“Do you ever feel like you have an inner she-dragon that flies around, skewering Oreos with her talons and roasting them with her flame breath?” my friend (a Nice Jewish Boy) texted me.
I replied, “So now you know the Goddess, and she has taught you our secrets.”
This Goddess, of course, is Iliza Shlesinger.
The comedian/author’s latest stand-up special, Elder Millennial, which my friend was referencing, arrived on Netflix on July 24. I’ve been recommending it to everyone ever since.
Shlesinger currently hosts the late-night talk show Truth & Iliza on Freeform, and holds the honor of being the first woman and youngest comic to win NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2008. Her book of essays, Girl Logic: The Genius and the Absurdity, came out in 2017. And, she recently married — her chuppah-game was dazzling.
In her new special, the then-engaged 35-year-old takes it upon herself, an “elder millennial” born in 1983 (“Some of you were so quiet when I said I was a millennial. Fuck you, okay?”), to tell us youngster millennials the ways of the world. “Yes, gather ‘round the Snapchat, children. I’ll tell you the tale… of the landline,” she croons, hobbling around.
In 72 minutes, she decimates sexist norms (and makes lots of penis jokes). Nothing revelatory, but important nonetheless: a woman’s clothes don’t indicate consent, it’s normal to want to have children (and to not want to), and women fart. Her brand of feminism reminds me of a Forever 21 t-shirt that says “The Future Is Female”: superficial, sure, yet valuable.
Her feminist fervor is couched in the classic boy-meets-girl story. In a gravelly “man” voice, she mocks the way that men often talk about meeting a woman at the club: “All right, well, I was out with my buddies. And you know me, I wasn’t looking for anybody. And then I saw… her.”
And then, piece by piece, she utterly destroys that narrative.
“The idea that, in a nightlife setting, the man would ever see the woman before the woman saw the man… no. Women are astute, but moreover, women are the ones with the biological clocks. Women are the ones with the socially predetermined shelf life. Women are the ones who are cantilevered off the edge of high heels… We are the ones on a time crunch, on a schedule, okay? You saw me first? Bullshit, motherfucker. I clocked you!”
If “boy meets girl” is a classic story, Shlesinger says women are the authors almost every time. “We are merely assessing if you’re 50% attractive enough that we want to put the effort into putting ourselves in your orbit so that, in an hour, after a drink or two, you, gentlemen, have the luxury of turning around and being, like, ‘Oh, excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice…’ Then we turn around, like, ‘Really?!’ That’s it. Just set it up for you to knock it down.” Damn. Like, damn.
Her humor’s not perfect. This bit’s biggest pitfall is that she describes a heterosexual couple, one-half gruff-voiced bro and one-half feminine woman who loves going out to clubs but is also hilariously filthy. Maybe her target demographic is people like that, but there’s lots of gaping space for people who don’t like going to clubs, who aren’t attracted to those of the opposite gender, and who don’t identify as male or female. After all, you can’t talk feminism without queerness.
Still, there were more key moments that won me over. One is short and sweet: “Whatever kind of woman you are – quiet, fat, small, big or tall, loud, you don’t know much, you got a gill – whatever kind of woman you are, you are right. That’s it.”
Yes, Iliza! I thought earnestly, I’m not ashamed of my forward personality or my hairy finger-toes! She gets that feminism is about personal choice, and not about adhering to any one set of rules. Granted, Shlesinger might not be the best person to deliver this message. Every kind of woman is right, but society deems a cis, white, petite, blonde bombshell with abs peeking over her high-waisted sailor pants to be among the rightest.
But, she makes her point, and emphasizes that womanhood is vast. On motherhood, for example: “If you’re the kind of woman that doesn’t want kids, you’re still a woman. This joke’s not about you. Wait your turn.”
Another killer moment, this time about how movies often portray a quiet, bookish girl as more desirable than an outspoken woman: “My point to you is if you are the shy type, if you are the wallflower… you don’t want the guy who wants you because of that energy. A man who wants a woman because she looks scared is a sexual predator.”
That was the moment she became my new heroine. I saw my disgruntled 17-year-old self reading books in public and wondering why men weren’t proposing to me left and right. Then, in a puff of self-righteousness and pretension, she disappeared! Shlesinger had vanquished her!
Whether she’s a heroine or not, she’s entertaining, as is her goal. She’s a splendid balance of smart, vulgar, and just serious enough. This elder millennial wants to help you and make you laugh, starting with your she-dragon that’s probably dying to get out.