Comedy has been good for Sara Benincasa, even therapeutic. This is a person who, by her own admission, was once so wrought with anxiety that she could barely bring herself to leave her house. So it is no small thing for her to travel from one city to the next, stepping out on stage and sharing her stories in a very personal, revealing, and funny way.
"There were times, in my early 20s, when I didn't want to leave my bedroom," Benincasa says. "So for me being able to travel, lead a full life, and be a performer — which is something I never planned on or anticipated — is really fabulous and exciting."
It should come as no surprise, then, that many of the stories Benincasa shares on stage in her show Agorafabulous are about transformation and growth.
"The show's about my struggle with agoraphobia, but it's really funny. It's really irreverent. I have no choice but to devote at least the first 10 minutes to talking about Gov. Sanford, who is a gift from the comedy gods," Benincasa says. "The rest of it is just personal stories, some of which are very awkward and some of which are kind of terrifying, but in the end, I think the show is very uplifting and very funny throughout."
According to Benincasa, "Agorafabulous is about taking your dark side and your flaws, working with them, admitting that you have them, and celebrating the small victories that you're able to make along the way."
"Small victories," of course, is a relative term for this comedian, writer, and radio talk show host: her regular gig as the cohost of the sex-themed chat show Get in Bed with Cosmo, on Cosmo radio (Sirius 111/XM 162), would be small victory enough for most up-and-coming performers.
Toss in her work as a citizen journalist for the 2008 MTV Choose or Lose Street Team, more hilarious YouTube contributions than you could shake an Alaskan governor at, and a penchant for getting smart and sassy people in the bathtub (that's the shtick for one of her talk shows), and you have one highly entertaining individual with a keen sense of how people communicate in the modern world.
In other words, blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else might be flickering into being on the internet at any given moment are all in her tool box, ready to help her send her message out into the great big world.
"For me as a comedian, in terms of getting my work out there, the internet has really been vital," she says. "I've been able to publicize my work, meet people. I love it.
Benincasa adds, "Just the other day, I was chatting with a friend who is a staff sergeant in Iraq and a friend who is performing comedy in the Netherlands for the summer at the same time. And that is so extraordinary and amazing."
Right now, of course, the New York-based comedian is focused on her upcoming show at Theatre 99. "I've spent part of each summer since I was 8 years old in the Lowcountry," she says. "So it's really exciting to get to perform there for the first time."
Her first experiences in South Carolina were summers on Kiawah Island. The memories were sufficiently blissful to later inspire a summer semester at College of Charleston and even some sea island volunteer service assisting migrant workers.
"It was a really amazing experience. The Lowcountry has always been a place of peace and reflection for me. It's a place where I feel very creative."
In fact, she credits Lowcountry author Pat Conroy as one of her major inspirations.
"The fact that he spoke openly about mental illness, wrote about it, and incorporated it into his stories was really invaluable to me," Benincasa says. "I saw the success he had as a writer and how impressive he was, and yet I also saw how he struggled. I saw that it was okay to have problems. It didn't mean that you couldn't give a positive contribution to the world."
Expect candor and chuckles alike to be dished out in abundance during the show, with a healthy swig of quirkiness and emotional honesty to wash it down. If you'd really like to see the show, but are nervous about leaving the living room, consider it comedy as therapy.