Julia Jackson on Why She Needs A Dick Pension, Her Solo Show, and the Riskiest Joke She’s Ever Told
Written by Hannah Meyer
The riskiest joke Julia Jackson ever told in stand up was about the Department of Motor Vehicles. “The DMV can bring out your inner racist in a minute...I would play all these people in the line, this one white guy was being really obnoxious, and all the Asian and Black people would be united in hating the white guy, and then the Asian guy did something, and the Whites, Blacks, and the Latinx were getting ready to get mad at him,” Jackson describes it like a baseball player winding up their pitch, “...and it’s 11:59 and I’m getting ready to go up to the window and [the Black DMV worker] is like, ‘fuck it bro, I’m going home, buddy!’ And I’m mixed race, and the joke was, the Black part of me was like ‘N***a what! You see this line of people?’ And the white half of me was like, ‘N***er what?’ Right? Now, that’s risky, but when I did it, I remember there was a release and people got it and it was, you know, that shit when you’re like ‘oooohhhh!!’ It’s risky because I never, ever use that word.”
Jackson, who joined 3GT's LezWritesBTQ cohort in 2019, wields a matter-of-fact frankness and lunchroom table conspiratorial glee to the moral ambiguities that modern-day cancel-culture disavows. She’s leery of comedy that parades with a message and pats the audience on the head. “I’ve been on the other side of this. You have to be careful where you’re like, ‘That Louis C.K.! That rat bastard!’ Know that if we can agree that there are these systems of oppression [then] and we know that they victimize people in different ways. If we’re talking about race, for example, with the power majority being white people, it’s set up for white people to take the bait, and not really see themselves as who they are. So, if we know that’s true, then why are we getting personally angry at this person for doing exactly- like take it out on the system and hold the individual accountable, and again, it’s the way you come to it. ” Instead of gently affirming the audience, Jackson’s joke about the DMV’s superpower of unleashing the inner racist reflects a larger conversation about how easily internalized racism can rear its head in everyday situations. ”
You have to be careful where you’re like, ‘That Louis C.K.! That rat bastard!’ Know that if we can agree that there are these systems of oppression [then] and we know that they victimize people in different ways.
As Jackson started doing more political material, she wondered, “Am I going to do something about this stuff, or am I going to make jokes about it? So, I got a master’s in public policy, a law degree, and I was like whatevs.” In between motherhood and law school, Jackson still moved to the punches of open mic crowds at bars and solo performance festivals from New York to Los Angeles, and even her own graduate school student association. While Jackson has a complicated relationship with stand up at times, she finds solo performance to be “one hundred billion percent liberating. I never have fear about sharing my truth, provided it’s in service for others and it’s tapping into what is universal for people...I don’t care whether people get it or not right? Like I’m just being me and it’s not doing it to be gratuitous. It’s not done to, “look at me! look at me! look at me!’ The ultimate irony is that it’s all about me, but it is a universal experience and something that I want to share.” ”
For Jackson, writing is the process of complicating her understanding of the past by channeling the untapped reserves of memory and emerging, fundamentally changed, at a molecular level. In an interview with fellow LezWritesBTQ writer, Kristy Lin Billuni, Jackson explains, “It makes me feel alive. I feel deeply connected to God. I feel like I am the person I was meant to be when I write.” Jackson’s solo show Worst. Boyfriend. Ever. is the culmination of a journey way, way back into Jackson’s closet. Rick, Jackson’s Camaro-driving, beer-loving boyfriend lurked in her subconscious for twenty-six years. That is, until Jackson’s fiftieth birthday when the memory of this relationship started, “tickling in the back of my brain...I [initially] thought of him as the worst boyfriend. First of all, the fact that I had a boyfriend at all was really the worst aspect, because I’m gay.” Over the course of a ten-week workshop back in 2013, Jackson’s recollections began to gain vibrancy and shift their hues, “...I was talking in class, and saying, ‘you know he was emotionally abusive, but he was never physically abusive.’ And then, you know, about a week later, I was like, ‘wait- he threatened to drive me off a cliff when I was getting ready to leave the relationship and go to school and he gunned the car engine.’ Some people were like ‘that’s emotional abuse, straight up,’ like I had never thought of it before, like yeah that was, wasn’t it, huh?”
“It makes me feel alive. I feel deeply connected to God. I feel like I am the person I was meant to be when I write.”
