“I suppose my first real job in comedy was teaching high school”

(c) Mindy Tucker withreservation.com

Few women have inspired the editor of this blog as much as Sara Benincasa did. A unique and extremely personal character, Sara is candid, crazy, open-minded, hilarious, and genuine. Not much older than we are, Sara has already appeared in NBC’s Today Show, the CBS Early Show, CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, MTV News, and CUNY-TV’s “Brian Lehrer Live”. She’s written for Wonkette, ComedyCentral.com and “created a splash with her original Sarah Palin vlogs on Huffington Post’s humor site, 23/6, a series for which she won an ECNY Award and was nominated for a Webby for best performance, alongside Isabella Rosellini.” There is no telling how funny Sara is; it is in the way she impersonates Michelle Bachmann, her delirious writing style, and her honest and warm-hearted way she addresses her listeners / readers / viewers. Part of our series on young, inspiring people finding a way to express themselves in a world that is certainly not entirely ready to receive them, Sara Benincasa agreed to answer a few questions, and did so with enthusiasm and loveliness. We could not be any happier. Her book, Agorafabulous!, is released tomorrow. Do yourself a favor and buy a copy.

You attended Columbia’s Teacher College. When and how did you realise you were meant to perform?

Well, teaching teenagers is a kind of performance, I think. You’ve got an audience that may or may not be violent and drunk, and you’ve got to captivate them to the point where they are rendered temporarily immobile by laughter, fascination, or at the very least, fear. So I suppose my first real job in comedy was teaching high school.

“Sex and other human activities” is a very open-minded, funny and candid sex and health podcast. What were your favorite moments on the show so far?

In Episode 19, I break down and cry while talking about the depression I was experiencing at the time. It’s very honest and open and it’s the episode that we get the most feedback on. There’s another episode where I cry about “Doctor Who” and Marcus, my co-host and co-producer, cries about “Battlestar Galactica.” We’re kind of geeky.

Something that stuck with me is describing your experience as a Planned Parenthood escort in NYC. Can you tell us more about what prompted you to volunteer and what PP means to you, especially in the wake of the Kormen story?

Ive actually never worked as an escort for Planned Parenthood. I certainly benefited from the help of Planned Parenthood escorts when I was confronted by an angry protester one morning. And I’m very glad that Susan G. Komen for the Cure restored their funding for mammograms to Planned Parenthood.

The first time I heard you was on Citizen Radio, impersonating Sarah Palin. You’ve been extremely spot-on with every female politician your portrayed, especially with Michele Bachmann. Is there a candidate you’d never make fun of and why?

Oh, I’d feel fine making fun of each and every one of them. I wouldn’t feel fine doing impressions of each one. I’m not going to don blackface and a wig and be Obama…that would be, you know, MILDLY offensive. I’m going to do impressions of candidates I vaguely resemble. Sarah Palin and, to a lesser extent, Michele Bachmann fit the bill.

Amidst all your podcast and live performance work, how did the idea of writing “Agorafabulous” come to you?

Well, I actually started doing the one-woman show “Agorafabulous!” in order to brainstorm ideas for my book proposal. After about a year of that, we got a book proposal together that we liked enough to sell. And it sold! Hooray!

You’ve been very candid about your experiences on air and in your book. How hard was it to be so public about things some of us can be shy or ashamed about?

So long as I felt confident I was only holding myself up for potential ridicule/praise, it was easy to be public with this information. I didn’t really consider it ahead of time, or else I might have hesitated. I just did it. And I’m glad I did.

Is there one more element to your active and constantly evolving career that you have not yet dived into?

I’d like to act more! It’s a great deal of fun, especially comedic acting.

