“One time I got so drunk, I was hosting a show and I threw a tray of glasses, and got kicked out of the bar,” Philadelphia comedian Juliet Hope Wayne says, flatly and honestly. “Another time, I grabbed a microphone and said I thought the judges were c-bags, except I said the real word, because I didn’t think they gave my friend a good score.” Wayne’s not looking for laughs or for pity. She is simply doing in our interview the same thing she does every time she steps on stage. She’s telling the truth.
“Honesty is the best policy in comedy,” says respected Philly comic Chip Chantry, “And Juliet is brutally honest about herself. She bares everything, good and bad.” Indeed, her stories are astonishingly candid, with terrible decisions in her love life, work life, and family life laid visibly bare for complete strangers. Most of her stories revolve around her days in the restaurant industry, when drugs and alcohol helped fuel some great stories, but also a self-destructive lifestyle that she talks about as if the audience were her therapist.
“Most of the people I’ve met say, ‘We like it when you just let it fly.’ And at times when I’ve tried to sugarcoat it a bit, my friends have said, ‘Nah, I don’t like it when you’re like that.’” And so her tales border on the ribald (without reaching the point of raunchy) and challenge listeners with a level of honesty that they’re probably not used to hearing, particularly from a stranger. But it’s the depth and level of that candor that have begun to make her a fan favorite on both the storyteller and comedy scenes in Philadelphia.
“Most people don’t tell true stories, and if they do, they’re trying to tell jokes,” says renowned Philly funnyman Doogie Horner. “You get a very powerful sense of what she’s saying is true. It’s powerful when someone is being that open and honest.”
Though drinking and casual drug use play prominent (and hilarious) roles in most of her stories, she quit drinking and drugs a little over two years ago. “If I have a drink it will escalate into about eight years of chaos. Easily. I’ll wake up and be like, ‘Wait a minute, your kid is like two.’ And my friend will be like, ‘No, she’s in high school now.'”
I ask her if storytelling saved her life. “It saved me from a shitty life. I think the story thing sort of kept me in line and on track.”
After graduating from UArts with a degree in animation, Juliet found more gratification in the spoken word, and her talent soon earned her a spot with an extremely popular storytelling group in New York called the Moth for several years. But last year, she decided to return home, and she moved back in with her parents in Havertown. “I was like, I need to get my life together, and it’s been the best possible thing I could do.”
Locally, her focus has been on story slams and comedy shows, where she has emerged as a favorite among not only crowds but comedians themselves.
“I saw her and was blown away,” says Horner. “She’s a good actress, and a very creative writer.” Adds Chantry, “She can tell a story that has you captivated from beginning to end. And that’s fine on its own, but she is also hilarious, and has an amazing laughs-per-minute pace that you don’t see with a lot of storytellers.”
Perhaps part of the reason she’s made the transition from storytelling to comedy is because her style is so unorthodox. “I’m used to setup, punch line,” says Horner. “[Her stories are] told in a more natural way, so you don’t see the jokes coming. She’s not working toward a punch line, she’s working on a more dramatic story arc. She looks at the bigger picture.”
The bigger picture now includes two scripts she’s been asked to work on, an upcoming writers’ workshop she’ll help run with Joey Sweeney, an upcoming series of comedy shows in Portland, and a recent decision to go back into animation. And an ongoing struggle to keep from descending back into chaos. “Mostly, I’m trying to find out how to have fun without drinking. I can’t seem to figure it out. It’s been two and a half years.” She concludes, half-jokingly, “There must be fun things to do without drinking, right?”