Jamie Loftus is among a new wave of young, female and digital native comedians who are harnessing their fears and anxieties to produce astute Web series.
Loftus, 25, is the mind behind “Irrational Fears,” a web series that debuted on Comedy Central in April. The series, which has amassed 775,000 total views, is inspired by everyday encounters that sometimes terrify Loftus, who was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive and bipolar disorders two years ago.
Her character’s neuroses range from the mundane (debating which emoji to use in a text message) to the practical (asking for a raise at work) to the nonsensical: Discovering her pet hamster loathed her so much that it died as a result. It’s a conspiracy that Loftus actually believes.
“Right after I got the hamster, my boyfriend told me he was cheating on me. We were alone, but my hamster was there, so I would project a lot of my anxieties about the breakup onto the hamster,” she says. When she came home from work one day, the hamster, as if in a “Shakespearean drama, climbed into my hand, made eye contact and just died.” Loftus still has its corpse in her freezer.
In a hyper-connected, politically divisive time when social media can be as agonizing as it is validating, and the nonstop news broadcasts one terrible event after the next, Loftus’s worries — hamsters aside — don’t always seem quite so irrational.
“Irrational Fears” isn’t the only show providing comic relief and resonating with young audiences. Writers and comedians mining their own neuroses for entertainment is nothing new, but the new Web series creators excavating these ideas speak to the fear and paranoia of a hyper-connected world — one that didn’t exist even a decade ago.
“There’s a lot to worry about. It doesn’t really end,” says Clare Gillen, an artist and designer who hosts a satirical self-help web series called “Art + Therapy” on the online network Super Deluxe.
What stresses her out? “Social stress, age stress, whether I should get Botox or not, the list goes on.” She recently sought a therapist to manage her stress from work after realizing that it often sets in the moment she wakes up in the morning. When she grabs for her phone and starts scrolling through Instagram, the feeling only get worse. “Even for somebody who is straight and white and female and middle class and all of these things that should make my life easier.”
Gillen, 30, is far more collected than the manic character she plays on “Art + Therapy.” In every episode of the show, which was conceived by filmmaker Megan Lovallo, Gillen comes up with an instructional DIY project intended to quell a particular anxiety. An episode about body hair anxiety, in which Gillen crafts a pair of yarn-covered panties, amassed more than 2.3 million views on Facebook. In an episode about loneliness, she teaches viewers to invent a companion out of cloth and papier-mache, citing research showing that people tend to lose friends after the age of 25.
“We all have friends, but it’s just never enough,” Gillen says. “That system [of social media] is set up to make us feel insecure by tallying numbers and prioritizing content.”
Cazzie David and Elisa Kalani, both 24, created “Eighty-Sixed,” a web series released on YouTube last year. It explores social anxieties stemming from text messages, Facebook posts and Google searches. In an email interview, David says of her phone, “the anxieties that come along with it are unavoidable.”
It’s something Loftus can relate to: Shortly after her OCD and bipolar diagnosis, she undertook exposure therapy, which involves exposing patients to their fears. In the therapy sessions, she was asked to scroll through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to identify posts that made her anxious or uncomfortable and then try to explain why. “It would usually boil down to: ‘Everyone hates me, and I’m useless,’ ” she says, which she discovered was “a totally irrational conclusion.”
“Eighty-Sixed,” which has racked up nearly a million views, starts with an episode about the social media fallout from a breakup. It was so relatable that David says she still gets messages from fans writing to her with their own breakup stories. “It’s something everyone has gone through, but it’s a completely different experience now with social media,” she says. “Just clicking onto Instagram is like having to go back to work at the same job and office as your ex.”
“It’s something everyone has gone through, but it’s a completely different experience now with social media,” she says.
As much as social media can feel isolating and even debilitating, it has also fostered such movements as #MeToo, which has made women’s fears and anxieties more visible through stories about sexual harassment and assault.
“I think that the anxiety women have always felt is finally being talked about and recognized,” says Gillen, who is developing a weekly news-driven segment about fear and anxiety for IGTV, Instagram’s video platform. It’s “exciting to not only address those anxieties, but also, more than anything, for a woman to just be [able to act] ridiculous.”