RIOT’s Jo Firestone Talks Womanhood & Growing Up

Photo: Courtesy of Jo Firestone.
On RIOT's Womanhood, cohosts Jo Firestone and Aparna Nancherla get down and dirty about what it means to live as a woman. From how to navigate "three-night stands" to escaping the gazes of creepy guys — "If there's one thing men like," Jo says memorably in one episode, "it ain't blood. It'll send him home looking for cheesecake...something to save the night" — the stars of Womanhood cover all of lady life's pressing questions with a funny, strange sensibility. The best part of the humor, says cohost Jo Firestone, is how every topic is two or three degrees removed from the actual topic. In one episode, a conversation about puberty turns into a "classic political debate" of cigarettes versus voting.
Did you watch these public access-style shows when you were younger?
I think we watched some of the stuff in health class. These weren’t shows I would watch on actual television for fun or anything. But in school we were forced to watch a lot of these kinds of videos when there was a sub. Obviously [laughs] our show, Womanhood, is meant for substitute teachers. How did you get involved?
I met Julie and told her how I loved Shannon Coffey’s RIOT show. I expressed my dream to Julie, and we all — Julie, Aparna Nancherla, and I — talked about and developed it together. In general, I thought about how to explain how to do something, like put in a tampon. It’s something that seems almost impossible to describe in words. Basically, Aparna and I talk about a lot of women stuff, and we created a format that would be somewhat interesting to viewers.

What do you like about working with Aparna?
She pretty much says stuff and I laugh the whole time. Most of every episode is me laughing hysterically. I can’t look at her for most of the time while we shoot — I just look above her or below her. I’ve really gotten to know the shape of her chin.
What is the preproduction process like? Do you write a script before?
The producers, Aparna, and I have a Google doc and create segment ideas. For example, if the topic was turning 39, we’d come with a bunch of different segments that are related. The topics aren’t built out in a lateral way, but in buildable way. All our wacky segments are always one or two or three times removed from the actual topic. It’s kind of like making a tree around this one idea that’s accessible and making it as strange as possible. So, a topic of turning 39 can turn into us talking about how to climb a very large hill or something random. Are you performing a character on the show? How does your Womanhood persona differ from your real or other comedic life?
I talk slower on the show. I think there’s also a riffing element. Together [Aprna and I] get so goofy. I’m much more goofy around her. If I were just hosting a show by myself, I wouldn’t be that loopy. Something about her makes me feel so silly. I think she gets real silly too. We push each other to the max. I love the episodes about ruining your body at 21 and how to graduate high school. What were those times in your life like?
Horrible. But that’s okay, and that’s what gives motivation to riff and make it silly. It’s easier to look at it with humor; it gives a levity. Maybe some people are having the time of their lives at those ages, but I feel like most people are a little confused and feeling a little out of place. It’s important to laugh about things in times when you’re uncomfortable. It gives you more power over it. It shapes you. What’s been your favorite episode?
The last episode about navigating a midlife crisis. The stylist brought us a lot of clothes, and none of them were really working. I have a strange body, and the only thing that really fit was a gold tunic. It kind of took over the whole episode because it was just so odd. We keep searching for the tunic, but we can’t find it. There’s also a moment in season 2, where at the same time, both of us spontaneously say, “Who’s under the bridge? It’s me, the troll.” That was one of my favorite experiences in comedy. What other topics would you like to talk about on the show?
Oh, man. My dream segment would be giving makeovers to babies.

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