How to talk to your kids about consent with Amber Rollo
Comedian Amber Rollo recounts her story of confronting Harvey Weinstein at a comedy show and advocates for teaching kids about sexual assault at a young age. “How do we come to a point in our society where sexual assault is not the norm, where a person is not assaulted every 73 seconds? How do we do that?”
Tea Consent, Copyright ©2015 Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios
If you are dealing with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. You can reach out to The International Association for Suicide Prevention and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
[00:49] Hi, I’m Amber Rollo, and you’re listening to Good Kids: How Not to Raise an Asshole. I grew up in a little bit of a different household. My mother died when I was 11, and my father died when I was 16. And then I moved into my aunt and uncle’s house. And all three of them had very different ways of parenting.
[01:11] And then there was a lot of parenting myself because of that situation. Let’s see, when my parents were alive, when I was a young child, they were out of the house a lot. They both worked. My dad was a firefighter/paramedic. My mom was a real estate broker, very successful real estate broker. And they were just not there a lot of the time. So even before they passed away, we were sort of — me and my sisters were latchkey kids. We were just on our own all the time. We were fending for ourselves, figuring out what we were gonna eat. I ate a lot of the marshmallows from Lucky Charms. That was most of my diet.
[01:48] My sisters and I taught each other, you know, how to tie our shoes, how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My aunt did teach me how to balance a checkbook. That was something that she taught me and I have never used since then. I do feel like I was self- sustaining at a very young age. I knew how to take care of myself. I knew when I was feeling sad how to work my way through that. I had to learn at a very young age how to talk to myself and soothe myself, give myself a hug because there wasn’t someone there, as sad as that sounds. When I was going through it, I had severe depression and suicidal ideation, and I think that’s something that we do need to not push under the rug.
[02:45] Children are having thoughts of suicide and it’s something we need to talk to them about openly. And I would say any kid that’s going through that — the deal that I have made with myself, that I made myself when I was very young and have kept going forward — is I can totally take my own life. I can’t take that off the table, but I have to try everything else first. It feels oftentimes like taking my own life is the only way to escape this situation. But then I remind myself, I have to try everything else first. There are so many other options. I can move to a new school. You can talk to your parents about doing that. Like, if you’re dealing with a bullying situation. And you can cut off all your hair, you can get a new group of friends, you can start a new sport. You can, in my case, like, move to a new country, quit your job, get out of the relationship you’re in, whatever it is, before trying that. And you’ll be surprised by just how changing other things changes your life and your perspective. And you can start having fun.
[03:50] I journal every day and at the end of it I always write a little sentence to myself as though I’m speaking to my child self of like, “you’re doing a really great job. I love you. I’m really proud of you.” And I think that’s a real skill that I picked up when I was young. Being able to talk to myself nicely. Not a lot of people do that. It’s really hard. It takes a real concentration in order to talk to yourself nicely, or get yourself out of that negative talk, because your brain is wired to focus on all the negatives. So it takes practice to be nice to yourself.
[04:32] I know that I was a shy kid. I was super shy because I had four sisters and were like a very loud Italian family. And so it was valued to be quiet. And I knew that I wanted to break out of that, so I signed up for theater. And I was like, I’m going to be in theater and I got myself on stage and that’s how I started performing. So it’s little things like that that I look back on my childhood self and I’m like, wow, that was an impressive, thoughtful idea. And nobody told me to do that but me. I was 12, and I was — when I was trying to figure out where to find my place and my people. And actually in that theater class, I found another girl, same age, whose mom passed away from breast cancer the same weekend that my mom did. And we were very different girls. I was like a tomboy and like raggedy and didn’t shower often enough. And she was a good girly-girl who, like, wore high ponytails and had like — you know, there was three girls all together — Ali, Brittany and Nicki. They all had “I”s at the end of their names. And I’m an Amber.
[05:45] But we would never hang out together. But because of this thing that we had gone through, we are like automatically thick as thieves because we had gone through a similar situation that nobody else seemed to really understand. And she taught me to put my hair in a high ponytail. So let’s cool.
