photo: Jovanka Novakovic
Erica Watson was blessed with a pretty face. That may be every little girl's dream for snagging Prince Charming, but for a plus-sized woman, it can create a nightmare. "People don't realize how demeaning it is to hear 'you have such a pretty face,' as if it's wasted on you because you’re fat," she says.
Fueled by her anger about how plus-size women are treated as well as stereotypical black female media images, Chicago-born comedian and director Watson developed a one-woman show that basically "wrote itself." A 90-minute, witty ride through mammy portrayals, body image issues and the requisite "fat and sassy black woman" roles, "Fat Bitch" is Watson's answer to all the haters. The show gained great response in New York so Watson decided to bring it home to Chicago. We sat down recently with Watson for a long lunch of jerk catfish and brown stew chicken at the South Loop's Utopia International Caribbean Cuisine and talked about everything from her Hyde Park childhood to her gay mirror.
How did you develop the idea for "Fat Bitch"?
In my stand up routine, I avoid talking about my weight at all costs. It's so obvious when you're plus-size to make a fat joke. But people like Tyra did undercover reports about being big and put on fat suits. They don't ever talk to somebody like me to find out how it is to live daily like this. I want to show that hey, fat girls have a voice too. I wrote a hybrid between theater and stand-up. There are moments that are serious but it's a funny show.
What's your favorite part of the show?
One of my favorite parts is when I act out a conversation that I have every morning with my magic mirror, who happens to be a gay man. Yes, I said it, my mirror is gay and he tells me how FIERCE I am every day. If you can't get a gay best friend, a gay mirror is the next best thing!
After earning a masters in media management from Columbia College Chicago, you moved to New York to direct music videos in 2003. How did you wind up in comedy?
I worked on a couple of sets. I did some PA work and I saw what was going on behind the scenes. The women popping their butts and performing oral sex in trailers, I couldn't deal with that. So I took a comedy class at the Manhattan School of Comedy and within two weeks, I had my first show at Caroline's.
How was your body image and self awareness shaped by growing up "thick" in Hyde Park?
Yes, I was captain of the cheerleading team. Yes, I was senior class president. Yes, I was cool with everybody from the thugs to the chess team. But the guys at my school were just not interested in me. I don't think it had anything to do with my size because the "thick" girls were the favorites of the guys there. I still got a lot of attention from older guys in college and boys at other high schools. Kenwood Academy had some of the most beautiful girls in the city so the average-looking girl of any size had very tough competition there. It didn't really affect me because I have always pulled self esteem from within.
You have a small role in the movie "Precious" with Mo'Nique and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who are both big, beautiful black women. Are there any positive representations of big black women in the media that you'd like to see more of?
Honestly, there aren't many plus-size women in the media of any race. Even the ones we think of as "big girls," when you see them in real life, you realize they're not too big after all. When everyone on TV is a size zero, then the size 4 girl looks fat! One plus-size woman that I really admire for her fearlessness is Beth Ditto. She's my hero!
"Fat Bitch" runs through November 28 at Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. The show will return to New York in February.