Jennifer Blaine tells Phindie a DIRTY JOKE: An interview with a Fringe funnywoman

Jennifer Blaine Dirty Joke Fringe Festival 2013 Philadelphia

Jennifer Blaine

Jennifer Blaine (jenniferblaine.wordpress.com) had a one-woman show in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival for the first ten years of its existence (beginning in 1997). She has been performing original one-woman shows for fifteen years, opening for George Carlin and performing with Chris Rock and Joe Piscopo. Over the years, she has created dozens of comic personas; the Daily News raved “not even Sybil can compete with Blaine’s cast of characters. Her comic genius is like Lily Tomlin and Tracey Ullman.” After a five-year absence, she returns to the 2013 Fringe Festival with DIRTY JOKE, which focuses on one of Jennifer’s most popular characters: Ruth, an elderly Jewish woman with a penchant for off-color humor.

Jennifer talked to Phindie about her new show and her characters, and told us a dirty joke.

Phindie: What’s this show about?
Jennifer Blaine: “Dirty Joke” features my original character Ruth, an elderly Jewish woman who loves to tell dirty jokes. She is facing eviction from her apartment and seeks out the wisdom of eight real-life superwomen to learn how to overcome impossible situations.

PhindieHow did you decide on the characters in the play? What links them together?
JB: The nine characters are Ruth, Madeleine Albright, Caroline Casey, Kiran Bir Sethi, Arianna Huffington, Majora Carter, Cindy Sheehan, Mohammad Yunnis, Wangaari Maathai. After seventeen years of performing her I wanted to give Ruth her own show. The eight other figures were chosen based on their ability to do heroic things with their lives. Ruth makes the world a better place with her jokes, but would also like to be a legitimate change agent, which she perceives these eight people to be. She is a fan of all their work. They are each doing phenomenal things, but are also somehow highly accessible and approachable, which is why Ruth thought they would show up if she assembled a superwoman conference. They deliver.

Jennifer Blaine as Ruth

Jennifer Blaine as Ruth

PhindieTell me about Ruth. How did that character come about?
JB: I first performed Ruth in 1996. She is based on a cousin of my grandfather’s. I met her after he died, in 1992, and had several wonderful visits with her. I was able to mimic her voice and gestures. I combined her legitimate stories with my grandfather’s dirty jokes. He began telling me these jokes when I was four years old. By having Ruth, with all her sweetness, be the one to tell the dirty jokes, she was able to get away with murder onstage.

PhindieHow do you think people react differently when a woman tells a dirty joke than when a man does? When an old person does compared to a young person.
JB: Ruth walks a fine line with her dirty jokes. She will not tell just any dirty joke. It has to be funny to her. Because she lives in a multi-cultural world she doesn’t tell racist jokes. She will only tell dirty jokes that reflect her sensibility. She has to find it funny in order to tell it. What makes her telling these jokes different than my grandfather is that he lost friends over telling these jokes, whereas she makes them. As far as age all I can say is when I told these jokes at four years old it didn’t go over well.

PhindieWhat do you like about the Fringe? 
JB: I was a fixture on the scene for many years. I had one-woman shows for the first 10 years of the Fringe. I loved it because it gave me a following in Philadelphia, and without an audience I am just talking to myself.

PhindieWhy does is it a good fit for DIRTY JOKE?
JB: Even though Ruth is telling dirty jokes, the big dirty joke we are all facing is that we have tremendous wisdom, huge problems that impact all of us, and if we were all activated and engaged we might be able to transform it. In this show we get to witness Ruth on her journey to become a superwoman.

Phindie: Tell me a dirty joke.
JB: A piano player sits playing song after glorious song. A man approaches and says “That is beautiful. What’s it called.” He says “Two dykes fucking til dawn.” “Oh,” the man says, “”And the one before it?” “That one was “Fuck Me, Hard!” “Oh,” the man says. “Would you like to play at my restaurant sometime? You just can’t tell the customers the names of your songs.” They agree that this is an excellent plan. They agree to a handsome sum for the piano player to play the following night.
He shows up and plays amazing songs. The customers are in rapt attention, they just love him. They cheer and he stands up from the piano with his fly unzipped and his junk hanging out. Someone shouts out “Hey man, do you know your fly is unzipped and your balls are hanging out?” And the piano player says….

“KNOW IT? I WROTE IT!”

DIRTY JOKE runs September 14-17, 2013 as part of the 2013 Philly Fringe Festival. Tickets and info at fringearts.ticketleap.com/dirty-joke.

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.