Best Medicine: Cupid has left the building

WHAT IS LOVE: Local comic Morgan Bost, top left, is back for the latest installment of "Best Medicine.” This month, she discusses dating in Asheville and the challenges local female comedians face while onstage. Also featured, clockwise from top right, Moira Goree, Allison Shelnut and Gina Cornejo. Photo of Bost by Cindy Kunst; all other images courtesy of comedians

Ah, February. The real start to the new year.

Let’s face it, January’s a wash — a monthlong decompression session (better known as weighted blanket season) brought on from too much holiday socializing.

Yes, February is a time for new beginnings. And for love. Plus, all planets are direct until April so it’s the perfect time to get out of bed and start on those resolutions! Mine is to stop mentioning astrology so much. (Drats! Oh well, there’s always next year.)

In honor of Xpress‘ annual Women’s Issue, I’ve called up a few of my funniest friends, who also happen to be women, to talk dating games, the great holiday water outage and what it’s like to be a female performer in Asheville.

Readers, please give a warm welcome to local comedians Allison Shelnut and Moira Goree and multidisciplinary artist Gina Cornejo.

Bost: I hope everyone is staying hydrated this winter, if possible, of course. In light of the recent water outages, what alternatives could the city provide in the event of another system break?

Allison Shelnut: Hello? The answer is dogs! I think the city of Asheville should acquire 200 or so St. Bernards. Don’t worry, folks, we will look into ethically run rescues. Why St. Bernards? They’re the ones that carry those little barrels around their necks. That way they can deliver emergency water and other supplies when needed. We should also require all local government workers to watch the 1995 film Balto as part of their onboarding process. The story of Balto, the courageous wolfdog who delivers lifesaving medicine, should inspire the city to find better, creative solutions. If this doesn’t work, nothing will.

Moira Goree: Honestly, the best way for the city to respond to the next crisis is to pay everyone $250. COVID? $250. Water crisis? $250. Mad Max-esque marauders terrorizing the population? 250 smackeroonies.

Gina Cornejo: There’s the brilliant saying: “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” The water outage was clearly disruptive and shocking for all communities in Asheville. So if — or, let’s be honest, probably when — this occurs again, maybe there is a way to pair the next round with comedic flare and entertainment. An idea: Open up the major hotels downtown as rehydration stations and exquisite showering options — and when finished utilizing the (ahem, gratis) facilities — performances will be available in the lavish lobbies!  Drag, burlesque, comedy, poetry, improv — the city would book (and yes, pay!) these local gems as a distraction from the latest disaster. Just an idea…

Bost: Best Medicine Heads will harken back to the September issue where I suggested the purchase of exactly one Brita water filter to be shared across WNC as an alternative to the bond initiative. While the idea seemed comical at the time, perhaps this type of radical socialism is exactly what we need in light of the recent water outage. It’s only a matter of time before climate change wreaks havoc on our remaining water supply, and as the availability of clean water dwindles and demand increases, Asheville’s water treatment systems won’t be able to keep up, and we’ll all be left to our own devices. A Brita filter will certainly come in handy during the impending water wars when citizens are forced to fetch their own supply directly from the French Broad. And given that Moira Goree’s public works plan includes $250, each person could easily purchase their own filter and still have a couple hundred leftover for Kool-Aid packets (to mask the E. coli flavor).

Cupid recently descended upon Asheville and after recently being forced to watch “The Bachelor,” I wondered, what would be the ultimate Asheville dating show? For singletons like me, the thought of participating in a reality-esque dating competition elicits fear, excitement and wild curiosity. Who would be the contestants? Would there be games? Where would the show take place, and who would be the target audience?

Shelnut: I know for a fact that a reality show about single local comedians (yes, we will allow improvisers to enter as well) would garner worldwide excitement. The reason I know this is that my therapist is always entertained when I tell her about the fun characters I share open mics with every week. People say you shouldn’t date a comedian … but that’s just because we haven’t made this show yet! Think of the possibilities! A viral sensation: “Asheville’s Funniest Loves and Laughs Linger” (that doesn’t make sense, but you get it). We will figure out the name later. Target audience: millennials (they are so over the apps, sad and indoors for the winter). Somehow the show is built around competitive journaling.

Goree: It’s called “Polycule” and features such games as Do Our Dogs Like Each Other? Is Someone I’m Dating Dating You? How Many IPAs Can You Drink While Hiking?! As well as the absolute classic, How Bad Are Your Opinions?! This last game is where you try to gently bring up various topics hoping to see if your date is into QAnon so you can leave them with the check.

Cornejo: First, can I acknowledge that if someone “forced” you to watch “The Bachelor,” Morgan, I’m not sure if that person is a true friend.

I, too, am a single human navigating this Blue Ridge landscape under the heart-eyed gaze of Cupid. My instinct is to keep this reality-esque dating show locally sourced. I’m thinking of a cafe to brewery “Love Crawl” scenario. Everyone currently claiming the status of a mingling single is allowed to participate. There are no games involved. Patience is at the core of this crawl (as you wait and wilt in the slow-moving lines). Bonding over excruciating small talk is also involved. (“I’ve heard their cortado has been voted the best, but I tend to lean more toward their lattes.”) Patience and someone to listen to our daily dribble: Isn’t that what we are all seeking?

