Whenever a comedian delivers a strong bit, pulsating polychromatic cartoon uteruses pop up on screen in proportion to the crowd’s cheers and tweets. And when the first performer shouts that her “abortion was f—ing awesome,” the stage erupts in a blinding flash of uterine light. But the thing is, she’s not joking.
In cocktail dresses and high-heels, hundreds of DC women have descended on Black Cat bar to fight the patriarchy. They’ve purchased tickets for “Postcards from the Vag,” a show that promises “frank and funny storytelling about abortion.” A campaign launched by Lady Parts Justice and headlined by Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead, the program perfectly captures the essence of the new pro-choice movement.
This wasn’t a safe, legal, and rare sort of crowd, though. No, these women have packed into that theater for something more than a celebration of the sacred right to choose. They’re demanding more than abortion on demand. They want society’s total acceptance and affirmation.
Abortion: Safe and Legal, But Also Early and Often
Like an abortion pep rally for a losing battle, the talent regularly cheers the claim that “one in three women have abortions,” while decrying the restriction of “reproductive justice” occurring across the nation at the state level. Hoping to turn the tide by changing public perception, the group now aims at making abortion more approachable.
Before the program begins, a spokeswoman tells me that the show’s trying to destigmatize abortion through comedy, you know, “in the same way Jon Stewart made fun of ISIS beheadings.” To broach the topic that has divided the nation for decades, Lady Parts Justice has recruited the best feminist comics to crack the worst dead baby jokes.
Some of the material is funny, in a shock-value sort of way. In one reincarnation gag, Sriya Sarkar tells the crowd that she thinks her baby is the newly born DC panda—because she’s Asian, her boyfriend’s white, and nine months ago, her “embryo still had a tail when it was aborted.” At this, the screen lights up with uteruses like the Northern Lights and the crowd thunders applause.
Aborted Babies As Punch Lines
But any hilarity quickly gives way to horror when you realize that the material for that punch line came from the dismembered body of her unborn child. That’s not my projection. That’s the true tone of the event.
Comics don’t dance around semantics. Old abortion clichés never make an appearance. No one calls a pregnancy just a clump of cells or an unwanted fetus. They’re brutally honest. One comic, Lucy Samuel builds her entire bit around her medical abortion—that time she got drunk and “laid waste to a child at a friend’s baby shower.”
Later, the community organizer of reproductive justice, Michelle Colon, mocks young pro-life protesters who picketed her Mississippi clinic with signs saying they had survived the abortion holocaust. She quips that had “their parents come to the Pink House, there’d be no survivors.”
What’s Dark Humor When It’s Not Funny?
And while no one denies the humanity of the dead babies, everyone’s okay with their destruction. “Stop trying to persuade anyone of our reason,” Michelle Kinsey Burns councils. “There’s no good or bad reason to have an abortion,” she proclaims. It’s a new era of choice tonight, one where women live and let live and abort children for any reason.
But no amount of joking can anesthetize the pain underscoring the event. The rawest moment comes from Joyelle Nicole Johnson. She tells how an OB/GYN knocked up his nurse; how her “deadbeat doctor daddy” tried to push an abortion on her mother; and how after he failed, he abandoned the unplanned family. The crowd gasps.
Choking back tears, Johnson shares about her own abortion in college and about waking up alone in the recovery room afterward. Then, as her voice cracks completely and tears begin to free fall, she says she doesn’t regret it.
With that, the crowd roars their approval and the most uteruses of the entire night ignite onscreen.
At the end of the night, the MC starts raffling off tickets to burlesque shows and giving away goodie bags full of dildos. Outside, I ask a group of women how they felt about the program. The consensus is simple: after two hours of dead baby jokes, they’re proud to be pro-choice.
None of the performers were really joking that night. And the show was frank, but it wasn’t funny; just more tragic than anything else.