Herbivore. San Francisco.
Posh and urbane, raw and naked. Kate Willett’s comedy feels like a Rolodex of folly, flipping past conflicts and complexes, humanizing vulnerable witlessness. A lot of it is inspired by real events—former flames, Burning Man—emotionally processed, polished and performed with a sharp wit, candid reveals, and matter-of-fact sarcasm. And, while she has concise takes on a gamut of topics, from stoner privilege to vision boards, her jokes about sexuality are prominent and undeniable. Willett is as at home deconstructing traditional gender roles in light of millennial aloofness—”I think it would suck to do the old timey gender stuff with some of the men we have right now, like, making someone dinner after their long day as a barista”—as she is honoring her hubris: “I’ve let men inside me that I wouldn’t let inside my apartment.” There’s no pandering, ra-ra, amirite bullshit. All universal appeal comes from internal, personal clarity. Kate doesn’t want to be defined by the tricky stickiness of romantic pursuits, but, she doesn’t shy from it either; she sees it as an opportunity:
“I feel like, and one of the things i really want to express in my comedy is that women are people (and, yeah, it’s obvious women are people). Sometimes I’ll tell jokes to these crowds of guys and I will see it register for them that the women they’re sleeping with and not calling back are human beings. And I try to confront that and give public voice to that experience from a non-victimized place…It’s really important to me to highlight the humanity of the whole situation and to have empathy for myself and people I’ve been involved with.”
Kate delights in uncovering latent ideas, analogies, observations, guffawing at the spoils of banter between bites, spoiling her hair around her fingers, eating curry inexplicably with a fork. Sitting across from Kate Willett feels like sitting across from a star. Sure, Kate’s a star, figuratively, in the midst of a career with exponentially impressive achievements. But also, like a literal star, she’s exudes a focused, concentrated luminescence that’s intimidating to stare into for too long; I try not to go blind.
The Valencia, California native was initially intimidated to do stand-up, opting to pursue comedy’s shi-shi older brother: theatre. Musicals, plays, experimental plays with interpretive dances while strapped to a deployed parachute. While she appreciated emoting in a profound spectrum, and after a rough stint studying theatre, she became disillusioned with “laying on the floor and doing breathing exercises” at a disastrous theater school experience. It also didn’t pay the bills. “I drove back from Chicago to California trying to think what I wanted to do with my life.” Comedy seemed a lot less intimidating than before.
She began telling jokes in San Francisco, garnering giggles from long-lingering ideas and observation. Giggles turned to belly laughs when, to process feelings of emotional turbulence, Kate began speaking candidly about heart-shaped shittiness: “I hate when men look at me like a collection of three holes… because I have four. The hole in my heart,” Willett joked earlier in her career. Kate feels this honesty allows her to connect to others, a skill she looks forward to developing while honoring her trademark frankness. “I feel like a fairly shameless person, which has been a painful thing for me throughout my life, but is a good attribute when it comes to comedy. So I’m glad I finally found a constructive use for that terrible trait.”
Kate is all in, pursuing her craft with loving abandon. She performs more sets than there are days in a year, she produces five shows, such as Comedy at the Convent and The Mission Position, acts and produces short films, writes humorist songs, jet sets across the continent from New York to Montreal. She quit her day job to go on tour with Margaret Cho, her comedy hero since she was 14. They met and hit it off with at Club Deluxe—another show she produces—a night after Comedy Day. “She’s lightyears ahead of me in terms of her career and her stand-up but has also had, at some point in her life, a lot similar experiences to the ones I’m having now.”
She owes her determination and prowess to a desire for readiness. “There so much to learn and there so far to go…I want to be the best comedian I can be [because], one, I love it, but also, if i get a shot at opportunities, I want to do the best that I possibly can be.”
words by oj patterson
illustration by ben walker