Bost: In many ways, I’m already the unwilling participant of the ultimate Asheville dating show. After months of trying too hard, I’ve finally broken into the highly exclusive social circle of popular seniors that gather at Odd’s Café. These elders have now taken an interest in every aspect of my life and seem especially concerned with my marital status (or lack thereof); they often inquire about my prospects before my first sip of light roast. In an effort to save me from certain spinsterdom, these friends have now taken it upon themselves to play matchmaker, often citing grandchildren and neighbors they feel would be a perfect fit. It seems the natural next step would be to exploit these good intentions for TikTok fame by gathering said prospects for a round of Morgan Speed Dating in which contestants will be asked hard-hitting questions around zodiacs and attachment styles. Best-case scenario, I leave with love. Worst case? I leave with content.

On a more serious note, can you all speak to your experiences as women in comedy and the performing arts? The good, the bad and the downright ugly. (Warning, dear readers, vulgar language is on its way!) 

Shelnut: Uh-oh. Do we really want to open this can of worms? Because I have THOUGHTS. My experiences have truly run the gamut. I’ve met incredible people, and I’ve learned how to tolerate lots of personalities (read: men). I’ve developed new fun skills like how to swiftly leave a room at the first “my dick” or “my crazy ex-girlfriend” joke. Don’t get me wrong: The Asheville comedy scene is miles ahead of other cities — *cough, Greenville, cough.*

But seriously, Asheville makes space for everyone to have a mic, and I truly appreciate us for that. For me, comedy at its best is a platform to build empathy through storytelling. Everyone isn’t doing comedy for the same reasons, and that is OK. I just want everyone to consider how the things they say and the way they show up may make folks with different lived experiences feel unsafe or activate past traumas. I say this not because anyone wants you “canceled,” but because this is a community I care deeply about.

Goree: I’ve been performing music and comedy since I was 17. There was a time when an old guitarist in my band quit. I later found out that he did so because he felt that having a woman as the lead singer was a gimmick, and he didn’t want to be in a “gimmicky” band. Which is wild because he liked what I did as a singer, but he was just so tripped up by the fact that I’m a lady.

It still happens, and it doesn’t ever come at you honestly. How many bills have lady comics been on billed as “Women of _____,” or in my case as a transwoman “Queers of _______.” Positively or negatively, we are sold as a gimmick and talked about that way.

What should be done about it? $250.

Cornejo: For 17 years I claimed Chicago as my artistic home. I created and contributed original writing, performance/production concepts and original choreography to several ensemble-built shows, and I was a voice-over artist and actor in the city. In my early auditioning days, the baseline as a female-identifying person was to know that you were easily replaceable. From where I stood, there were 20 others just like me, or close enough, ready and willing to do/say/perform what I might have felt inappropriate to do/say/perform.

The “don’t speak up, don’t speak back, don’t be difficult” approach lingers in the performance realm — but thankfully, things have begun to shift! However, it’s still daunting in a rehearsal room, or even a friendly collaborative environment, to kindly choose to say the word, “No.”

Also, there’s much to unpack as a Milwaukee, Wis.-born, Peruvian American, who many times was asked to sound “more urban,” “more hood,” and even “more Mexican” with little to no context. Let’s just say a conscious healing strategy should be put into action for all those involved in the art of performance!

And if you ever need a reassuring hug or high-five, I give my consent!

Bost: Last summer I was the only woman on a standup show when a man old enough to be my father confidently asked about the state of my pubic hair during an audience Q&A. While to many, that comment may seem nothing more than rude, to me a strange man’s comfort in discussing my pubic area to an audience is a reflection of rape culture; a dog whistle to remind me and everyone else that as a woman with the audacity to be onstage, even my private parts are no longer private.

I’ve left many performances feeling both violated and afraid. I’ve had men howl and bark while I’ve been onstage; I’ve had strangers try to touch me and rub my shoulders once I’ve come off. A local radio DJ once called me “rude” and “off-putting” when I politely declined his invitation for an interview after he made me uncomfortable by calling me things like “cutesy” and requesting the interview take place at a bar over drinks.

Women in comedy are often faced with the decision to call out sexism onstage at the risk of being called a “bitch,” or we’re expected to just laugh it off in an effort to preserve the mood of the show. As someone still somewhat new in comedy, I don’t always have the skill set or the tools to both shut down sexism and be funny, but if given the choice I will shut it down every time.

I’m pleased to say that often other Asheville comics will aid in shutting down sexism. Asheville has a particularly warm and supportive comedy scene across all genders. I feel lucky to be part of a community where comics step in to protect one another and where gender-based comedy isn’t really our bread and butter. Anytime an out-of-town comic starts a set with “you know how women …” you’ll hear a collective groan from our community.


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