ON AGORAFABULOUS!:  Today Sara Benincasa is an internationally touring comedian, as well as a writer, blogger and podcast host.  The writer and star of the one-woman show Agorafabulous!, she has appeared throughout the media and was a citizen-journalist for the 2008 MTV Choose or Lose Street Team.  Sara hosts the web series Gettin’ Wet with Sara Benincasa and the popular podcast Sex and Other Human Activities.  At the age 21 however Sara’s struggle with her panic disorder developed into full-on agoraphobia.  Her fears were so severe she was afraid to leave her own bedroom.  She sank into suicidal depression.
 AGORAFABULOUS! is an unpretentious, honest look at what effect depression can have on a person. Sara herself is representative of how even after the darkest time you can find light and laughter.  She’s been there and lived to tell the tale; peeing in bowls and all.

“Do we really listen to each other?”

Members of this blog at the Planned Parenthood Rally in New York City, Feb. 2011

When Stephen Singular wrote “The Wichita Divide” in the wake of the murder of Dr. Tiller in Wichita, KS, he exposed how the issue of Roe vs Wade could as well be us against each other. The question of abortion and the easy, ready-made division – pro-life vs pro-choice – is once again making headlines and turning politicians on one another as they fight over reproductive rights. Women’s health, their right to choose, and the issue of fetal personhood is a debate of an intensity and a violence rarely seen before. While the OISC stands firmly on its pro-choice stands and has stood with Planned Parenthood at every call, we believe it is necessary to look over the fence and listen to those we would be inclined to shut down. There is nothing more destructive than silence in a socio-political debate as important as the issue of protecting women. We talked to Bianca Esquivel, a theology graduate working in charity hospitals and supporting pregnant teens and women in need of health care. As much as the pro-life camp wants to brand us as pro-abortion, multiplex free anti-life cynics, are the clichés on the pro-life movement just as hard to destroy? What is the ideology behind the fight against abortion? Where does the line between choice and spirituality thicken? More importantly, are we so sure there is absolutely no common ground? Read, and be surprised. As it turns out, there is a lot of  ground on which to stand for both sides.

All pictures were taken by the editor at the Women’s Health Rally in New York City, February 26 2011.

“There is more to the conversation of which parts of a woman’s body are republican or democratic”

I have been reflecting a great deal on the recent Komen and Planned Parenthood fiasco. Perhaps fiasco is too loose of a word, but that is what I felt it was. One minute Komen is pulling their funding…lots of backlash and yes, some praise for their action….and the next minute, they’re rescinding their initial decision. Here, I will not rehash all the mess, all the articles, and opinions from political parties, religious institutions, “pro-lifers”, “pro-choicers”.  If you are reading this blog, there is a strong possibility you are well informed and most importantly, have your own opinion and perspective on all of this. The purpose of this post, then? To share my personal journey through my work as a downtown “charity care” hospital chaplain resident., to share what I have experienced meeting women in difficult situations. I have learned alot from these women.  There is more to the conversation of which parts of a woman’s body are republican or democratic (okay, one article rehashed..)

It would be inappropriate for me to post on this issue without giving a bit of personal background. Seeing as how politically/religiously tied the Komen vs. Planned Parenthood fallout quickly became amidst all the news and social media updates, I must briefly (I promise) share my beliefs. After all, our decisions and perspectives stem from our beliefs and value systems. I am a devout, practicing Roman Catholic. I am pro-life. If these statements are to be taken at face value, then that means I do not support Planned Parenthood because of the birth control and abortions. It means that though Komen is “for the Cure”, their financial support of Planned Parenthood collides with my personal beliefs. The truth? I cannot be limited in these ways. If I were to avoid organizations that support Planned Parenthood, I’d be saying adieu to some wonderful brands and places. Whole Foods? Bye-bye vegan food. Lost Arrow Inc? Sayonara comfortable Patagonia shoes/clothing. Staples? Sorry, Office Max doesn’t cut it…I do, however, know several people who do their best to refuse supporting such companies(though they’re often very surprised because most companies fund/donate money).  I am 100% in favor of breast cancer research. I am pro-life, from the very beginning to the end. But I will never, ever judge a woman for having an abortion or thinking of having an abortion. And I know that Planned Parenthood is much more than statistics on abortions and birth control. I know that pro-choice does not automatically equal, “Oh yeah everyone should be on birth control and have abortions left and right”.

