Sureni Weereasekera

:: AGE

19

:: LOCATION

Berkeley, California, USA

:: MEDIUM

Comedy, photography

I’ve always just done something centered around some creative thing. I didn’t realize it at the time, until I was looking back in retrospect, a lot of things I did in my free time involved something creative, like a craft of some sort. When I was younger, I got really into singing. My mom told me to go to a talent show in the first grade and I went and sang and I kept doing talent shows until twelfth grade. I just did singing. That’s what I wanted to do. I eventually took piano because I thought that would compliment singing. I taught myself a little bit of guitar for singing. Painting, I started doing that in elementary school and on and off throughout my whole existence. Occasionally I’ll play a little piano. Photography, I picked that up in junior high school. I got really into it and I took a photography class. My photography teacher influenced me and taught me about art – how to appreciate it, and that opened the door.

How did you start doing comedy?

I’ve always been interested in stand up. I’ve always respected it – always thought it was badass. It takes major huevos to get up there. I took a DeCal first semester at Cal and basically it was a human critique class – what’s funny, what’s not funny. We talked about comics, different styles and methods of comedy and for my final I did stand up and it went not bad. My advisor told me on my paper “Start going to open mics, you’re onto something” and that was the confidence, support that pushed me, and maybe I should start hitting open mics. Then I went to my first open mic and I bombed. I ate shit. That was at San Francisco. That being said, there were not many people there, it was mostly other comics, but when I walked in, I tripped on a bench and then I went up and did my jokes and I was so nervous, obviously, and I didn’t know anyone. It just sucked ass. I got no laughs, basically, and if there were laughs, they were pity laughs, or laughing at me.

What have been your favorite places to perform?

I’ve done The New Parkway, Brainwash in SF, Shooter’s Mic, Tommy Tee’s in Pleasanton, the Purple Onion, Penelope’s in Oakland, Starry Plough in Berkeley. The only way you’ll get good at something is doing it often and for stand up you need an audience and that’s the only way you’ll truly be able to perfect the interaction.

What is your creative process like?

I feel like I don’t have a system yet. I started the beginning of this year, so it’s been about ten months now. I’m still experimenting. I know some comics will go up on stage and will riff on a topic, and some comics will write everything out verbatim. I’m still doing all that, testing out different things. I tend to be more of a verbal comic, but I’m trying to push myself to be more physical. Doing things that make me uncomfortable and experimenting as much as I can to find what works for me. I’ve organized my notes in a few different subcategories and I just sit down with my laptop and write. I listen back to recordings, listen back to what went right, wrong, riffs I could do, things I could’ve said, timing. You have to not mind the work if you’re going to do something creative and if you want to be good. It shouldn’t even technically feel like work in a way… That’s the purest desire.

Do you feel like the comedy world is biased?

This is a loaded question. Obviously, yes. It’s dominated by white men in their thirties, forties. There’s a lot of reasons that add up, like they’re not given the opportunity as much. They say a woman, when they get on stage, they have less time than a man to get the audience’s attention because people aren’t as willing to see them be successful. Any art form on stage, they give less of a chance to women. It’s kind of tough, I’m not gonna lie. I’m part of the San Diego and Bay Area comedy scenes because I live in both places, but both are dominated by men and it can be kinda weird. One time I was in San Diego and we were in this big circle of comics after a show, hanging out and talking and I realized, looking at the group, 15 or 16 people were white males in their 20s/30s, one guy who was black, one guy who was half/half, and then there was me. I was the only girl. There were very few people of color. I was the only woman at the time. A lot of comics–I don’t know, it’s just, there is a bias. People subconsciously have been systematically taught that men are more capable. Some women believe that too, and that’s sad, but it’s a fact. Less women are willing to go out and try stand up. I know a lot of women who would want to try stand up but just won’t because of whatever reason, they’re scared or people might put them down. And honestly people might give them weird looks and be like, “Let’s see what you got.” You’ll definitely be sexually harassed. Isn’t that some shit? All you can do is fight it as much as you can, make sure it doesn’t happen in the future. Sexual harassment is prevalent anywhere, everywhere. It being a supposed “boy’s club” can make that happen more often, I would say. If you want a better community, it’s a group effort.

How do you define art?

