Girl God Brings Surreal, Frenetic Comedy to Portland
Before our Zoom chat kicks off in earnest, Grace Freud asks April Clark when her profile picture was taken. “When I was 18, I think,” Clark replies, quickly adding, “So last week.” A pause. “Actually, I’m 12. Do you have any advice for someone who’s gonna be a teenager next year?”
So goes an interview with Girl God, the name under which Freud and Clark have been performing their surreal brand of ultra-online comedy since last fall. Thoughtful ruminations on their style and influences (which include Eric Andre, Nathan Fielder, and Maria Bamford, for what it's worth) slide imperceptibly into bits about how the pair met in a Seattle youth group in the 1960s that was run by Charles Manson’s brother. “Some people might say things like, ‘Hey, Grace and April, don’t make jokes about that. The Mansons aren’t a punch line,’” Clark starts. “And they’re not a punch line,” Freud cuts in. “They’re our childhood!”
The truth, as it goes, is less funny than fiction. The pair actually met in New York a few years ago and reconnected online during lockdown. They started performing Girl God as a sort of bicoastal variety show, doing dates in New York (where Clark lives) and Los Angeles (where Freud does) before embarking on a tour this spring. That kicked off May 6 at LA’s Netflix Is a Joke Festival, and it will bring the duo to Portland on May 21 for a gig at the Old Church Concert Hall.
A good primer for Girl God’s particular strain of humor is a modestly viral video sketch that Freud posted in September 2020, which is now pinned to her Twitter profile. She opens straight to camera: “How many gay people are there? I’ve always wanted to know.” Freud knows 10 gay people, she posits—including “V for Vendetta Guy” and “Broadway’s Own Nathan Lane”—and then polls her friends about how many they know, which gives her an average of 165.25.
How many gay people are there? pic.twitter.com/8lK1kPsC1E— Grace Freud (@GraceGFreud) September 17, 2020
“If the average person knows 165.25 gay people, and there are currently 7.6 billion people on earth, that means there are about 1 trillion, 256 billion gay people,” she concludes over the sort of gently triumphant stock music you might encounter in a NowThis video. “Too much? Not enough? I don’t know, but I am happy that I finally figured out how many gay people there are.” (The video runs a crisp one minute and 19 seconds; threaded beneath it is a 40-minute director’s cut that you can review on IMDb.)
That sketch's straight-faced loopiness recalls some of Freud’s work with ClickHole, the mid-2010s Onion spinoff that began as a riff on inflammatory clickbait headlines. She’s Girl God’s more classically trained comedian (to the extent that such a designation exists), with writing credits on Rick and Morty and The Eric Andre Show and about a decade of solo standup under her belt. Clark, on the other hand, fell into comedy during the pandemic shortly after she launched a Twitter account while pursuing a PhD in women’s studies.
Their comedic alchemy plays off of these differences. Clark is slightly more reserved and cerebral, while Freud pulls from a brash alt-comedy sandbox she helped build with her writing credits. There's a natural, complementary counterbalance to their styles, which Freud noted immediately—Clark is one of the only people she has ever encouraged to pursue comedy.
"I couldn't give a shit whether most people I meet try standup or anything like that, but I think April's the funniest person I've ever met in my life," Freud says. "And Grace has met Tom and Jerry," Clark shoots back. Freud, completing the alley-oop: "I've met both of them, and I've met about 35 percent of the Looney Tunes as well."
That's the other thing that makes Girl God tick: an unflinching embrace of the absurd. Their live shows, which began as loose variety hours but have evolved into precise, tightly scripted engagements, have been described as a "live-action cartoon." They mix crowd work with left-field punch lines, and the pair's ruthless pursuit of big laughs (they bill themselves as telling "jokes from [a] trans and queer perspective that are actually funny and not just looking for applause") can sometimes land them labels like "provocative."
“Most trans comedy is about like, ‘Oh, trans people are so cool and normal,’ or, ‘Oh, something quirky happened when I was coming out to my mom,’” says Clark. “People are surprised to hear two transgender women doing jokes about something other than how normal we are.” Boundaries of taste are not a particularly loud concern—a write-up of a Girl God gig in Brooklyn noted the pair’s needly crowd work with the t-slur—but there’s no pointed stand being taken. “People mistake what we’re doing for something else sometimes. We’re just doing our little jokes, and they’re crazy, and sometimes they don’t make a lot of sense, and sometimes they’re about things that people don’t like to joke about, but I don’t think it’s wrong to make a joke that maybe not everyone is loving,” Clark says.
Freud agrees. “I think other people are interested in a constant stream of empowerment, and I think we are not necessarily interested in feeding that constant stream of empowerment with our comedy,” she says. “We’re just trans, and we do jokes, so obviously we sometimes do jokes about trans stuff, but you would never catch us dead telling a joke onstage where the punch line is supposed to get people to be like, ‘You go girl! Yasss!’” Before the moment risks becoming too serious, Clark swoops in: “And the reason that we don’t do that is because we don’t deserve that. We’re very bad.”
Good enough, though, to get Paul F. Tompkins onstage at their Netlfix Is a Joke gig, and to sell out the New York homecoming show on their current tour. They see enough life in the Girl God project that they're pitching to TV gatekeepers, and they recently completed work on a pilot. As anyone should be, they're excited to bring the show to the Pacific Northwest—Clark grew up in Seattle, and Freud has never visited the region.
After some deliberation, they decide that they hope the Portland show will be filled 50–50 with their biggest supporters and their worst enemies. As we're winding down and saying our goodbyes, Clark chimes in with one last thing, half-smiling. “Can you make sure to put in there that I'm 12?”
8 p.m. Sat, May 21 | Old Church Concert Hall, $20–25