Kaleidoscopic Marina Franklin

By Cybele Knowles

Last week, Marina Franklin did a GREAT set on Conan, which was a not-turn-downable invitation for me to write about one of my favorite stand-up comedians. First of all, though, I just want you to watch Marina’s performance. Are you ready to fall in love?

I first encountered Marina Franklin in Women Who Kill, a 2013 stand-up comedy special featuring Amy Schumer, Rachel Feinstein, Nikki Glaser, and Marina. Of the four, Marina was the one for me—the one who, after the DVD ended, sent me scrabbling through YouTube for more of her work. This had everything to do with her distinctive voice (by which I mean her authorial voice rather than her physical one), the uniqueness of which was made all the more obvious due to the fact that the performances of her comadres on the DVD (Amy, Rachel, and Nikki) overlapped in aspects of voice. Marina’s voice was just different from anything else on the DVD, and different from anything else I’d ever heard, and funny as hell. You can watch a clip of that performance here.

In her stand-up, Marina doesn’t talk loud or move much, and she doesn’t need to. Through her facial expressions and her voice acting, she creates a completely magnetic performance. I believe a great deal of this magnetism comes from the fact that Marina performs an individual whose psychological state and identity are continuously shifting. One second she is fragile, her voice halting with uncertainty; the next she is forceful. One second she stunned by the world (“He pat my fro”); the next she is riding the horse of life confidently (“I’m a dream come true, baby”). I’ve come to think of Marina’s onstage persona as quietly but forcefully kaleidoscopic. She plays a person who is many people, and in this, connects with us. None of us is just one person; we’re all a grab-bag of crazy confidence and hobbling self-loathing and everything in between, with roots in many lands and cultures. Few people see us in our multiplicity, but it’s there, and Marina’s multifaceted, multinuanced performance gestures to the wild multiplicity in you, the viewer, too.

I just used the word “roots.” Marina talks about having grown up as an African American in a white neighborhood at the beginning of this clip. “I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. White neighborhood; I was the only black kid,” she says. “That really fucked me up. Then I moved to a black neighborhood and it was too late. I was white.” She goes on to say, “That’s why I’m not a sassy comedian on stage. I don’t have that energy…. People like that from a black female comic. That HMM. That MMM. You know, like on BET?” What Marina does instead is code-switch deftly and dazzlingly. This shifting of identity through speech is a part of her kaleidoscopic performance.

Through all her changes, the solid ground of the shifting self that Marina performs—the periods at the end of her multivoiced sentences—is her beautiful smile. It says, “I defy boundaries, including the one between you and me.” It’s irresistable. Marina performs around NYC and also produces a podcast, Friends Like Us, every episode of which features four women of color with very different views on hot topics.

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