By all accounts, Scout Durwood is a comic on the rise and is, by her own measure, a “Woman of Whimsy,” which is also the name of her new album. Now based in LA, she gave up a career as a stripping, singing, ukulele-playing cabaret in New York to devote more time to developing her stand up career. With upcoming appearances on Oxygen’s Funny Girls, her first stand-up album coming out and regular club appearances; her plate is quite is delightfully full these days. But even with all that, the hardworking comedian took some time to talk with us about what inspires her, “sexy clown work,” and whether or not her dogs deserves a writing credit.
You’ve worked as a burlesque performer — how does that compare to comedy?
Burlesque is sexy clown work. I mostly sang when I did it because I am fairly un-coordinated, but everything I did was meant to be funny. Women are sexualized walking through the world whether we like it or not. Both burlesque and stand up provide the means to call that out. In burlesque we do it with our bodies, and in stand up we do it with our words. Burlesque is a much smaller industry, which makes it more supportive than comedy because you know everyone with whom you work, so if you’re an asshole, no one wants to book you. Comedy has more pockets and niches and a lot of the assholes, who make it all the way to the top. Comedy also has a significantly broader reach than burlesque, which is a lot of why I gravitated towards it from burlesque. I wanted to do work that reached more people than I could physically touch, which isn’t the case when you’re working in nightclubs and bars. Burlesque has also gotten trendy in a way that I think people are starting to miss the point of it. Classic or neo-classic burlesque is about a journey and a tease. Now that women post pictures of their boobs on Instagram, there’s less of a sense of wonder about it.
Were you always a performer?
I am originally from sunny Kansas City, where I was a weird child and debilitatingly shy until high school when I found my voice as “that girl who wears a tiara to school every day” and finally came out of my shell. I’ve always been a performer and known that’s what I wanted to end up doing, but I was very distracted by sports for a long time. I played soccer and rugby through college, and am thinking about going into semi-professional wrestling now to scratch that itch I still have to run around in organized fights. I initially went to college to play soccer, but ended up transferring to a liberal arts college and majoring in “no one gets to tell me what to do.” My undergrad thesis was a one-woman show about pornography in which I performed a full-blown strip tease and received cum laude honors. My life has pretty much stayed the same since then.
What initially attracted to you to comedy?
Honestly, I think I like the instant gratification of making people laugh. I’m still super shy offstage, so comedy is a huge part of how I relate to the world. It’s a lot easier not to worry that everybody secretly hates you, if you’re making everybody laugh.
Can you talk a bit about your involvement with Funny Girls for Oxygen?
It’s a docu-series following the lives of six female comedians trying to make it in the wide world of comedy. It’s like a reality show but with stand up in its transitions. It’s Seinfeld meets Real Housewives, so equal parts intelligent comedy and girls getting into bitch fights.
What inspires you?
I’m a caffeine addict and absolutely cannot write without it, so that’s big. The rest of it is just walking through life with gears ever turning. I’m 90% nerd with a notebook at any given point in my life. I go to a lot of comedy shows. I have really funny friends. I live in a world of joke construction, and it makes me overwhelmingly happy, so I just let it happen and try to catch as many jokes as I can like drops of water in a bucket.
You’ve lived in both NY and LA — which city speaks to you more?
The cities honestly couldn’t be more different. In New York I literally was a different person with an entirely different life. I worked in burlesque and cabaret as Lady Scoutington and was definitively irreverent to any sort of established system of “how to make it in showbiz.” I moved to LA in an attempt to sell my soul to the gods and goddesses of film and television. New York is a grind, but when you’re in it, it’s intoxicating. The last song on my album is a love song to New York wherein I refer to it as “Stockholm Syndrome.” LA is like theater camp. It’s an entire city mostly built around a single industry, and the sun shines all the time.
I miss cabaret quite a bit, but so many of the clubs where I used to sing in have moved or gone out of business. New York is going through a pretty clumsy sea change right now where a lot of artists are being displaced by douche bags and their douche bag stores. It’ll swing back, but in the meantime, LA is absorbing a lot of the spillover. Plus real estate is semi-reasonable here, so I have an office and a dog in my apartment, which are two things I never thought I would have when I was shackled to the city that never sleeps because I was working four jobs to be able to pay rent.
What’s your process for developing material? Is there anything you consider off limits?
Material for me usually starts in life and then gets refined in to stage-worthy jokes. I have a bit right now about hating weddings, which started when one of my friends posted all of her stupid wedding photos on Facebook. I ranted to a friend about it, took note of where the laughs were, and then started honing it onstage. Sometimes I’ll write “on assignment” for topical stuff, which I also love. It can be really fun to write jokes that you know you’ll never get to tell again. I did a historical roast of Julius Caesar the other week, and I had a blast writing a bunch of ancient Rome material that I’ll never get to use again. It’s fun to take risks like that, because who cares if you don’t get a laugh.
I believe that comedy and laughter are infinite in the world, and it is our job as comedians to keep reminding people of that. I dance around my apartment a lot. A lot. I also have one-sided conversations with my dog, who is either the best writing partner I have ever had or I am closer to that inevitable mental breakdown than I thought.
The Lady Aye’s work has been featured in the New York Times, AV Club, Penthouse and Salon. She has performed with Cirque de Soleil and Rob Zombie and been called one of “the masters of modern sideshow,” by Sideshow World.