Spotlight: Kelsey Caine’s Irreverent Satire
Pamela Ross, Editor
Kelsey Caine is a comedian and writer in New York City whose response to Louis C.K.’s comeback has been impossible to ignore, not least because it involves her furiously masturbating a dildo. The Austin-bred comic dresses as C.K., including pasted-on red facial hair, and delivers “self”-referential jokes while jerking off in front of the audience. It’s the furthest logical progression of Kelsey’s popular Louie parody aptly titled Jerking Off, in which she recreates the show’s opening credits with a filthy twist. Once it became clear that many venues, bookers, and fellow comedians were happy to enable C.K.’s return to stand up, Kelsey vowed to perform as Penis C.K. for the foreseeable future. The hilarious character is the latest in a series of risk-taking creative ventures that Kelsey’s embarked upon, including competing in the Miss New York USA pageant and writing about it for the New York Times. I had the pleasure of speaking with Kelsey about the Penis C.K. origin story, staying busy in NYC, and creating your own opportunities.
WICF Daily: What inspired you to take such a hands-on (lol) approach to satirizing Louis C.K.’s return to stand up?
Kelsey Caine: The beloved satirical character Penis C.K. was born August 31st 2018, a few days after admitted sex offender Louis C.K. did a surprise drop in set at The Comedy Cellar, proving he had learned nothing about consent. I, like most comedians, really wanted him to do the right thing, be sincere, and make a hilarious public stand-up apology. But instead he wanted everyone to separate his art of “making jokes about masturbating” from the artist, who is “a man who masturbates in front of his co-workers at work.”
I quickly wrote a think piece about the situation and submitted it to the New York Times, but they made the right choice and published Roxane Gay’s and Aparna Nancherla’s instead. But I still really wanted to call attention to what Louie actually did. A lot of comedians seemed to be fine with other comedians being jerked off in front of during their stand-up job, but I knew they’d feel differently if they had to watch it. So I told my hilarious boyfriend/writing partner, Martin Urbano, my idea, bought him a few shots for courage, and then we filmed the entire “Louie” opening shot-for-shot while I masturbated on the street as Penis C.K. Unlike the actual Louie, I was super worried I was going to get arrested for indecent exposure. But the most nerve-wracking part of filming was walking up to The Comedy Cellar, dressed as Penis C.K., and masturbating. The bouncers knew exactly what I was doing, and they were not into it. The vid went viral on Twitter, at least viral for me. It has 240,000 views. But my viral vid didn’t shame Louie into addressing his behavior through stand-up.
Then in December, an article came out about an audience member who was at The Comedy Cellar when C.K. went up again as a surprise drop in and heckled, “Get your fucking dick out.” I was so inspired by that woman. She was my hero. The next day I announced I would only be doing stand-up as my beloved satirical character Penis C.K. until further notice, and that bookers/comics can book me for their shows at PenisCK@gmail.com. I started getting booked immediately. I figured the only way to make people/comics understand what “watching someone famous/you look up to jerk off in front of you” feels like was to recreate it. And now it’s now. What will happen next?
WICF: What has the reception of Penis C.K. been like? I’ve heard at least one man was very offended, which is hilarious.
KC: The reaction to Penis C.K. has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Most audiences just laugh. They get the joke and it makes them feel weird, and they laugh. They get that I’m just a comedian making fun of sex offenders. A lot of people even join in and tell me to put my dick away or say things they wish they could say to the real Louie. After I posted the parody video, hundreds of people followed me on Twitter and became outspoken fans of my stand-up comedy and my other performance art, like competing in the Miss New York USA beauty pageant in 2017. Adam Conover from Adam Ruins Everything even retweeted the parody vid and followed me on Twitter. It made me feel very cool.
But the best responses are from women in comedy and young women, not yet in comedy but who want to get into it. Some of those make me cry. They solidify that I’m doing something that means something to people. Not all comedians are fine with women being sexually assaulted when they’re just trying to follow their dreams. The cool ones aren’t anyway. But some audiences have had mixed responses to Penis C.K. Some people will be laughing, while others are audiby uncomfortable. The night the man in the audience left in a huff, the crowd was split. When I pointed out that it was very reasonable for the audience to feel uncomfortable, most of the crowd laughed. They were glad to be told it was okay to laugh. But the man that left visibly upset, seemed angry he had to see me, Penis C.K., masturbate in front of him, even after I asked if I could.
