October 23, 2018
September 04, 2012
Rye Silverman doesn't take comedy lightly. A few years ago he packed up his car in Columbus, Ohio and headed West for fame and fortune in the hills of Los Angeles. Rye took a couple minutes to respond to some interview questions about life as a male stand up comedian who wears women's clothes. But don't be mistaken. That's not his thing. Comedy is.
Stefan Davis: I saw you for the first time at an open mic in Columbus, OH. You were very candid. You may have been working on material, but everything seemed so conversational and loose. Is that typically what can be expected from seeing you perform?
Rye Silverman: I think so, yeah. It’s where my stage presence evolved to over the course of my career. My material grew more and more personal and I loosened up a lot. When I first started I wrote very tightly, very scripted. I was all about the writing and paid little attention to my stage presence. I was actually more than a little arrogant about my writing. I was sure that my writing was the most important thing and all I needed was to get in front of a mic and repeat this brilliance to the world. What a cocky little prick I was.
It took me a good six years to really break that and embrace how important my delivery really was, and that combined with my forays into the more personal stuff really shaped me into the comic I am today and the comic I continue to grow into.
SD: How and where did you start comedy?
RS: I started in Columbus, Ohio. It’s my hometown. The FunnyBone there had this workshop on Monday night before the local showcase show where you would go up in front of just comics and work out material. The idea was once you had a solid five minute routine you could do the show. From there a few other local comics, most notable Dan Swartwout and Bill Arrundale, took me under their wing a bit and let me know about some local open mics outside of the club and even booked me on some shows. About six months in I won a “Funniest Person in Columbus” contest at the FunnyBone and that gave me a huge boost up to being a working comic by getting me a bunch of opener spots at the club.
SD: Who are your influences? Why?
RS: Oh man. There’s so many. Growing up it was Steve Martin and Bill Cosby, guys like that, and yes, even some Jeff Foxworthy around the mid to late 90’s when he was really blowing up the first time. I think Steve Martin was the first guy to really make me say, “I want to be a comedian.” Then I had the benefit of being a teenager during the golden era of Comedy Central Presents specials so I was seeing all these half hours from Mitch Hedberg and Dave Attell and Jim Gaffigan and Jimmy Pardo, and… yeah that could keep going.
David Spade’s Take the Hit special for HBO was the one that I remember watching in my teen years and saying “This is definitely what I want to be doing.” I think Spade had a pretty big influence on my voice, or maybe I just already as a bit of a sarcastic bastard and he just helped legitimize it for me. Since I started actually doing comedy in 2001 I’d say my biggest influences have been Paul F. Tompkins, Patton Oswalt, Pardo, Gaffigan and Louis C.K. (and by extension, George Carlin.) All guys who do very original stuff, some more personal than others. I like the way Gaffigan will really hammer a topic, get out everything he could possibly say about it. Patton blends emotions so well, specifically rage and whimsy. Pardo and Tompkins both have a presence about them onstage that is magnetic to me. And Tompkins, Oswalt, and CK all have really made me feel more confident opening up to the more personal stuff in my head that I used to be afraid of. Also Eddie Izzard is a big hero of mine, but that sort of leads into your next question...
SD: You cross dress. When did you first start doing this? And how long did it take you to be comfortable with it on stage?
RS: I’ve been experimenting with wearing women’s clothing in some capacity since I was a little kid. Some of my earliest memories aside from Sesame Street or Three Amigos are of wanting to wear some of the clothes my friend Lisa got to wear, and not really understanding why I couldn’t.
I started comedy in 2001, and I didn’t open up about my crossdressing until 2009. So it took me quite a long time to really be comfortable with it. I had dipped my toe in the water occasionally with a gag here or a gag there that implied that I had been wearing women’s clothes but there was always a feeling of inauthenticity to them because I was holding back from the real truth.
SD: Do you find the term "cross dressing" offensive?
RS: I don't, some people get really bothered by it but in the litany of terms people use for people like me I find it the least offensive. You know, besides "human."
I think it best describes what I do too. I dress as a man in women's clothes, which is somewhat unusual. Most crossdressers seem to have a female persona they like to bring out to play sometimes. For me though the rare times I dress up as a woman, it feels like a costume or a character. When I dress like a guy in skirts and some light makeup, sort of a blend of masculine and feminine, that's when I feel most like myself.
SD: I've heard you say many times [in one set] that you are straight. As far as sexuality, how exactly do you identify yourself?
