Zoe Larkin and Ella Attell
It was something that she said in English section that got me interested in profiling Ella Attell ’24. We were in the literary realm, talking in pairs about the significance of the commas in a particular James Baldwin passage. I went for the obvious answer, but Attell said she thought that Baldwin’s use of commas foretold the rise of internet culture and the constant fragmentation of attention and time. I was intrigued by this and wanted to pick her brain. I told her this, both to her face and in the email that I sent her a couple weeks later asking if she would be the subject of a profile. First, surprised but with a flattered smile, “Really? What do you mean by that?” And then, “I still don’t really know what you mean by that.” Regardless, I was happy that she was on board to do the profile and when she said, “I’m a bit nervous, I don’t know what to expect,” I told her not to worry because it will be fun and fine. This was probably not the most reassuring reply, which explains why she didn’t look at all convinced. I may have been over-promising, but we agreed to meet for lunch on Tuesday.
Attell arrived exactly on time, wearing understated clothing, a navy blue V-neck, light washed jeans and a light army green coat. She sat with the slightest slouch, and while my eyes frequently wandered at the happenings around us, she didn’t once glance away. She used to write for the Yale Daily News but now focuses on comedy, is a sophomore but would be a junior — I was grateful that she didn’t refer to herself as a super sophomore — and had a horrible first year followed by a gap year that changed her life. I asked her to explain. “It made me realize what I actually am interested in and want to do.” Over the gap year she interned at the “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and also worked for a film festival in a beach town community near Montauk. And something along the way solidified her passion for comedy and allowed her to envision a different future.
At Yale, she’s involved in Just Add Water, Yale’s musical improv group, and Play Space, an interdisciplinary comedy group. When I asked whether she was thriving, now that she was finally doing things she loves, she hedged: “Eh, I don’t believe in the concept of thriving.” Or the idea of domesticated animals. Or the use of the word “interesting” in seminars. She wasn’t quick to explain, and instead waited for me to press: “I don’t think anyone here is thriving. People live life wearing a costume and everyone is constantly performing, presenting an image to people that they are not. Even to the type of sneakers you wear, people here try so hard to be perceived as cool.” I blinked. I wasn’t expecting my asking if she was “thriving” to produce this response, but I agreed. And I appreciated her honesty.
Talking to Attell almost felt like having a conversation with a person who lives outside of the modern time. I had to explain to her what it meant when I said that I was in my flop-era, which was a flop in itself. “I guess it means … it’s like, if your life was a graph, it would be the low part.” When I looked at her with a “you get what I mean, right?” she still looked confused, but nodded anyway. And when I used the word “camp” she corrected me, citing Susan Sontag’s “Notes On Camp.” “I can’t believe you just did that to me,” I said. She was delighted. Despite probably not understanding many references that I made, Attell was an attentive listener, and didn’t once interrupt.
Something refreshing about Attell that made me comfortable revealing to her the elaborate stories I saved just for my friends — or maybe her air of privacy compelled me to overcompensate. Either way, by the middle of our conversation, she knew about how I woke up crying the night before because I dreamed of a mischief of rats living under my bed, that I’m in my “I-love-men era,” how I’m grateful that I greened out on edibles and dissociated for two weeks because I think that it was the catalyst for my ego death —she was unconvinced by this — and how the worst news that I received that week is that people get notified when you’ve stalked their LinkedIn. “Hm, I think you’re fine; they don’t see your face. Anyways, isn’t that a premium feature?” she said. “I’ve done major stalking, Ella, you don’t understand.” She laughed when I told her that I already knew that she worked for Seth Myers over her gap year, but she didn’t seem to mind — she looked pleased.
I was midway through saying how I think that her having Facebook as her only social media is “camp” when she said, “I just feel like I don’t really know what this” — this being the interview — “is.” She had done profile pieces for the WKND before, “but I’ve never done them like … this. You didn’t even bring a notebook.” I was taken aback by the question. I shouldn’t have been, though, because it seems like honesty and sincerity is Attell’s “thing.” A few weeks earlier, when I asked her how she was doing, she expressed gratitude and a tinge of shock for the question in a way I hadn’t seen before, “Did you just ask me how my day was?” I had. “Thank you so much for asking, really.” She told me that she wasn’t happy with her academic performance recently and that starting that day she was going to do better.
During our interview, it sometimes felt like I was the one being profiled with blunt, personal questions. But Attell wanted to know, and so she asked. What was my best Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday at Yale? I didn’t ask why she chose those days in particular. What clubs do I do? Do I like my friends? Am I happy? When I answered the questions honestly, she asked “are you sure?” Perhaps that was another reason why I find Attell so uncommon, she doesn’t immediately accept or readily agree. Every class, she arrives one to two minutes late, sits at the same seat and proceeds to explain why she “didn’t quite agree” with what the professors said in lecture.
I got the sense that she was intentional in every approach: she used no emojis in her texts but almost all were perfectly punctualized. When she spoke in class she rarely stumbled over her words. She even saved her smiles. Though I could tell she was amused by my stories, she was deliberate in her reactions. In fact, I think I only heard her laugh once.
Somewhere along the line, we talked about our hyper awareness we felt in our bodies. We bonded on how we sometimes felt uneasy walking alone at night and how it’s sad that we will always have to police and restrict our bodies in a way that men never will. This was especially of interest to her because she is moving off campus next year.
“I just feel like,” she paused, choosing each word carefully, “Women weigh less than men but weigh more at the same time. I get sad thinking about how I won’t ever be able to fully feel at peace in my own body, from the places I’m allowed to go to how I sit in a chair.”
