By day, Julia Jeffries is a third year Ph.D. student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, knee deep in dissertations and academic jargon. By night, she’s an edgy standup comedian riffing on race, identity and her Chihuahua-Terrier puppy, Austin.
“I am queer, and I’m black and biracial, so I like to talk about things that are sometimes hard to get people to talk about,” says Jeffries. “I would say that sometimes I make people in the room a little bit uncomfortable, but I try to sort of ease that tension with jokes about funny, common things that we can understand and all laugh about.”
Jeffries dabbled in comedy while she was in high school, but she didn’t return to the stage until recently.
This month, Jeffries will give a few performances during the Women in Comedy Festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary back in Boston, May 2 to May 5. Sponsored by HBO, the festival celebrates the hilarious women who continually break barriers in the male-dominated comedy field. The four-day extravaganza also features headliner Phoebe Robinson of the “2 Dope Queens” podcast and a boatload of other local and national talent.
Jeffries has found standup to be a refreshing balance with her life in the academic world.
“In my identity as an academic, a lot of my work is very serious. I spend a lot of time reading and writing and thinking. Often, it’s isolating and individualistic,” she says. “Comedy is a really nice way to complement that. It’s a way of connecting.”
In fact, her academic roots allow her to look at comedy through an intellectual lens. She notes that marginalized groups have historically used humor as both a defense mechanism and a reprieve from mistreatment. Today, that’s one powerful tool.
“Comedy is important during this time, particularly hearing from voices that are often left out of conversations,” she says. “Whether they’re political conversations, whether they’re comedic circles, it’s important to highlight the stories of people who are often shut out.”