RS: It is funny to me how much people are concerned about how my crossdressing defines my sexuality. I live in an apartment right now with two roommates, one of whom is straight and the other is gay. The gay guy is more masculine by far than both of us. I wear dresses and the other guy is a huge musicals nerd who comes home singing showtunes after work. People just don’t seem to believe that I can both like to wear skirts and also be attracted to women.
I recently got confronted by two drunk girls after a writer’s mixer in Hollywood where I wore a black dress. They came up to me all sweetly at first as if they were legitimately curious about why I dress but soon their responses became very ugly and mean spirited. One of them asked if I was gay and I said I wasn’t, and she said “Why don’t you just be gay?” As if it was a switch. Sure it’d be much easier if I was, or maybe it wouldn’t be, I have no idea, maybe it would just make more sense to people who need to put me in a box. One of the other girls said she was confused and I tried to explain to her that her confusion isn’t my confusion. She just met me, but I’ve had 30 years to figure this out, so I probably know a little more about it than she does having just drunkenly stumbled into me. Her friend then added “Well I don’t want to have sex with you dressed the way you do,” to which I responded, “I didn’t offer.”
SD: I can't imagine it is easy to wear skirts and makeup especially in front of other comics. There is a sense of homophobia in the comedy community [with comedians] and anytime someone does something just a little bit effeminate that person is considered gay. Did you find it hard to cross dress in front of your peers?
RS: There is a bit of that, but I would say that the comedians, at least the people in Columbus for whom this was a strange new thing I dropped in their laps, were all pretty cool with it, at least to my face. I actually have had people tell me I became a lot more likeable after I started wearing skirts and talking about my crossdressing, I think I had been a little standoffish before because I was carrying what I thought was a dark secret around for years. But honestly people were so cool about it I regretted keeping it secret from them for so long.
It definitely scared the crap out of me to show up in the clothes though, especially at first. I started off small, with kilts, and then some knee length skirts before eventually getting more comfortable with pushing the envelope more. It’s funny because I remember a time thinking I would never be bold enough to wear tights and now not only is that sort of a default look but I’ve since added the makeup and some jewelry and some full on dresses and sheer pantyhose to the mix as well.
SD: You are now living in LA. Do you find it harder or easier than the Midwest for your lifestyle to be taken on stage? And how does the audience respond?
RS: For the most part the reaction has been good. I mean, I don’t have a truly accurate gauge because in Ohio I mostly did that material in more artsy areas of town where I was somewhat safe. I did it a few times at the FunnyBone with varying results. I think it would be better if I went back and did it now because I’ve transitioned away from my material about it being so much of a “let me explain this and defend it” vibe to more of a, “yes I acknowledge that this is weird, and let me tell you what my experiences have been like as a guy who wears skirts…” So now it feels more like me just getting personal, which I prefer, than it does me making people listen to a funny lecture on why I wear skirts.
Even in LA, It’s little bit of a balancing act though, depending on the crowd. I have an opening line I usually do when I go onstage in a skirt or dress that sort of teases it, acknowledges the weirdness but then misdirects it. Sometimes that’s all I have to do and I can never mention the clothes again and do other material instead if I want. Other times I have to go into it before the crowd will listen to anything else. My favorite though is when I do the material but not right away, because it can be a fun game for me to see how long I can get the crowd to focus on other material before I finally have to acknowledge to them that, yes, I am wearing this.
I do know that if I for sure have a certain chunk of material I want to work and do not want to spend time on my clothing, I can’t wear a skirt to the show.
SD: It's been almost three years since you moved out West. Do you feel you have made a decent amount of progress as far as your comedy career? Is there anything you would have done different?
RS: Yes I have and no I haven’t. It’s hard for me to totally divorce my crossdressing from the equation because I don’t know how much of an impact that has had on how people see me now as far as potential for work and such. I do have a vague feeling that despite the demand for diversity that bookers sort of see it as more of a liability than an asset. I had a college booking agent flat out tell me that she thought it was “too diverse” even for the college market, which thrives on diversity.
In many ways I feel like the move to LA is a sort of, take a few steps back to hopefully take a few steps forward situation. I do think I’ve gotten more of a lock on what my comedic voice is but I think I have to re-pay some of my dues that I thought I’d cashed in a long time ago.
I think my biggest mistakes I made when I came out here were I didn’t have any recent clips of my act online which made it hard to get anyone to book me on any shows. I had come from a comedy culture where I booked gigs by referrals and it was widely acknowledged that bookers rarely watched tapes because they got so many. So I’d email people to get on shows, they’d ask for a clip, and I wouldn’t have one that wasn’t two years old.
