Well, I’m honored to be included in New York’s finest all-comedy magazine, The Comedians. I’m in the same issue as Larry Miller!
written by Kelly Mackin
Standing in front of the crowd. Making them laugh. Having all of their attention on you. When a comic hits the road, it’s where he or she thrives, where they are most comfortable. Then there are shows, like the one Portland, Oregon comic Virginia Jones experienced her rookie year in nearby Medford:
“In this ‘venue’,” she recalls, “there was a microphone stand on stage. Behind it was this shiny brass pole! As I walked on, I asked, ‘Is this what I think it is?’ A second later, a guy in the back yells, ‘Yes! That’s where the pretty girls dance!’ I had to call my mom. I asked her, ‘Mom, am I pretty?’ She said to me, ‘Honey, you are unique.’”
Some people become famous because they want fame more than anything else in the world. They reform and repackage themselves into whatever idea they think will make them appealing. They sell whatever parts of themselves people will purchase, like a personal pawnshop where everything’s for sale.
Not Virginia Jones.
A transplanted Texan who’s found a home here in the Pacific Northwest, Jones is a 30 year-old comic who’s now three years past her first open mic. In her act, she exhibits cares in what she says, taking her time to relate an idea. A famous professor once said that speakers of English get anxious after five seconds of silence. That’s just the rest note between the beats for Jones.
You can find her on YouTube where one of her segments features her dealing with an unlikely heckler at a show in Austin, her mother. We’ve all been to homecomings, but it’s rare when we have to good naturedly joke, as Virginia did, in front of a crowd, “Mother, I love you. But if you step on my punchline again I will punch you in the face.”
“Most people heckle because they think it will help,” says Virginia, “or because they want the attention. Hecklers don’t bother me very much and I think it’s a mistake to get upset with them. My mother heckled me simply because she didn’t realize that it was something she should not be doing. ”
According to her website, badinia.com, Virginia was the first runner-up in the Portland Amateur Comedy Contest in 2007, was a finalist in the 2008 Comedy Knockout, and is a biomass made mostly of carbon.
Seeing her live, you notice how she is tall, pretty, and has a lot of stage power. “The first time I saw her do comedy,” says comedian Jessa Reed, “was at a show we did together in 2008. She killed. She stood up against men with bad feet wearing sandals. It moved me. I was convinced that she was always trying out new material on me, but I come to find out she just really is that funny.”
It took several weeks to interest Virginia in an interview. She just didn’t seem interested. But at last, she told me about a show she was doing up in Washington. So I drove up The Five to a beer hall/ comedy club called Peter Pipers at an I-5 truckstop, about a third of the way to Seattle. It was an inauspicious location. But the town was well-lit and clean, much to my surprise.
During the course of the night, she showed she clearly loved being in the presence of other comics, finding acceptance and support. As Jessa noted, “Virginia appreciates the talent and doesn’t have to compete.”
As much as comics rate each other and audiences rate comics, comics rate audiences. Virginia was asked about her favorites.
“My favorite gig is the Women’s Comedy Festival in Eugene Oregon,” Jones says. “It’s just the most supportive audience. I pick up so much energy from that.”
“My least favorite comedy venues are goth clubs. I mean, they are way too cool to actually laugh.” She chuckles. “I once did a regular gig at a club and four goth friends showed up. The entire place was in tears and they just sat there, with their goth clothes and makeup. It’s just not part of the goth culture to laugh. That’s just the way they are!”
Over Lunch at Nell’s Café in Portland, he revealed herself as sensitive and clear headed, intense and sweet. I asked her about what fuels her interest in comedy. She said, “I was a blue state woman who grew up in a Red State: Texas. What more do you need to know?”
“I used to have a Keep Abortion Legal sticker on the back of my car when I lived in Texas,” says Jones. “People used to try to peel them off, or deface them. They would rip it so that it said emKeep Abo Lega/em. I’d just put another one back on there. Then one day, a truck on the road started bumping me from behind. I moved over and they kept doing it, even heading around a cul-de-sac. They were trying to run me off the road. They were trying to kill me. People in Texas are different. You say something, it gets transformed. They hear something different. You say, ‘feminist’ and they hear, ‘Lesbian serial killer. It’s just how they’re wired. I came to Portland and I said, ‘I feel like I found my people. I’m no longer the outsider.’”
To some, expressing an opposing point of view is a statement of rebellion. In Virginia’s case, it’s more a state a mind; useful in surprising a crowd that doesn’t know what to expect next. She’s married to experimental musician Thomas Jones, a decision her mother was against at the time. Virginia recalls with laughter and irony why that no longer bothers her. “They (her parents) were both divorced. Really divorced.”
Jessa Reed adds, “Virginia says horrible things about Paris Hilton that make me laugh. But when every other woman comic in our age group is telling jokes about her kids, Virginia will give you twenty minutes on why babies are not where it’s at. And it’s hilarious.”
“Sure. I don’t like babies,” says Jones. “People go gaga for babies. That’s fine. But that’s not me. I don’t want to be a mother. I’m fine with that. I wanted my husband to do the surgery, and he didn’t want to. Besides, it might make him sleep around.” She smiles.
Virginia strikes one as aloof at first. But that’s an essential part of what makes her an interesting comic. Her timing is unique. It’s legato, a slow waltz, like cool jazz. If you recognize the humor in jazz, then you know what I mean. She also has a strong variation in dynamic range, going from whispers to loud; all for effect. She usually takes the time to breathe while smiling at you like she knows she has a gift for the audience. If you listen to a lot of comedy, you think, “this is different. It’s compelling.”
One of Jones’ keynote riffs involves her mom’s dating and how mothers and daughters relate as grown-ups. “My Mom has started dating on seniorsmeet.com, which is THE place to go if you want to date my mother. She’s an attractive lady in her 60’s. She’s got 12 cats. She likes Motown. She’s a Baptist and lives in a small town in Texas. Contact me. I’ll get you in touch with her. [Laughter.] She was writing me all the time about this guy that she met up there, ‘He’s so hot. He’s so hot!’ So she sent me a picture of him. Uh, hmmm. We are operating with very different definitions of hot!”
Kelly Mackin is a writer from Portland.