Leaving the first comedy show where I saw Annie Paradis perform, I had one word for her sense of humor — perfectly deranged. Though it was a late 2019 show at the Pack Theater, and the world before the advent of 2020’s batshit happenings can seem like a completely different place, all the psychic terror of millennial reality was already looming. And Annie, for one, was not afraid to talk about it.
Hosting a variety show of sorts dubbed the “Sweet But Psycho Holiday Show,” Paradis managed to hold it down between eight other comedians and other performers, churning through three-to-five-minue sets of short jokes and small talk that included topics like her parents’ second divorce (yes), the time her dad built a time machine, subtle differences between identifying as bisexual or as a lesbian, and the strange intersections of new sobriety and old trauma.
She skillfully addressed the kind of subject matter that some people are still afraid to bring up with their own therapists, and navigating them with a deadpan hilarity and absurdism that easily cuts through taboo. One show in, I was hooked, and wanted to hear more from this feminist, bisexual comic casually made her own sobriety the butt of the joke — without ever mocking herself or others.
Growing up, Annie’s mother was in the Navy, so she moved around a lot before eventually settling in Clifton, Virginia around the age of ten. As a preteen, she began making comedy videos at an early age, even before high school, even if all traces of this early work has been wiped from the internet.
“I very much wanted to do acting and comedy and stuff in high school,” Paradis remembered when we spoke over the phone recently about her background and current career. “I had a YouTube sketch channel with a bunch of other girls, so I was already doing comedy videos — until I got into high school — then I think I convinced myself that it wasn’t practical to pursue.”
But the influence of her father, a self-made visual artist, directed her toward art school after all, and she attended college at the Brooklyn-based Pratt Institute, where she studied poetry. It was there that Paradis got involved with Circus Amok, a queer, politically-focused circus-theater company founded by Jennifer Miller, a professor at Pratt, that was involved with movements like the Occupy Wall Street and held performances that included elements of drag and camp all over New York.
Being immersed in a queer community helped Paradis finally accept her own queerness and eventually come out, too. “I grew up in a Catholic, Republican family,” she said. “It was that Navy and military background — and I liked girls when I was younger but was basically told it was a phase. When I was working with the Circus I kept insisting I was straight, but eventually I did accept that I was queer, and even then, it took me so long to be okay with saying I was bisexual.”
Working with the circus, and performing dramatic poetry readings at house parties — “they were not funny, she insists, citing a long spoken word piece about Ovarian cysts as an example — Paradis was influenced by these experiences, but she still couldn’t quite commit to identifying as an artist. After college, she left the city to volunteer with FEMA for a year, an encounter that left her deeply disillusioned with the bureaucracy of the non-profit sector.
Moving to Philadelphia after her year of service was up, she finally began to pursue improv and sketch, and that’s when things really started to click. “That was sort of a turn for me,” she explained. “It was just that shift. Because at that point my poetry had become more funny, so I was starting to use my poetry to do that. I would write poems and perform them at readings and they were very comical. But once I started doing improv and sketch I was like ‘oh my poetry is this thing — and that’s my comedy — and they’re different.’”
Living in Philly from 2014 to 2018, Paradis was able to immerse herself in the local DIY scene, a community that was the perfect incubator for a developing comic. Performing all over the city and eventually teaching comedy at Good Good Comedy Theatre, Paradis honed in on producing her own show, The Slam — which she still performs in LA.
“I performed The Slam for two years in Philly, and now I’ve done it for two years out here,” she said. “The show has definitely changed, but it’s a poetry comedy show. I love poetry so much, but I do feel it’s inaccessible, and not as accessible as comedy. So the show is a blend — I get a local poet and three comedians to perform, the comedians write slam poetry in character and the poet and I critique their work through the lens that it’s incredible. It rests in a good space in between poetry and comedy.”
Outgrowing the confines of a smaller scene like Philly, Paradis moved to LA in 2018 and has continued pursuing her career as a comic since landing here. Her focus on The Slam has been a way to combine comedy and poetry, and set herself apart from some of the more traditional stand up work that’s common in the city.
Of course, in the era of Covid-19, like plenty of other performers, most of Paradis’ shows and live events have shifted to Instagram Live or other forms of digital platforms and streaming options. But citing influences like the multidisciplinary performer Dynasty Handbag, Sophia Cleary, Jamie Loftus, and the recent comedy series Pen 15, she’s interested in creating work that combines comedy with other disciplines.
“I think I’m drawn to female and non-binary comedians who didn’t just do open mics, but they come from different forms of creativity and they blend it with comedy,” she said. “I think right now more than ever people are drawn to the blending of these worlds, because we have mediums like Instagram and other platforms other than just straight stand up.”
As far as approaching two years of sobriety this August, Paradis is also mindful of the way addiction and mental health concerns can interfere with focusing on her work. She stopped drinking a couple years ago, a decision she made on her own without any huge catalyst other than personal reflection, and something she cites as more of a preventive measure than anything else.
“I have addiction and mental health issues in my family already, and I played with sobriety in college a bit but then never really stuck to it,” she said. “When I first moved out here drinking was a very big distraction, and I felt like I was partying a lot. I had actually gone to a couple Al-Anon meetings to deal with my family — and I was hung over at the Al-Anon meeting — so I was like, ‘maybe before you’re critiquing your family… you need to deal with your own shit.’”
Paradis follows the program ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families) which is modeled after the 12-step program of AA, and appreciates the way this program provides insights about how experiences with addict parents in childhood can have a huge impact on adult choices and relationship frameworks. But her sobriety is just one facet of the work Paradis is doing to continue transforming the subjects addressed in comedy, an industry that — like much of the entertainment industry — has historically been dominated by straight, white men. And is potentially, finally beginning to reckon with that in a big way, as ripples of change spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement have led to an era of reckoning in plenty of other industries.
“Even though I do comedy on the east side, which is more queer, liberal and feminist — the blanket industry of people here looking at your audition or reading your pilot, are still old, straight white men,” she said. “If you go to the west side, The Laugh Factory or The Comedy Store, that’s the whole scene there. I like the idea of fostering and building community on the east side, so that something like The Comedy Store isn’t the only thing people think of when they think about LA comedy.”