Interview: Kate Willett Explores the Meaning of Masculinity with 'Dirtbag Anthropology'

Kate Willett

After the #MeToo movement uncovered account after account of sexual assault, abuse and harassment occurring in the workplace, and every other corner of life, countless articles were written about everything from how men can be better allies to the best ways to end abuses of power in professional and personal relationships.

With her new Audible Original, Dirtbag Anthropology, comedian Kate Willett wanted to get beyond the obvious #MeToo cornerstone of “don’t sexually harass people” to explore masculinity from a place of kindness and curiosity – focusing on real-life interactions rather than academic ideals – and framed by her unique brand of contemplative comedy.

“I wrote something for people who have a general desire to be good towards their fellow humans, which I believe is most people,” said Willett by phone in a mid-March call.

The publisher’s summary of Dirtbag Anthropology reads in part, “Comedian Kate Willett was married to a woman and thought she’d never have to deal with men again. That is, until she found herself dumped, suddenly single, and mystifyingly . . . mostly attracted to dudes. Like any good comic, she was inspired to investigate, and thus ensued her hilarious, sometimes high-stakes personal research into the world of men, culminating in a beautiful, difficult romance.”

This personal approach to exploring modern masculinity compelled Willett to examine her own life as well as to interview her friends, family and fellow comedians in a series of thoughtful and thorough discussions.

“When I heard that Audible was making these Audible Originals, I thought that would be a really cool way to do this book because I could write about my experiences with men, but I could also have men talk about these issues in their own words,” Willett explained. “I evolved over the time I was working on it too because a lot of things happened in my life. So, it sort of changed a little bit in terms of the advice I had to give because I wasn’t really sure when I started writing it what my own viewpoint was on this issue beyond, ‘don’t sexually harass people.’”

Kate WillettWillett may not have been sure of the exact end result when she started writing Dirtbag Anthropology, but she definitely knew what she didn’t want.

“When I thought about writing this, part of the things that I didn’t resonate with about the general advice for men, or even for women interacting with men, was that it seemed not like how people are in real life,” said Willett, noting the intensity of an article she read about important questions you should ask someone on a first date. “If you showed up on a first date with a list of questions about huge issues, it wouldn’t be a very good date. I wanted to write something that resonated with how people actually are. I thought that I can’t write something that feels human without looking at the complexities of how these issues play out in my own life.”

To expand the orbit of her own life experiences, Willett chatted with her father – a man who is “shy” and “introspective” – and she got a broader perspective from comics and experts like W. Kamau Bell, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber and Margaret Cho, with whom Willett previously had toured.

“[Cho] taught me so much about comedy. I talked with Margaret a lot about her experiences throughout the decades,” Willett said. “She’s somebody who was starting comedy at a time when there weren’t as many women, and she has a lot of experiences. I was really curious to talk to her about if she feels this massive cultural reckoning that we’ve had in society over the past few years has impacted comedy. It was really interesting to hear her take on that stuff and it’s also a pleasure to talk to her in this moment.”

Willett enjoyed pouring herself into Dirtbag Anthropology – along with her podcast Reply Guys – throughout the pandemic, and she is starting to feel waves of optimism about returning to the stand-up stage in the near future.

“I optimistically booked some tour dates for the end of the year, so I’m really looking forward to that. I’m assuming, based on what the Biden administration said, that most folks will be vaccinated by July. Going on that, I’m optimistic about ending the second half of this year by doing a lot of stand-up shows,” said Willett. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like. There’s part of me that is scared. There’s part of me that is really curious. There’s also part of me that is really optimistic.”

She continued with a laugh, “Comedians always find a way to do comedy. However many venues are closed there will be twice as many comedians that will say, ‘Hey, let’s do a show in this storage container.'”

Dirtbag Anthropology is available exclusively on Audible and Reply Guys can be heard wherever you listen to podcasts. More information on Kate Willett can be found at Katewillett.com.

(Lead Photo by Mindy Tucker)

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Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest. She loves chatting with hilarious comedians and has interviewed the likes of Maria Bamford, Paula Poundstone and Tracy Morgan, to name a few. She has photographed tons of great bands/musicians – from every genre – including Rob Zombie, Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, Neil Young, Shania Twain, Pitbull, Pierce the Veil, Kendrick Lamar, Patti Smith and many, many more.When not writing or shooting shows, Laurie loves to spend her free time training for marathons and exploring the city of Chicago. She is a longtime vegetarian and animal advocate who likes to cook healthy, delicious meals that everyone can enjoy. For more information or to contact Laurie, head over to www.lauriefanelli.com.