Photography by Jakob N. Layman
Modesto, California native and comedian Marcella Arguello may be the very definition of cutting edge. Never one to shy away from difficult subjects in her stand up, including gender, race, sexuality, family, politics, pop culture (including critiques of Beyonce, from a place of love no doubt) her wit and humor still find that thin balance that allows a joke to both land some place you didn't know that it could and coax genuine laughter out of you. Describing herself as "too lazy to shoot hoops and too tall to model" at six feet, she's hard to miss, "I love being a very tall woman until someone calls me 'sir' real loud in public" Marcella jokes about her height. Often described as “sexually and ethnically ambiguous” which might cause a lot of people to try and appropriate her for themselves, she's quick to say, "No, I'm not any of you." Marcella made her national television debut in 2015 on Last Call with Carson Daly and has since gone on to multiple appearances on Comedy Central's highly popular @midnight, winning funniest person on the internet three times. Paste magazine would agree, citing Marcella as one of the 75 best Twitter accounts of 2016, citing her tweet "A dude rejected me by suggesting we should “just be friends” and I was like dude I’m ugly but I’m not THAT fuckin ugly" and with a bio that reads "Stop asking why I’m so mean and start asking why ya moms raised a punk ass bitch," the uncomfortability factor is part of what makes comedy such an effective and unique art form. Sharing the stage with such comedic luminaries as Bill Burr, Paul Mooney and Robin Williams in addition to opening for David Alan Grier, Norm MacDonald, Hannibal Buress, and Aries Spears (remember MAD TV?) Marcella's career is on the rise, (she is currently writing for the James Corden spin-off show Drop The Mic coming to TBS Spring 2017.) "I have always, will always have to prove myself. But what’s dope is that nowadays audiences are way more diverse" Marcella says, and "those audiences are way more easier to win over because they’re already on my side."
AHC: You started out wanting to become an elementary school teacher before pursuing comedy, what brought about that change in direction for you?
Marcella: Ever since I was five I wanted to be a teacher! And then I was required to volunteer in a classroom to complete my degree and I couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculous kids were. And not in a “Kids Say The Darndest Things” way, in a “Holy shit this kid is crying cause this other kid won’t share his football - that’s hilarious!” way. That’s how I knew it wasn’t for me.
AHC: Who have been some of the major comedic inspirations and influences for you, and has that list changed or evolved over the years?
Marcella: It’s always evolving. Right now Hannibal Buress and Bill Burr are my favorites. But when I was a teenager Dave Attell was my favorite. And Chappelle’s Show changed everything. And I’ll always be inspired by Joan Rivers, Wanda Sykes and Ellen Degeneres. New comedy, old comedy and everything in between always inspire and influence.
AHC: Something you've said about comedy, that I think is really important and powerful, is the capacity that it has to say something heavy or meaningful in a humorous way, that gets by the internal censors of the audience and allows them to let something in that they may have otherwise blocked out. What sort of more layered subjects have you worked into your material that has had that kind of effect and do you think that this is something all comics do or something that you have to really kind of cultivate and want to do, or pay attention to, as a stand-up?
Marcella: You have to want to do it, you have to truly care about something to do it right. With me, it could be anything – family, politics, religion, gender. Sometimes it’s nuanced and sometimes I’ll just come out and say “On the count of three, everyone say ‘Fuck Trump!” I try not to force myself into discussing something heavy that’s beyond my skillset. I have to really give a shit about what I’m saying while making sure it’s funny. Comedy is a science and sometimes I wanna be spitting Albert Einstein knowledge and other times I just want to look at an insect in a petri dish.
AHC: Along those lines, what do you see as the political value of comedy in our culture, in that tradition of comics broaching unexamined or uncomfortable truths, like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Bill Hicks and others? One thing I'm struck by, is how, almost more than anything else, SNL's skits on the President have been getting under his skin in an important way. Do you think this displays comedy's dual ability to have activist and political roles while evoking laughter from an audience, and do you see comedy as one of many valuable tools to be used in a resistant way to this politically crazy and volatile moment we are in?
Marcella: Absolutely. Art is magical in that way. With comedy, you can take on a persona or act and get a message across and when people get mad you blame it on their inability to process comedy. It’s perfect. Everything is political, even when we think it’s not. Comedy and art in every facet has the privilege of informing the consumer while providing them with clever speaking points or a new perspective to take home with them and in turn spread that message or idea. That’s why the people that are considered the “best” are usually touching important topics and material because they’re providing a service that no one else is capable of. Almost anyone can make you laugh but if they can simultaneously make you think – that’s brilliance.
AHC: You've talked about this boon or change in direction of newfound appreciation for minorities and women in comedy. Do you feel like there's a pressure to have to prove yourself in a way that isn't there for white, cis gendered comics? What do you think is involved in changing this dynamic? What kind of work lies ahead? Is it harder to book a gig as a female comic than as a male comic, as it sometimes still is for women musicians these days?
Marcella: I have always, will always have to prove myself. But what’s dope is that nowadays audiences are way more diverse, People of Color and young women are seeking out comedy in a way I’ve never seen, and as a result, those audiences are way more easier to win over because they’re already on my side. It’s definitely a bit more difficult for me to get booked than it is for a dude with less experience – they’re just an easier sell (in the eyes of the promoter). But that’s why I continue to work hard and keep pushing, because in order for that to change there has to be solid alternatives that are ready when they are.
AHC: When did you first start doing impressions and which ones are yours and your audiences favorite impressions?
Marcella: I’ve been mimicking people ever since I could make sounds. You know how when a song comes on the radio and you sing along with it? Well, I do that but I take it up a notch by mocking whatever singer I’m listening to. It makes it so much more fun. Everyone loves my Beyonce impression but I like hittin the high notes like Mariah Carey at the most unexpected times.
AHC: Has the performing aspect always come naturally to you, have you ever been nervous before going on stage or do you feel completely at ease with that part of it?
Marcella: Performing definitely comes naturally but I’m always a little nervous, and it’s mostly because I’m always trying something new and I’m really critical of myself, so I give myself a reason to be nervous.
AHC: How often do you write new material and what is the writing process like for you overall, as pertains to your stand-up routines? Do you ever use some of your Twitter material-observations in shows?
Marcella: I don’t have one set process. I do like to eventually write out everything at some point, like a math equation I finally figured out. Of course I bring my tweets on stage with me, they’re usually more fleshed out since I’m not limited to 140 characters.
AHC: Do you have any words of advice for young comics starting out who are trying to find their groove, their voice?
Marcella: Just get out there and do it. Write and perform. There’s no other way.
AHC: Do you have any projects in the works or scheduled appearances-performances you'd like tell people about?
Marcella: Cash me outside, how bout dat? I’m always working on something, keep up with me on social media to find out: marcellacomedy.com
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