Updated: Nov 30, 2021
By Jaden Jarmel-Schneider
Venice Ohleyer, CC ’22, is funny. Her hair is green, but it was pink last year, and sometimes it’s rainbow. She wears bright clothes and shimmering eyeshadow and had bangs for seven years. Her average Goodreads rating is 4.07 stars from 163 reviews. She is, unabashedly, and according to herself, “famously” a transfer, and a Dartmouth student once described her as “hot in a weird space alien kind of way.” On Instagram, she is @effervenice and in person, she is vibrant and gregarious, with a contagious laugh and a bright smile. These are the things you may already know about Ohleyer; but she wasn’t always a comic, at least not according to her.
Ohleyer only began performing in high school. Secretly, it was always something she was interested in, but growing up as a “die-hard rule-follower,” she preferred to stick to school. When she began LaGuardia’s theater program (it’s Timothée—as in, “bae”—she told me), she hit the ground running. At first, she played almost exclusively dramatic roles and went along with it. But a year in, she was cast in a scene from the somewhat critically acclaimed 1998 romance drama, Gia, wherein a boyfriend (her) confronts his cocaine-addict model ex-girlfriend after she breaks into his apartment. With the tactfully sarcastic delivery she has mastered, Ohleyer says that the character “has to struggle with the difficult situation we often find ourselves in.” It was in that scene, as her fifteen-year-old self screamed at her imaginary girlfriend before pulling her in for a dramatic kiss, that she knew drama couldn’t be her medium.
The next semester, she switched gears. Ready to embrace comedy, she directed and acted in a scene that can only be described as a performed survey course on absurdity. The script is lost and the details are foggy, but as she remembers it today, the scene opens with a spandex-clad dance number and continues into a J.K. Simmons-in-Whiplash-style tirade, before culminating in the entrance of a character dressed as a cat and the revelation that it was all but a dream. Ohleyer still laughs as she’s telling this story, and it’s clear that the preparation and performance of these scenes were formative for her. Since then, she’s come to realize that she can only enjoy dramatic acting in certain contexts. Comedy, on the other hand, she’d be happy doing in any capacity: “That’s what having a passion is.”
Ohleyer has a knack for finding humor in the absurd. “What happens more often than not,” she says, “is that there will be one thing I notice as weird or funny, ask why is that weird or funny to me, then I hone in on an angle, then write jokes for it.” Indeed, she arranges many of her bits around a weird fad, attitude, or social dynamic, then finds their humor in satirizing that dynamic. In her most recent Twitter video, constructed around the recent trend of Tweets beginning with “I don’t know who needs to hear this,” an anti-masker cascades into a litany of short chirps, some interrupting others, which Ohleyer describes as “random platitudes and very specific facts that have no pertinence to anyone’s life,” all beneath background music you might expect to hear in a pharmaceutical commercial. In the penultimate chirp, with her hand placed over her heart, she earnestly delivers the line: “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” Her humor finds its inspiration in the absurd, then leans headfirst into it. It is, unsurprisingly, very funny.
Ohleyer articulates her process with philosophical clarity. She thinks there are some people who are naturally gifted and hilarious, but every medium, even comedy, has a “form you have to practice.” And practice she does. The crucial practice, according to Ohleyer, is finding humor in “everything, little things, or anything. … You have to think things are funny to be funny.” Even more, practicing humor takes encouragement. Ohleyer disagrees with humorous stoicism—she has made it her mission to laugh at everyone’s jokes, even if it needs to be forced. “Why would you hold back laughs?” she asked. “It’s the most fun thing.”
Ohleyer carries this principle in every aspect of her life: in Columbia University Sketch Show where she writes and acts, in Latenite where she directs, in Memento Mori which she organizes, in Spec where she pioneered their Borowitz Report-style humor column, and in our interview, which had me laughing through my list of questions. But there’s no better forum for this practice than in Fruit Paunch, where Ohleyer is the president. According to her, there’s a myth about improv, that everyone who does it is naturally funny. But this isn’t the case. It is 60% following the rules and 40% having a sense of humor, give or take. It’s all about the yes, and.
Despite her poised stage presence, Ohleyer described comedy as an “ongoing journey in being confident.” Next up is a senior independent study one-woman show inspired by Fleabag and Get On Your Knees and a “parody performance art piece, feminist dance spoken word” Latenite sketch. After graduating, she hopes to launch into the world of twenty-somethings in comedy in New York. She’s already started organizing events and performing at open mics, and hopes to continue alongside a full-time job next year.
So much of Ohleyer’s conception of humor is generous. She insists that with practice, anyone can be funny. But I don’t quite believe her. I think she is naturally funny, funnier than most of us. Like her high school self, Ohleyer still follows the rules, but this time, they are new rules—rules that affirm the humor she sees buried inside each of us. It is a humor that is all-encompassing and non-performative, one that values laughter and joy as fundamental activities in life. Venice is funny, and she thinks you’re funny, too.