Q&A : Jake Cornell & Marcia Belsky: Man & Woman
Man & Woman is a two-person comedy play parodying heterosexual love and all the “incisive and compassionate” films that have dissected relationships through the male gaze.
Marcia Belsky is a New York City based stand-up comedian, writer, and musician. She co-wrote Handmaid’s Tale: The Musical which sold out numerous shows in New York as well as in Washington DC at the Kennedy Centre. Recently her musical comedy was featured on Comedy Central’s Taking The Stage, including her hit song 100 Tampons which has now amassed over 40 million views on TikTok. She was on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon as part of the “Battle of the Instant Songwriters” and was a speaker at the 2021 TED Women Conference in Palm Springs.
Jake Cornell is a Brooklyn based stand-up comedian, writer and actor. His comedy has been featured by Vogue, The Cut, and Brooklyn Magazine. He hosted Finish The Hit for Billboard Magazine and has been seen on Logo TV, College Humor, and MTV News. He is an alumnus of the esteemed Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, where he taught and performed for several years.
We asked them a few questions about the show and the technique they use to bring the story to live.
What would you say is worse: geniuses who are unaware of their talent or ignoramuses believing themselves to be geniuses?
One of the most dangerous things in the world is a person who is truly dim but thinks they’re a genius. Intelligence innately makes you aware of how much there is in the world you don’t know; only an idiot would think they have the whole world figured out. It seems like when someone is covering their own inadequacies with arrogance and self-aggrandising behaviour, they end up a politician or CEO. A true genius is probably a farmer with a dope irrigation system, or a couple of comedians who wrote a humble little parody show that they are bravely taking to fringe.
Do you think women’s oppression is to be ended by men, by women, or it’s up to all of us to find a better way forward?
Who says we’re ending it!? Just kidding, we should all probably work on it. Part of what the show is making fun of is the notion of thinking any one person or small group of people could solve an issue as endemic as sexism with one single act. Our characters both think they can use their creative genius to better the status of women in the arts, but their real goal is to get the egotistical reward that comes with being the ones to “solve” sexism. The fact that our characters think this is a small enough issue that it could be solved by one play is proof of how little they grasp the scope of gendered issues.
Would you say that women’s role in the arts has been limited by the way men view them?
Well…yes. This show wouldn’t exist if that wasn’t true. We’ve noticed the audience tends to skew very women heavy and very queer and that’s because those are the people most ready to laugh at these tropes that have limited them in the arts for so long. Something we tried to explore with this show is that male writers tend to take their POV as objective truth, and then write women's stories through this lens. The male character in this show (“Jake”) has written a show he thinks to be about women but really he places himself at the centre of the female character’s every thought and action. It’s been very cathartic to poke fun at this tendency and to simply show it onstage rather than describe it.
What roles could women play in the arts that men wouldn’t cast them into?
It’s not so much about the roles themselves as it is about how the roles are written. It’s not necessarily a problem that the woman is playing a wife, it’s that she’s playing someone whose only purpose in life is to be a wife and the character has never questioned that. There’s a fantasy perpetuated through the arts where men write women as being uncritical towards certain societal expectations when in reality, and oftentimes in private, they very much are. When women write for other women, there tends to be more nuance to these types of roles.
As a performer, do you think you need to feel that the power to change perception is within your grasp, or you can still create without being too focussed on the impact of your work?
Unlike our characters in the show, we didn’t write this show thinking we would change the world. While we’re definitely trying to say something, the primary goal has always been the laughs and putting on a good show. The show is about communal catharsis with the audience. We found something together that we wanted to make fun of, and wrote a funny show, but if it makes someone shift their perspective or realise something new, that’s great!
As someone as creatively gifted as you are, is it refreshing to play the role of a rather dim artist?
Okay firstly, thanks for saying we are creatively gifted. And secondly, YES. So much of our writing process has been us improvising in character together because we love playing these idiots so much. Constantly looking at things with a critical eye is deeply exhausting and we both want to be dumb as hell in our next lives. One of our favourite things is acting out the dramatic scenes within the play because we get to commit at a level that is truly, deeply ridiculous. One of our biggest concerns going into Fringe is losing our voices, because boy do these dummies yell at each other a lot. At the first show in New York, Jake’s voice was completely gone by the end of the last scene. It’s just so fun to commit so hard to these characters. They truly think they're doing the best but it’s just so bad.
Jake Cornell and Marcia Belsky: Man and Woman, Assembly George Square (Studio 4), 6.15pm, 3-28 August (not 17)