Marcia Belsky (left) and Isabel Martin of the feminist comedy duo, Free the Mind
Interview by Amy Fusselman
AF: Hi Marcia, nice to “meet” you. So you’re the comedian behind the wonderful Headless Women of Hollywood project. (I swear there’s enough material for you to do a Headless Women on Book Covers as well). (Do you know Edith Zimmerman’s Women Laughing Alone with Salad?).
MB: Haha, I have seen Women Laughing Alone With Salad – I love it so much. Would love to make Headless into a book – I have license to use copyright images since I am “critiquing” them but I’m trying to find a publisher that wouldn’t mind taking the risk.
AF: Can you tell me a little about how Free the Mind got started and what your goals are for it? Is it an outgrowth of Headless Women in any way?
MB: The band got started because I told Isabel I wanted to jam and she said “cool I scheduled us a show in 2 weeks” Haha!
Headless Women was inspired by a trope a professor pointed out to me in college that I kept seeing everywhere, and every time I would point it out people would be like “I don’t think that’s a thing.” So, I decided to show them it was a thing.
Before that, my comedy had become increasingly feminist (I’ve been performing stand-up for about 7 years) – and I was beginning to try and see if I could center women and my POV as distinctly female by joking publicly about the types of things women laugh about when men aren’t around (Kill All Men, etc.). I found it very therapeutic. And also got to throw some of the sexist rhetoric we’re just supposed to swallow back in the faces of the men who told me I “didn’t have a sense of humor” just because I thought they were assholes.
Then Free the Mind took that and what I’d been trying to do with my stand up to a whole other level. Free the Mind is the BEST therapy. Isabel is a gift to me from Jesus herself. And I figured, maybe if we sing about killing men & the type of anger or frustration most women feel to a lighthearted tune people wouldn’t be so offended – and they could laugh while also being like “damn, so true.”
“Women Are Perfect” by Free the Mind
AF: I like that the music is helping you get where you wanted to go with stand-up. Tell me more about where that is, exactly–what is it that you want your audience to experience? Also, is there anything in this regard that music can’t do as well as stand-up did?
MB: I want my audience to experience joy & laughter – but also I want them to feel like girls can be cool without boys! As a kid, I always felt like the boys were having more fun and it made me think that the only way you could have fun is if you were a boy, or if you only associated with boys. But now, I want the boys to be looking at us thinking, ‘damn, that looks fun.’
I love stand-up because it is a completely raw version of performance. You have nothing to hide behind, no one to catch you if you fall – it’s just you and the microphone. I feel it cuts through all the bullshit of performance (when done well, ha ha.) When someone murders a stand-up set, it is unlike anything else – because all they had was their words but still they connected to people and brought together an audience of strangers. It’s really amazing.
Music, I feel, does that in a different way. It allows for more or less freedom depending on what you’re trying to express. For example, if in my stand-up I said, “All older white men should die, but not my Dad.” it would probably get a moderate chuckle. But when we sing it, it gets a big laugh. It’s more naturally entertaining so I feel people are more open to watching it. Whereas with stand-up, half of the battle is convincing the audience that it will be worth it to listen to you. But when you win that battle – in some ways it is more rewarding.
“All Older White Men” by Free the Mind
AF: I’d be curious to know what inspirations you have for this type of performance. Sarah Silverman comes to mind.
MB: I definitely loved Sarah Silverman’s musical stuff! Also inspired by Flight of the Conchords and Tenacious D, huge fans of them. Loved Weird Al as a kid. And, growing up my parents played a LOT of Alan Sherman on road trips (the guy who wrote “Hello Mudda Hello Fadda” – he actually has hundreds of songs believe it or not.) Also I was a musical theater kid growing up, but had quit by the time I was a teenager. So those were huge influences on me. I’ve always loved funny music. My dream of dreams is to eventually write a show like Book of Mormon or Avenue Q.
AF: Are there other issues you want to address besides feminism with this project? Bonus ?: Describe your ideal opening act and venue for a Free the Mind Show!
MB: I like to address feminism because people always want to say that “feminists don’t have a sense of humor” – so I like to directly prove that wrong by making feminism itself funny. But we also like to do non-political songs that just make us giggle, for example we wrote a parody Broadway number called “Moving to New York Today” and one of my favorites is a song we wrote based on a true story called “Don’t Tell Me You’re A Mime (When You Ain’t One).” So, I love showing that we have the range to do both. I love political comedy. And I also like goofy stuff! And I like making political stuff goofy.
We got to play my dream venue recently – Joe’s Pub! It was incredible. Another dream venue was littlefield, so would love to play that again. Dream of dreams obviously is Carnegie Hall or a big theater like that with hundreds of feminists watching including Gloria Steinem!!! (hero) That is my dream. In my wildest dreams, we are opening for Flight of the Conchords at Madison Square Garden and they are like “wow, you guys are funny play every show with us!!!” and I’m like “wow, chill out guys but ok that sounds agreeable.”
Free the Mind‘s album is out now for 5 dollars on Bandcamp.
Marcia Belsky will be doing stand up on Thursday 12/22 at Union Hall and also Friday 12/30 at Beauty Bar NYC
More info here: marciabelsky.com/live