Felicia Folkes has never had sex and she is in no rush to change that.
“I’m terrified of it,” the 24-year-old comedian told me. “I just don’t understand it. It’s crazy to me.”
She’s seen what sex has done to her friends who make excuses for their less-than-stellar boyfriends, she hears how men talk about women while recapping their most private moments for all to hear, and she suspects that sex might be the reason her book-loving mother inexplicably fell for her illiterate father.
“Magic dick,” she called it during her stand-up set at Pop Secret Gallery in Eagle Rock on a Tuesday night last month. It’s the only explanation she can think of for why some women fall for men they probably shouldn’t, and she lives in fear about what this mysterious spell might do to her own psyche, if she were to become possessed by it.
In the meantime, sex — or the lack thereof — has provided plenty of fodder for her stand-up, where she jokes regularly about her sexual anxiety and her pushy friends, who would give anything to see her just give it up already. But in a scene where it’s not uncommon to hear comedians boast explicitly about their sex lives, it took years for Folkes to find the humor in her own situation.
“I’d be like, ‘Oh no, I’m a virgin!’” she says, feigning an over-the-top self-pity that she didn’t really feel. “I thought that’s what people wanted,” but their sympathy at best and silence at worst said otherwise.
She used to do a bit about how her mom from Jamaica bullied her for being a comic book nerd more obsessed with Japanese culture than her own. “I’d be like, that happens, and nobody wants to fuck me!” Folkes recalls. “It was horrible. It was the worst kind of joke.”
Now, she plays it straight, riffing instead about how her unrealistic expectations about sex have almost certainly set her up for failure. She can’t just fuck anybody now. The bit lands because it’s not so embarrassingly self-deprecating anymore — there’s a tinge of hope and a sense of ownership, and the audience can finally laugh with her, rather than at her.
“I don’t want to smash strangers, and if I get to know a guy, he panics,” she said, because now there’s a whole lot of pressure. “Whatever. I got jokes to write. I got books to write, I got things to do. This is the last thing on my list.”
There’s another topic she’s cautious to approach in her set, in case it plays as more sad than funny: “If I talk about Inglewood and being poor and all that stuff, then I’ll get the oohs and the awws,” she said. “[The audience] is quiet, like they don’t understand it.”
She has one joke, for example, about her day job at a bank in Inglewood, where she was born and raised and still lives in her childhood home with her parents. When she was transferred to work at one of the bank branches in a more affluent neighborhood one day, she remembers being shocked that it didn’t have bulletproof glass, let alone any kind of glass at all separating the teller from the customer. The bit doesn’t always go over well with certain audiences. “I’ll try to explain things, and they just don’t get it, which is fine,” she says. “They don’t know what it’s like to be poor. They don’t know what’s funny about that.”
Folkes got into comedy by accident about five years ago, shortly after high school. She’d been looking for an excuse to ditch classes at Santa Monica Community College — she knew she couldn’t go home, since her parents would catch her — and she wound up at a comic book shop in Manhattan Beach, where there happened to be an open mic in the back.
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The next day, she looked up open mics in her neighborhood, eager to try it herself. But Inglewood isn’t exactly known for its comedy scene, so she’d drive sometimes 20 miles to perform across town at tiny dives in Hollywood, with no guarantee that her name would be called to perform onstage. She eventually landed an internship at West Side Comedy Theater — she thought she was being interviewed for a job but decided to take it anyway once she found out it was unpaid — and quickly got hooked on comedy.
Now she gets booked on shows such as the one hosted last month by Straight White Males Sketch Comedy (the name of which is particularly misleading), but she still hits the open-mic circuit nightly, even if it means performing for two people some nights, in the hopes that it might lead to getting booked on a bigger show. “I try to [perform] in all kinds of rooms: big rooms, little rooms, comedy clubs, bookstores, libraries, because I feel like you should try to make everyone laugh in every situation,” she says. “I would go to a funeral. If someone was like, ‘Yo, there’s a funeral open mic,’ I’d be like, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Her dedication to something that can often times feel fruitless and pay so little, if at all, is something her friends from high school still don’t understand — they’d much rather see her out getting laid, or “smashing,” as Folkes likes to call it. If and when that does happen, she’ll have another problem on her hands: scrapping the old material she worked so hard to perfect. “You gonna just throw out 10 minutes of material? I can’t do it,” she said, then after a pause, reconsidered. “It’ll be fine. I’ll just write new stuff.”
Turns out that day may come sooner rather than later. “No one’s ever taken me, like, ‘Oh, let me take you to dinner.’ That’d be nice,” she ponders. “I’d probably fuck ‘em.”