Donovan Prison's Women's History Talk: Comedy Alchemy

“Comedy Alchemy”

20 min talk for Donovan Prison staff

March 8, 2018

5 Min standup

I’m Jennifer Mason and I just turned 50 this year. Except on Tinder, where I’m 43.

When the guys on Tinder found out I’m an acupuncturist, they often said the same thing “Hey, maybe on our second date, I’ll let you poke me.”

Cause you know, that’s romantic. I’ll do my job for free!  And I’m like, “Dude, you might give it away for free, but my prick costs $150.”

When I started online dating, it was really exciting because it felt like one of my other favorite activities:  online shopping.

So I put all of these beautiful men into my shopping cart. But it turned out it WASN’T like online shopping at all.

There was no Amazon Prime.

And there were no 2 star reviews warning me that

“Item Does Not Match picture or Description”

or “Package may arrive inappropriately early.”

It’s hard to find good dates.  As a single mom, I’m in charge of everything--meal planning, taikwondo schedules,  naming the houseplants. That’s why I want the guy to choose where we’re going on a date and what we’re doing. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you if you get it wrong.

You know, because sometimes women like being told what to do.

That’s why we love yoga.

It’s someone telling you what to do every second for 60 minutes.

Grab a mat. Bend over. Touch your toes. Breathe.

Grab your ankles. Press your hips back and let your buttock bones smile at the sky.

Relax into it.  Deeper.

Now surrender it all on the mat and enjoy the sensations in your body..

Whew!  Some weeks that’s the closest I get to sex.

But when I’’m feeling like something more hardcore Something with machines and straps bolted to the wall in a darkened room?

I go to Pilates!  Have you done Pilates?

You have to wear ballet fetish wear and when you walk in, they tell you to straddle your machine, stuff a ball up between your thighs, no, not just up between your thighs but UP!  between your thighs. Put your hands in the straps, and squeeze the ball! Pulse it ladies! Pulse it pulse it pulse! Pop that booty!

And all the women are groaning and sweating.

It’s the 50 Shades of exercise.

It’s all part of my attempt at weightloss.

I’m already on a super strict health food diet--no sugar no grain no fun,  ketogenic paleolithic intermittent fasting diet.

Except for when the Menopause puts me on the “let’s drink all the wine and eat all of the donuts” diet.

Menopause is no joke! It turns a pretty happy woman into a sweaty hungry bitch just like that.  I love it!

The world needs more powerful women.

That’s why I think the next superhero movie is going to be a menopausal woman.  

Instead of the Flash, she’ll be the Hot Flash!

And I don’t know what kind of costume she’ll be wearing, but I know it’ll be moisture wicking.  

Her secret powers will be invisibility to men and the ability to bite people’s heads off when they ask her to sign up for one more god damned PTA school planning committee!

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That was part of my first set that I did last year. I had never done standup before but had a vision of myself with a mic in my hand as a 50-year-old woman.  And a lot of my friends were fascinated because if you’re looking for middle-aged single moms, you go to PTA meetings and Little League games, not dark comedy stages.


It was a bucket list/dare sort of thing that I couldn’t’ explain, but it made me feel courageous and exciting. There was only one other mom in the class and she was doing it in secret. Every week she snuck out of the house and told her family that she was volunteering for a political candidate. And they’re like “but the election was over months ago…”

How many of you enjoy watching stand up? How many of you have thought maybe you could do it?  

Well I think you could and let me tell you why you might try.

You’ve heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.”


As an acupuncturist, I treat a lot of pain--shoulder pain, wrist pain, sciatica. But I also treat anxiety, insomnia, and depression. I treat so much of it that I put together a two-hour workshop on anxiety and one of the things I teach is that when you willingly choose something scary-- expanding your comfort zone in any direction, it brings neurotic fears more into perspective.

Let me tell you that comedy is terrifying--for everyone. That was one of the first things that we learned in the 7-week course.  “Don’t expect laughs, but always expect to be terrified.” But that’s what makes it exhilarating--you feel like you’re going to die and you don’t. And that makes you feel so alive and surprisingly joyful. It’s like parachute jumping for people who can’t afford great health insurance.

