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Amanda Duarte: On ‘Staying Alive’ as the World Falls Apart

The incomparably queer-adjacent Amanda Duarte sometimes performs as Tainty McCracken, a cantankerous perineum, in the It’s That Time of the Month Show. Other times, she hosts Dead Darlings at Judson Memorial Church, where she hurls candy at the audience in between sets in which writers share their discarded work, or publishes Drag Race recaps in the New York Times. She is a self-identified “feminazi cunt.”

On September 21, she wields her uniquely vociferous and eschatological funny bone — with The Gay Agenda, Becca Blackwell, Matthew Cleaver, and Jenn Harris in tow — at Joe’s Pub for Staying Alive.

INTO spoke to Duarte for the latest on her exploits.

Amanda Duarte

What’s Staying Alive about?

In the wake of the election, I have suffered a lot of losses. And they sort of culminated in the dissolution of my marriage, the death of my dog, I had a cancer scare, and I felt like the floor of my life had completely fallen out. And I feel like a lot of us are feeling this way in the wake of the election in varying degrees, varying ways. Like, institutions that we took for granted are being called into question and are failing us left and right. And so I saw a lot of parallels.

And during that time, when I was in the depths of my personal Heart of Darkness, I was watching, as we do, a lot of bad movies and TV. And I remembered having watched Staying Alive when I was a kid, when it ran heavily on HBO for some reason. And once I ran out of, like, Dateline and SVU episodes to watch, I was browsing through HBO On Demand to see what was there, and Staying Alive… I was like, Oh my god. That movie. I remember it. I don’t remember it very well, and I loved Saturday Night Fever, which I had only seen for the first time recently, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful movie! And I was like, Oh, yeah! And this is the sequel to [Saturday Night Fever]. Like, what was this?

I remember there was a really weird dancing scene with a bunch of fire that scared me when I was a kid. And so I rewatched it, and it’s an absolutely terrible movie. It’s the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, which, for some reason, was given to Sylvester Stallone to write and direct. And so there’s all these great songs in the movie, Bee Gees songs, but they’re featured very briefly and not terribly well, in favor of heavily featuring songs by Sylvester’s brother, Frank Stallone. And so these great songs are just buried in a bad story. And during that time in my life, that is how I was feeling: like a great song buried in a bad, misogynist story.

So I decided to take those songs, and take myself, and put them in a good, feminist story, and just sort of look at them from a different lens. So I’m talking a lot about my divorce, I’m talking about the political landscape, where the personal meets political. It’s a very female story, and I think it’s going to be a really fun night. Hopefully we’ll be uncovering some truths that are recognized by the collective and people will be feeling a little more empowered on their way out.

You mention your desire to financially dominate “a nice person of any or no gender” in the event description.

Oh, that’s a joke. [chuckles] I mean, honestly, I’m very open to it. Like, I would love to financially dominate someone. I only just found out about this, that it was a thing. Now I know that, from what I’ve learned, generally it’s, like, older men who like to see much younger women sort of humiliate them by spending their money in wasteful and indulgent ways and then photograph it and send them the photographs. They enjoy that. And I am happy to do that, at any time, with… you know, if there’s a wealthy person who would really like to be humiliated by, or titillated by me texting them photos of, like… you know, I’m trying on my eBay vintage purchases, or, like, you know, eating some Haribo gummies, or like, the things that I spend money on.

And if they want me to make it more expensive, if they’re more titillated the more wasteful it is, we can get into like… I mean, I would love to get some nice speakers from my record player… you know, it’s kind of uncommon stuff, usually. It’s like… Oh, Korean food? I can eat a lot of Korean food. So if there’s anyone out there that’s really titillated by the idea of, like, a borderline middle-aged comedian humiliating them by wasting their money on Seamless.com and then photographing the evidence and texting it to them, I’m available for that at any point.

Amanda Duarte

What’s it like to be a “feminazi cunt?”

It’s great. I recommend it. [laughs] I highly recommend it. Anything holding you back from just being a feminazi cunt, let it go. It’s 2018, Donald Trump is the president… like, we don’t need fewer feminazi cunts in the world. Get out there. Speak your truth.

What are the political possibilities of comedy at a time like this?

I think that they’re expansive but they’re also not… they’re the journey, not the destination. So I think that comedy unites us in a way that only live performance can. Generally, what the best comedy is, is somebody shining a light on a truth, an understood truth between likeminded people. And the very best comedy ferrets out the kind of truth that we feel in our bodies, but that have not yet been spoken or articulated in a particular way.

And in this era where the truth is really elastic, and what people consider to be the truth is being twisted and manipulated, and all of us are just trying to figure out what the truth is a lot of the time, to have someone stand in front of a group of people and acknowledge a truth: it touches something inside that group of people. And when they all laugh together, when they all acknowledge that truth together, it’s a very empowering and uniting force.

And I believe in it very strongly, especially when that comedy is coming from voices that have been marginalized, and it’s coming from people that are being, in different ways, oppressed, demonized. When very simple truth comes from those voices and is acknowledged by the collective, that’s extremely powerful. And I do think that, in this era, it is more important than ever for us all to band together and acknowledge truth in that way.

