Poster by Isai Soto
Venice Ohleyer’s Year of Yes
You can say “no” to a lot of things in New York, but comedian Venice Ohleyer decided to start saying “yes.”
By Lizzie Racklin
One thing about New York is that sometimes you see nuns on the subway. Sometimes you walk by a building with a shooting range in the basement and on the next block over, you see a poster inviting you to come inside and view Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace. Sometimes you see a pair of free roller blades on a stoop. Or a sign reading, “Want to Work From Home? Call this Number. Students Preferred,” or, “Need Help Thinking About Something? Peace, text me for free. I’m not a doctor. I’m an artist… I’d love to help you think through something if I can.”
You can see all of this in one day and not engage with any of it. You can never wonder about those things again because you’ll see more tomorrow and then you’ll be busy not thinking about those either. You can say “no” to a lot of things, but comedian Venice Ohleyer decided to start saying “yes.”
In 2021, she made a “yes” promise to herself. Coming out of quarantine, New York was opening up, and Venice was going to agree to everything that came her way—events, hang-outs, opportunities to perform. Shonda Rhimes had a similar idea in 2016 with the release of her book Year of Yes (Venice wasn’t aware of the book when she started her project), but that’s about where she and Rhimes’s similarities end. In her one-woman show YES IS LIFE!—a quote from Rhimes herself—Venice rehashes the failures of her attempt at self-improvement.
In an hour of reflection, she guides her audience through the big swings and hard falls of her year of yes. The show is at once a pointed eulogy for an attempt at change and a hilarious journey through post-college young adulthood in New York. Alone on stage with a slideshow behind her, Venice presents her experiences directly, telling jokes out of the side of her mouth, grinning as she recounts the weird things men have said to her, and assuring the audience that, after some particularly jarring events, she was okay.
Photo by Emily Everhard
Co-opting the languages of self-help literature and TikTok dances, Venice funnels her year of yes through a thoroughly timely lens, searching for meaning in her setbacks and viewing her past at enough of a distance to find it funny. The irony of her efforts is never lost on her, but she never presents it so plainly as to feel obvious. Venice revels in the ridiculous details and the bigger meaning of it all. She turns to Rhimes as a spiritual guide and tries her best to stay optimistic.
The show details creative endeavors gone wrong, existential spirals about life, badassery, and Karl Marx. Each opportunity turns into a disaster, so much so that it almost feels like the universe had a personal vendetta against Venice. Her show embodies the “tragedy plus time” definition of comedy—she turns the shittiest moments of her year into the funniest parts of her act.
Photo by Emily Everhard
A crush on Nicholas Braun led her to Ray’s, his sceney “dive bar,” where Venice got roofied. Her song about this experience is a highlight of the show, reminiscent of Patti Harrison’s song for Dua Lipa.
Towards the closing of the show, Venice tells the audience about a time that she was journaling at a coffee shop, writing some affirmations. “I deserve to feel understood.” “I deserve to be with someone who will make me laugh.” One page just read “YES!” Underscoring the performance is her genuine desire to improve herself and her life. Venice manages to never skew too sincerely positive or too skeptically cynical—she balances her disappointment with her sharp views on risk-taking, coincidence and chance, and claiming your own clownishness.
One guy in her DMs may have found it “surprising” that, as a blonde, Venice is “actually funny,” but those of us navigating the often-discussed yet still-murky waters of early adulthood in New York will recognize her show as both distinctly responsive to post-pandemic 2020s Internet culture and universal in her conclusion to, in the end, remain hopeful. Though she may say no to a few more things going forward.
Follow Venice on Instagram for upcoming show dates: @effervenice