At this point, the topic of “Boob Show”— the comedy show that she and her friend and creative partner Zoe Larkin ’24 produced for later that month — arised. She and Larkin met last fall when they shopped — and dropped — the same seminar. “The professor spent ten minutes pulling up a passage from ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ so we did what we had to do,” Larkin later told me. Since both women are passionate about comedy, they decided to create a show to “bring awareness” to the “women of breast.” The show was about an hour long, “essentially a panorama of comedy elements, all centering the theme of boobs.”
“We’re now living in an ass society,” she said. “No one cares about boobs anymore.”
I wanted to meet Larkin. I asked Attell to characterize her and she sang only praises. “Zoe is both the most simple and complex person that I know. She is really aware of the strategy of comedy and can quickly synthesize and recognize what makes a joke land. But she’s too kind, almost to a fault, while I’m more … cynical.” Even before I had met Larkin, I had a sense that I already knew her. I had been briefed by Attell and had her character already mapped out. Still, I was excited to learn more.The meeting was short though, because five minutes into our interview, bird shit splat on my notebook.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” Larkin said laughing when she saw it.
“No, no,” I said. “I deserve this.” She must have noticed how hard I was trying not to gag, because she kept apologizing — though it wasn’t her fault — and was efficient in her answers. Over her gap year she wrote for Ms. Magazine, The Sacramento Bee and TV Guide. She has a passion for writing but is majoring in cognitive science because it is more multifaceted and allows for an exploration of both philosophical and scientific questions. Though she was the director of the Red Hot Poker sketch comedy group, now her main venture is focusing on personal projects and Play Space. She always had a passion for comedy but Yale provided a concrete way for her to pursue the path. Stepping away from her beloved TV reviews, Larkin now strives to create things herself rather than analyzing the works of others.
When I asked her about “Boob Show,” she had much to say. She was grateful that her and Attell bonded as “women of breast” — of breast, not with. Through “Boob Show,” they were able to connect through boob discourse and honor their forgotten community. She was passionate about doing this also because she loves anything with a strong female comedian. Shows by Tina Fey, Phoebe Waller Bridge and Michaela Coel are her favorites — but she’ll devour “basically anything by a girlboss.” Zoe also loves to read, preferably nonfiction and preferably about cults. Naturally, I asked about her thoughts on Jared Leto. She said that “Boob Show” was akin to “The Vagina Monologues,” but “with less politics and more Shein” and that it incorporated “stand up, sketch and spectacle.” She was also thrilled to create something with Attell, who she described as “self-assured, disciplined, diligent, admirable and intentional, a comedian with an absurd sensibility. She takes comedy more seriously than anyone I’ve ever met.” Also, she added, “she has incredible hair. Please include that.”
Over the summer she and Attell will be working on comedy together and familiarizing themselves with the comedy scene in New York City. When I asked her what project they are working on now, she said just enough to intrigue. “There are a lot of things in the works,” she said. They are working on a web series called “Max” — “that’s a working title”— about a girl in college. Their creative process is simple, they usually come up with an idea for which they write separately and then combine and revise together. “We riff and pitch,” she said simply, smiling broadly when she said it. I couldn’t help but note the similarities and differences between the two. While Attell wore only neutral colors, Larkin was wearing bright orange. While Attell was deliberate with the emotions and words that she shared, Larkin laughed and smiled often, stumbling over her words out of eagerness to get them out. She sometimes averted eye contact, in the way that I do myself, and her words drew out, full of cadence. If I had said something she disagreed with during our discussion, I wouldn’t know.
I entered the Jonathan Edwards College Theater curious about what I was walking into. At that point, I had interviewed Attell and Larkin almost a month before. I walked past a sea of earth-toned sweaters; the boy in front of me took a hit of his vape. While I waited for it to begin, I wondered how I would write this profile if I ended up thinking the show was shit. Mid-thought, it began. It opened with a video titled “Wouldn’t you like to know?” which was a montage of the pair running around the streets of New Haven set to the heavy bass of COBRAH’s “GOOD PUSS.” Immediately after this, two ballerinas entered the stage and performed a piece, Attell and Larkin bursting onto the stage and joining the ballerina’s set as their entrance.
They were right, “Boob Show” did incorporate a little bit of everything: canvassing people on the street — “What are your thoughts on the “Free the Nip” movement?”; Is Jennifer Aniston pro-boob?”; “Do you prefer ass or boobs?”— sketches, stand up, skits, characters, acting, accents, live instrumentals, costume changes and personal anecdotes. My only wish was that it had been longer. There were lines that I never thought I would hear but completely understood. “We are currently experiencing an ass-centric society” and something about the fact that conservatives did much more than the liberals for the boob economy? The show taught me the difference between “boob forward” and “boob backward” through a photo demonstration analyzing the difference between Oprah and Sydney Sweeney’s show of cleavage. It made me wonder what really is the proper way to refer to boobs and made me think about how boobs are an outward display of a woman’s sexuality that people feel entitled to comment on because of its visibility.
While genuinely funny because of its elements of surprise and lack of convention, the show also explored issues like female sexuality, the male gaze, self perception and body image. While I’m obviously not an expert in comedy, I found the show quick, witty, subversive, forward-thinking, praiseworthy — should I continue? At first, I wondered what would happen when two distinct personalities combined to create something like this. But it became clear that Attell and Larkin were like a set of boobs themselves, a glorious pair.