The title, Worst. Boyfriend. Ever. seems to brace the audience for a darkly comic romp through the perils of heterosexuality. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. Throughout the play’s seven-year developmental history, the forces that informed the reality of being a lesbian in a toxic heterosexual relationship crawled out of the woodwork. While Jackson easily enacted the rapid-fire jabs from the boisterous reunions with Rick’s family members, the re-entrance into her twenty-four-year old self navigating a relationship proved much harder. Jackson describes workshopping the play for LezWritesBTQ with directors Mary Guzmán and David Ford, “The feedback that I got from them, is you kinda have to make us fall in love with Rick the way you did. It’s easy to make him all bad... It was just hard to physically and emotionally embody that,” Jackson explains, describing the vast difference between embodying the buoyancy of a Fourth of July party of her potential father-law Red and the scene where Red asks Julia why she chose to stay with Rick. “[Red’s] basically lovingly telling me, like ‘My son’s a shit. Why do you let him treat you like that?’ And David was like, ‘how did that feel when he said that?’ Because that piece is extremely autobiographical. There are no exceptions. It was like I couldn’t even bring myself to play the embarrassment, acting like it didn’t happen, I just kind of wanted to move on. So that was surprisingly difficult.”
Through traveling back into her twenty-four year old psyche, Jackson realized how much her relationship with Rick was informed by the expectations placed upon men to be invincible, or to quote Jackson’s play, “the king of the castle.” Beneath the bravado and misogyny, lives an unvoiced vulnerability, “You know, I only saw him cry three times... He broke down and said, ‘I thought you’d see how much I changed.’ And I realized, in some weird way, that I had all this power the whole time, and didn’t know it. This is what I mean about that self-righteousness and systems of oppression. He was a broken man. Misogyny breaks men and it breaks women. I could not see how he was broken.”
Jackson continued to map the influence of a single three-year relationship and unraveled the complexities of what makes “the worst boyfriend ever” in preparation for a solo festival in New York. She questioned what drew her to Rick at twenty-one and explored what it was like at thirty-six to tell her wife about this foreign episode of her life. The play also got very Greek in its exploration of masculinity, “...and that piece is really about, at the end of it, my father was the worst boyfriend ever because he set me up for this guy, like no expectations of myself. It was real Freudian...I make a joke about my heterosexual love life being like a Ben Stiller movie, where I’m like, ‘...well he’s kinda cute, I’m sure he’ll work out!” Just another night at the museum! I said, ‘all those years, like I should get a dick pension, where there’s some guy coming to my door every month with a hundred dollars going ‘Sorry…’” ”
"And I realized, in some weird way, that I had all this power the whole time, and didn’t know it. This is what I mean about that self-righteousness and systems of oppression. He was a broken man. Misogyny breaks men and it breaks women. I could not see how he was broken.”
Jackson (tragically) does not receive a monthly dick pension, but she is steadfast in her belief that the passage of time is essential in the movement of the creative process. “You can’t be in this hurry, like, “Oh! (Like I’m getting a divorce right now) you can’t be like oh yay trauma! Grist for the mill! This’ll be a great show some day!” Sometimes it can take twenty six years and the decision to fully re-enter your twenty-four year old brain to realize how complicated the “worst” relationship of a person’s life can be. As a solo performer, Jackson speeds to the edge of the cliff, takes a step back, and declares that its edge is not the precipice of danger but a point to launch from.
LezWritesBTQ Playwright Julia Jackson is a comedian and solo artist known for her biting social commentary, as well as actually biting audience members from time to time. This rising comedy star has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and was a Semi-Finalist in the San Francisco International Comedy Competition. Her solo performance piece “Children Are Forever: All Sales Are Final“ was selected for publication in Indie Theater Now’s “Plays and Playwrights 2016” and the show won the United Solo Best Non-Fiction Script Award in 2014. Her latest solo work, “Worst.Boyfriend.Ever.” was selected for publication in Indie Theater Now’s 2015 United Solo Collection. Julia appeared in the film “Some Prefer Cake,” and has worked with Dana Carvey and Paul Mooney.
3GT Marketing Associate Hannah Meyer is a director and dramaturg of new work with a background in marketing and public relations. In the Bay Area, she has worked with Magic Theatre, Playwrights Foundation, and SF Playhouse. Outside of theatre, Hannah is a writer whose essays, poetry, and satire have appeared in Points in Case, The Well Mannered Grump, The Baram House, Muses, The Haven and elsewhere. Her essay on the politics of comedy in Rachel Bloom’s banned song, “Period Sex,” will be published later this year with Taylor & Francis. Hannah is passionate about the intersections between art, activism, and scholarship.