Gina DeLuca is a 32-year-old Chicago-based writer and live lit performer who specializes in wry, personal essays. She has performed readings of her work at CIC Theatre, iO, and Steppenwolf Theatre. She also cocurates and cohosts a monthly open-mike live lit event with writer Sarah Ashley at the Duke of Perth (2913 N. Clark), called Tartle at the Duke, the first Sunday of every month.
I spoke with DeLuca about her life, her career as a struggling writer, and her live lit event.
Your show is called Tartle at the Duke. What is a tartle?
It is a Scottish word for when you think of a comeback much later for an insult.
So what is the Tartle at the Duke?
It is an evening of ten-minute comic pieces, [personal essays], or poetry—not stand-up or regular unscripted [Moth-style] storytelling, not memorized; you have to be reading off [a manuscript on] the stage. And Sarah [Ashley] and I will be doing readings as well. We created the series for the community. But really it is for us, too. [She laughs.] So we would have deadlines. So we would continue writing. This keeps us accountable.
So is that the goal of this event? Just to give yourself a deadline?
The goal is to make this show a community event. No matter if you just started writing, or if you are a seasoned veteran, you can come and practice reading. Or by watching other people reading you walk away with lessons for your own work. I don’t want it to be an exclusive type of thing. I think it’s hard for people to find how what they write on the page translates to how it will be heard. What someone thinks is funny might seem to someone else completely tragic.
Has that happened to you? You read something you think is funny, and the audience takes it as tragic?
That’s been my life [laughs] yeah. I have this story about how in my first apartment here it was just riddled with cockroaches. And I suffered from insomnia for like years. And I had this horrible job. I was just like haunted by these bugs. Day and night. So the picture I paint of my apartment sounds like a war zone. To me it’s very funny—now. I trapped them under glass jars. I would put poison under the jars. Yeah, it was a losing battle. I didn’t have any hot water in that apartment. And I didn’t have any furniture, either. It was bad. [Laughs.] It was a lot. I think to some people it reads like, Oh, she’s a little bit loony. But to me it was like, can you believe this was my life for a while?
You didn’t grow up in Chicago, did you?
I grew up outside of Philadelphia; I grew up in Wallingford. I went to school at Smith College. I stayed in Northampton, Massachusetts, after graduation for a year. I was reading Bossypants by Tina Fey. For some reason I thought that was my next step—to move to Chicago, to be an actor. So I just moved here. I didn’t know anybody. I had never been to Chicago.
Did you do improv at Smith?
Smith had an improv group, but I didn’t know what it was. So I never saw them perform. [Tina Fey] mentioned iO and Second City. So I took classes [at iO and Second City]. I did one play. I got an agent. But I never got a call back. I took classes for a long time. It took a long time to get on a[n improv] team. I had a lot of confidence issues. I felt like everyone was smarter than me. And I have a kind of bad memory.
Did you study theater at Smith?
No, I studied art, printmaking. I didn’t do theater. I didn’t do writing.
How did you get into writing?
A few years ago, I was asked to write a roast for my friend’s 30th birthday. It went well, well enough to continue writing. But I knew I couldn’t continue writing roasts. So I—at the time I was reading David Sedaris—I started writing
about things that were bugging me. And reading what I wrote at public performances.
And you kept writing and performing. Have you ever tried comedy sketches?
I did. I was miserable at sketch writing. It felt very premise-y. Sketch writing is all about the joke. The joke is the center of the piece, and all of the dialogue serves the joke. I didn’t think that was super interesting.
I find when you figure out what the central joke is in a comedy sketch, it’s done; it stops being as funny.
It’s like when you see the monster in a horror movie. It stops being as scary. I feel with essay writing I can write the way I think and talk. I can make a lot of jokes, while also talking about something different.
I have written a book of stories and essays. I am sending it around [but it hasn’t been published yet]. It is called Atrocious.
Who were your influences in writing?
My biggest influence is PG Wodehouse. I love him. I think I have read the complete works of Jeeves. He’s timeless. And David Sedaris.
You dare to say things in your writing that a lot of people would not dare to say. I am sure you write a lot of stories that one audience might think are very funny, and another very sad.
The last piece I wrote was for a by-invitation-only variety show called “The Love Actually Show.” In that show, everyone was assigned to write about one of the nine couples in [the 2003 movie] Love Actually. I was given the couple Jamie and Aurelia. That’s the love story of the Portuguese housekeeper and the writer on the rebound, who discovered he got cheated on by his girlfriend. It is portrayed very romantically in the movie. But I did what I thought was this very honest read on the movie. I made it a story about human trafficking. [She laughs.] Yeah. This Portuguese housekeeper arrives at the door in France, so alone. So he gets some really cheap labor from Portugal and then becomes obsessive about her, and then asks her to marry him, while she is working. It is really an insane story, if you think about it. My story was very polarizing. Some people really like it, and it horrified others. (Laughs). But, yeah, I like when that happens. v