Kelsie Huff on Ranch Dressing and the Moment When the Mask Slips Off

Kelsie Huff was a mess, a co-dependent drunk from a family of drunks who'd made a shambles of everything in her life. But she'll tell you that herself — that and a whole lot more about her struggles with alcoholism and her dysfunctional past in Ranch Dressing & Other Coping Mechanisms, her new solo show, which dredges it all up in excruciating, hilarious detail. 

Based in Chicago, Huff has a history with Boulder's square product theatre, which is bringing her out for the theater's season opener and the show's premiere; it previews Thursday, August 13 at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder and moves to Buntport Theater in Denver starting August 27. In advance of those runs, we caught up with Huff to talk about hippies, catharsis and saying something that matters.

Westword: How did you come to write this show?

Kelsie Huff: So in Chicago there’s a couple different ways to get on stage. You can go the traditional stand-up route, or there's Live Lit — because it's 2015, and who says "literature" anymore? — which is storytelling, kind of like the Moth. It’s like stand-up with a little less alcohol and drugs. More NPR, less PBR.

I wrote a show for Live Lit called Guts and Glory, which was about a ten-minute show, and then I've just been expanding it from there. I’ve always liked to explore the intersection between those two worlds, between storytelling and stand-up comedy, and I also want to talk about my family and addiction and alcoholism, which is something I struggle with — obviously, it’s a real laugh riot. Really, though, there are jokes. I want to stress that.

You're coming from Chicago to debut this show in Boulder — why?

Well, I had this idea for a show and I wasn't sure what to do with it, so Emily [Harrison, producing artistic director for square product theatre] was like, "I need a show. Get to it" — she's real bossy like that. I've worked with Emily and square product a lot before, and everyone here is so supportive, and I just thought, Boulder's a great place to bring a show. All these loving hippies — they're a lot nicer than all the a-holes in Chicago. It's a new show, so you never know how it's going to go, you get the nerves. I feel a little barfy

I would imagine in stand-up, there's kind of an emotional buffer between you and the audience — it's all focused on a joke. Do you think, here, that it's more nakedly personal? Or more of a risk?

I'm glad you asked that, because I feel like stand-up is actually really vulnerable. There’s that expectation of laughter, but a lot of stand-ups are exposing themselves left and right. With storytelling or with stand-up, I think the best part is when the mask slips off for just a second, and in that second you can say something that really matters. And then the mask goes back on and there’s laughs. With stand-up, it's maybe not taking you as far down the rabbit hole, but you think of someone like Tig Notaro or Louis C.K., whose comedy is really, really personal. But the storytelling community, they're a maybe a little more willing to let you go there. At the comedy club, it’s two-drink minimum, smells like a bar — people came for jokes. There's a little less tolerance for, hey, let's talk about my dad some more.

What are you showing the audience here that you haven't shown audiences before?

I had written shows before really about things that happened to me in the past; this is stuff I'm still going through. It’s kind of a fresh wound, and it's a lot harder to talk about than I thought it would be. 

How so?

I feel like admitting you’re an alcoholic — it’s still a part of who I am right now. I've talked a lot in my shows about grief and death and being an outsider, and that kind of felt like it was past, and that talking about it helped me heal. This one feels like it’s right at the surface a little bit. A couple of my friends who are stand-ups, they'll talk about their addictions hard-core, and to them, that's part of how they deal. To me, that shit’s scary. I never, never want to go to a show where you see the actor or performer struggling up there, like as a person instead of as a character — that's for therapy. You want watch them control that emotion. You never want to watch someone fall apart onstage. 

Ranch Dressing & Other Coping Mechanisms premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday, August 13 at the Dairy Center, where it will continue for the next two weekends. Tickets are $16 or $13 students/seniors in advance; $20 at the door. Find more information here.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte