April Clark and Grace Freud’s ‘Girl God’ – ARTnews.com

April Clark (@autogynefiler) started using Twitter in March 2020 under quarantine. She was eighteen and bored, lived at home with her parents in Seattle, and she liked using Photoshop to make fake news headlines. From New York Times: “NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio says ‘Monkeys ride for free’ on New York buses.” From Guardian: “Robert Pattinson: ‘I do not really know how to go down stairs’.” Everything could be “as true” as she often is tweeted; it was the joke. While some posters treat Twitter like a diary, April thought of it as a genre with its own set of aesthetic and social conventions. The algorithm was opaque; this was part of its power. But April loved puzzles. (While I was interviewing her in early November, she picked up my Rubik’s cube and solved it over and over again.) She reached 20,000 followers before her twentieth birthday.

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Not related: April Clark and Grace

Grace Freud‘s first major comedy break was a Clickhole Writing Fellowship in 2017. Clickhole was launched in 2014 and parodied sites like Buzzfeed or Upworthy that prioritized hits over quality content. But Clickhole also produced viral content, and like TV showrunners and marketing executives, the site fetched many of its writers from Twitter.com. The platform often acts as an audition space: accounts try to go viral again and again, for free, in the hopes that someone will eat them up. At Clickhole, Grace wrote scripts for videos such as “These older people’s stories of an early, insecure version of Disneyland will scare you.” The short clip looks and sounds like something your grandmother might share on Facebook, with various seniors describing the visit to the amusement park in 1948: “I absolutely loved Anders And”; “It felt like you won the lottery”; “I just wish we had all survived.” In February 2021, she became the only transgender writer out there for the Adult Swim series Rick and Morty.

Not related: April Clark and Grace

Grace told me that when she first found April’s Twitter, she thought, “Is this a transgender chick? Or is it just a cis chick who thinks she can say those things?” In a way, both answers are so true. “Transphobia is bad <3 OR IS IT? Two cis-gendered women are arguing, ”April tweeted recently. She does not discuss transphobia; she puts it on like a skin suit and walks around. This can be seen as a version of improv's classic "yes, and..." rule: instead of shooting your partner down, expand the scene by accepting and adding it. The two women quickly became close friends, and when Grace, who lives in Los Angeles, visited New York, they decided to take action together. They called themselves Girl God and booked two Brooklyn shows for the first week of November, which sold out immediately.

Watching Girl God was like the live-action version of a cartoon, but the characters are Twitter personalities that you are parasocially attached to. Although the two performances were not identical – the first contained more prescriptive pieces, while the second was more improvised – each evening contained the standard comedy show format: guest appearances spread across longer Girl God segments. Comedians Rachel Kaly, Caleb Pitts, Patrick Doran and Michelle Gold started on Twitter and transposed material to the scene. Jes Tom and Sarah Squirm started as comics and worked backwards. But being good at Twitter does not make you a stand-up, and most “Twitter comics” fail under the bright lights: they just go on stage and read tweets. April and Grace are artists, and their Twitter personalities are translated to the stage, both individually and as a duo.

For Grace, the persona is “her, but at a distance.” During her monologue, which she performed at the end of the first night, she described how cis-women only greet her with a feminine descriptor – “hello lady”, “hello girl” – in the way they never do with others cis women. “It’s like they’re coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, woman.’ “Hi, woman.” Woman. Woooman. ‘”She stomped her feet.” Woman. Woman. Woman.”

April’s Twitter persona, on the other hand, is April, but none. “The character on Twitter does not have an internal world,” she told me. “It would be too close to home.”

“Having an inner world would be too close to home?” I asked. April laughed.

“Namely. My character has no inner life. So you can not relate to it.”

Most viral content is also designed to be related: you are meant to see and say “me”. It can be gimmicky – to make numbers without saying anything new – but that’s precisely why it’s encouraged by social media algorithms. Most trans content is put under extra pressure to be related, either because it’s made for cis people, or because it’s made by isolated trans people who are literally trying to relate to each other online. The latter is highly understandable, a result of transphobia and cultural austerity; if transgender people had health care, security, IRL friends – would they still need to write that much? Nevertheless, related content as a genre is aesthetically mediocre.

“I think,” Grace told me after the show, “that I hate related content.”

“It’s almost never fun!” says April.

“Namely. But many trans people do it! And try to simplify their lives in the process. And make the experience of being trans very meaningless. But related content is not designed to be fun. It is not designed to be laughed at. It is designed for flap.And I hate that, ”says Grace. “I – despise it. Girl God makes fun of related content. But it’s actually not related at all.”

Not related: April Clark and Grace

April Clark and Grace Freud are on stage during “Girl God”, November 2021.
Photo by Agnes Walden

She’s right: Girl God is not related; it is surreal and narratively complex. “Just before I got up here,” April said, setting off his opening night monologue, “my mother wrote to say, ‘Call me, I’m not mad.’ So I feel… Incredibly turned on. ” Despite its brevity, this joke, like most of April’s tweets, has a beginning, a middle and a twist ending,

The “left” counter-reaction to identity politics uses valid criticism of neoliberalism to launder bigotry against anyone who, they claim, is still creepy enough to have an identity. The identity is over! Did not you know? To think otherwise, they argue, is not just politically erroneous, but uncool, betraying a dependence on self-expression and individual complaint. This attitude is right and wrong. It is true that mainstream identity-political discourse reproduces key facets of neoliberal culture such as individualism and competition; that is why companies and politicians prefer representation rhetoric rather than material changes.

But such an argument becomes bad faith when criticism of “identity politics” is merely a way of attacking anyone who “has an identity.” Within this framework, “identity” is transformed from a product of structural power into an individual choice. Someone “has” an identity, like they eat brunch, or a Telfar bag. You selected to. Why did you not choose anything else?

The rhetoric of identity as individual choice is imposed on all marginalized groups and adheres to each of them differently; for transgender people, it centers on the fantasy of people switching, not because dysphoria made you a zombie, but for another mysterious social gain. It’s a transition ritual to be told you did it “for the attention,” “for the impact.” The only conceivable gain is to go viral online.

Girl God parodied neoliberal identity politics and aesthetics of relativity without going over to individualism and punishment – until the end of the show. For their final act, Grace and April asked the audience “who would learn to be a famous comedian” before inviting a cis-woman to volunteer on stage. “Here,” Grace said. “I want to show you how to present yourself. You want to step up to that microphone and say, ‘So, like a tranny…'” The woman hesitated.

“Come on!” said April. “Won’t you listen to us? Two beautiful transgender women?” After only moderate amounts of encouragement, the woman stepped forward to the microphone and uttered the veil.

“I actually did not expect her to say that,” April told me after the show. “So when she did, I was like, wait. You ruined the joke. And now I’m feeling weird, too.” That confusion and pain was palpable in Girl Gods’ response, which was mostly shouting at her. The woman was standing there smiling at no one. If she was uncomfortable on stage, she also seemed, disturbingly enough, to have enjoyed a little.

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