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Alison Leiby’s abortion wasn’t a big deal.  So why is it still so hard to talk about?


Alison Leiby wrote an entire show about abortion, and how it was a simple decision and a relatively ordinary time in her life. And yet, as she recounts on the show, when she called Planned Parenthood to schedule this abortion, she found herself barely able to say the actual word, eventually whispering it into the phone.

This is one of the examples that Leiby gives in “Oh my god, a show about abortion” to demonstrate how abortion is still something that should never be talked about ― even though it is an experience that so many people go through every day, for so many different reasons. Running June 4 at New York’s Cherry Lane Theater, Leiby’s 70-minute one-man show covers a lot of ground beyond the story of her abortion. There are jokes about how candy colored birth control ads go out of their way to dance around the product they are selling. Likewise, Leiby points to the absurdity that for those of us who menstruate, it is socially unacceptable to talk about it. She does the math and determines that the cumulative periods occupy about six years of our lives. “Someone ran a marathon once. It takes four hours and they talk about it for the rest of their lives,” she says on the show. “We have our period for six years and we have to smile quietly while we bleed in a meeting.”

As Leiby explained in an interview, she wanted to trace how we got here and illustrate that if we could talk more candidly and more often about these related topics, abortion wouldn’t be so thorny either.

“If we can’t talk about periods and if we can’t talk honestly about birth control in birth control commercials, then we can’t talk about more important – for some people – more intense things like the abortion and motherhood,” said Leiby, who, in addition to doing stand-up comedy, has served as a writer and producer on shows like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Broad City” and “The President Show.”

One of the most resonant lines in “A Show About Abortion” is when Leiby laments that we usually only talk about abortion during times of crisis. Admittedly, access to abortion has increasingly become a crisis in recent years, Republican-led state legislatures have passed dozens of restrictive laws with the support of conservative pressure groups. The last weeks Supreme Court draft opinion leakedshowing the court’s conservative majority preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade, has upped the ante to the highest degree yet.

On his show’s workshop in recent years, Leiby has found that in some ways it’s easier to talk about the political context of abortion than the experience itself. “Law jokes, I think, people can digest a little better than like, ‘Oh, this is what the clinic looks like.’ It just feels a bit more real, and I think that makes some people uncomfortable.

It should therefore be noted that Leiby treats abortion factually, such as when she concludes that the whole experience was “anticlimactic”. One of the show’s biggest laugh lines is when she jokes that she was asked if she wanted a medical abortion or a procedure, it’s like being asked “Fries or salad?” Describing the experience of an abortion, or even mentioning that you had one, shouldn’t be a huge reveal, but it often is. (To further prove the point, The politicians and celebrities supporters of abortion rights routinely make headlines for speaking out about having abortions themselves.)

Leiby acknowledges on the show that her “frictionless” experience of accessing an abortion, as a straight, white, cisgender woman in New York City, is not at all representative of the experiences of many people across the country, in especially those most affected by abortion restrictions and outright bans. But he should be representative, she said, and the details of her life on the show illustrate “exactly why it’s easy for me, and exactly why it’s not easy for anyone who isn’t me, and that is what’s really devastating about what’s happening.”

If there’s an overarching goal for the show, it’s to normalize the act of talking about abortion in personal terms, which Leiby sees as closely tied to abortion politics.

“Even I had a hard time telling people, my good friends, without any judgment. It was just weird because I was like, ‘Oh, this thing is so secret, and we don’t. don’t talk.’ It was like, ‘I abortedsaid Leiby, pausing dramatically between each word. “Because we treat it as this great secret, [this] big deal, it leaves people who don’t agree with it and want to take our access away, it gives it more seriousness than it needs.

“I don’t want to deny that there are abortion-related traumas that have nothing to do with access, and they are about how someone got pregnant or why they have to make that decision,” she continued. “These things, unfortunately, are even bigger than that. But at least to be able to pick one up should be very, very easy for everyone who needs it.

“If we can’t talk about periods and if we can’t talk honestly about birth control…then we can’t talk about more important – for some people – more intense things like abortion and motherhood,” says Leiby. .

As a stand-up comedian, much of Leiby’s work draws from her own observations and experiences, so it was never a question of whether she would talk about her abortion, she said. Shortly after the abortion in 2019, she began trying out material in her regular stand-up sets, ending up with around 15 minutes of jokes and details about the experience. From there she realized “there is a story here that is bigger than this event”.