I wish I had done more solid material at more open mics. I treated open mics the way I always had, a place to fail by working on brand new, raw material. I think I made a real mistake by doing that because by doing so I made people see me as just someone working out his voice at an open mic, as opposed to as a working comic with almost an hour of material under his belt. I’ve seen other comics come to town and just do their best stuff for several months, which gets them seen as someone who always does well before they start working on their newer stuff.
SD: When you were living in Columbus you were a full time working comic. How has that changed in LA? Did you have to get a day job or do you continue to do comedy full time?
RS: Step backwards to step forwards, yes I do have a day job here. I just don’t have the financial security to be able to take off and do the road like I did in Ohio. I definitely miss the freedom that being a midwest based comic provided me. But I also have to admit I’m not sure how free I would have been to really be as open as I’ve gotten about my clothing stuff as I have here. And since that level of personal honesty is what led me to be more open and honest about other stuff onstage too, I think it’s been very valuable for me. I like to say that moving to LA and coming out about crossdressing were both things that made my comedy better and made my career suffer.
But it’s also easy to romanticize The Road when you’re not on it. I had some great gigs but I had some awful ones too, and those were what pushed me out to LA to begin with. I definitely miss traveling and doing comedy in different places for different people, but I guess now what I need to do is re-establish myself so people will know who I am a bit when I arrive somewhere, so I can go onstage however I want to dress and not have it make or break my show.
SD: If you had to pick the worst thing about LA what would it be? (It doesn't necessarily have to be about comedy) What's the best thing?
RS: Hmm. I don’t really hate on LA the way a lot of people do, in fact I sort of love it here. I guess though if I had to pick, I’d say I feel a little isolated sometimes despite the population. It seems easy to get lost in the shuffle. But that may be more of a “me” thing than an LA thing.
One thing I love about LA is something a lot of people hate about it, and that is the way we’re really right in the mix of a lot of cool creative people. Sure, there’s a lot of assholes. Like a lot. I worked at a customer service desk for over a year out here and it was a miserable, miserable existence. But now that I’m free from that and working a job I like, I can see how much awesomeness is all around within arms reach.
Last weekend I was in three sketches being filmed, one of which I wrote, and it was great just how many people were available who know how to film stuff and want to help make stuff happen. Also on a regular basis I’m on lineups with comedians I really respect, comics I listened to or watched on Late Friday on NBC, like Jackie Kashian or people who are just starting to blow up now, like Kyle Kinane. I used to host a show in a coffee shop in downtown LA, not really on the radar but a very fun show with a unique vibe and energy to it, but it was the show Dave Foley chose to use as his first step onstage to kickstart his transition into standup, and I was hosting. So I got to introduce him and then banter with him a little after his set. It was a pretty amazing honor and yet at the same time, that sort of thing happens so often out there that it’s also not a big deal. There’s something very cool about often getting to share the field with the big leaguers.
SD: How about Columbus? Best thing? Worst thing?
RS: The best thing about Columbus is how much of a hip, vibrant, interesting city it is yet continues to remain a bit of a secret. There is never a night where there’s not something fun to do there, and there’s all sorts of awesome festivals happening all the time. It’s also a city that has a little bit of everything. They test market a lot of stuff there because the population serves as such a great cross section of the rest of the country.
What I hated the most about Ohio was the cold. It’s the one thing I really, really don’t miss. It sounds a bit trite, but it’s definitely the thing I most shudder about when I think of “what if I had to move back home.”
SD: What is your favorite joke? (It could be yours, another comic's, something from a joke book, etc.)
RS: I don’t have one particular favorite, but if I had to say what has for me been the most consistently funny thing ever and what I hold as my standard for comedic excellence, it would have to be Gary Larson’s The Far Side comics. I used to say that I would marry the woman who gave me the complete Far Side as a present, but then I realized I’d said that to too many people and could probably get railroaded into a loveless marriage by some schemer who had ill wishes.
You can follow everything Rye is doing in LA and beyond at chicklikemeblog.tumblr.com.
And check out a video of Rye performing at Tiger Lily in January below.
May 23, 2012
Also, it's a very special time for Stefan Davis. This very same night Stefan is having his special CD Release Party for his debut album "Of Course I'll Choke You".
Most of the regulars will be there as well, including recently skinny Nate Bjork, David "guess the narcotic" Leon, and Jameson Whiskey's unofficial mascot Ryan Casey.
And we are bringing in two special guests. Erik Dersch is hot off of his Monsanto tour. And since Colombia gave Madison comedy a special treat, we're passing that on to you with Frandu.
The night will be hosted by former drug addict and current lovemaker Ian John.
Tickets are available online:
Tickets can also be purchased at the door the night of the show. Get your tickets early. This show will sell out!