Women We Love: Sarah Haskins
Posted by Clem Bastow on September 23, 2008
Of all the “online sensations” that the internets have birthed, few will be worthy of our attention in the years to come – hell, most are forgotten within weeks, destined to crop up in “Remember When…” features about YouTube superstars and people who penned angry bulk emails about the spaghetti stains in the office microwave and then sent it to the UN, or whatever. But there are some people who have been brought to our attention thanks largely to the wonders of ‘new media’, and for that we must be eternally grateful – one such “discovery” is Sarah Haskins.
I’ve written extensively about Haskins’ hilarious work with Target:Women, an offshoot of liberal media organisation Current TV’s news and culture magazine show, infoMania. In each episode, Haskins expertly skewers the idiocy-infused world of gender-targeted marketing, from yoghurt ads featuring women wearing grey hoodies (“It says, ‘I have a Master’s, but then I got married’”) to wedding shows (Bridezilla versus Momra) and slow motion time machines that come out of crockpots (“Wooooow!”). In short, in as-non-stalky-as-possible terms, she’s a superstar. A Chicago native who rose (and is rising) through the ranks of the comedy world, a proud feminist, and a generally kickass chick, Haskins makes us all feel that the future of the media is in safe hands.
So, who better to hit up for one of our regular Women We Love interviews than the woman herself? Sexy, clean, cool, fun, healthy, beautiful, large, UNDERPANTS, let’s Target: Sarah Haskins!
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The Dawn Chorus: When did you decide you wanted to head into comedy writing? Did you have a formative comedy moment?
Sarah Haskins: “I did have a formative comedy moment, which is unusual. Normally I just stumble into things.
“I started doing improv in college and during the winter of my freshman year I went home to Chicago and saw a show at the Second City. (I am not sure if your readers know about Second City – it’s a comedy theater that creates social and political satire through sketch comedy and many of its alumni end up doing cool things: Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Chris Farley, etc, etc.) The show was so smart and funny I loved it and wanted to perform on that stage.
“Also, on a more embarrassing note, I loved the first Austin Powers movie and thought it would be really fun to work on a project like that.”
Were there any women who were major influences on you when you were growing up?
“My family, our neighbors, my community and my teachers. I grew up with so many strong, working, independent women that I probably was a little naïve about sexism. I always believed I could do whatever I wanted. Also, I have a wonderful Mom who had (and has) very high expectations for her daughters.”
How did you end up at Current?
“My next door neighbor growing up had worked for Current and sent me info about the job. So, I applied.”
And when did Target Women come about – was it always going to be a part of infoMania?
“Not at all – I was just hired as a writer, with the idea that if I came up with something I could do it.”
Is/was Target:Women pitched expressly from a feminist stance, or is that just a natural extension of your own views?
“Target:Women didn’t start with the intention of being a feminist piece. The intention was to be funny. But these are my views, and I think the comedy in the piece comes from pointing out the distinction between these idealized TV/film women and real life. In my experience real life is a mess and that’s why I get irritated with all of these commercials.”
I eat a lot of yoghurt, and I’m not ashamed (or maybe I should be) to say that it’s because it makes my insides go out, but I did catch myself in the supermarket a few weeks back and realised I’d been staring at the yoghurt shelves for close to ten minutes. Do you hope that women, through the power of the hilarity of Target Women, will start to realise just how demented a lot of targeted marketing is?
“That would, of course, be awesome, but I think a lot of women already know how demented it is. Now we all get to laugh at it together.”
Any hints as to the themes of upcoming editions of Target:Women?
“But it would spoil the surprise…”
You’ve said that your feminism is an extension of your fight against pantyhose. I hate them because I’m tall and they tend to, ahem, cleave me in twain – where does your particular hatred stem from?
“Childhood: every time I put on tights I knew we were going someplace boring.”
You’ve developed a considerable following thanks to Target:Women, from Salon and Jezebel right down to personal blogs and Facebook; to what extent do you praise the internets (if at all) for their ability to spread information – and, thus, boost your profile – in such a massive way?
“I am grateful that so many people like the Target:Women pieces and think they are funny. Without the internet, they certainly wouldn’t be so widely distributed.”
Further to that, are there any downsides, that you see, to being an “online sensation”?
“It’s a little odd to be in the public eye and have strangers write about you. I’m not a super polished human-product. I’m a regular person so some of the attention – even as nice as it is – can certainly be overwhelming.”
Have any exciting projects/opportunities come out of working with Current? Or even any un-exciting ones?
“I work with great people at infoMania, so that’s an exciting opportunity in and of itself. Any time I get to be part of a great team or ensemble, I consider myself very lucky. Ensembles are important. I like them.”
I imagine that Current, given that it cultivates free and enlightened thought, is quite different to a lot of other media outlets. Has it spoiled you for the rest of the industry?
“Current could spoil me a lot more if it put a hot tub in/near my office. (Jeff –are you reading this? Xoxo-Diva)”
What has been your experience of being a woman within the comedy world? Funny people often like to tell us that comedy has no gender, but is that true when you’re actually within the comedy circuit?
“This is a tough question. My experience has been good. Chicago has a lot of women working in the community so it isn’t an isolating experience or an odd one to be a woman there. I haven’t done enough comedy in LA (beyond Current) to be able to tell you much more. I think one does have to write more for oneself to avoid getting stuck in clichéd wife/mother/girlfriend characters. That’s a general comedy thing, though: you need to make your own material.”
Christopher Hitchens’ “Why Women Aren’t Funny” piece: did you scoff, laugh, or line the kitty litter tray with it? Did you read it at all?
“Of course I read it. In the future it will seem like a relic of another age that didn’t get it. Or maybe he wanted it to be that way; he does cite Kipling. I am allergic to cats, so I had nowhere to put the article when done with it.”
I read an interview with Diablo Cody where she said she’d rather write for SNL than appear on it; is SNL still a goal for comedy writers and comedians, in the same way, say, Rolling Stone is for music critics, if for no reason other than symbolism?
“Yes, but I think SNL still has an important role to play in the American comedy scene, so it’s more than symbolic. It’s real. Sometimes it is good, sometimes not so good, but it’s an institution.”
What are your career goals as you see them?
“1. Be in a movie that takes place in the past or in space!
2. Work with a good group of people to make a good projects: movies, TV shows, what have you. I’m fascinated by comedy “mafias” as some call them. They don’t always last very long, but the work they make – all those comedy minds bouncing off each other – it can be really great.”
And what are your hopes for women of the future?