Although adolescence is all about discovery, at the age of 14, Kate Berlant already had a clear sense of who she was. The comedian and actress, now 34, tells Bustle over the phone, “I was a manic clown. My entire identity was enmeshed in that, she said. At her all-girls school, Berlant was more concerned with making her friends laugh than she was with her period, her changing body, or getting attention from boys. She acknowledges, “I’m one of the extremely few people that loved junior high. I had reached heaven.
When Berlant graduated from high school, she had two accolades befitting a future comic: Class Clown and Most Likely To Be On SNL. A chance audition at the age of 14 led to one line in Lizzie McGuire. Twenty years later, Berlant’s ability to relate to others via humor continues to be a defining characteristic of both her personal and professional life.
Her most recent work, Would It Kill You To Laugh, riffs on a fictionalized version of their strained friendship in a surreal Peacock sketch comedy special she co-created with her friend and fellow comic John Early. However, Berlant and Early’s relationship is actually the purest it could possibly be. The straightforward connection of making someone laugh and having someone else make you laugh so hard is how we came to be friends, adds Berlant.
“It does remind me of myself at that age.” Below, Berlant discusses water bras, wheelie backpacks, and flaunting her Lizzie McGuire hairstyle at school. Return with me to 2001–2002, when you were fourteen.
What Were Your Main Aspirations and Concerns?
In LA, I was residing. I was in the ninth grade because I’m a little young for my year. I managed to avoid the anxiety associated with adolescence. I had almost no chance of finding love. All of my friends were really attractive, and many of them at that time were attracting the attention of boys, whereas I most definitely was not. Little old me. I remember being 60 pounds, 4’11”, with a wheelie bag, and wearing a retainer. My life back then was pure and truly innocent.
Were You Worried About Your Posture and Using a Wheeled Backpack?
I believe I already suffered from hypochondria and feared the heaviness. Well, we all know hefty books are bad for the back, right?
At that Age, Were You Already Considering a Future in Comedy?
An actress was what I aspired to be. I first practiced standing when I was 17 years old. But when I was 14, my best buddy, a writer who is still very important in my life, wrote the school plays, and I would act in them. I believe she served as thespian society’s president, and I served as the vice president. At our tiny high school, the theatrical program was unquestionably founded by us. I always wanted to be an actress, so at that point, everything I did was comedic. But I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I also wanted to be a comic.
Around that time, in 2002, You Also Received Your First Role with Credit from Lizzie Mc Guire. how Did that Happen?
Yes, my best friend actually introduced me to that. Her mom’s acquaintance referred me for a Lizzie McGuire audition, and to my utter shock, I was successful. Since that time, I’ve hardly ever landed a job after an audition. It was very bizarre. Lizzie McGuire was wonderful. I received the complete Lizzie McGuire hairstyle, which I wore the following day to school. My lines were either “Lizzie, I adore your pants” or “Hey, Lizzie, really cool pants,” but I think it was just reduced down to one. I felt like I’m on top of the world. How shall I put it?
What Was the Hairdo?
Butterfly Was Cut. Half Up, Half Down, Sort Of. Something I Had Never Seen Before, Far More Complex.
With Puberty, This Age Can Also Be a Delicate One for Girls. Do You Recall how Your Body Felt when You Were 14? Did You Experience Self-Confidence? I Believe I Was Severely Desexualized. I Was Quite Horny, but Nobody Seemed to Take Me in A Sexually Explicit or Womanlike Manner. Actually, I Was Simply a Complete Clown. I Didn’t Feel Sexy or Anything, but I Was Unquestionably Obsessed with Sex. Absolutely Fixated.
When My Best Friends and I Dressed Up, I Wished I Had Boobs. I Had a Water Bra, Which Consisted of Pads Filled with Water, As The Name Implies, and A Padded Bra. in Fact, You Could Hear It. It Would Be Sloshing if You Were Moving Quickly. but For Some Reason, I Don’t Recall Experiencing Body Dysmorphia at That Age or Really Agonising Over My Body in Comparison to Others. that Was Probably There, but At the Time It Wasn’t a Standout Recall for Me.