Erica Watson is a funny as hell, talented, badass woman. Born in Chicago, she currently lives and works in New York City as a comedienne and a film/television director. Her one woman show, Fat Bitch, is a personal look at the term, our culture’s obsession with weight, the impact it has for women as a whole and a multitude of breakdowns of other degrading stereotypes, most specifically aimed at black women. Her show is now taking her to L.A., where she will be performing at Columbia College Chicago in collaboration with director Steven Pink ( dates here !). If you think that’s just what she’s all about, she also co-starred in Lee Daniel’s Precious, has directed, written, and starred on NBC, BET, OXYGEN and a whole other slew of great projects. She will be speaking at the upcoming New York event, “From Portraits to Pinups: Representations of Women in Art and Popular Culture, a symposium that explores the implications of women artists using images of women in their work; connections between women’s history and contemporary art; and perceptions of race and gender, as well as hosting the “Life, Lyrics and Laughter” Benefit concert in Charlotte, NC, featuring hip-hop MC Keith Murray on May 26th. Now, with out much further adieu, please welcome, the wonderful and beautiful, Erica Watson to Persephone.
PM: How did you get started in comedy?
EW: I moved to NYC to direct film & theater but good projects were hard to come by…and so was money. One of my friends told me I should try being an escort, dominatrix or a stripper because of the demand for full-figured women in those industries. Luckily before I could invest in pasties, glass heeled pumps, and a whip, another friend suggested stand-up comedy. I enrolled in a stand-up class at The Manhatthan Comedy School at Caroline’s on Broadway, got my first paid gig 6 months later, and it’s been comedy every since. I’m sure every stripper pole in America let out a sigh of relief! LOL
PM: When I went to look up your one-woman show Fat Bitch, there’s a whole slew of derogatory sites and videos that come with the term. It seems like the best way to insult a woman is to call her a “Fat Bitch” ““ fat bitch is like the ultimate fallback insult. What are you trying to do with this phrase and in your show?
EW: Whenever I make someone mad, the first thing they do is call me a “Fat Bitch!” But I’ve learned that it’s not what people call you, but what you ANSWER to that defines you as a woman. My show is an open love letter to everyone that has ever called me the term. If you think that I am a a so-called “Fat Bitch!” let me tell you about all the things that have happened in my life to make me the woman that I am. Once you hear my story, you may think twice before judging me and other women that look like me. People get so offended by the title, but imagine how I feel when the word is thrown at me a regular basis. In my show, I break down stereotypes that affect us all, regardless of size. My show is very much a piece of feminist art from a black female perspective and I wish folks would stop judging me by my size, and judging my show by its title.
PM: The way that our culture views black women’s bodies is examined, especially the “fat and sassy” black woman stereotype. How do you think race, class and gender all work towards this stereotype and others like it?
EW: Think about this, when you see a plus size black woman, what type of job do you think she has? Do people see a professor, or do they see a bus driver? Does someone assume she is a doctor, or is she a security guard at the Medicad Office? When you are fat, black and a woman, you are seen as “less than,” but also as this source of wisdom at the same time. It’s like every plus-sized black woman is a walking, living, breathing character from a Mammy movie. You are larger than life, but invisible at the same time because people do not really see the real you.
PM: Why do you think we are so obsessed with weight?
EW: Honestly, I don’t really know why. I have my theories, but ultimately it’s anybody’s guess. In some ways, I think it is another way for society to control people. The beauty industry is set up to capitilalize on your insecurities. If they can make you think that you are ugly, then they can sell you products to make you feel beautiful. It’s an ongoing cycle of abuse and oppression, and I am so tired of it. The ideal of feminine beauty in the U.S. is thin and white. If you are not those two things, you are not considered beautiful. It’s really sick and it needs to stop. But even when you are thin and white, you still are not good enough! No body wins! It’s crazy!
PM: Do you think comedy has the potential to get people to see things in a new light and possibly rethink their assumptions and prejudices?
EW: I love using comedy to both educate and entertain. Edutainment is what they call it, right? LOL. Laughing allows people to put their guard down and open up to hearing a message that they might normally be closed off to. With comedy, we can focus on the stupidity of things and really analyze them.
PM: Not only are you funny and brilliant as hell, but you also co-starred in Precious, are a panelist on BETJ’s ” My Two Cents,” are the director for “My Model Looks Better Than Your Model,” and blog for the Huffington Post. You wear a lot of hats. What else are you up to?
EW: Well, I am also a regular talking head and pop culture pundit for The TV Guide Network, WE and BET. I am also working on a book, and keeping my fingers crossed that I get a book deal and more movie roles.
PM: How do you think that we as a culture can be better at talking about body privilege, beauty and health at every size? We have a lot of baggage we need to get rid of.
EW: I think it starts with people being honest with themselves, and with others. If everyone would just strip down, butt naked, look in the mirror and take an honest look at themselves, we would be in a much better place. When it boils down do it, the only perfect body is one that works for you. That’s why I tell my story in such an honest way, because I want others to feel free to have a deep, honest & true conversation about who they are.
PM: How do we break out of those boxes and roles that mainstream culture or the majority of the population want us to stay in?
EW: I have a saying, if one door closes, knock the motherfucka’ down! In other words, the best way to break out of a box is to not be put in one in the first place. If you make your own mold for beauty, happiness and success, you’ll never have to worry about anyone else’s box fitting you! I’m too big for most boxes, and I’m very happy about that! :)
For more information on catching Fat Bitch! in LA, click here. Dates run from April 29th-May 1st and ticket proceeds go towards Columbia College Chicago’s Alumni Scholarship fund.