I know a darling, super-competent, hard-working 2009 NYU honors graduate named Kate Berlant who’s in love with Manhattan, but confused about how to make a living. The turmoil of unemployment (above 10 percent in our area) hits new grads hard. Older applicants with more experience consistently trump even the best and brightest of them. Internships (read: unpaid employment) are pretty much how these youngsters get a toehold. Says Kate, “The religion of the internship promises the golden afterlife reward of your dream career. But what my friends and I are facing is the sobering reality of a hermetically sealed job market. It’s bleak.”
Kate possesses a huge and original talent for comedy. Starting at age 17, she began performing at an open mic every Wednesday at the Laugh Factory on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. She was frequently the only woman and the youngest performer.
As an NYU student, Kate interned in Martin Scorsese’s office two days a week for two semesters (she knew someone in the office). That led to months of personal assistant work for a prop designer. She now runs a stand-up comedy night (without pay) that she calls “Crime & Punishment,” every Tuesday at the café and experimental music venue Cake Shop. (She loves the space because “it’s dark and smells like a swimming pool.”) Kate improvises her own routines, slipping in and out of what she describes as an “absurdist non-linear narrative structure.” She tries to occupy “an ambiguous space on stage, a place where laughter often springs from confusion.” She also recently presented her multi-media performance piece, “An Illustrative Colonoscopy into an Epistemological Kitty-Cat,” at St. Mark’s Church Poetry Project.
A Santa Monica native, Kate already feels rooted in Manhattan and is eager to do virtually any kind of work, “ideally something involving the arts.” A couple summers ago, Kate worked for California artist Chris Burden, helping to assemble his massive erector-set skyscraper at Rockefeller Center. She had a great time and met fascinating and dynamic people.
Kate is blessed. Beautiful, with pale skin and black hair, she’s as witty and charming as anyone in our thrumming city. Kate’s successful artist parents still live in Santa Monica, a city she figures she will one day return to.
More background on Kate: freshman year (straight A’s) at Bard College, she organized a stand-up comedy group. She commuted weekends to Manhattan, staying with an NYU friend and falling madly in love with the city’s edgy downtown performing arts scene. Sophomore year, Kate transferred to NYU, graduating with honors, a serious work ethic and a fierce desire to perform stand-up comedy.
She now lives with her boyfriend, a poet, in a small East Village apartment where she sometimes feels she doesn’t have room to walk around. “I love my block,” she says. “I see the same people every day. I get the most incredible coffee and fresh olive shortbread cookies at this tiny Brazilian café, Abraco, which is run by my neighbors. I walk to the comedy clubs and to the store where I work weekends.”
Her friends mostly live in Brooklyn and eventually she’ll move to Greenpoint. “Two years ago, I considered Williamsburg. But it’s too much like a bizarre sleep-away camp, completely inhabited by white kids under 30.”
I wish Kate all good things—a rich creative life in comedy and, in the meantime, I wish her a solid day job with good people.
Susan Braudy is the author and journalist whose last book, Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left, was nominated for a Pulitzer by publisher Alfred Knopf.
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