On sexuality and body image, comic Erin Judge is an open book
Erin Judge has a joke in her act where she declares to the crowd that she is bisexual. “If you don’t know, what that means is you’re my type,” she says.
Judge has always addressed issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and body image in her stand-up comedy. This month, she released her debut novel, “Vow of Celibacy,” on the indie label Rare Bird Books and got to address those same subjects from a different perspective.
On Wednesday, Judge plays the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square, the place where she kicked off her comedy career in 2002, to celebrate the book’s release. A full slate of Boston comedians will join her. It’s part of a national stand-up tour of bookstores and alternative venues to promote “Vow.”
Judge has appeared on Comedy Central and cohosts a monthly stand-up show at a romance-only bookstore in her current home of Los Angeles, but she spends a lot of time these days promoting her book. “Fortunately, I use stand-up to do that,” she says. “Stand-up makes my life so much better as a writer. But I haven’t been focusing on straight stand-up in clubs for a while.”
In the book, Judge created a character she hasn’t seen in a novel before. Natalie, her protagonist, is a plus-size woman who comes out as bisexual in high school, and the story revolves around how those things influence her work and relationships. “Jennifer Weiner is very famous for writing books about larger women,” she says. “But I think when you talk about sexuality, I’ve not read a novel by an out bisexual first-person narrator, I think, ever. I think that that’s an interesting novelty.”
Judge wanted to explore how the struggles of plus-size and bisexual women intersected. “I really think one of the best pieces of advice for artists and creators is to make the art that you wish you had access to,” she said. “I wrote this partly in response to the fact that people don’t see examples of the kind of person that I am. When I do stand-up, people are like, ‘Oh, are you really bisexual? Are you sure?’ ”
What’s troublesome is when people assume she should be self-conscious about her sexuality or her size.
“I think I internalized some of the feedback that I’ve gotten along the way about my attitude onstage,” says Judge. She’s been told she seems “too confident.” “I kind of always took that to mean, ‘You don’t look like a model, you’re not gorgeous, so why are you so confident?’ It’s like, that’s possible. And P.S., you would never ask an average-looking dude that question.”
Stand-up allows Judge to talk about her own experiences. But the novel lets her create a variety of characters with different experiences. Natalie produces fashion shows and winds up getting thrust into the world of plus-size modeling. The other models help her become less self-conscious about her size, a mind-set that had damaged many of her past romantic entanglements. Natalie’s best friend, Anastaze, is an anonymous blogger who frequently writes about being a virgin. Natalie, Anastaze, and many of the supporting characters have distinct perspectives and problems.
Judge says Natalie is an amalgam of herself and a fashion editor she knew from her stand-up days in Boston. “She’s bisexual and she’s plus-size and she looks like me,” she says of Natalie. “I will say that’s kind of where the similarities end.”
But Natalie has a different background and attitude toward romantic relationships. “Her trajectory in that realm is less my own story and more something I was interested in creating fiction about.”
Judge would love to see “Vow” turned into a TV series, but writing a novel allowed her to deliver this world and all of its characters exactly as she intended without having to pass them through Hollywood gatekeepers. “I could see all of the obstacles to getting this type of story made as a TV show or as a movie, unless people could see the whole thing, you know?” she says. “I think people are so hungry for stories about people with diverse body sizes and female protagonists with different issues around intimacy than the ones that you typically see.”
The socially relevant themes are apparent in the book, but the tone is more breezy than preachy. Judge says she didn’t want to target a niche audience. “It’s a novel,” she says, “it’s for everyone.” Natalie does face some universal struggles. “She gets involved with some people who are not good for her, and that seems to be something that a lot of readers relate to.”
Lindsay King-Miller of www.afterellen.com said of the book, “Fat-positive, bi-affirming, clever, and fun, ‘Vow of Celibacy’ is the beach read of your dreams.” Judge is happy to see the book praised as “a beach read” in addition to any positive attention it’s garnered for its substance. “I think when I wrote it, one of the mantras that I had was, ‘Because smart girls need to go to the beach, too.’ ”
Book-release party with Jenny Chalikian, Ken Reid, Tim McIntire, Emily Ruskowski, Kathe Farris, Andrew Mayer, Rick Jenkins, Rick Canavan, Will Smalley, and Dan Boulger. At the Comedy Studio, Cambridge, Aug. 24. Tickets: $10. 617-661-6507, www.thecomedystudio.com