This is a series called Sheroes & Zeroes, about the people who defined our year in culture in both terrific and terrible ways.
Of the many traits great comedians are thought to possess—wit; major depression; an unabiding affection for hooded sweatshirts—one of the least appreciated is tenacity. Certainly it takes a level of chutzpah to be able to stand up in front of an audience of humans and clown their culture, and even more so to clown oneself. It requires a modicum of cojones to sit down and write jokes, to think on one's feet and say them, to simply get up every day and face the godforsaken industry that is showbiz, even at the most entry of levels. But perseverance is the great comedian's key characteristic—the ability to thrive in the face of a world hellbent on telling y'all to sit the hell down.
No single comedian this year exhibited the tenacity of Liza Dye, a 25-year-old New Yorker via South Carolina who, in February, had a life-altering experience with the B train that nearly took her leg, and landed her a three-month gig in the hospital.
"I'm glad that I'm here because I almost dieeedd! Guys, it has been a doozy of a year," she says matter-of-factly on the podcast she began in June. "If you do not know, I was in the subway, waiting for the train, I fainted, fell into the train tracks and I was hit by the train. I don't remember it. I was totally unconscious for it. I woke up underneath the traincar. This was probably the scariest moment of any story ever told."
Comedy people notoriously mine their personal tragedies for the sake of humor, but for the most part these tend to be emotional and visceral tragedies: major depression, divorce, can-cah, the general lifelong notion of being an underdog. Dye spent the year physically recovering and transforming her near-death experience into comedy that was funny, vulnerable, and gnarly at the same time. Her podcast:
"I remember seeing my leg, it looked really nasty. There wasn't much of it left. It was pretty much a bone. There was some skin. Most of it was just scattered about. And yes, it was really, really, really, really crazy… and yeah, it was just a really, really life-changing experience... I wonder how many times I can say ' really' in this thing?"
Comedians like Louis CK and Aziz Ansari helped raise money for her medical bills, which elevated Dye's profile among a certain set. A Times profile was written, as well, yet she remains hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for the ordeal. Her recovery is an ongoing process, and she remains at her mother's home in South Carolina for the time being, eating fried green tomatoes and thoroughly enjoying herself.
The best example of Dye's temerity is that, while she grappled publicly with the painful process of recovery, she didn't let it consume her. She wore the leg; it did not wear her. She has so much heart. And for the past several months, she has become steadily funnier, snapping on pop culture, honing her pitch-perfect impression of Beyoncé (who she claims to despise), cracking one-liners with a kind of easy, unbothered delivery that we don't see too much in comedians. She is in the possession of so much chill—yet not so much that it becomes, like, an issue that overwhelms.
"There's a white Liza Dye that lives in Norway. I've always told myself that when I meet Liza Minnelli I'm gonna be like yo, I'm the new Liza, so step off the block, son." -Liza Dye Podcast Episode 5, "Hate"
I first discovered Liza Dye exactly one year ago, during a cameo appearance in a 2013 year-end wrap-up by Casey Jane Ellison, one of my favorite YouTube celebs. Ellison's character was/is that of a valley-girlish, internet-spiked downtowner with a slangy teen drawl and a great capacity for Trends. Dye dipped in as a correspondent discussing the Year in Race, providing the voice of gravitas to Ellison's "satirical fashionista," and offering a short list of 2013's most racist cultural grievances with a sardonic disdain. ("Halloween. Was like. Hella racist this year.")
Dye's jokes were funny, but her delivery was my favorite, the way she was speaking like she had a permanent side-eye, but was too smart to get very worked up over any damn thing. She was uniquely attuned to the ebb and flow of The Internet in a way that many people in the comedy world tend not to be—there can be a stodginess among the "humor class," with some exceptions being Dye's peers—Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer from Broad City; Kid Fury and Crissle from The Read; Phoebe Robinson of Blaria.
Dye was great at Twitter, as many one-liner-comedians are, but also at Vine, which she filled with wry LOLs and video clips from rap shows she went to, and at YouTube, which she populated with some of the same, but longer (don't hate the man, hate the medium). She had a cultural vernacular that made her feel like our people (or my people, anyway). Dye loved Lana del Rey, whom she once nicknamed "Soulja Girl Tell'Em" for del Rey's clowning of a British journalist's soul-deadening line of questioning. She exhibited disdain for wack protests, an appreciation of exceptional whips, a resounding empathy for Angelina Jolie.
Also, she was Navy, which made her an automatic ride-or-die. (I admit to low-key fanning out a little bit when Dye Tweeted my Rihport, and that is not so much as a humblebrag as a full disclosure: as a documented Rihanna fandork, I was following Liza Dye, as a Liza Dye fandork, for almost a year on Twitter before that.)
And though she seems to have been moving on from her accident, one of Liza Dye's best qualities is that she's life-affirming in a pure, non-corny way. It's this trait, most of all, that makes her my 2014 Shero, a woman who has been through more insanity than most of us and emerged brighter-eyed, sharper and stronger. Her 2015 is only going up.
"Having almost died, I see life a lot differently," she said in her second podcast, addressing Lana Del Rey's comments to that curmudgeonly interviewer. "We all have wished that we were dead already at some point. Death just seems like the easy way out, to be honest. But I'm here to tell you folks: It! Is! Not! Okayy? Cherish your lives! Live them to the fullest. For real. Ya'll. I am living so hard right now. Three months in the hospital? I almost lost my leg! Are you kidding me? LIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!"
Liza Dye image from youcaring.com