This February I’m going on tour with Maggie Maye, Daniel Webb, and Martin Urbano to Austin, Houston, Colorado, Seattle, Chicago, and LA. Which is really exciting. It’s been in the works since before I even started doing the Penis C.K character. So that’s made it interesting. On one hand, I was just booked to do Penis C.K. on Andy Kindler’s LA show in February. I’m pumped, I hope Andy likes it. But on the other hand, one of the venue bookers in Austin that booked us months ago, just told me I was not allowed to do Penis C.K. when I perform at his club. So that’s been the worst reaction to Penis C.K. Everyone on tour says they don’t want to perform at that venue if I can’t, so we’ll see how things shake out. It’s disappointing and makes me sad, especially since I started doing stand-up in Austin.
WICF: How do you juggle this ongoing C.K. project with your other comedy commitments? You produce several shows around the city and are a member of Community Dance Corps, an all-female dance team.
KC: Oh yes, I’m a very famous performer and writer. Let me speak of my other projects. Right now my number one thing is that I’m writing a book of hilarious essays about sexual assault education. I want it to be the funniest book about sexual assault ever written; a high bar. Last year, I advocated for high schools to teach sexual assault education in Texas, where I’m from, starting with the all-boys school the man who sexually assaulted me attended. After a news article was written about me, Sarah Phair from Trident Media reached out and asked if I was interested in writing a book about it, and now here I am writing a book. Wish me luck.
As for stand-up, I’ve been performing on shows in NYC as Penis C.K. since December. A few times I’ve done sets as both myself and Penis C.K., which was a little overwhelming but ultimately hilarious. Shows are booking Penis C.K. just as much, if not more than they were booking Kelsey Caine. So I’m basically performing the same amount of stand-up, if not more. My dance team Community Dance Corps is delightful. It’s mostly made up of hilarious UCB women. Megan Patsel is a killer team captain. We were just on New York Comedy Fest.
I still produce a lot of high concept comedy shows. So that’s been the same since starting Penis C.K. I love making weird shows. “Puppets Present” is a stand-up showcase that I host with Carmen Lagala as puppet versions of ourselves. Right now I’m producing a beauty pageant parody show called “Little Miss Comedy” where Martin Urbano and I host a comedy pageant to crown the best comedian. Our next one is January 11th, 7pm at Union Hall. It’s being filmed by Back Roads production to be pitched as a TV show. So I’d love if people were there. You should come!
WICF: What advice would you give female and non-binary aspiring comedians who will often perform in spaces that are male-dominated?
KC: I’m rooting for you. There need to be more funny, kind people in comedy. Always stand up for yourself, and when boys make you feel bad, don’t pay any attention to them anymore. It’s okay if the other comedians don’t like your material. I hate so much of other comedians material, and come to find many of them are sex offenders. Comedians are a notoriously bad audience, mostly because they want to be comedians and not audience members. They aren’t looking to enjoy your comedy, and that’s okay. Find the people that do think you’re funny and do comedy for them and team up with them. Put on your own shows and book your own lineups. Take control of the spaces you do comedy in. Don’t just wait for people to book you. My best friend in comedy is producer Jamie Rabinovitch, because she gets my comedy and helps me produce killer shows. Put on your own open mic. If you’re in NYC come to my open mic, it’s on Tuesdays at Phoenix Bar in the East Village at 7pm. Just because some loud men, who may or may not even be funny, don’t relate to your material or think you fit into their idea of what a stand-up comedian looks like, doesn’t mean you aren’t funny and shouldn’t be doing comedy. If you’re funny, work hard, and a good person, the comedy world desperately needs you.
WICF: How can people keep up with your work online and off?
KC: If you want to stay up to date with my Penis C.K. shenanigans and my other performance art, follow me on Twitter @Kelsey_Caine. If you want to see pics of me, follow me on Instagram @KelseyLcaine. I post shows details on both. If you want to book me to perform on your show as Penis C.K. shoot me an email at PenisCK@gmail.com.
And, of course, if you’re in NYC you should come out to the Little Miss Comedy Pageant on January 19th 7pm at Union Hall. And if you’re busy then come to Clean Up On Aisle 3 at Arlene’s Grocery on January 28th at 8pm, hosted by me and the hilarious Fareeha Khan and Marcia Belsky. See you at both!