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Can Abortion Be Funny? | The New Yorker


In 2019, Alison Leiby was on tour when her period-tracking app warned that her interval was late. She’d lately had unprotected intercourse however wasn’t too involved concerning the potential penalties. In spite of everything, Leiby—a author on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”—was then thirty-five, and assumed that her fertility window was closing. She’d by no means skilled a being pregnant scare earlier than. However the days continued ticking by with out a interval, and the comedian wound up in a resort room in Missouri, constructive being pregnant check in hand. She promptly referred to as her gynecologist’s workplace in New York—solely to find that her physician didn’t administer abortions—earlier than turning to Deliberate Parenthood. Regardless of being a self-described abortion-rights activist, Leiby nonetheless shocked herself by whispering the phrase “abortion” on the telephone whereas scheduling the process. She was then requested if she’d choose an abortion tablet or an in-office go to: “That’s a real ‘Fries or salad?’ ” Leiby jokes.

Final fall, Leiby started workshopping a comedy present about this expertise, which she now calls “Oh God, a Show About Abortion” and is presently performing for a six-week run at Cherry Lane Theatre, in Manhattan. Introduced underneath the aegis of the comedian and author (and new mom) Ilana Glazer, the present is a sprawling and admittedly observational set about ladies’s reproductive experiences that largely avoids the traps of cliché. Leiby, who wears a subdued black T-shirt and darkish denims onstage, resists the language of Instagram activism or hashtag sloganeering, simply as she refrains from sensationalizing the emotional fallout of an abortion. (Being pregnant and realizing that you really want an abortion is a little bit bit like catching “a cockroach under a Tupperware in your apartment. And you’re, like, uggghhhhh, I know it’s there, and I do have to kill it, but I need, like, a minute to deal with this,” she jokes.) What struck Leiby most concerning the process was how anticlimactic it was, she tells the group. Plainspoken and infrequently nonchalant, Leiby takes pains to current the expertise as what it was: an earthly and routine medical process after which she was in a position to have a typical Saturday afternoon, “eating cheese and crackers and watching an episode of ‘The Real Housewives.’ ”

In one of many present’s extra earnest moments, Leiby argues that abortion would appear much less catastrophic if we mentioned it extra usually, as an alternative of relegating the topic to “when it’s in crisis . . . being legislated away.” The irony is that Leiby is performing a set that goals to deflate the gravity of abortion within the midst of a nationwide disaster across the topic. She started previewing the present final month, every week earlier than the leak of a Supreme Court docket draft ruling, which instructed that Roe v. Wade will likely be overturned—a watershed second for abortion rights. The stakes of Leiby’s present had been immediately raised. (And ticket gross sales, I’d think about, had been boosted.) Not solely has she taken on the duty of constructing abortion humorous—at which she succeeds—however now she’s additionally making an attempt to make audiences snort on the humdrum realities of abortion throughout a historic second when the topic feels red-hot and radioactive.

In fact, abortion is a lot greater than a medical process, and “Oh God” is funniest when Leiby zigs and zags round ladies’s reproductive points, riffing on the whole lot from America’s woefully inadequate sex-ed courses to the ridiculous array of contraceptive choices out there to ladies. (There is a contraceptive vaginal gel referred to as Phexxi, for instance.) “Where is male birth control, by the way?” Leiby wonders aloud at one level, sincerely overcome with curiosity. It’s a query so apparent and baffling that it despatched the (predominantly feminine) crowd into roars. At one other level within the present, Leiby remembers stepping into for lower-back surgical procedure and listening to a gaggle of male neurosurgeons analyzing a international object on her X-ray in confusion. Lastly, a nurse stepped in to make clear: “That’s a tampon,” she instructed them.

Standup comedy is usually thought of an area the place nothing is taboo, however it’s lengthy been devoid of discussions of ladies’s reproductive experiences. That’s why Ali Wong’s breakout particular, “Baby Cobra,” from 2016, felt so transgressive. A closely pregnant girl is commonplace in actual life, however, onstage, Wong’s presence felt jarring. Regardless that Wong and Leiby have chosen radically totally different paths—Leiby states plainly that she doesn’t need kids—each comics illuminate the methods wherein motherhood, or potential motherhood, defines each resolution {that a} girl makes. Who will I develop into, Leiby wonders, with out a youngster to outline me? Like so many different hour-long comedy performances in recent times, Leiby’s “Oh God” is an unconventional sort of standup—it’s much less structured, and extra confessional and diffuse, than conventional comedy. It’s a format that permits Leiby to infuse her present with bouts of sincerity and self-inquiry, and lots of of her set’s most severe moments are excessive factors. She examines her personal resolution to not have kids with a stage of discomfort that she doesn’t dilute with jokes, admitting solemnly that she struggles with the concept that she received’t be capable of give her mother and father grandchildren.

“Oh God” is the form of extremely private present that may’t be tidily linked to the nationwide dialogue about abortion and the looming repeal of Roe v. Wade. No person understands this higher than Leiby, and it doesn’t appear as if she’s tinkered along with her efficiency to answer the headlines that occur to coincide along with her run at Cherry Lane. However there may be one little bit of the present that’s newly startling and prescient within the context of present information. Towards the tip of the hour, Leiby explains that her personal mom lately revealed that she’d had an abortion earlier than the Roe v. Wade resolution, in 1973. Leiby’s grandparents dropped her mom off in a parking zone in New Jersey, the place she was scooped up by some Mafia associates, blindfolded, and brought to an undisclosed location for 24 hours for an unlawful abortion. (She was reassured by the individuals performing the process that “We do all the Rockettes.”) It’s a stark reminder of the stakes of authorized abortion—and of how younger ladies are indebted to the struggles of older generations. And but, even after listening to this story, Leiby nonetheless couldn’t admit to her mom that she, too, had lately had an abortion. It was not till she started engaged on “Oh God”—a present about normalizing a very regular factor—that Leiby was in a position to have that dialog.



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