The Fashion Week Streaker Speaks: Julia Wiedeman on Getting Naked for Comedy

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You may recognize comedian Julia Wiedeman from last month, when she streaked across Lincoln Center during Fashion Week. Wearing nothing but sneakers and panties, she was shot by dozens of street-style photographers before security kicked her out. "All these photographers chased after me like, 'One more shot! You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful!' And I was like, 'That’s not the point!'" she recalls, giggling. Her purpose was actually to shoot promotional video for her one-woman comedy show about female nudity, Naked People, which she performs regularly at the Upright Citizens Brigade. We caught up with Julia and her producer, Angela Dee, to hear about her show and her Fashion Week streaking experience. 

So what was it like for you to streak at Fashion Week and have all these blogs post pictures of you on the Internet?
It made me want to do the show even more. People — all those commenters — were just spewing shame into the Internet because of this picture of a naked woman. It’s just a body! I’m not looking for people to validate me or say something like, “Oh, she has great tits!” You know, we were just shooting a promotional video for the show. 

Why did you pick Lincoln Center during Fashion Week as a streaking backdrop?
Well, the idea was for me to run around naked in public trying to swipe censorship bars away from my body. So I did a lot of running around in Dumbo trying to escape censorship bars last September. And then we decided to do it at Lincoln Center during Fashion Week in February, surrounded by all these beautiful, stylish people who care so much about clothes. It’s just hilarious as a video. 

But a lot of photographers were around, so they took your picture too.
And the photos look so bizarre, because I’m physically running but also pretending to swipe imaginary censorship bars away from my butt and my breasts. I had a friend set up his camera and had another friend hold my coat, and I ran through. It was all of 30 seconds, and then I put my coat back on and security was like, “You’ve got to get out of here, ma’am! You’ve got to get out!” And all these photographers chased after me like, “One more shot! You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful!” And I was like, “That’s not the point!”

Did people think you were protesting?
One girl was like, “Are you against Fashion Week?” And I was like, “No! I just don’t have clothes on!”

What kind of shoes were you wearing?
Adidas. They’re my favorite shoes. 

And you were wearing panties. 
Well, I was also trying not to get arrested. Technically, it is legal to be topless in the city for both men and women, but if you’re not wearing underwear you can get arrested for public indecency. You show your bush, and it’s like, “Oh my God!” But I guess that saves us all from penises.

So how did the idea of Naked People come about?
Well, I used to do a lot of burlesque. And the way I approached burlesque was that it was like a sketch, only the punch line was nudity. Like, “Aaaand, breasts!” Then I started doing improv because I didn’t want that to be my punch line anymore. I wanted to explore what else was funny.

What got you into burlesque originally?
I just saw someone doing it, and I was like, “I can do that, and better.” [Laughs.] I did it for about three years, under the name Roja Rouge, at all these old places that no longer exist. You can find some videos.

And then you stopped.
Well, I was also doing improv, and a couple years ago I auditioned for a burlesque nude role at UCB. I initially thought I hadn’t gotten the part — I did end up getting it, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, I was disappointed, and my sister was like, “Julia, this is a good thing. You don’t want to be naked onstage anymore. You want to be more than your body.” And it made me realize that there’s this popular opinion that a woman cannot use her body and simultaneously be funny.

That’s true. But a lot of men can.
Yeah! How many times have you seen Jim Carrey get naked? Remember when he came out of the hippo’s butt in Ace Ventura? And it was funny because it was gross and shocking, and he’s allowed to do that. What is stopping a woman from doing that? Blah blah social norms, or just the fear that it wouldn’t be funny.

So how do you overcome that in your show?
Well, I have such a history of getting naked, and I have this battle where I want to respect my mind and my body at the same time — and for other people to do the same thing. I think seeing a naked woman on stage, being cognizant and funny and not just running around as a naked spectacle, gives people a new sense of freedom. Like, “Oh, you CAN do that.” I want to challenge people to look at why they are afraid of bodies. 

How did you get so comfortable being naked?
I just decided to be. It’s like breaking a habit. We all sit around complaining about our bodies until we say, "Hey, that’s a waste of time."

Do you worry people view it as a gimmick?
Yes, and that’s where Angela [her producer] was great. She was a very good security guard for that side of me that’s like, “Oh, I want to take off my shirt!” She’d be like, “Why do you want to do that? If you can give me a valid reason, then do it.” I’ve had to toe the line between using my body as a tool and being a blatant exhibitionist.

For more information about Naked People, check out Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.