I ask a lot of questions from people I know who have been in the game longer, or in a different art form. I’m in the process of figuring it out, but i definitely feel like art is a release. There’s something about concentrating yourself in this goal that you have. Even in math and science, goal of finishing a problem. It’s just the kind of goal and what you want to convey. Art can make you feel things, think things that you probably wouldn’t have thought of before. Show new perspective. Art is everything. It’s what makes us human because you don’t really need culture, but we have it because it gives us life. It gives us something to do, maybe.

People don’t realize it but most of what was created in the world was thought of as a weird idea. Most things that people do in their free time–go to concerts, galleries, roller coasters–everything requires some form of creativity. The world couldn’t function without innovative ways of looking at something. Composing something brand new.

What have you learned is funny and not funny for you?

I think with any craft, what is true to you. If you don’t believe in what you’re saying or producing, how can other people believe in it? You have to genuinely find something funny in order for you to put it out. I’m a person that thinks anything is fair game. I will talk about some fucked up shit without batting an eyelash. I think that’s funny because people will be like, “Did you hear that?” But not just that. I think the most ideal, best kind of funny, in my opinion, is the funny that says something, that makes you go home driving home from the comedy show thinking about something, but also that’s genuinely funny–like a well crafted idea, joke–doing the most you can do with a joke. I’ve seen so many attempts at that. I’ve attempted it. It’s not easy, it takes years to get to that point. You’ll understand that different rooms will react differently to jokes. Another thing about the perfect kind of funny is what’s universally funny. Like Jerry Seinfeld is universally phone, most people fuck with him because he’s cool and funny. It’s good fun, but that’s really hard to attain. There are comics that have more of a cult following, or smaller audience that goes after them because they have a niche kind of humor. Like Doug Stanhope, he has a small dedicated fan base who loves him and it’s cool too. I don’t know what’s not funny because anything can be funny if you think hard enough. That being said, is everyone going to succeed? No. I’ve seen people not succeed and it’s not funny, but it’s funny because you’re sucking and it’s funny for me because I can see the pain in your eyes. It’s different for every person.  You can say a joke and another person will say the joke and it won’t work for them. Funny is relative.

Have people always found you funny?

I’ve always enjoyed communication and people. Comedy is the business of people. You’ve got an audience looking at you. It’s a close connection. I don’t know why you wouldn’t enjoy making someone laugh? It’s such a pure thing. It’s such a good feeling. I also enjoy language and words, how things can be strung together to have a certain meaning. I’ve definitely been outspoken since I was young so people responded to that and people did say, “You’re funny.” I think someone told me once “You should do stand up!”

Do you have any advice for young aspiring artists/comics?

You know how there’s a person who has a natural talent, then there’s a person who is not natural, but they have such a strong work ethic that they’re able to work on their craft as much as they can and they eventually surpass the person whose natural but lazy. The best combination is if you’re naturally funny and you have a strong work ethic. You’ll be famous, people will recognize that–not that being famous is the goal. I know some people where fame is the goal and it’s not sustainable. You’ll be very unhappy. Know why you’re getting into it. Know that it won’t be easy. Any art is very mentally gruesome. I think that’s part of the artistic process. You have to want to be willing to put up with the long hours, staying up to go to mics and shows, doing this basically every night. In the summer I was hitting mics every night because I could. Now I’m only doing once or twice a week. It’s something, which is better than nothing, but it sucks because I love stand up. You have to be willing to regularly practice. It becomes a way of life at some point. It becomes a step above a hobby. You can never be an artist on the side. Yeah, people can do stand up as a hobby, but you’ll never be a true artist until your whole entire being is invested in that. That’s why i feel like a lot of artists are totally willing to eat shitty food, sleep in shitty places because they don’t mind because the creative process is just so amazing, so fulfilling in ways that are indescribable.

The way your society is set up is you need to work to succeed. Not that getting a degree will guarantee you with getting a job, but it helps, I won’t deny that. I think life is this constant balance between what you want and what you need to do. Ideally I would be dropping everything trying to become a comic, but I also have to play the system as well. I have to balance the two, think long term as well. Not that I think I’ll ever drop comedy, but I’m also learning things in college. I enjoy learning – maybe not the process of learning as it’s set up, but there are lots of experiences there.

When we first saw Sureni at The New Parkway Late Night Open Mic, she had us rolling on the floor with laughter. Her gift of comedy is healing. As a female comedian in a male dominated field, to see her work is inspiring and uplifting, and we especially appreciate Sureni for her thoughtfulness, responsiveness to feedback, and persistence of practice. If you are in Berkeley, check out her weekly Wednesday night Open Mic at the Bear’s Lair for some ab-ripping comedy gold.