Kristine Levine has turned some serious hardships in her life into comedy gold, from childhood abuse to a suicide bid by a straying husband – but it’s all genuinely funny in her hands, says fellow comic Doug Stanhope
MY VISION was warped with mescaline as the sun was coming up in Death Valley and I watched 250 pounds of bleach-blonde Kristine Levine leap from her seat and smash her fist into the face of a problem drunk across from her, knocking him over backwards in his picnic chair and leaving him rolling on his back like a helpless turtle.
There were at least 60 people at the party and over the previous three days everybody at some point wanted to hit this guy. Some people had even plotted to kill him. But nothing happened until he opened his mouth to Levine.
Our annual party at Death Valley had become something people like us looked forward to; a welcome retreat into an isolated stink-belly of fun and excess. But as word of its distinct flavour spread, it was inevitable that the gathering would attract the wrong types, and it did. Enter this douche-nozzle who I had mistakenly, most likely drunkenly, invited to the party through either MySpace or some other dead channel. Levine’s assault – for calling someone else in the group a c*** – was the cue for the party elders to tell him that he really, really needed to go. Because Levine was the nicest person there and once she punched his lights out, the others could smell blood in the water.
That is a truth about Levine. She is easily one of the nicest, most caring, most giving individuals you’re likely to run across as you scrape your way through the tunnel of life.
Part of the reason you haven’t heard of Levine is that she’s had a lot of shit to do with her life other than get on a stage for your amusement. Levine, 41, lives in Portland, Oregon, where she’s worked off and on in a sex shop for 12 years while raising her three children and pushing stand-up comedy in wherever it would fit.
She’s a perfect match for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Her life began as a world of shit and has never really let up. Levine grew up in a world of alcohol abuse and neglect, shuttled between parents, step-parents and other relatives, and told early on by teachers that she was retarded. She was molested between the ages of four and six by a family friend, and as a graduation present her dad gave her luggage and a one-way bus ticket to Oregon. She later married a Saudi prince and lived in Egypt under threat of the death penalty for adultery, eventually bribing her way out after over-staying her visa. Apart from the three kids, she’s had miscarriages and an abortion in between. Her last husband left her for an Australian he met on StarTrek.com. When that Antipodean adventure didn’t work out, he came back home and attempted suicide by cutting his wrists, and was found by the children in a pond of his own blood.
But it’s funnier when she tells it. Seriously. She blows through life and porn-store stories – so dark that any one of them would have another person blubbering in group therapy – as though it were just another zany day at the office.
Levine is exactly what will make the victim culture cringe. A lot of people who have lived through serious hardships can end up carrying it like a cross. You know ’em – the ones that call themselves “survivors”. When somebody who has lived through the same experiences can not only talk casually about it but also make it gut-rupture hilarious, it shoves a javelin through that balloon of martyrdom so many people have come to embrace. If Frankie Boyle says it, it’s a call to arms, but when one of your own “survivors” tells you to “suck it up and move on”, it’s pretty humbling, and a beautiful thing to see.
Because of this, Levine fills a gap in comedy that’s desperate to be plugged. Strong female voices are rare enough but one that speaks without gender at the forefront and looks at taboo and tribulation with not only crushing humour but unemotional and inarguable reason are almost nonexistent.
I think that’s why you don’t even think of her as a “female comic”. When you hear her take on rape law vs drunk driving law, you’d think you were sitting in a fraternity house.
I don’t mean to imprint Levine with the tired moniker of “edgy”, although I can’t see how she’ll avoid it. I don’t see her in that way at all. Her subject matter certainly isn’t your normal dinner conversation but she isn’t contrived in the least.
Levine uses coarse language but doesn’t rely on shock value. She might appear brash on paper but on second glance she’s actually a bit mousy. Almost adorable. And I think she’s one of the most original comedic voices of this generation.
Now she just needs to be heard. I always thought of Levine as a fighter that could have gone into the ring at any time and flattened Mike Tyson in his prime but would have had to do it between two jobs and fighting an eviction so she never quite found the time.
Her show is titled Fat Whore. She is fat as a house, no question. As for the “whore”, that’s for her to talk about, although she once did give a very convincing oral argument (that my girlfriend Bingo is very understanding about) as to why I should book her on a weekend run of gigs supporting me in Cleveland, Ohio. No matter what you call her, there’s a strong chance you’ll want to be just like her by the end of the show.
Fat Whore, Assembly Rooms, until 26 August. www.kristinelevine.com