She began writing what became an hour-long show and trying it out at venues around New York City in late 2019 and early 2020. The process culminated in a packed show at Union Hall in Brooklyn on March 2, 2020 (which she grimly jokes was almost certainly a COVID-19 Superspreader Event). When the first wave of the pandemic shut down comedy venues, comedians got creative and started putting on outdoor shows. But once again, reinforcing one of the major themes of her show, she didn’t feel very good about trying out the material outside.

“It’s just not the show I want to scream at a park,” she said. “It’s so deeply personal, and unfortunately for some people still controversial, and it’s certainly a lot more adult as well. In broad daylight in the middle of Prospect Park, I wasn’t going to do this material.

Once COVID-19 vaccines became widely available last spring, Leiby finally dusted off the show, replaying it in earnest. She also continued to tinker with the structure, with the help of Lila Neugebauer, who directed the current series. According to Leiby, Neugebauer especially helped “shape the parts that aren’t comedic,” because a lot of the show’s emotion comes from Leiby trying to express some hard truths that people should talk about more.

If the aim of the series is that having an abortion is a routine and banal experience, wouldn’t it be radical to start with the abortion, rather than building it?

“My abortion story isn’t the twist on the show. It’s way up front, so it doesn’t technically need to be the ending. But as I wrote and rewrote, I was like, ‘ ‘Actually, yes, I think it is.’ And I started to say, ‘Well, how did we get here?’ Leiby said. “What does the show say other than that story, and other than the commentary on abortion itself, and the importance of it becoming accessible and easy for everyone?”

It was obvious that “A Show About Abortion” actually had to be about much more than abortion. At one point in the show, Leiby connects the stigma and seriousness attached to abortion to the way, for example, aggressively alarmist magazine covers warn cisgender women about our fertility clocks. She then reveals how societal and cultural pressures position motherhood as the default expectation, and how not wanting to be a mother is still often seen as an aberration. It would probably be easier to talk about abortion, she says, if motherhood and femininity were not so intertwined, and if choose not to have children weren’t so stigmatized and judgmental.

For Leiby, it was even more difficult to talk about it on his show than the subject of abortion. There’s the tricky dance, she says, of figuring out “How can I say the things I want to say, but not alienate people?” ― like specifying that “I’m not trying to shit on motherhood. I think it’s just not for me.

“I always think the hardest line on the show is saying I don’t want kids, because you can feel people going, ‘Oh, really? ‘” she said. “That response is always well-intentioned – not that I hear people saying that in the crowd. But when you tell people interpersonally, “I don’t want kids,” they’re like, “Oh, but you’d be so awesome.” It’s like, ‘OK, no, I wouldn’t.’

“But these are people who say, ‘Oh, I like you, and I wish you did more you, and also be happy, and I guess women can only be happy if they have babies. I think that’s what people express when they’re disappointed that you didn’t want kids,” she continued. “Then there are people who say, ‘Oh, well, you just don’t know until you have a kid. It’s like, ‘Yeah, but what if I don’t?’

It’s telling that even on her show, Leiby has to justify why she’s sure she doesn’t want kids – with a fun bit about how she couldn’t keep a cactus alive, after buying it in a store called GRDN. (“GRDN, we have a PRBLM,” she jokes.)

“It shouldn’t take 10 minutes of comedy to follow that statement. But it’s because I have to help you understand why, so you don’t feel bad for me,” she said. “I think we still pity women who don’t have kids, or say they don’t want kids, in a way that’s like, ‘No, don’t. I’m fine. , I promise. I’m happy.'”

“If we unpack these things a bit more, then the idea of ​​abortion has less gravity,” Leiby said. “I think part of the abortion discussion that we miss is that we’re such a pro-natalist culture, and we’re so obsessed with the nuclear family and with motherhood and women having everything – ‘everything’ being baby and career.”

“I think that’s just not right,” she continued. “If we can unpack that a little bit and de-stigmatize childlessness a little bit more, then abortion makes more sense in our culture, because ‘Oh yeah, of course she doesn’t want to be a mother , and she ended up pregnant, and she shouldn’t have to be.

“Oh My God, A Show About Abortion” runs through June 4 at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York City.



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