We’ve made it, dear readers, through the first year of “Best Medicine.” Seems like just yesterday I was enjoying my initial taste as an Asheville B-list celebrity by gracing the cover of this very publication.
For those who haven’t been following along, “Best Medicine” began as the brainchild of Managing Editor Thomas Calder, who thought Xpress readers could use a dash of humor alongside the paper’s hard-hitting news. Enter, yours truly: a local comedian tasked each month with gathering other WNC comedians to share their thoughts on all things about this mountainous region we call home.
The past year has been filled with a lot of laughter and few tears (mostly in Ingles, of course). While plenty has changed, one thing remains the same: my love of astrology. I’m writing this month’s column at 4 a.m. on the day after the new moon in Leo (also the day after my deadline), pondering the year ahead. And with it, I’m considering and enacting some changes. Readers may notice I’ve dropped my last name, opting to go by Morgan Marie. After a series of personal events, I’ve decided the change is necessary to reflect the person I am becoming.
Also, after seven years in Asheville, I am contemplating my exit from the city. While the future of “Best Medicine” remains unknown, I want to thank all the loyal MedHeads who have made writing this column a truly unique and memorable experience. Let’s not get too sentimental just yet, though. I still have a month on my lease, and so, a month to decide.
For now, let’s take a look back at some of my column favorites from the last year.
Go ahead and cry
In the inaugural column, comedians Peter Lundblad, Nora Tramm and Eric Brown were asked, “What are your go-to crying spots in Asheville?”
Lundblad: Well, as anyone who grew up in Asheville knows, the best place to cry is the Deerpark Restaurant on the Biltmore Estate. Why? Every high school in the county has its prom there. It’s been sanctified with 30 years of Axe-laced tears of yearning. The hormones glisten in the grass like a spring dew. Also: great buffet.
Brown: I would say my house is my favorite place to cry just judging by the numbers, but I don’t want to give that out as a crying hot spot. We got enough crying over here. I would suggest Patton Avenue in general. In olden times, mystics believed in ley lines, ancient paths with magical power. I believe Patton Avenue is one of these ley lines, and the magic power is clinical depression. Now maybe I feel this way because my job is on that street, but I’ve personally never seen anyone having a good time on Patton Avenue. If you’re downtown, try crying in front of the courthouse. Nobody will question it, and the people inside are used to seeing it.
Tramm: I once cried in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at The Orange Peel because the band played a song that reminded me of a different song that reminded me of my ex. Nothing satisfies your inner hipster more than standing with a horde of people who are all having the same experience and realizing that you alone are on a completely different wavelength.
For day-to-day crying, though, check out Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary — especially that spot by the creek mouth with the cool tree. It feels just remote enough that you can really let yourself go, but it’s not so isolated that you won’t be stumbled upon by a nice older couple and make everyone’s afternoon really awkward. Just make sure you leave a couple bucks in the donation bin on your way out; the Blue Ridge Audubon Society does a lot of great work there.
Bost: For me, the best place to cry in Asheville is definitely the Haywood Road Ingles — the one with no Starbucks and thus completely barren of hope. I’ve cried in that Ingles no less than three times this week.
But when I need attention, I’ll cry in the window at Odd’s Cafe. It feels so poetic: a single tear running down my cheek as I sip espresso and journal about my Trader Joe’s crush, while staring longingly out the window and pretending I’m in a French film. I imagine people walk by thinking, “Wow, she looks so poetic. And so French.”
Let’s talk about Vance
Back in October, I asked comedians Blaine Perry, Cameron Davis and Chesney Goodson what they would like to see replace the Vance Monument at Pack Square Park. Their answers did not disappoint!
Davis: One thing that should be enshrined as a symbol of Asheville is the Pubcycle. They are the truly eco-friendly vehicle that runs off the ideal renewable energy source our planet needs: drunk people. I propose that we forge a two-story tall, 100-foot-long, bronze Pubcycle and plop it right in the middle of Biltmore Avenue. Because why would we merely slow down traffic at the busiest times when we can really grind the city’s infrastructure to a complete halt with an even more obnoxious and immovable obstruction?
Did I mention it would be a fountain, too? And will water flow through it? Heck, no! It’s going to be a wellspring of vodka. It’ll be the perfect spot for bachelorette parties and vacationers to lap up their sustenance like zebras at a Serengeti watering hole.
Goodson: A giant sandal, obviously! Outside of the beautiful mountain views and lush walking trails that Asheville offers, it also provides a safe space for people to display their foot fingers. I’m talking all toes — long toes, short toes, fat toes, skinny toes, liberal toes, conservative toes and even racist toes (known in the podiatrist circles as the “Biggot Toe”) are all welcome to come and flip-flop in peace without any fear of judgment.
Perry: I was walking my dog downtown on my way to get a tattoo last week when I realized that I was out of Vape Juice. Worse than that, I was stone-cold sober. This wasn’t the first Tuesday afternoon where I’ve found myself in this situation, and it’s quite time-consuming to visit the ink shop, then refill my Juul, then get drunk. I mean, I’ve clocked it, and it takes roughly 67 seconds to travel between each location. Even longer if I start at the brewery. Also, my dog being a Komondor (rescue), she needs daily grooming; otherwise, she’ll suffocate on her own fur. Asheville is long overdue for a combination tattoo/vape/brewery/dog grooming shop. A place where we can drink IPAs, let our dogs get tattoos and smoke our cares away. Zebulon Vance would have hated it, and isn’t that the most important thing?
Bost: Asheville has always struck me as a mecca for the Piedmont Triangle. A place for those looking to escape the confines of their oppressive, rural upbringings but who still want to make it home on a tank of gas (shoutout to my hometown Lexington, N.C. — alleged barbecue capital of the world). Therefore, I think the Vance Monument should be replaced with a giant gas tank, a nod to the Piedmont pilgrims packing up their 2007 Kia Spectras and traveling west (but not too far west) to prove their high school theater teachers wrong.
No laughing matter
It may come as a surprise, but one of my favorite Best Medicine topics isn’t funny at all. In February, I asked femme artists Moira Goree, Gina Cornejo and Allison Shelnut to speak about their experiences as women in comedy and the performing arts — the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
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.