Many of us do our best thinking in the bathtub, but for LA-based comedian Sara Benincasa, that’s where she has her best conversations. In her webseries Getting Wet with Sara Benincasa, she’s talked sex and sass with celebrities like Margaret Cho, Donald Glover, Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, joining her under the bubbles. There’s little fear of oversharing for a woman who turned her lifelong struggles with panic attacks and anxiety into the one-woman show and subsequent book, Agorafabulous!
“I worried about hurting people’s feelings,” she admits, “I worried about sharing too much of my own story, about grossing people out (particularly the part where I was so terrified to leave my bedroom that I even stopped using the bathroom.) But I wanted to show just how bad agoraphobia can get. I think if I hadn’t shown the darkest parts, the recovery wouldn’t have meant as much to the reader.”
Having started out with a master’s degree in high-school teaching, Benincasa left to pursue acting and stand-up comedy but never lost her fascination for “the developmental phase we call adolescence . . . I’ve always been particularly interested in the ways in which girls arrange themselves into groups.” A longtime fan of the classic novel The Great Gatsby from her own teenage years, she combined her interests into her first novel, Great, a genderbent youth-fiction take on the American staple.
“It was important to me to put girls first and to take a very male-centred, male-focused novel by one of our most famous dude writers and flip it, twist it, change it, challenge it,” she says, noting that her narrator Naomi (formerly Nick) has “got a lot of my own old prejudices and hang-ups about body image, about sexuality, about fitting in. I wanted to create a problematic narrator. I wanted to create problematic characters. They intrigue me.”
Having been a teacher, sex-advice columnist, comedian and advocate for mental health issues, there’s not much that embarrasses Benincasa anymore, except perhaps her own geekiness.
“I get a bit wild on Twitter sometimes and express various opinions, including some (ahem) adult desires for various celebrities,” she laughs. “I was doing a show with Melissa Etheridge in Portland. And I kept tweeting about how excited I was, and how much I admired her, and I put her Twitter handle in the tweet. I figured at MOST an assistant would see, but not care because she gets that kind of feedback all the time. I couldn’t imagine she actually looked at her own Twitter. Well, we had adjoining dressing rooms, and I hadn’t met her yet but I tweeted again about how excited I was to meet her. I heard her phone buzz — I think it was actually a Twitter alert.”
“The next thing I know, she appears at my door, smiling that beautiful smile. I said, ‘I am such a fan!’ She said, ‘I know! I read your tweets!’ I blushed, realizing she’d gotten all these fangirl messages from me. Then she asked if I wanted to take a picture, and DUH, of course I did. So I immediately put it on Instagram and geeked out completely. She’s radiant and her voice is divine and I am a big dork.”
As her star rises, however, Benincasa now has queer fans crushing on her. What kind of Twitter alerts does she get?
“Queer fans in general are amazing because they will walk with you to the ends of the earth if they have your trust,” she says, “I think folks who’ve been oppressed, disenfranchised, hurt and abused and who’ve had to put up with all kinds of shit are the toughest folks on earth. When you earn the trust of such an individual, it’s a sacred thing. Loyalty is a huge element of my relationship to queer readers. When I fuck up, they let me know, and I endeavour to do better in future.”
“And I’m particularly enamoured of anyone who makes it a life practice to provide orgasms to women. Therefore, lesbians are, in my estimation, the highest form of humanity.” This is not, she stresses, “to discount the amazing contributions made by gay men to society in general and my life in particular, but none has ever shown even an inkling of interest in giving me an orgasm. Lesbians, on the other hand, have been generous in this regard. Long may they reign o’er the earth!”