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Eating to feel nothing

Naomi Ekperigin cuts loose on stage

Comedian Naomi Ekperigin loves the electricity of a live stand up show, praising comedians who bring a certain personality and physicality to their performance.

“What I love is when I see performers, there’s energy on stage, they’re powerhouses. I like someone who, when I watch them, I know who they are,” she said.

There is no questioning who Naomi Ekperigin is on stage. At one point in her set she proclaims “I used to drink to feel pretty, now I eat to feel nothing.”

Simultaneously irreverent and relatable, Ekperigin gives a voice to the experiences of women navigating that strange liminal space between young womanhood and encroaching middle age. In one set she goes from bemoaning the loss of the slenderness of her youth to positively crowing with pride over the happiness she’s found in a mature, stable relationship with her Jewish fiancé—who she’s affectionately nicknamed “Jewboo.”

Though perhaps best known as a TV writer for “Broad City,” “Difficult People,” and “Totally Biased,” Ekperigin began her career in improv and stand-up comedy, without any intention of eventually writing for television. However, it was her stand-up career that caught the attention of Abbie Jacobson and Ilana Glazer and eventually led her to the writers’ room.

“They knew my point of view and sensibilities were something that could be an asset on the show, so it got me all connected,” Ekperigin said. “But that was definitely not my intention when I started out.”

A black woman born and raised in Harlem, Ekperigin attended a predominantly white private school on Park Avenue. She credits this outsider experience as a major component of her comedy.

“From a very early age I learned that one of these things is not like the other … and that thing was me. I spent a lot of time on the outside looking in, assessing the world I was in, figuring out where I fit into it. It’s the kind of thinking that led me to doing comedy.”

Outsider perspectives are integral to comedy, two key examples being black comedians Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor, who successfully crossed over to white audiences in the 1970s. A fresh, untainted, confronting gaze calls attention to absurdities with which we have perhaps become too familiar and comfortable to question. Despite this, comedy still remains a fairly homogenous, lighter-than-beige boys’ club.

“When a woman in comedy speaks to any topic, she is forced to represent the entire group, and I don’t think men have to deal with that,” Ekperigin said.  The answer, she believes, is to offer women from all walks of life more opportunities, so “people will start to recognize and accept this diversity … and that one female comic doesn’t represent all female comics.”

“Comedy, for me, comes from honesty. I don’t think it’s possible to speak to every single experience, but I think if you stay truthful about your experience, the audience will go with you.”

Ekperigin is currently writing for the upcoming NBC series “Great News” and is set to host a regular comedy show in Los Angeles called “Couples’ Therapy.”

Naomi Ekperigin
with Jaqueline Novak, local comedian Landry Miller and more
Sat., Sept. 9 | 5:30 p.m. | The Yeti

2017 Comics to Watch
Sat., Sept. 9 | 7:30 p.m. | The Yeti

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Eating to feel nothing

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