A New York City comedian is taking the internet by storm after videos of her stand-up went viral on TikTok.
Ashley Gavin didn’t know at first that a career in comedy was on the horizon. She previously worked at MIT’s national research lab in Boston and had a comfortable life due to her career in computer science. But Gavin couldn’t shake the feeling of unhappiness.
“I was in a nice relationship, I had a nice apartment, but I was really unhappy,” said Gavin. “I was just sort of ignoring the desire to be in the performing arts.”
Gavin ended up quitting her job in 2012 and moved back to New York City, where she took a year or two to get an idea of what she wanted to do. During this time, Gavin worked a day job while doing improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (UCB). It was when Gavin found stand-up comedy in 2014 was when something clicked for her.
“[Stand-up] felt like the thing that I should be doing,” said Gavin.
Gavin’s comedy focuses on her experiences as a gay woman and a feminist and touches on her navigating depression and anxiety. Though Gavin gained a newfound happiness in stand-up comedy, she noticed that there was one glaring similarity between her old career in computer science and her new one in comedy: she jumped from one male-dominated field to another. This isn’t necessarily a problem for Gavin, as she grew pretty used to it during her days at MIT.
“The fact that computer science was male-dominated was something that I didn’t really like, and I did work to rectify that in my own work. This is just how it is, I just got used to that being the case,” said Gavin. “I’m working on being a better comedian and role model for young people. There have been times when I have gone to auditions with my friends and there are 11 men and two women in the room. You see why you didn’t get an audition because they don’t have a lot of slots for women. I don’t wallow in it because focusing on the negative parts of the job is not something I want to think about.”
Prior to the pandemic, Gavin was starting to grow a bit disillusioned with the entertainment industry as a whole. While she was putting her nose to the grind and working to build a comedy following, Gavin felt that she was struggling to get results. She told herself in 2019 that she was going to make more of an effort to get her stand-up online.
Naturally, when the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns began in 2020, it felt like the best time for Gavin to finally put that plan into action.
“When the pandemic hit, I thought, now is the time. It was an opportunity to do that, I had been preparing anyway,” said Gavin. “I put some stuff on Instagram, but my girlfriend at the time recommended I try TikTok. So I did it on a whim and got some wild results.”
Many of Gavin’s TikToks that highlight her stand-up from past shows often share moments where she has interacted with a heckler in the crowd and the aftermath. Since starting on TikTok, Gavin has gained over 492,000 followers (at the time of publication) and 11.3 million likes.
For Gavin, TikTok was the first place where she felt “adequately rewarded” for the comedy that she is making.
“I love TikTok because it has a sophisticated algorithm that knows what people enjoy watching. I felt like I have gotten to the right people and a lot of people,” said Gavin. “It’s interesting because TikTok lacks choice in an interesting way. You don’t search so much. In a strange way, it forces people to watch things they wouldn’t have otherwise watched. Some of my clips have almost 7 million views. Absolutely no one was looking at my stuff before, so this is really cool.”
In addition to her comedy content, Gavin posts clips from her new Spotify podcast, “We’re Having Gay Sex.” Gavin started to record the podcast in 2019 and first released it in April 2020. Gavin says she started the podcast because she had tried everything else in the industry, but had decided early on that she wouldn’t do a podcast unless she had a really solid idea for one.
“I went through a rough breakup. After serial monogamy, I decided to sleep around for a period of my life. When I started doing that, I thought, ‘Oh my god, no one talks about this. No one talks about this kind of story, maybe that’s what the podcast can be,'” said Gavin. “There isn’t enough sex-positive content for queer women. That’s when I came up with the idea.”
Gavin says that TikTok has helped get her podcast on the map and in front of a larger audience. As a result of the podcast, Gavin has made a ton of new friends while talking about subjects that have been considered taboo.
Though Gavin has fun discussing sex with her guests on the podcast, she often reiterates that she is by no means an expert in the field.
“I feel I try to be really open and authentic about not always knowing the answers. Speaking for an hour every week about sex and encountering topics, people look to you as an expert,” said Gavin. “I tell [those people] that I’m an idiot and don’t take my advice. People write in and correct me if I get something wrong, which is a great way to do it. There’s pressure that comes with speaking freely for an hour and people look to you as some sort of representative of their community. People feel close and connected to you.”
Once it’s safe to do so again, Gavin wants to start doing live shows outdoors again and possibly try doing stand-up on the subway. She also hopes to be able to do more with crowd work in her future sets.
“I never realized how much I love talking to strangers about intimate moments of their lives,” said Gavin. “Part of the reason my videos went viral is because I post these improv moments with hecklers and talking to the crowd. I like crowd work but it’s looked down on because it’s not written. People love this on the internet, and it’s something that can only exist once. I’m thinking once it’s warmer, I want to have shows where I just do crowd work and talk to strangers. I want to give it more credit because people love it and I love doing it.”