A Conversation With Comedian Kate Willett

With a combination of affectionate satire of the Bay Area lifestyle, unflinchingly honest but wildly absurd personal stories, and lucid feminist/queer commentary, Kate Willett has begun to emerge as one of the most unique voices in San Francisco comedy.

She's also a local resident, living in The Convent, an arts collective and community living space at Fell and Fillmore.

Fresh off a recent national tour with Margaret Cho, Kate sat down with us to talk social responsibility, collective living, and eating hot wings with your idols.

On touring with Margaret Cho:

"We ran into Jackie Kashian and Maria Bamford in Nashville; they were on the early show and we were the late show. The next day we all went to this place called Hattie B's for chicken wings. It was crazy because those three women are my ultimate comedic heroes and I was really starstruck and also just eating this super spicy chicken.

"I was sweating and trying not to make a huge mess. It was a huge trip to do something so messy and mundane with these people that I admire more than any in the world. I was like, 'It's fine with me if this is the coolest my life ever gets.'”

On comedy and social responsibility:

"#BeRobin is something that Margaret [Cho] started back in November to work on raising money for the homeless population in San Francisco, but it was all based on busking. She would perform out there and she had local comedians and musicians come and perform. There was just money in a guitar case and the whole idea of the project was if you have, give; if you need, take.

"There's an amazing local organization called Lava Mae that has a bus with a beautiful shower inside for homeless people; they came to several events. There were some people from a local hair salon that volunteered to give free haircuts for the homeless; it was a really amazing outpouring from local artists.

"I think [social consciousness] is a great part of comedy, it's not always as much a part of it as it should be but it definitely made me realize that using my work to make a difference in the world is really important to me, and that might look like a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I think it's something really important for us to think about how we, as comedians, can actually make a difference in the world. I love making people laugh and I think that, in itself, makes a difference."

On being a Bay Area comic on tour:

“In San Francisco, the jokes that I do about Burning Man or living in a hippie art collective or something [work] because everybody has that friend, and in Nashville or something, I'm relying on people's ideas of what that's like, the stereotypes, and I'm thinking, 'How much am I a stereotype of a San Francisco person? Probably a lot.' [Laughs].

"Here, material about the Bay Area is sort of an inside joke that we all share. I guess I would have ideas of what Nashville was like, just like people in Nashville would have ideas of what San Francisco was like.”

On life in The Convent (an artists' collective living space in the Lower Haight affiliated with The Center, which we profiled back in November):

“I definitely have written a lot about this weird place right here. We're an art collective, but it's fun to call it a commune because it scares people. It's a lot of fun; I love living in a community. It's very inspiring to be around people that are doing creative stuff with their lives.

"If you think about it, living with a ton of roommates is the de facto solution to living in San Francisco. Everyone has a bajillion roommates until they're 80, so maybe it's less unique than it seems."

On being recognized in public:

“I have a joke about how I've let people inside my body that I wouldn't let inside my apartment, and one day I was walking up Fillmore street and some drunk lady just points at me and says, 'You're that lady that lets people inside you.' And there was a bunch of people and everyone just looked at me. I owned it. At first, I was embarrassed but then I was like, 'You know what? Sure.' It always kind of jars me that people think that 100 percent of the stuff coming out of your mouth as a comic is true."

Here's a recent clip of Kate's set at SF Sketchfest. For more on Kate and to keep up on her show schedule, visit her website at katewillett.com.

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A conversation with comedian kate willett