When Christine Horvath discusses the process of creating her new show, “Tough Baby,” she could alternately be describing an archeological dig. Throughout, she peppers the conversation with words like “excavation” and “digging,” speaking of the importance of getting down to the core of who she is now as both a comedian and a person.
“I read the first draft [of the show] to my partner, who’s also a performer and a comedian, and he was like, ‘Yeah, this isn’t honest at all,’” Horvath said over coffee in early April. “I think I had to shed many layers to figure out what I wanted to say. And only in the last two or three months have I really understood my voice and what I want to say onstage in that hour and a half.”
Horvath said this period of deep introspection began in the early days of COVID after another comedian started a false rumor about her, which led to her feeling increasingly socially isolated as the pandemic deepened. “It was very lonely,” said Horvath, describing those months as “a very desolate emotional place.” “And either you look into the void and accept it, or you look away and you freeze in this sadness and this isolation and this anger. And I didn’t want to freeze. So, I had to look at it.”
This led the comedian to start considering past behaviors, as well as inspiring a series of questions she said she had never fully considered, including: What are you doing? Why are you doing it? And what is it getting you? With her community stripped down to the handful of folks that Horvath said had always been on her team, she also started to ask how she could take this small group and grow it in a more meaningful way.
“I think I had to strip it down to a place where I had almost nothing,” she said. “And then I had to think, ‘Okay, Christine, now dream it. What do you want it to look like?’”
Horvath’s new show, “,” which debuts at the Nest Theatre on Saturday, April 15, reflects this process of tearing down and rebuilding, with Horvath examining her past onstage in a way that she was initially reluctant to do.
“I tried very hard to not write this thing,” said Horvath, who will also stage performances at the Nest on April 22 and 29. “But I think that I allowed my true voice to shine, and I allowed it a space that I hadn’t before. I think I’ve always been honest onstage, but I don’t think I was digging from a deep well. And after all of this, I started thinking about my childhood and how I’ve always been an emotional person. And then I started to look at how all of these pieces and parts of me come together, and how all of those pieces of me needed something.”
Prior to the pandemic and this larger personal reckoning, Horvath said she generally expressed this need through anger, and often in blistering posts on social media. And while her intentions were good – the anger stemmed in part from the rampant misogyny in the stand-up community, as well as a desire to create a safe comedic space for women and queer folks – the toll that it took left her feeling hollowed out and increasingly cut off.
“So, eventually I had to shed that anger, and I had to soften, and I had to admit to myself that the way I was going about things was wrong,” Horvath said. “I wasn’t doing a good job of winning folks over to my team until I started looking at things differently. I thought, ‘Instead of being angry, maybe I could just be loving. And maybe I could give people what that young comedian in me needed: the welcoming, the fist bumps, the high fives. And maybe if I gave that out, I could feel better within.’ And lo and freaking behold. … Now, what had previously been expressed as anger, it’s being expressed as love.”
“Tough Baby” captures aspects of this evolution, with the comedian working back to childhood and the time her mother held her back a year rather than enrolling her in early kindergarten, explaining to her daughter that she just didn’t think she was emotionally ready for it.
“Which is just objectively funny,” Horvath said, and laughed. “But I allowed myself to go deep with it, like, why wasn’t I emotionally ready? What was going on with me? How was I showing that? And I started to think about the experiences that illuminate that idea.”
And perhaps more than anything, Horvath said it’s this idea of illumination that she hopes to impart on the audience. “There’s a community component to ‘Tough Baby,’ and I want people to share in this very triumphant moment where we’ve transcended the darkness,” she said. “They were with me in the dark, and I want them to share the light, too.”