Dylan Adler Is Singing About Rape Trauma Onstage

Alma chatted with the Asian Jewish comedian about his show "Rape Victims Are Horny Too" and really wanting a bar mitzvah.

The last time I saw Dylan Adler perform live was at a bar mitzvah-themed comedy show this past August. Due to the pandemic, I don’t often go to indoor shows anymore, but let’s say that a commitment to my people drew me out to see a hilarious line-up of mostly Jewish comics. At a small table in the corner of the Brooklyn Comedy Collective, I bore witness to the faux-bar mitzvah. Comics played various roles throughout the ceremony — hosts Zach Schiffman and Reid Pope played the bar mitzvah boy’s parents, comic Marcia Belsky delivered a sermon as our “rabbi” for the evening, and so on.

Dylan took the stage towards the end of the show in the role of The Boy at the Bar Mitzvah Party Who Goes Too Hard On the Dance Floor. With a glow stick around his neck, Dylan back-flipped across the stage to Jay Sean’s 2009 hit “Down,” ft. Lil Wayne and then broke into frenzied flailing more akin to full-body gesticulations than actual dance moves.

It was perfect physical comedy, and it was also perfectly Dylan. (He would later tell me the casting was “1000% based in reality.”)

For those unfamiliar, Dylan Adler is a mixed Asian Jewish gay comedian. Originally from the Bay Area, Dylan is Japanese on his mother’s side of the family, while his Jewishness derives from his father’s side. “I don’t think [my Jewish ancestors] were deeply practicing, so by the time it got to me it was more cultural,” he says of his family, who came to the United States in the 1800s. Even so, he and his brother were raised with Jewish holidays like Hanukkah, Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Ironically, Dylan never had a bar mitzvah, though he “really, really” wanted one of his own.

I’ll also add something else for those unfamiliar with Dylan Adler – I think you should immediately rectify that mistake.

I first saw him perform at a house show in Bed-Stuy in 2019, a little over a year after he graduated from NYU’s Steinhardt School, where an acting class introduced him to improv and began his comedic journey. Even then, he had developed a unique act which I can only describe as Bo Burnham meets Cirque du Soleil — but gayer and freakier. At any of the numerous shows and spots he does every week, you can expect to see musical comedy sets where Dylan sings and accompanies himself on the piano with both the boisterous enthusiasm of a seasoned comic and the complex compositional style of a trained musician. And, oh yeah, you might just get to see some wild dancing, too.

Over these last few years, Dylan’s larger project has been an hour-long musical comedy show he wrote, and perform, with Kelly Bachman, a comic who made headlines in 2019 for confronting sexual predator Harvey Weinstein during a stand-up set. Their show, “Rape Victims Are Horny Too,” explores surviving rape trauma (both Kelly and Dylan are survivors) through original musical numbers and parodies of popular songs like ABBA’s “Mamma Mia!”

“‘Rape Victims Are Horny Too’ is a show that Kelly and I developed after I did her show, ‘Rape Jokes By Survivors,’ where we really connected,” he told me. “At first we were going to just do our own 30 minutes individually, but then we thought we could maybe write songs together, and we wrote one song together called ‘Tell Me I’m Hot, But Don’t Fucking Touch Me.’”

“We were like, oh, this is really fun. We could write more songs about the facets of what it’s like living with trauma and the process of healing,” Dylan continued. “And we wrote together and it was so much fun and felt so natural that we ended up writing an entire show about it. It was really cathartic — and, I’d say, different than my own acts because it’s more fully about trauma and exposing the parts of both of us that we don’t really show.”

So far, Dylan and Kelly have performed “Rape Victims Are Horny Too” a few times at The Caveat in New York City, and even took the show to Texas in late November.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate that the response has been pretty positive. A lot of survivors come to the show and will sometimes reach out afterwards and say, ‘Oh my god! Yes! That’s exactly what everything it’s like!’” Dylan shared. He went on, “A lot of people assume that being a victim of rape trauma is this black and white thing, but it’s very complex. There are the feelings of being victim-blamed or gaslit or belittled. And with the trauma, there’s the initial trauma, but then there’s the trauma of how some people around you will tell you how to deal with your trauma, which is another thing in itself. So we’re trying to address that, too.”

There have been some mixed responses to the show. Dylan chalks them up to the brutally honest and often dark humor of “Rape Victims Are Horny Too,” which might be “jarring and unfamiliar” to some — as evidenced by venues in Texas requesting that the word “rape” be removed from the show title. Yet Dylan and Kelly’s non-watered down experiences and open dialogue about cultural attitudes towards rape are what, in my opinion, make their show so necessary and compelling. In spite of any tentative responses, audiences seem to agree: Dylan and Kelly are planning on bringing “Rape Victims Are Horny Too” back to New York in the new year and recording the show’s album.

As you might have guessed by now, music is an extremely healing force for Dylan, and his connection to music is also very Jewish. He explained to me that his favorite Jewish traditions are simply singing Jewish songs and chanting Jewish prayers. Not only does he feel nostalgic about them, but also, much like how performing “Rape Victims Are Horny Too” is a balm for his rape trauma, the “catharsis of group singing or chanting” is solace for the intergenerational trauma he carries from his Jewish ancestors.

That said, Dylan has also recently begun to explore his Japanese-Jewish identity onstage. One of his more recent and hilarious bits talks about how his mom interacts with Jewish culture and (often-depressing) Jewish history.

“I know when I tell that joke, Jewish people will connect,” Dylan said. “They’re like, ‘Yeah! That is what a lot of Jewish holidays are like!’”

Telling these jokes also seems to be a way for Dylan to connect. When I asked him how his identity influences his comedic work and what it means to him to be a mixed-race Asian Jew, he acknowledged that he’s still figuring it out — but comedy has been a useful tool in that endeavor. “The funny thing is, for a lot of my life, I didn’t know what it really meant to be mixed Jewish, mixed Asian, because everyone around me just thought I was fully Asian,” he told me. “So it’s only recently that I’ve been meeting a lot of these other mixed race, half-Jewish Japanese people. Like Jared Goldstein is also a half-Jewish gay who’s in comedy. And it’s been really, really, really cool. So I’m still figuring out what [my identity] means to me. But I can say that more recently, it’s been cool to meet other Asian Jews like myself.”

As for what’s next for Dylan: Aside from “Rape Victims Are Horny Too,” he’s planning a solo show at The Caveat in February. But I imagine it won’t be too long before we’re seeing him and his act just about everywhere.

Evelyn Frick

Evelyn Frick (she/they) is a writer and associate editor at Hey Alma. She graduated from Vassar College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. In her spare time, she's a comedian and contributor for Reductress and The Onion.

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