It’s just after 7:30 p.m. at the PIT Loft in Chelsea, and the audience is getting a little impatient. Not your typical “New York asshole” type of impatient–this was a pretty great crowd in fact–but impatient because of the quasi-techno music blasting off the walls of the relatively small space we were ushered into a few minutes prior.
Music is usually one of the easiest ways to get an audience’s energy up, but this just wasn’t cutting it. After it finally calmed down a bit, the headliner, Mindy Raf, was welcomed to the stage. If that sentence sounds a bit strange, that’s because the circumstances were, too. Anyone who regularly attends stand-up shows knows that a main act always has an opener, someone who typically does a vastly better job at warming up a crowd than, say, blaring an H&M’s soundtrack will. As Mindy informed us when she emerged, however, her opener had been in a car accident and wouldn’t be making it. We nervously laughed along with her.
Understandably, this kind of imbalance might throw a performer off a bit, but she quite honestly didn’t give a shit. She told us it was her sister’s birthday and asked for our help in recording a video message, nonchalantly declaring that this was now her opening act. Everyone joined in the singing, the energy in the room hit a nice pitch, and when it was over, Raf ran behind the stage only to reappear a few seconds later, albeit this time as Mindy the main act.
This unconventional intro foreshadowed Raf’s style, which permeated the entire show. In telling her story, she hit on several experiences undoubtedly familiar to New Yorkers– waiting tables, dealing with sleazy employers, and pretending to like dark liquors to impress dates. But what set her struggles apart from everyone else’s in the moment was the pitch perfect delivery. Everything about it–from her cadence to her facial expressions–made it seem as though she was living that experience for the first time, and our combined incredulousness made her stories even funnier. Many of us queer individuals have experienced awkward parental interactions because of who we are, but I’d wager that few to none were taunted with high pitch shrieks in their ears because “lesbians can hear higher frequencies.” Still, Raf’s utterly bemused expression when she recounts it brings everyone watching into her world, be they queer or not.
Laughing at other people’s embarrassing stories is basically a national pastime. Without that shared bond, stand-up comedy wouldn’t exist. But Mindy, like many great comedians before her, doesn’t make herself the butt of the joke or degrade herself just for a cheap laugh. “No Thank You” (the title of her solo show, did I not mention that?) is a lovely, tightly constructed narrative about the perils of modern living with a certain universality audiences might not expect from a queer Jewish woman with an Eastern European fiancée and a children’s book under her belt. But Raf’s wit and sincerity immerses listeners in her mindset with impressive speed. Perhaps her biggest break from convention came toward the end of her set, when she eschewed a closing joke in favor of a very honest and inspiring reflection on her life, the woman she loves, and not being afraid to be grateful.
Mindy Raf is a born Cynical, but she’s learned that it’s okay to say “Thank You” every now and then.