Sometimes Holly Lorka wears a sword on stage.
Don’t ask her why, because that’s just a silly question. She wears a sword because she can. And because it will probably make you laugh. It’s just a component of what makes Lorka’s self-deprecating stand-up comedy act a hit with audiences.
“I’m just absurd and silly – that’s it,” says Lorka.
Lorka’s always been funny. Her eighth grade class voted hers the “best sense of humor.” as a kid, she told people she wanted to be a “superstar” when she grew up, though she had no idea what that meant. “I knew I wanted to be famous and be on stage, but I didn’t know the details. I was confused. So I became a nurse.”
Nursing is still how Lorka fills her days. But in the evenings she performs her act all over town at clubs, lounges and other venues. She’s also a staple in the monthly Chick Schtick night at the Cap City Comedy Club.
“Comedy is a great way to have a conversation about everyday things in a non-threatening way,” Lorka says. “if you can get people to laugh then you can get them to pay attention to what you’re saying. I know that if I get that laugh, I can say anything I want.”
Though funny, Lorka was also a shy kid, bespectacled and nerdy. After a relationship fell apart a few years back, she says she felt free to be whatever she wanted. She took an extended travel assignment on the West coast then came to Austin where she signed up for a comedy class as part of UT’s informal courses program. “My favorite part of the workshop was getting to read what I wrote to get people to laugh,” she says.
It’s the rush that she gets making people crack up on stage that drives her. “I cope with life by being funny – that’s my thing,” she says. “It’s just my mind and words. Maybe someday I’d like to get backup dancers.”
In her act, she talks about sex, body image, sexuality. Anything she’s repressed through the years is fair game. “It’s a beautiful, cathartic thing to do. …I was an awkward kid with so much shame and insecurity about who I was. I love to talk about anything that’s caused me shame and embarrassment. The thing is so many of us have those feelings. So why not make fun of them?”
That’s not to say it’s always easy. She recalls a gig at a lounge in East Austin where no one in the place was paying attention to her. “I would get louder, they would get louder to drown me out!”
Then there are the really rewarding crowds, those that just eat up whatever she delivers. “I love the mixed crowds of gay and straight people and seeing everybody laughing at the same jokes, it really brings home that we are all the same and we all live through the same stuff. …I like to tell gay jokes to straight people. That makes it more accessible to them; then they can see me as just another person who experiences the same things they do.”
Lorka recently married her partner Karen Sorensen and of course she’s worked the nuptials into her act. “I tell people, I really wanted to marry Karen and I didn’t want to have to go to Iowa to do it because I don’t look good in overalls.”