For some comedians, podcasts feel like an open-mic night with no red light telling them to wrap up. The medium offers the opportunity to chat with friends and riff on whatever comes to mind, for hours and hours. Not so with Jamie Loftus.
With limited-edition podcasts like “My Year In Mensa,” a descent into the sad and weird world of Mensa membership, and “Lolita Podcast,” a deep dive into how American culture has perverted the meaning of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, 28-Year-Old Loftus, branched out into a new medium with surprisingly gripping explorations of niche topics, infused with his biting comedic delivery. This approach grew directly out of her fear that her comedy shows would classify her as “Gross Woman”.
“My stand-up routine involved eating dog food on stage for years.” said Loftus. “I have a very strong digestive system. It was built by Alpo. But I was afraid to back myself into a corner: Do I have to eat dog food forever? I can not do that. I will die!”
His most recent podcast, “Aack Cast,” about the much-maligned “Cathy” comic strip that ran from 1976 to 2010, should dispel any lingering concerns about typing. “Aack Cast” – named by the strip’s creator, Cathy Guisewite, herself – is a frustrated millennial’s journey to understand, but not necessarily forgive, the white working women of the “rightly despised Boomer generation”. and their second-wave feminist struggles. “Cathy is a symbol of how women’s anxieties and concerns can be seen as embarrassing and unworthy of discussion, if the character in question isn’t a perfect role model,” Loftus said.
Over pizza and Aperol spritz in late August in Bushwick, just before the 11-episode series airs its final episode, typically Los Angeles-based Loftus opened up about how she found grace for the generation she has still struggling to understand, the surprising lessons for her own feminism that she learned from her boomer subject, and where generations may never agree. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How do you decide to delve so deeply into what may seem like random or perhaps out-of-the-moment topics like Mensa, “Lolita” or “Cathy” comics?
I automatically gravitate towards topics about which people have strong opinions, but never really think about why they have them. It’s really the only thing that connects the three series. I like that space in people’s heads, where they don’t feel so strongly about it that they’re going to fight me before they get along with me, but there’s a ground level emotion to meeting them.
In “Aack Cast,” Cathy’s workplace and body image episodes made me feel sympathy for boomer women, which, for a bitter millennial, is quite an achievement.
I know. I also don’t want to go too far in that direction because, well, they’re deeply unsympathetic for a reason. Part of what’s so amazing with the ‘Cathy’ tape is that it was a way of watching their story unfold in real time, and I wanted to talk to as many women as possible to follow their version of that journey, from how second wave feminism influenced or excluded them, to how it was replaced by consumerism and apathy.
Was your mother’s love for comics the origin of this series?
After “Lolita”, I wanted something fun and light and not the darkest place to go. And then just talk to my mom, because she’s a freak for “Cathy.” She was the target audience.
And I wanted to do a show that had some sort of recurring cast [the strips are acted out during the series]so it becomes kind of a familiar mini-TV show.
When it’s not banned in a pandemic, you’re a TV comedian and writer. What makes podcasting different?
The community building aspect is so cool – and terrifying. These intense parasocial connections. I understand; I listen to podcasts and have this personal connection with people who have no idea who I am too. I think where I struggled was “Lolita Podcast”. I imagined that when people listened to the show, I could hear very personal things from them. But I felt ill-equipped to deal with it. People who had survived childhood sexual abuse, people in support groups to stop themselves from being offended – it was incredibly intense. I’m very grateful that people have been so open with me, but that’s where I found it very overwhelming. In contrast to the “Bechdel Cast” community, which is mostly made up of students and sometimes mothers of students, it is a very healthy and enthusiastic film community. [“The Bechdel Cast,” which Loftus co-hosts, is an unscripted-conversation podcast about the portrayal of women in a different movie each week]. For “Cathy” it’s my first boomer crowd and it’s been crazy.
You kind of walk the line of condemnation and compassion for this generation.
I felt so antipathetic towards baby boomer women to the point that I was deeply antipathetic towards my mother. And I always want to make sure I understand something before I decide it’s crap. The valid criticism of baby boomers stems from the amount of power and rights they have, but there have been experiences they have had that I just can’t imagine having. I wanted to honor that too, so it was tricky.
I wanted to see, can I meet my mother where she is, who has a good heart and wants to do good with people, but does not always quite understand. And it was so nice to talk to Cathy herself. I hate to endorse a boomer, but I hope to be like her one day. She is so sweet and genuinely curious.
You’ve created a special minisode called “Take the Challenge ‘Show Your Mom What a Podcast’ Is.” Did it work? Have you heard any reviews from them?
I had thought that the biggest obstacle to “Aack Cast” would be the fact that it’s a visual medium, but it’s actually that a lot of my target audience has no idea of the medium on which I work. But once you tell moms it’s radio – my mom was like, “Oh, so it’s on demand?”
The few critical messages I’ve received from baby boomer women can best be described as “gentle mothering.” They were like, “Honey, I love what you’re doing, but…”
There are some things I’ve been encouraged to see the baby boomers in my life making progress on — like talking to Cathy about the lack of diversity in her gang. But there are other things that I don’t know will change in their lifetime, like women downplaying or even defending the workplace harassment they’ve faced.
Like this whole “pride in suffering” badge – if I’ve had to endure this huge problem in my life, then everyone else has to too, and if they can’t, they’re weaker than me. This boomer mentality – it sucks because I feel it in my own head.
[But] Understanding them better has made me more thoughtful as a feminist, because I think there’s a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to past movements in feminism. I felt a connection with the women I spoke to, even when we disagreed. I can’t approve of their actions, but they have knowledge to impart.