Raquel D’Apice is a comedian and humor writer who keeps a blog called The Ugly Volvo and just started a podcast called Kid/Life Crisis. If you’re feeling whimsical you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.* She loves stand-up comedy and Far Side Cartoons and books about science. Sometimes she daydreams about living in other countries and then immediately goes online to look up the size of the spiders in those countries.
*Author’s note: You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter, regardless of your degree of whimsy, but the whimsy helps.
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Which came first, writing or comedy?
I discovered that I loved them around the same time (when I was 11 or 12) but I attempted writing first because it was less terrifying. In 6th grade I wrote a three page rhyming poem for my English class and my teacher literally stood up and clapped when I was done reading it and it was the first time I remember thinking, “Oh my god, maybe I’m not a complete academic waste of space.” It was the first time I had felt like I was good at anything.
As for comedy — I’ve always loved comedians. When my parents finally let us get cable I would watch almost nothing but Comedy Central which at that time had tons of shows featuring stand-ups. I was totally fascinated by people who were funny and honest. I had crushes on stand-up comics the way other girls my age had crushes on the New Kids on the Block or whoever else other girls my age had crushes on. How sad is that, that I honestly don’t even know who normal teenagers had crushes on in the 90’s. I do remember one girl who swore to everyone that she was going to marry Bon Jovi but I checked her Facebook profile picture recently and (spoiler alert) she didn’t.
How did you first start in stand-up comedy?
I started it at a low point. I had lived in LA for two years and moved back to my parents’ house in the suburbs where I didn’t know anyone and had no idea how to go out and meet people. I’m very shy. I would sit at home and at that point Google was a fairly recent invention and I Googled the phrase, “How do you make friends as a grownup?” That’s probably the saddest thing I’ve ever Googled. And the idea of trying stand-up was always completely terrifying but I remember thinking that while yes, it was still terrifying, it was not as scary as the idea of spending the rest of my 20’s and possibly my 30’s all alone in my parents’ house.
It seems like a particularly unforgiving artform, how do you keep up your confidence/motivation?
I don’t know that I do keep it up. Getting on stage is still terrifying. It’s gone well often enough that it’s not as crippling as it was the first few years, but it’s still terrifying. When it goes well it’s the most amazing feeling in the world but when it goes badly it’s more or less as awful as you think it is. I guess this is something I’m still working on.
How is being funny written different from being funny live? Which do you prefer?
This is one of those questions that I’m SO tempted to answer with an incredibly long paragraph about how comedy works, and timing and the structure of a joke because I really love talking about comedy. I will happily talk about comedy for hours and hours, but I have learned from experience that people who are not comedians do not love talking about comedy 24 hours a day and as much as I would love writing that paragraph, reading it would be incredibly tedious for almost everybody on the planet. So I will just say, “they are in some ways different and in some ways the same.” I like them both.
Who is your favorite stand-up comedian? Favorite book/author?
I have a million people I love on both fronts. Writing-wise I tend to like a lot of science books. Anything by Atul Gawande. I like Mary Roach and V.S. Ramachandran a lot. For non-science stuff I’ve always loved Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. Anything by Bill Bryson or George Saunders or AM Homes. I’m just going to annoyingly list names until everyone’s eyes roll back in their heads so I’ll stop now.
For comedians I think Maria Bamford is hilarious — I still can’t wrap my head around why she isn’t incredibly famous. I love Mike Birbiglia and when I was younger I memorized Brian Regan’s entire CD and would just walk around reciting his jokes to myself. I remember Paula Poundstone doing some special performance at Harvard where by the time she was finished it was like everyone in the audience was her best friend and I was in awe of her. I love Mitch Hedberg, Ellen, Paul F. Tompkins, Eddie Izzard, Todd Barry, Louis CK. There are too many to list. If you want a question where I give you just one definitive answer about a thing, my favorite skittle color is purple.
Do you have a special ritual before you get on stage?
Yes! First I try to let my mouth go completely completely dry. Then I drink so much water that I’m forced to run to the bathroom. Then I wait for my mouth to go dry again and I just keep doing that in an endless cycle until they call me up to the stage.
Did your comedic voice change when you had your son?
Maybe. Having my son suddenly gave me this very easy way to relate to other people. “Oh, you have a baby? I have a baby!” I always liked other people. I wanted to talk to them but I was never sure what we had in common. All my jokes were about Greek myths or The Allman Brothers or GPS systems but suddenly I had this thing about which I had VERY strong emotions (good and bad) that anyone who had had a kid could relate to. Having him allowed me to make jokes that were a little more emotionally charged, which, among other things, helped with the stress of having a newborn.
Has how your approach your work changed since you became a mother? Have your career goals changed?
It’s a lot harder to get up on stage, so I’ve had to focus a lot more on writing. I don’t know that my career goals have changed since I always wanted to end up on the writing end of comedy, I just enjoyed performing because I like being around other comedians.
Has it been it easier or harder to come up with content after you had your son?
Having a child is like getting a packet of joke premises mailed to me every week. It’s amazing.
How did you decide to start The Ugly Volvo? Is it your first blog?
No, I had kept a blog right before I left LA in 2003 until about 2011 or so, but it was very different. It started off more as a snarky, uninteresting journal and wound up being a place I’d publish long personal essays every few months. It’s always hard to read things you wrote a decade ago but I’m glad I kept it. I’m still friends on Facebook with a lot of the people who used to read it– it was a much smaller readership but a really nice sense of community.
I started The Ugly Volvo because I was losing my mind being at home with a newborn and I couldn’t get out to do stand-up as much as I wanted to. It was a creative outlet to keep me from going crazy. I actually really didn’t want it to be a parenting blog at first but when you’re taking care of a baby round the clock it’s really hard to think about anything else in enough depth to make a joke about it.
What’s your latest creative endeavor?
A comedian friend (Katie Compa) and I decided to do a podcast called Kid/Life Crisis about that point in a woman’s life where the decision to either have kids or not have kids comes to a head and intersects with the rest of the life she’s made or is making for herself. Katie always wanted kids but doesn’t have any. I’ve never been particularly maternal and am trying to raise an almost-two-year-old. We know so many interesting women who’ve either decided they don’t want kids, who want kids someday but aren’t sure it’s in the cards for them (for either situational or medical reasons), or who’ve had kids and are trying to balance their specific child-situation with their lives. Right now we’re trying to do it half and half, women who do have children and women who don’t, but it’s a little hard since for whatever reason I know so few people with children. But doing the interviews is fascinating. I feel like taping them and making them into a podcast is just an excuse for me to talk to all these interesting women about their lives.
What question do you wish I’d asked?
I wish you had asked what my favorite skittle color was but don’t sweat it, I answered it in one of the earlier paragraphs.
Fill-In The Blanks:
If I weren’t a comedian, I’d be a oh wow, I don’t even know. I’d be a sad person who desperately wanted to relate to people and make them laugh and had a job she maybe sort of liked but every day she’d go home and feel like something in her life was missing.
If I had an extra 2 hours in the day, I would read.
Far Side Cartoons and videos of cats falling off tables always make me laugh.
If I were a color, I’d be probably heather gray since that’s the color of 90% of my T-shirts.