Imagine performing a comedy routine following an eulogy for a fellow comedian. That's what Emma Arnold did. After leaving a crowd grieving the death of Jim Leugers at the Limestone Comedy Festival in stitches, she was approached by actor and fellow comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, who told her he'd never seen anyone do what she'd done.
"He was like, 'I've never seen anyone do that before. I don't know what you're doing, but whatever it is, it's not comedy,'" Arnold recalled.
Goldthwait and Arnold's mentor Dana Gould produced her first self-released comedy special, Yes, Please, which was made available for free on YouTube in April. Filmed in June 2017 at the Visual Arts Collective, it's rife with the kind of comedy that comes from having walked rugged emotional terrain. In it, Arnold tackles sex, raising three boys—one of whom has autism—and being a woman comedian in the age of Trump. She said she's happy to take a jab at almost anyone, as long as she's "punching up, not down."
"I don't stay away from any subject," she said. "Except race. I stay away from race, because I just figure, 'What does a white girl from Idaho have to say about race?' Nothing. Shut up. Everything else is fair game."
It's true. In the special, Arnold cracks about having sex with her then-boyfriend for the first time, attending a less-than-informative sex ed class with his daughter, and that someone will always be there for her son because of an anatomical peculiarity. Performing these high-wire acts bolts her audience to its chairs, wondering if this is the joke that will split their sides or her career. It's always the former.
Arnold pulls off several such jokes with ease, but as warm and normative as her humor is toward family and friends, she is just as capable of being withering. Following a radio interview in which Arnold criticized Donald Trump, she was doxxed, and her phone number and a former address were released on the internet. She began receiving threats over social media—and more than a few photos of her critics' limp penises. In Yes, Please, Arnold tells her antagonists, "no, thanks."
"No one's ever been scared of a flaccid penis," she told the crowd. "It's like a dead mouse."
The story is a reminder of how Trump's election has peeled the lid off the misogyny buried inside comedy and society itself, she said. She continues to do comedy "to empower women," and is currently rolling across the nation in a tour bus sponsored by Ladybits Toiletries.
"I was, like, 'Yeah, let's do this,'" she said. "It's all about vaginal pH now, for me. That's my main cause."