After I went on stage and stammered out my first set, the next time I talked at a business conference felt EASY!  I felt lighter and braver and badass.

Now, most of my set is true. I’m just not creative enough to make up stuff and luckily for me, my friends, family, and neighbors are just hilarious.  It’s also lucky because the more personal your set is, the less likely it is that you’re a “hack comic” that you’ve accidentally copied someone or that anyone can steal your stuff.

But here’s the other thing--when you use your real life for comedy, the most awkward and painful things turn out to be the funniest.  That may seem inconvenient, but it’s actually magical because in the process, it also takes the sting out of it. I call it Comedy Alchemy--turning our pain into comic gold.

So my material is about being 50 and dating a younger guy. (Yeah, he thought I was 43 on Tinder.) About the search for new wrinkle cream and the unwinnable battle of trying to having a tidy house with two teenage boys. Or being left by my husband for a woman at Burning Man (I call her Burning Ho.)

A big part of getting over my divorce was telling people how much I hated our doomed marriage counseling. And what it was like as a stretch-marked single mom entering the dating scene.  As I recounted failed dating experiences in the lunchroom the next day, I felt less like failure and more like funny adventurous person! Right? The good dates are great, and the bad dates are great stories.

Now I find myself looking forward to the awkward. When my parents say something that makes my jaw drop, like the time they came back from one of those free marketing lunches but instead of being sold vacation time shares, they were sold a cremation package. And my dad he got the blackened catfish. As they show me the his and hers metal urns, I get a shiver of anticipation and think “this will make a great set.”

The other thing that makes for great stand up is having an authentic point of view.  The audience wonders “what is life like for that person?” Or they love it when their secret thoughts are the same as my secret thoughts. So, having a handle on how you see your life is great for your set. And it’s even better for your life. Comedy makes us into philosophers. It’s our own therapy. That’s why comedians do it--they’re all a little crazy and they’re trying to self-treat.

But I honestly think that people who know their own point of view are the happiest. We stop pretending to be who we’re not and we become comfortable being ourselves.  Good comedy makes for good mental health.

Here’s another thing: on any given night that I do an open mic, I am often the only female comedian on the list. In other words, the best woman to perform all night!  And I’d love to see more women out there. Let the world hear your point of view while your pain turns into laughter!

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I also do improv comedy-- how many of you know what that is or have seen it?
“Where everything is made up and the points don’t matter” Right? Drew Carey?

Improv is the perfect antidote for people with control issues or perfectionism. You don’t know where you’re going to be or even who you’re going to be when you step on stage because your partner might say, “Bertha, I wouldn’t be so smug about winning first place in the hot dog eating contest if I were you,” and you find out you’re Bertha and you have indigestion. You can’t prepare for that!

Improv is playing with teammates. And one thing that we all do before we get on stage is walk around to each person and say “I’ve got your back.” It’s our way of saying that you’re not alone,  we welcome whatever we’re gifted with and that whatever mistakes come, we will help turn them into gold.

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Do you guys want to try an exercise? You get a free gift and it’s exactly what you were hoping for. Okay? Get into groups of three’s

Good gift /Bad gift exercise--5 minutes

Get into groups of three. A gives B an imaginary gift. B names the gift and says, “Thank you!” and tells A why it’s perfect.  

Ex:  A: This is for you (miming gifting a box)

      B: An orange stripey kitten! My boys will love her!

B to C: “This is for you!”

C: “Gold earrings? These will go great with my new dress!”

Fun right? Sounds like you got some good gifts (ask for examples)

Now we’re going to play another game:  Bad Gift. Don’t worry this one is even more fun.

This time A is going to give B the worst gift they can think of.  B thanks them and says why it’s perfect.

A:  “Here’s a bag of flies!”

B:  “Thank you! My pet spiders have been so hungry. It’s dinner time for spiders!

Check back after 3 minutes--what was the worst gift? Why was it perfect? How did that feel?

See how fun it is to turn terrible things into laughter and gifts! I hope you enjoyed this talk and I hope you can bring comedy and that ability into your life.


Jennifer Mason