Northwestern alumna Sarah Sherman, who goes by the alias “Sarah Squirm,” returned to campus Wednesday night with a message for her audience: “You should all drop out.”
Hosted by One Book Northwestern, the stand-up event featured headliner Sherman with three Northwestern student opening acts. After graduating in 2015, Squirm has made her mark on the Chicago comedy scene, having been featured in multiple publications including Vulture and Thrillist. She tours with her group “Helltrap Nightmare” and recently created a short on Adult Swim.
This year’s One Book selection was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. According to Nancy Cunniff, director of One Book Northwestern, the performance was “a way to have some fun with a darker topic.” She remarked that the book is all about the women’s body, and so is Squirm’s set – just in a different way.
If by different, she means projecting videos demonstrating everything from flossing with pubic hair to blood-covered body parts, then yes. Half of Squirm’s set involved what she referred to as “HELLTH CLASS,” where she introduced the audience to her signature artwork and “graphic” graphics.
Squirm’s set began with a deep dive into her memories at Northwestern, including being “fingerbanged on North Beach” and having subpar hookups in the Shepard basement. Her comedy is quick, honest and unapologetically vulgar. When she could tell audience members were uncomfortable, she would call them out. “If you don’t laugh at these jokes, you hate women,” was a common line.
But Squirm wasn’t exactly excited to be back on campus. “This is actually my worst nightmare,” she said. “It’s like full circle, defeating my enemies, but not.”
As an undergrad, Squirm was involved in Titanic and the stand-up scene on campus. But it wasn’t until she left Northwestern that she came into her own comedically.
“I didn’t really figure out my voice or point of view until I graduated and felt like I was let loose and liberated,” she said. “Doing comedy in the city with real people and not just Northwestern students was amazing.”
During a post-show Q&A, she offered some advice to the current Northwestern students in the audience and urged them to explore the diverse comedy scene in Chicago.
“There’s a lot of pressure to succeed [at Northwestern]... you feel like you do a lot of assimilating," Squirm said. "I think a lot of confidence can be found in leaving the Northwestern bubble."