I do, however, think that, in the Twitter dot com of it all, we can get a little lazy about it and think that the comedy is activism, that by crafting a really savage tweet or — you know, and I’m guilty of this — by firing off an especially pithy Facebook post about the absurdities of it all, pointing out the hypocrisies and the lies that are all around us, that we can fall into the trap of thinking that that is activism. And what it is is actually a rallying cry for activism, for more direct activism. So do I think that comedy is more important now than ever? I do. But, like I said, it’s the journey, not the destination. It’s what unites us and it’s what rallies us, but we need to keep moving forward as that collective, once we acknowledge our truths together and make those truths universal and acknowledged. And that is achieved through direct activism.

You don’t identify as queer yourself, but you collaborate with a lot of queer artists.

Sure. I mean, I don’t openly identify as queer, only because I just don’t think I deserve to. [chuckles] You know? And there’s a very warranted sort of stigma against, specifically women, who generally have heterosexual sex — and I have had my queer moments, and I hope to have more, but I generally identify as a heterosexual woman.

It all depends on your definition of queer. Like, there are those who believe that queer means just sort of outside the mainstream, culturally or creatively or whatever. I have been wary of using that word, because I think it has immense power, and I don’t believe that, at this point in my life, I’m entitled to that power.

But I consider the queer community to be my community, my chosen family. The people that surround me in my life are almost all queer, and I fight very passionately for queer rights. Culturally, I would say I’m extremely queer; my cultural tastes are seem extremely queer. I feel that the queer community is my community. I’m extremely fortunate that I’ve been embraced by the queer community, and I embrace them back as hard as I can. And anything that I can do to promote queer rights, queer artists, queer voices, I do whatever I can to do that.

On [dating apps], my settings are “both men and women.” You know what I mean? I’m like a Kinsey 2. You know? So like the kind of women that I’m attracted to… like, my type sits on the head of a pin, but they’re out there. I believe that they’re out there. I’m less slutty with women than I am with men. [laughs] I respect them more. [laughs]

Amanda Duarte

Becca Blackwell is one of your guests in the show — will they be reprising their role as Snatch Adams from the It’s That Time of the Month Show the two of you perform together?

Becca is going to be playing the role of a gentleman that I dominated for a period of time, which was a very eye-opening and life-changing experience, and we’re going to be talking about that a lot. It was my first time dominating somebody, and it was extremely illuminating.

And especially in this time that we’re living in, and especially being a woman and doing this, and because… you know, I’ve dommed a couple people since then in sort of less intense, less serious circumstances, really getting into ‘what is it that draws men to this?’ And these are all feminist, professedly woke men who are very supportive of female power. I’m not domming the kind of guys who, like, wear business suits and treat their wives and their female employees like shit during the day and then come to be like stepped on with stiletto heels at night. It’s a more intense situation than that, and the lines are blurrier.

But there’s still something that drives a straight man to be sexually dominated by a woman. And in the era of #MeToo, and as a woman — and these are young guys that are looking for this. Of course, I curate my dating pool pretty carefully, but the dates that I’m going on, the men want to be feminists, they want to be very comfortable with female power, and it’s interesting the degrees to which they are capable of that, whether it’s just going on a date, or whether it’s openly asking someone to dominate you.

I feel like a lot of men, especially in the age group that I’m dating, are trying to find their way in this, too. We have not been raised in a culture or in a time where female power is just accepted or, certainly, embraced. And we’re in the wake of an election in which it was roundly rejected and demonized and almost criminalized. And so it’s been very interesting.

At minimum, I’ve found myself on dates with these guys, and I’m kind of asked to give a TED talk on feminism. And they’ll want my thoughts on Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K. and “Can you separate the man from the work?” They’re all trying to find answers within themselves, and they’re all trying to find their place in this landscape, as am I. So domming really just uncovers a very extreme version of that.

And the effectiveness that it has in the real world is very interesting as well: seeing how these men conduct themselves in the real world, and then how I came to conduct myself in the real world, after having done it, has been really fascinating. And it’s interesting that, for a lot of us, sex is an intrinsic part of this exploration or this exercise, and how really effective that can be.

Have you heard of the woman, Mistress Velvet, who has her slaves read black feminists as homework—

Yes! She has them read, like, Audre Lorde! No! Not even as their homework! That’s when she doms them! She has some read Audre Lorde out loud. That’s part of the domming. They’re, like, paying to go to a dungeon, and they have to sit there and read Audre Lorde. I’m, like, a step away from doing that, honestly. I think it’s brilliant.

I feel that every woman should have this experience. I’m not saying professionally, per se, although if you can make money doing anything, I say make it. But, just on a personal level, whether it’s a man who’s already in your life, or whether it’s someone that you find on a location-based web application, the experience of dominating a man, and just being in that skin, being in a position of power, even if it’s just an exercise: it’s extremely illuminating, it’s extremely empowering. It really makes you view the rest of your life, and the way that you interact with men in the world, through a very different lens.

It’s a very, very valuable exercise, and I think that every woman should do it. At least once.

On a personal note, if you ever come across a sub who has a kink for being watched, let me know — watching straight men being dominated by women is very much my kink.

[laughs] Oh, really? What’s it worth to you? ‘Cause I need money!

We’ll talk.

Staying Alive plays at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette St, New York, NY 1003) on Friday, September 21, at 9:30 pm. Tickets are $20, and there is a $12 food or two-drink minimum. See joespub.com for details.


Karl Saint Lucy

Karl Saint Lucy is a composer, countertenor, and pianist living in lower Manhattan. He wrote the music for UCB’s Fucking Identical Twins and sings like a girl.

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