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"I know that my personality is really harsh and can be, like, mannish, so I balance it out by wearing fancy dresses and stuff. It's always a conscious decision and I feel like a lot of people do that."

April Richardson on gender and sexuality in comedy, and working for Chelsea Handler 

April Richardson owes the people of the Triangle one.

The Atlanta-born, Los Angeles-based standup comic was supposed to be a performer at last year's N.C. Comedy Arts Festival. Unfortunately, she couldn't make it.

"It was just a scheduling conflict," says the 33-year-old Richardson on the phone from L.A. "I can't ever take weekdays off work because we tape shows, and they had scheduled me for, like, a Thursday or something."

Richardson is the associate producer of Chelsea Lately, the E! channel's popular late-night gabfest, hosted by the boozy and brassy Chelsea Handler. Richardson, who also appears occasionally on the show's nightly panel discussion of the day's celebrity news, considers her gig to be so nifty, there is no way she is screwing it up.

"Working for a woman in comedy is a rare opportunity, and a great one," she says. "And working on a writing staff that is 50 percent women is fantastic.

"It's kind of a rare thing—unfortunately, in 2013."

Richardson is one of the main standup draws at this year's N.C. Comedy Arts Festival, where she'll be performing this Friday and Saturday. For her, working in comedy is the equivalent of living the dream.

"I would absolutely describe myself as a comedy nerd," she says. "Growing up, I was absolutely, absolutely obsessed with it. I was always the class clown."

Although it seemed apparent that Richardson had the skills to make people laugh, she didn't believe it could be a lucrative career. "It didn't seem like a real thing you could do as a job," she says. "When I was growing up, it seemed like, 'I'm gonna be a comedian!' just seemed like saying, 'I'm gonna be a movie star!'"

After attending Georgia State University to major in journalism and sociology, she moved to California to work at a short-lived health magazine that later laid her off. Her desire to do standup once again emerged.

Richardson's humor is pragmatic, simplistic, straight-to-the-point. She's the kind of comic who pitches to her audience the idea for a ladies' strip club where the guys put their clothes on. ("The more you put on, fellas, the more I tip you.")

"My comedy is more stuff that kind of happens," she says. "I mean, I hesitate to call myself a storyteller because it sounds pompous. But it's just, like, it comes from stuff that happens to me in everyday life. I can't remember the last time I sat down just as far as, like, 'I need to write jokes about this subject,' outside of work. I do that at work, and then my comedy is just based on situations I find myself in."

As evidenced by that strip-club joke, Richardson doesn't mind riffing on gender and sexuality.

"I don't know how to condense this without it being long and rambling, but gender and all that kind of stuff just in general interests me," she says. "I see gender as performance. I don't see it as something we just inherently are. It's, like, a social construct. And I like the way that people play with it when they do play with it."

As someone who draws inspiration not only from comedians but also from rock stars such as David Bowie and Morrissey ("I like androgyny, and I've been always weirdly attracted to it," she says), Richardson enjoys playing around with gender and identity in her standup.

"In my everyday life, I know that my personality is really harsh and can be, like, mannish, so I balance it out by wearing fancy dresses and stuff," says Richardson, who can get foul-mouthed with the fellas yet still dress like a more dainty, less robotic Sean Young in Blade Runner. "I mean, it's always a conscious decision and I feel like a lot of people do that. And more people, I wish, would study gender and stuff to see that it is kind of a socially constructive thing and that there are not really traits that are inherently female or inherently male. We play with them in our own ways."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Southern discomfort."

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