She has perfect timing for one thing.
I arrive at a bustling Davie St café at two-o-clock on the dot and run into sketch comic Morgan Brayton at the door. She’s wearing a pink T-shirt that reads “Nerd Fucker” in a happy font, and her raven locks are tucked up beneath a pink poor-boy cap. I’m already enjoying myself.
The more I laugh over my tea, the more Brayton seems to be enjoying herself, too. “The whole point of comedy is that it’s a gift to the audience–it’s not for me,” she says. Later in the interview, she seems to contradict herself, saying “it’s all therapy.” Turns out, for Brayton, the two statements are complimentary.
“My need to make other people laugh is all-consuming,” says Brayton, and she routes that desire back to her childhood, growing up in Victoria where “Dad was missing a lot and Mom was depressed. If I could make my mom stop crying, make her smile, that was so important.”
Her mission extends beyond her immediate family now. She’s worked in Vancouver as a performer for the past 17 years and Girls Like Me, her one-woman Fringe Festival hit–which Brayton is remounting at the Waterfront Theatre–has already won her an Xtra West Hero award and critical acclaim.
Girls Like Me is a series of connected sketches, each one delving into a character-based study of painfully, achingly vulnerable women. But wait, it’s funny, too. Take Cherry Lipsmacker, for example. Cherry is stripping at Jacko Jive’s amateur night. As red lights flash, Cherry (Brayton) gets naked and smears herself with whipped cream. She is foolish, perhaps, to think herself sexy. Yet she somehow manages to be awfully sexy indeed, if you want to know. And lovable. What’s more, though she’s the only woman in the show who isn’t given any lines, she speaks volumes with her oh-well face when she spontaneously decides to just eat the whipped cream instead of massaging it over her body.
“It’s the essence of comedy,” says Brayton. “You bare yourself.” She models her work after women like Lily Tomlin and Carol Burnett, women who disappear into their characters and use “laughter as a kind of resisting. Laughing when you’re not supposed to is resistance.”
Some women have chastised Brayton for her Cherry Lipsmacker, charging that the portrayal makes fun of sex trade workers. But Brayton argues, “My being fat and naked and covered in whipped cream points out that ridiculous [body image] expectation. I’m not making fun of her. I love her.”
Brayton says she loves all her characters–from the butch dyke Officer Tribble (who hollers “Shut yer crazy mouth!” at the hapless driver she’s pulled over), to little Lizzie (who terrorizes her babysitter with comments like “Hey, Brianna, you know at the end of the day when you have that stuff in your panties? Well, it’s not pee. Nope. It’s called vag-inal dis-charge.”).
A personal favourite (and I doubt that I’m alone here) is Brayton’s most serious character, one Button Bradley. The Button sketch is a monologue delivered by a ridiculously innocent mother figure, taking her first Women’s Studies class. The pottery class was full.
“Button is an amalgam of lots of customers at Women In Print,” says Brayton, who worked at the sadly defunct feminist bookstore from 2000 to 2002. “My mom thinks it’s her, but it’s not. There really was a woman named Button. She was one of those women that feminism just passed over.”
Button Bradley is an elegy, I think, for Women In Print. It’s an incredibly moving historical record, one that proves sketch comedy can have the same emotional heft as any form of theatre, just as Art Spiegelman’s Maus proved that comics weren’t just amusements for the Sunday paper.
When introducing herself to the class, Button mentions a girl behind the counter at the bookshop, who we might take to be Brayton herself: “I don’t know what I’d expected but she was very nice and we got to chatting and I asked her: Why…why…Women In Print? You know, aren’t they afraid of alienating people? Because I don’t really see that women need their own bookstores. Their own bathrooms, yes, but bookstores?”
Brayton’s characters, all of them “girls like me” she explains, are never perfect, never politically correct. They start out looking a lot like something to be ashamed of, something to be pitied, and, pulled in by Brayton’s wit, we end up cherishing them the way you cherish a best friend–you love the worst in them, and it feels like you just made peace with something you used to hate about yourself.
All of Brayton’s sketches are available as a podcast online at www.morganbrayton.com. But don’t let that keep you from discovering the enormously affecting qualities of her live performance.