express Best Comedy Show 2016 and 2017, produced a sold-out show in SF SKetchfest, and were featured in the comedy documentary series “Funny How?” on Viceland. While accolades and awards are always nice, duh, I am especially proud that we’ve achieved this as an entirely self-run entity, with a name that pissess off a lot of people, and we’ve never once compromised our ideals or values.
Tell us a story.
Last night, at my medical recreational marijuana delivery job, I got an order from an “Edbury.” HA. I pictured him instantly, and knew I would be right. I looked forward to counting how many times the bland white man with tightly coiled insides and pressed handkerchief-outsides would make a show of adjusting his unironic wire-rimmed glasses. I wondered which method he’d employ when not tipping: exact change, or pocketing seven ones from me, muttering what might be “thanks” as he hurried off to scrub his eyeballs of the millisecond of eye contact he accidentally shared with a service person.
Edbury was waiting outside, his smile genuine, his red beard somehow precious, tattoos visible from his neck to his knuckles. His generous tip disappointed me. As he turned away, probably not even to wash his eyeballs, I asked. Edbury comes from the Swedish word for juniper berries, from which we derive gin. He is Edbury IV.
Ash Fisher is a writer, comedian and corgi mom. She co-hosts popular Oakland comedy show “Man Haters,” named Best Comedy Show by East Bay Express 2016 & 2017. She’s performed in SF Sketchfest several times; won the Oakland Storytelling Showdown; twice won the SF Shipwreck Erotic Fan Fiction Competition; and won Runner-Up Best Comedian 2017 by East Bay Express. Occasionally, people hire her for voiceovers and illustration, which is nice. Ash has a B.F.A. in Theatre from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and Navient will never let her forget it.