Comedian Kelli Dunham Comes to Smith

Jackie Leahy ’14
Arts Editor

On March 28 at 8 p.m. comedian Kelli Dunham will perform stand-up in the Campus Center’s Carroll Room. According to her website, “Kelli’s comedy is gently edgy, but she is not afraid to take her quizzical story-telling style into areas where even slam poetry dares not tread: a torn up birth certificate, the perils of responding to extreme sarcasm coming from a dying lover, trying to avoid being gay bashed while wearing a flowered shirt and Stetson cowboy hat in a Jacksonville Florida Denny’s.”

Dunham is a friend of one of the former chairs of Transcending Gender, Jayke Bouche ’12, who met and befriended Dunham after attending workshops given by Dunham at various queer conferences.

Dunham’s work is personal and political because it “often focuses on that magical moment of intersection when the LGBT and non-LGBT worlds meet, or – at times – collide.” A certified nurse, Dunham’s work describes how people with non-conforming gender identities can get good help at the hospital. Genderqueer and an ex-nun, Dunham seems to have humor and controversy built into the fabric of her life.

“We thought her take on humor was very empowering and that she is the sort of inspiring personality that Smithies should get to hear from,” said Kati Giblin ’15, historian of Transcending Gender, explaining why the group invited Dunham to Smith. “We also thought that since Smith has an outspoken LGBT/LGBT friendly community that her jokes and anecdotes about being a genderqueer lesbian in New York would resonate well.”

This personal focus is part of what gives Dunham’s comedy its edge.

“She loves to poke fun at the LGBT community, and she does it best because she is a member of it,” said Giblin, who also decribed Dunham’s comedy as dark and rather “hard-hitting.”

“[Dunham’s jokes] actually involve very sad things that have happened in her life.You can tell she’s a great comedian because she makes the death of her last two girlfriends seem funny,” said Giblin. The darkness of the content of Dunham’s routine, however, is tempered by her warm demeanor. In one of her stand-up routines, Dunham quotes a comment she received from an Internet commenter who compared her to a koala bear, a comment which is as understandable as it is ridiculous. For Gblin, Dunham’s “delivery style doesn’t make any of her jokes seem offensive or out of place.”

Giblin, who has seen Dunham perform on previous occasions, appreciates Dunham most for her sense of perspective.

“Last time I went to one of her workshops, she told some funny anecdotes about people she knows from Haiti. She knew a woman who was stuck underneath a house for three days and had to have her feet amputated. However, this woman still keeps a sense of humor about it. Now her friend goes to a prep school and talks about the rich girls talking to their friends, saying, ‘Oh my God, when my dad took away my Blackberry, I almost died.’ And she says, ‘Oh my God, when I was trapped under that building for three days, I almost died,’” recounted Giblin. “Kelli and everyone she surrounds herself with keep a really good attitude about the worst things in life.”

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