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May 1999

“Way Off Broadway”

Temp Power: Career Comedian Rachel Arieff

by Tom Murrin

Stuck in a lousy job in the corporate world? Rachel Arieff understands. Her 45-minute solo comedy, Hi, I’m Brittany, and I’m Rotting!, is a remedy for the spiritual decay that results from working at a job you hate.

Appearing onstage in a gray business suit and high heels, the attractive twentysomething opens her self-styled “variety show about some highly unusual career girls” as the title character, Brittany, whom Arieff describes as “a very successful mutual-funds executive” who is aware of her putrefaction. But, as her creator notes, “She doesn’t care, because she feels so great.” This “proactive, positive-thinking team player” sets the tone for the show: happiness and rotting can co-exist.

Arieff, who has a sunny smile that brightens her matter-of-fact manner, admits, “The inspiration for writing Brittany was my own experiences working in offices with awful people.” But, she adds, “This horrible work experience, this suffocation of the soul, is something that many people relate to instantly.”

Another character is Missy, an actress who, as Arieff says, “only sleeps with guys who have their own TV show.” Arieff explains her genesis simply: “Being in show business, you run across many ambitious young women who believe that to fuck success is to be successful.” And then there’s Nancy, an assistant — seen only on video — who is dressed for the corporate world but inexplicably covered in blood. Nancy is Arieff’s favorite character. “She’s the most normal, well-adjusted person in the show. She’s just marked for life by this one characteristic.” The video shows Nancy at the computer, interacting with co-workers and out in public. Arieff denies that the blood represents a spiritual hemorrhage, explaining, “I just think it’s really funny to put a person who’s covered in blood in a sterile atmosphere.” She adds, “To me, working in an office is all about the denial of life. Most people’s personalities cannot be expressed. The image of blood is a rebellion against that: It’s very messy.”

“Basically, the whole show is about repression, and repression is the key to running the corporate system,” says Arieff, whose characters become a release while she’s working. “If I loved my job, none of these things would have happened.” (For the record, Arieff temps as an administrative assistant for different companies in New York.)

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Arieff moved to Austin after college, because she wanted to be somewhere warm. She did stand-up at the Velveeta Room for four years while waitressing and proofreading for the Texas Legislature. She moved to New York in 1996. One night she showed up at Reverend Jen’s Anti-Slam at Collective Unconscious, where a comic monologist named Bob Powers was performing. “Everyone was blown away,” she recalls. Evidently she was too, because they were married last summer. Powers, who’s also a temp, does a show called Blood In My Coffee.

As for the future, Arieff says simply, “I’d love to have my own show, either live or on TV, that I could live off. Of course, then I’d risk my inspiration drying up and becoming a hack.” That’s not likely to happen. The savvy Arieff has touched a chord with her show. Not only is it funny in a darkly satirical way, but the premise hits home with a lot of people who toil at their own satisfactory jobs. Imagine her potential audience.

Hi, I’m Brittany, and I’m Rotting! at Collective Unconscious, 145 Ludlow St., (212) 539-7570. Saturdays at 8 p.m. $7.