Being an artist in Seattle can be equal parts amazing and rage-inducing. Max Delsohn is no stranger to expressing their feelings accordingly. From a 2018 Hugo House Fellowship to becoming a semi-finalist for StandUp NBC, Max has been very busy writing anger-filled prose while making audiences uncomfortably laugh in the process.
Max sits down with Lonely Arts Club to discuss.
Hi, Max. Welcome to the Lonely Arts Club! When publications, audience members or fellow comics describe you, what do they get right and what do you wish to bring more attention to?
I think most people who I’ve worked with or know my work picks up on the anger. A lot of what I find funny on stage is anger, annoyance, pettiness, and approaching society with fatigue. What surprises me is how friendly people are to me after shows, because I’ve usually just spent several minutes ripping their demographic (straight people, cis people, men, etc). Usually, I’m approached by straight women or queer people, and they’ll express something I said was cathartic for them. I’ve bombed in more conservative rooms and then was later approached by a woman or a queer person who said they loved my set. It’s as good as it is crushing when it happens.
What has been one of your most favorite things you’ve written or performed so far? Why?
I have a new flash piece coming out on The Sonora Review’s website sometime this winter that I’m really excited about, called “Cis People.” It’s dense, mean and funny, but it’s also a successful distillation of a lot of the thinking I’ve been doing this year around the intersection of politics and desire. I greatly value the #TransIsBeautiful movement, because it’s opened up the discourse so more of us can take the next step and go “Okay, what else is trans?” Trans can be beautiful, but it can be ugly and gross and self-loathing, too, right? That’s the work I want to do, exploring the real ways trans people (namely myself) can fail to live up to the very narrow, mainstream trans ideal.
Like, I refuse to love myself, I refuse to start a vlog.
Word on the street is that you’re leaving your full time “day job” to focus on your creative work. Was there a specific catalyst for this?
This is true! Please pay me for art!
I have the immense privilege of a partner who has a stable income as an elementary school teacher, and this is the first year we were able to manipulate our finances so that I could stop working a day job full-time. I’m also fortunate to be surrounded by so many brilliant artists who recently made this jump and were able to maintain and grow their practice, which inspired me to follow suit.
My greatest fear is stagnation, or not feeling awake to my own life, which happens when I’m not artistically engaged in some way. A few months ago I just hit my breaking point with trying to produce the quality and quantity of art I strive to produce while day-jobbing 40 hours a week. I’m tired of feeling lazy on the weekends because I worked Monday through Friday, had three comedy shows, went out to dinner with my wife, but didn’t finish the draft of that essay, you know?
Mental illness runs rampant in the arts community. Why do you think that is, and what do you feel is important to get right when addressing mental illness in this community?
I love talking about my mental illness (I have OCD, anxiety, and depression). Andrea Long Chu, one of my favorite writers, was recently talking about self-loathing as “a structure of experience” on Twitter, and it just broke my brain.
Art communities I’m excited about the value of a mentally ill perspective without trying to ‘fix’ it. I am a huge fan of therapy and am currently working with a therapist, but I also don’t change my art to conform to something my therapist would approve of. As a marginalized person, I resent any prompt to make my art optimistic, palatable, or as I like to call it, “toxically positive.”
When I’m talking about my depression or my anxiety, I want to be honest about it so I can connect with others. I don’t want to clean it up. Creativity often accompanies or is a reaction with mental illness, and I think when art communities can just value that without moralizing it’s huge.
You are both a writer and a performer. Anything from comedy, picking up your ukulele and winning a fellowship at Hugo house. Do you find yourself honing in on what you’re trying to do, or expanding outward in different directions and seeing what sticks?
I find myself experimenting with forms, but not my obsessions. I know my themes. It’s all symbiotic.
My prose writing has gotten a lot tighter since doing stand-up because extra words can bog a joke down. Similarly, I think my stand-up benefits from having a literary background, because my act has a loose narrative structure that audiences can invest in, which I hope is another layer of entertainment. Writing is the reason I do anything, but I’ve become addicted to immediate feedback and community aspect that comes with performing stand-up regularly.
Basically, I love too much stuff and I don’t know where I’ll land.
What is your favorite thing about the Seattle arts community?
The Seattle arts community is fucking tough. A lot of wealthy people in this city want to consume local art without paying for it or not consume local art at all. However, some of my favorite artists period live here. Sometimes, I think about the people I get to call friends, or have taken Hugo House classes with, or have had coffee with and I’m blown away. Anyone who regularly makes art in Seattle is extremely hardcore, and I think about how grateful I am to be surrounded by so many visionary artists literally every day.
Max Delsohn is a stand-up comedian and writer based in Seattle, WA. As a stand-up, their meticulously crafted jokes and deadpan delivery have been featured in Second City’s Break Out Comedy Festival, Intersections Festival, and venues all around the Pacific Northwest. In 2018, they were a semi-finalist for StandUp NBC.
Max also writes prose and poetry, for those who prefer not to leave the house. They’ve been published in CutBank: All Accounts and Mixtures, Sonora Review (forthcoming), Storm Cellar Quarterly Review, and #Trans: An Anthology, among other places. Most recently, Max was awarded the 2017-2018 Made at Hugo House Fellowship. They received their B.A. in Creative Writing from Seattle University in 2015, and graduated with Departmental Honors. When they’re not writing, Max likes to sing and worry.
If you want to see Max in action this month, here are some of their next performances: Feb. 8: Tender Loving Queers, A Queer Comedy Minifest! and Feb. 20: I Don’t Think So Honey, LIVE at The Vera Project, at 8:30pm.