Smart funny lady: Emily Levine coming to Point Reyes Station


August 14, 2008
West Marin Citizen


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I’ve never asked. But I suspect that Emily Levine, when she was little, used to brood over questions that no one could answer. What is at the end of the universe? A wall? But then there would have to be something on the other side. Which would mean it wasn’t really the end. Which would mean that there couldn’t really be an end – because if there’s something on one side how can there be nothing on the other? Oy.

As I said I’ve never asked. But Emily has that kind of mind – conceptual, drawn to the basis of things, and with an instinct for high-level debunking. Some people like that let their minds harden into what is called, euphemistically, “adulthood.” Some end up with a grayness of outlook, and perhaps a habit of criticism. Life can never quite measure up. For Emily it leads to some really funny stuff. As in one of her signature lines, “Freud was right about penis envy. He was wrong about who has it.” Thus the self-important debunker gets a posthumous taste of his own medicine.

Emily is a comic, though the term doesn’t do her justice. She began with an improv group in New York City, did radio and television there, worked the stand-up circuit as a headliner, did Letterman, wrote for Designing Women and other shows. All the while she felt drawn to something bigger – conceptually if not remuneratively. Part of her was absorbed in chaos theory, quantum physics, relativity and the like. The other part was writing sit-com gags.

You are sensing what happened next. The space between the cosmic and the mundane is, of course, classic comic turf. If quantum theory posits a universe that is and-and rather than either-or, why couldn’t Emily be and-and too – a philosopher-comedian?

So that’s what she’s been doing for the last however many years. (I haven’t asked about that either.) A Woody Allen undercuts the universal with the mundane. “Eternal nothingness is okay if you are dressed for it.” “Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on week-ends.” It’s the rich tradition of Jewish humor, and Emily gives it a different twist. She invokes the universal to enlighten the mundane, such as her riff on a childhood fantasy in which all the horses in a race finish at exactly the same time.

To make light can be to shed it too. Emily pursues these questions with a social conscience, in particular a wry feminism, as the crack about Dr. Freud suggests. One of her current interests is the absurdity of conventional economic thinking, and how the policy establishment continues to view 21st century problems through a logic based in the world of Sir Isaac Newton.

Actually, I don’t think of Emily as a comic. In casual conversation her pet lines do emerge from time to time – whose don’t? But she doesn’t have a shtick. She’s just someone who likes to think about thinking, and who finds that often the joke is on us.

Not long ago, Emily moved out here to Point Reyes Station. It was supposed to be an idyllic escape from Los Angeles. Instead she found herself contending with an unusual disease that…

Well, I’m going to let Emily tell the story herself. She’s on the mend, and called recently, and offered to do a show out here, to try out new material based in part on that experience. I hope you’ll come. That’s partly because the proceeds will help support West Marin Commons. It’s also because Emily is someone I think you’d like to know.

Emily Levine will perform at 7 pm on Friday, Aug. 22, at the Dance Palace; $10.00. For info 669-1291 or 663-8560. Or