In my work as a sex work advocate, I travel to universities and venues to talk about the harms of stigma on the sex work community.
A couple of years ago, I found myself at one such anti-stigma event alongside HIV+ comedian James Tison, who followed my dry lecture (you can take the girl out of academia …) with a stand-up routine that taught the audience more about living with HIV than any lecture I have been to.
Thankfully, for the sex worker rights movement, we are not all ex-academics; and Pittsburgh will soon have the opportunity be educated — and entertained — by a similar icon in the industry.
Kaytlin Bailey, host of the Oldest Profession Podcast, and founder and executive director of Old Pros, a nonprofit media organization trying to create the conditions to change the status of sex workers in society, will be in town this weekend performing her one-woman stand-up show.
Whore’s Eye View, she tells Pittsburgh City Paper, is the “culmination of a lifetime of being obsessed with sex worker stories and sex worker history.” She describes it as “a mad dash through 10,000 years of history in 75 minutes: part aggressive history lecture, part comedy special, part one-woman show.”
We talked to her about the intersection of comedy and sex work ahead of her appearance at The Government Center in the North Side.
You are a former sex worker and a stand-up comic. How are these professions connected for you?
They're both contrarian professions; jesters and whores play a similar role at court — we are allowed to push against boundaries that contain or constrain other courtiers, while also occupying a very vulnerable position. I feel part of a long legacy of non-conformists both in my capacity as a stand-up comic and in my capacity as a sex worker.
Do you think that the societal roles of jesters and whores have changed throughout history?
That's complicated! One of the reasons why I got out of the stand-up comedy scene was because of its rampant misogyny. It's currently a place for reactive politics, whereas I think of sex workers — and specifically sex worker advocates — as the real freedom fighters.
I do think that sex workers and comics play a theoretically similar role in that we are both adjacent to — inside and outside of — traditional society. Comics travel the country. We're notorious lone wolves, it can be very isolating. This is also true of sex work. They both have a subculture, and they both operate with a high degree of precarity: there are very few winners in these economies.
What do you think a comedy show can accomplish that a lecture or speech can’t? Why comedy?
If you can make people laugh, you can make people listen.
Sex work is said to be the “oldest profession,” but I think it is also probably the oldest stigma, so in talking about the history of sex work, I’m brushing up against a lot of difficult conversations and asking people to re-examine thousands of years of foundational beliefs.
I think humor creates an exploratory space that allows people to open themselves up to big questions in a way that straight history or political lectures don’t.
Entertainment allows us to open our empathetic minds, whereas we often go into political history or straight information with our analytical or judgmental minds. The analytical or judgmental mind is precisely the thing I'm asking people to let go of in this show.
I love that. What has the reception of this show been so far?
The show is still in the stage of developmental reading, so I am so grateful to the audiences that have come to let me work out this show, which is also the ask in Pittsburgh.
That can be exciting for the audience, though. To see the show come into being.
You are being asked to come and watch a … maybe … a charismatic lady read from the page.
Whore’s Eye View, a reading. 7-10 p.m. Sun., Oct. 23. The Government Center. 715 East St., North Side. Donations accepted, benefits Old Pros. thegovernmentcenter.com