[06:08] I loved performing in middle school. But I will say that my second performance, I was doing Chorus Line, and I was told that I said my monologue too fast. So I tried to slow it down. And the second time we were performing, I completely blanked. And I was sitting there for a good two, three minutes, not saying anything before I picked it back up again. And of course, my family was like, we didn’t notice, like nobody knew. And I know that they knew and I messed up really big. So I think after that, I continued performing to sort of prove that I could. I was a minor in theater in college. And when I got to New York, I was just going to comedy shows all the time. And I really loved it. And I didn’t really realize it was an art form until then.
[07:01] Like, I did not know even though — it’s so funny, I was listening when I was a kid to Julia Sweeney’s God Said Ha, like over and over and over again. But I didn’t even think about that as a possibility for something I could do with my life. I was just like, “oh, this is really great.” She is also definitely my inspiration for talking about hard topics on stage. It just gave me so much joy when I was a kid to have someone sort of understand what I was going through, and talk about it and make people laugh. And that’s the way my family deals with hardships is to laugh. I mean, when my dad passed away, I was 16 and I did like a eulogy of him. It was essentially a roast of my father. I have always found myself connecting with people who have had similar experiences to me. And I think my favorite thing on stage is when I talk about being an orphan, or I talk about being a survivor, I talk about being an addict. And like someone comes up to me afterwards and was like, “I’m so happy I got the chance to laugh about that.”
[09:44] As a comedian, something that is the most fun for me is connecting with the audience. And having that empathy, and being able to understand my own experience, and how it might relate to their experience — I think that’s the most valuable skill that I have. And being able to teach kids that is cool and they’ll be able to, you know, be cool and funny like me. My comedy has always been personal because I don’t feel like I can experience the world through anyone’s shoes but my own. I’ve tried a lot of times to do those more “the world is like this” jokes, but I can’t. It’s not my style. I feel insincere when I do it and then I don’t get laughs when I’m insincere.
[10:35] One of the things that was hardest for me growing up was creating boundaries and saying no. Because I didn’t grow up with my parents, I feel like I felt a little unsure of my security. And that made me into a little bit of a people pleaser. Like, I just always want people to like me so that I can feel secure and taken care of. So saying no and standing up for what I believe in is something I’ve had to teach myself. It’s something I’ve had to really think about and put it into place.
[11:13] And that connects with this thing that happened — oh, my gosh, it’s like two months ago now, which it doesn’t feel like, it feels like yesterday. But I was at this variety comedy show in the Lower East Side in New York at this place called Downtime Bar. And it was a one-off show there put on by this group called Actors Hour. Actors Hour is supposed to be a group that creates art for artists. So they put on like salons and shows. And the audience is supposed to be made up of artists themselves, maybe some like other people in the industry and maybe producers. And also, my friend Kelly was performing on this show. So I came, I was excited to be part of this community. And when I got there, I talked to this actor that was sitting next to me and introduced myself. And I was like, “hey, have you been to one of these shows before?” And he said, “well, yes. Crazy thing — last time I was at this show, Harvey Weinstein showed up.” And I was like, “What? Oh, OK.”
[12:20] Like I had to figure out what to do with that in my head. I was thinking so many different things. Like I gotta talk to the producer about this, and figure out if this is a normal thing. Like I need to talk to Kelly about it, but I don’t want to talk to her about it before her set, because I don’t want to upset her, throw her off. She’s trying to get a new tape. What am I going to do? Like I’m well, glad that he’s not here right now. And then Kelly came in and as she was talking to me, she looked over my shoulder and she was like, “is that Harvey Weinstein?” And I knew it was right away because of what this actor had told me. My heart was in my stomach.