“These profound visits with these various women have impacted me. A year ago, I may not have been so open-minded.”

I have worked with female patients completely beside themselves because of an unplanned pregnancy. I know the heartbreaking emotions that stir within healthcare staff, myself included, when we hear that a 10 year old child is about to give birth. I have held two teenage girls, on two separate occasions,as they struggled with knowing their lack of good judgement or proper care for their infants caused their babies’ deaths (co-sleeping while exhausted). And I have had to hold back tears at hearing a young woman my age, tell me, “I need to get out of this hospital so I can go take care of this mess [her admittedly unwanted/unplanned pregnancy]. I had an abortion a few years ago. I can’t have a kid right now”. I have mentored a teen girl with a 2 year old son; both live at a home for teen mothers. There are 40 presently. And there is a waiting list. I have prayed a prayer of gratitude with some women who yearned for a baby and, after many years, finally became pregnant. One woman shared she couldn’t raise her child but “that is why there are adoption agencies”.  And many women have expressed their frustrations, their heartbreak, their worries at not being able to receive adequate care across the healthcare board (not referring to any specific hospitals).

“It occurs to me everyday that all I can do is listen. And therein lies a deep opportunity for dialogue.”

These profound visits with these various women have impacted me. A year ago, I may not have been so open-minded. I would have been open to the ideas but I would not have worried, beautiful, faces with heavy hearts to attach to these issues. I think of a Roman Catholic nun and physician who was excommunicated from the church because of an abortion that was performed to save the mother’s life. I was upset over the decision on her excommunication. She did what was necessary to save one life, or else lose two lives. I have close friends who attend the annual March for Life Rally in D.C. I have read unapologetic, critical, harsh statements from pro-lifers towards women who have had abortions. I do not approve of such statements. I do not know what it is like to be pregnant, much less to have an unplanned pregnancy. I sometimes struggle to find the appropriate words to encourage my teen mother mentee when she is struggling with the daily acts of trying to finish high school, take care of a child, and take care of herself. What can I say to her? I may have life wisdom but she is living an entirely different experience from that of my life. It occurs to me everyday that all I can do is listen. And therein lies a deep opportunity for dialogue.

Do we really listen to each other? Instead of shaming and blaming, of “pro-life” this or “pro-choice” this, instead of boycotting all the pink items because of Planned Parenthood funding, maybe we can take time to breathe and listen. Maybe I live in another world. But I know such love for a fellow human, for another female, exists. I know it because I feel that love and care for every woman I meet who has to find inner strength to make tough decisions. Despite what anyone says, decisions about one’s child are tough. I have not met a woman who joyfully says, “Oh, I’m pregnant. Didn’t plan it. Gotta make a run to the clinic”. It hurts. That unplanned pregancny is a part of that woman.

“I will defend and act for the cause of life in every way, speaking out against war, environmental destruction, capital punishment, hunger, poverty, illiteracy”

I won’t pretend to have all the answers to this. My definition of pro-life? I will defend and act for the cause of life in every way, speaking out against war, environmental destruction, capital punishment, hunger, poverty, illiteracy…I could go on and on. In the case of reproductive health care, I will pray for woman and child, I will offer some kind of support for woman and child, regardless of her decision. I hope to do more than stand on a sidewalk with a poster. If I do that -which I don’t think I will ever do- I want to be prepared to tell a woman, “Let me help you. Financially, emotionally, whatever you need”. I will not judge a woman for supporting Komen or supporting Planned Parenthood. These organizations are doing a lot of good for so many women, providing health care screenings and educating many women on health and other resources. I will listen to others. I will pay tribute to each woman who has braved her soul to me and shared the hardships of healthcare.

 

Bianca Esquivel recently completed a clinical pastoral education program at a hospital  – catholic founded and run, only non-profit in town-, working in crisis situations, bereavement, focusing on pediatric oncology/cystic fibrosis patients, and adult ICU patients and fanilies. She thrives on having too many interests and passions. Her true loves are medicine, ministry, and holistic wellness for optimal health and happiness. She loves books, yoga, running, laughing and learning.