[12:54] I felt very protective of Kelly. You know, I have four sisters, I have like a mama bear instinct, and I know that she’s a survivor as well. So we started figuring out what she was going to do. We were talking, you know, should she just do her set as it is, so that she can get the tape that she wants? Should she call out, call attention to what was happening? And I was like, yeah. I mean, it is a comedian’s job to call the room. But also, it’s not your job as a survivor to make this a safe space. So she decided to perform. She decided to call him out and she was booed and told to shut up. She got off stage. We like sort of huddled in the corner, like half watching, half aware of the other performances that were going on. Then we were going to leave at the intermission and I was going to call him out. I was gonna say something. I had to say something because we passed his table on the way out. And right when I was about to go up to his table, we got into a conversation with the producer. “What the hell? Did you guys invite Harvey Weinstein to the show? Is this right? Are you going to kick him out? Shouldn’t somebody address what’s going on here?” I went up to Harvey Weinstein’s table. I said, “you shouldn’t be here. This is not your space. One hundred percent. This is not your space. This is supposed to be a space for us.” And I I don’t remember exactly everything I said because I was a little bit disassociating, because I was scared and tense and overwhelmed. And he had like some people with him at his table. He had a few women, and he had some men with him, and the men — one of the men called me the c-word. And then the woman that was at his table stood up and she put her hand on my back and was like, “you should probably leave.” And Kelly was right behind me. And so she took us both out.
[14:46] And then I wrote about it on Twitter the next day and it went viral. It felt like it reinvigorated the Me Too movement, it felt like it restarted the conversation of like, “well, what’s really going on here?” And I’ve been thinking about this and I’m like, what can we do? How do we move forward in our society? How do we come to a point in our society where sexual assault is not the norm, where a person is not assaulted every 73 seconds? How do we do that? And I think that the area where we could make the most impact is sex education and sexual assault education. I know that there are some states that are making moves and doing that, and I think it could be done even more.
[15:40] I don’t know what it’s like with parents who are involved. I don’t know what sort of conversations they’re having with their children. But I think someone needs to have a conversation with a kid to say, “you know what, if anyone touches you in this way, that’s inappropriate. And also, don’t touch anyone else. Like, everyone else’s body is theirs.” So if that is planted a little bit earlier, maybe this wouldn’t be such a prevalent thing.
[16:08] Something that I’ve seen, that I think could be talked about between parents and their kids is hugs. It’s a simple way to get into the conversation of consent is talking about hugs. So encouraging them to be able to say no if they don’t want to hug someone. No matter what reason, they just might be feeling blah. They might think that they smell. They might be mad at that person at that moment. I think it’s really important to have a conversation with them to be like, “hey, if you don’t want to give someone a hug, you absolutely don’t have to.” And then you can parlay that into, you know, your body is yours and the same way everyone else’s body is theirs. So like your freedom extends only as far as it runs into someone else’s. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched that video — it’s like a little cartoon stick figure video of like, do you want tea?
[17:16] Video clip: If you’re still struggling with consent, just imagine instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea.
[17:21] It explains consent so well. It’s like if you can understand, if a person wants a cup of tea, you can understand if they want to sleep with you.
[17:30] Video clip: If you say, “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” And they’re like “eh, I’m not really sure,” then you could make them a cup of tea, or not, but be aware they might not drink it. And if they don’t drink it, then — and this is the important part — don’t make them drink it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean you are entitled to watch them drink it. And if they say no thank you. Then don’t make them tea. At all. Just don’t make them tea.
[18:00] Like, don’t give an unconscious person a cup of tea, even if they asked for a cup of tea when they were awake. It’s just not right.
[18:05] Video clip: They might say, “yes, please. That’s kind of you.” And then when the tea arrives, they actually don’t want the tea at all. Sure, that’s kind of annoying as you’ve gone all the effort of making the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea.
[18:27] If you want to know more about sexual assault education, or you want to look into stories or sharing your story, I really love RAINN, Rape Abuse Incest National Network. They do amazing work in sexual education. I like them a lot.
[19:02] If you want to see where I’m joking, you can come to my website, AmberRollo. Or follow me on social media @ambercrollow.
[19:22] Good Kids is a production of Lemonada Media. It’s produced and edited by Andrew Stephen. Our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs and our music is by Dan Milad. Ad sales and distribution are by Westwood One. You can find out more about Lemonada online @LemonadaMedia. If you liked what you heard share, rate, review, say great things about us.