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Interview: Margaret Katch and Roni Geva talk Abortion and “CTRL ALT Delete”

Changing the narrative

Abortion is a polarizing subject that often makes people uncomfortable and very opinionated.

Many women from all walks of life have gone through this very personal procedure, each for different reasons. Abortion and comedy don’t usually go together in a sentence that is deemed appropriate. But, this week, I spoke with two writer/comedians, Margaret Katch and Roni Geva, who have taken this subject and turned it on its head to bring the conversation of abortion to the masses in a way that has never been seen before. Their show CTRL ALT Delete is a comedic narrative of what millions of women across the globe have been through.

(R) Roni Geva, (L) Margaret Katch writers of CTRL ALT Delete. Photo Credit: Josh Fingerhut

(R) Roni Geva, (L) Margaret Katch writers of CTRL ALT Delete.
Photo Credit: Josh Fingerhut

Salute: Now that you guys have had success at different film festivals, how will you expand on the seasons?

Roni: It has been really exciting because just a few days ago we were talking about how just a few years ago this was an idea knocking around in our brains and we self-funded the first few episodes. And we used those episodes to crowdfund the rest of the season. It was one of those things where we had proof that “Wow, we know what we’re doing!”

The plan is to continue that into season two and have season two be about the people who work there. It’s still going to be in that anthology format where each episode is about a different person’s story, but it’s going to be about the people who work there, and of course, there will be the abortion of the week because those stories have to maintain. Also, we are going to talk about these real people working at the clinic.

Margaret: Then, eventually the big goal is for this to be a 30-minute television show on HBO, HULU, or Amazon, whoever is brave enough to pick it up. We really want to take this to as many people as possible to normalize the conversation about abortion through comedy.

Roni: What we have written, and what we have prepared for the world is a half hour comedy that takes place at an abortion clinic.  Yes, it is about abortion, but It is also about the people who work there and the story of the person having the abortion so that it normalizes it, that is the ultimate goal.

Margaret: So that when people see it, people say “Oh, these people are just like me, they just happen to work at an abortion clinic” and “The people getting the abortions are just like me too, so that makes me feel closer to them.”  Abortions are so common; 1 in 3 women have them. It just shows we are all in this together.

Salute: Women have been stigmatized for our decisions, and we are getting to a point now in our society where we can speak out more for our decisions. Many women have gone through this procedure and don’t talk about it, and that is a hard thing to go through by yourself. So many women never talk about it.

Roni: What has been so amazing, is that at all these film festivals, as well as Instagram, and Facebook, people are messaging us and telling us about their abortion stories all the time. It is so liberating for them to say “I watched your show, I had an abortion.”

Just this morning I was talking to a man, and I told him I was rushing off to come talk to you about our show, and he said “I took a woman to an abortion clinic once,” and he felt so compelled to tell me his story and how he felt about it. “He said I never talk about this” and I said, “well it’s about time, and I am honored that you are talking to me about it.” That is such a huge part of why we want to make the show, so the conversation isn’t fought anymore.

Those women feel empowered to say, “This happened to me, and this is how it went. So if you are going through this moment of decision in your life, here are a bunch of stories of women who chose and don’t feel regret.”

(L) Roni Geva, (R) Margaret Katch writers of CTRL ALT Delete. Photo Credit: Josh Fingerhut

(L) Roni Geva, (R) Margaret Katch writers of CTRL ALT Delete. Photo Credit: Josh Fingerhut

Margaret: Also it was really important for us to make stories people could relate to. Stories that were reflective of who they were. Because when we had our abortions; separately, not together. We both looked to the media for stories we could relate to, stories that were about people like us and we really couldn’t find anything. The only stories that we found granted this was several years ago, but the stories that we found were mostly teenagers who went through a really tough decision and ended up keeping the baby.

Those were the only stories that touched upon abortion. We really think it is important for people to see stories like “Oh that is a mom with two kids, and she’s having an abortion, or She’s a teenager and she is really confident about her decision like me, or I am in my 20’s, and I am not ready to have a child with the person that I am with, that’s just like me.”  Whatever it is, these are all based on true stories interviews we had with real people.

We want each person who is going through an experience to know that someone has been through it too. It is important to us to tell all different kinds of stories.

Salute: That is the most important thing because there is a lot of stigma around the reasons why people make that choice. I know a woman who was in a committed relationship and she was in college, but the man she was with was not in a position to be a good father. She had to make a choice of having that baby with a man who wasn’t ready, and she wasn’t ready herself. Now she is with someone else, married and very successful, but that future wouldn’t have been possible if she didn’t make that decision.

Roni: Exactly. I remember when I was facing this decision myself. I was in a committed relationship, but I knew he wasn’t my “forever” person. I looked at my life as a comedian and an actor in Chicago at the time, and I said “all of this goes away if I have this baby. And I have to be with this man, linked to him, in one way or another forever” and I didn’t want to. I wasn’t ready.

Here’s the thing, in our society, people feel the need that they have to qualify their abortions. Like “ I was on birth control, so it’s crazy that I got pregnant.” Or “Well she would have gotten sick, and her body would have rejected the baby, and that’s why she got an abortion.” In doing this process of writing this show with Margaret, my belief in choice has gotten even strong. So when someone tells me now “you know, I had an abortion…” and they start to qualify it, stop and tell them “All reasons are fine with me. You don’t have to excuse it; you had an abortion cool with me.

Margaret: It’s legal, you’re allowed to. Although there is a vote going on today, so we will see how legal it keeps on being. We don’t have to rationalize having abortions; we can just have them.

Salute: This whole idea speaks to the fact that these are our bodies and our choices. The fact that women have to have these conversations, where they have to explain themselves or feel the need to explain themselves to anyone is ridiculous.

Roni: Here is the thing, Men don’t have to go and talk to a counselor or have any sort of discussion when they decide to have a vasectomy, they just go and get one. And women are shamed and have to qualify why they are having one; there is so much drama behind it.

This might be controversial, but I ultimately believe that when abortion becomes political, it is not about the fetus. Because, if it were about the fetus, the people who are trying to end abortion would also be trying to provide food stamps for children, early education programs for children, maternity leave that is paid for women.

Margaret: Health insurance for children.

Roni: If the politicians who want to make abortion illegal actually cared about children, then they would make sure all of those policies were in place. So, if they couldn’t have an abortion and had to have a baby, there would be a social safety net for them.

However, since they don’t want to provide any of those things for women, To me what that says is; those politicians just don’t want women to have power over their own bodies. They want men to continue controlling the discussion about what women can do with their bodies.

Margaret: We all know that if abortion were to become illegal, the number of illegal abortions would spike, the number of deaths would spike, and in turn, the number of women who are unable to have children would spike. So, it leads me to believe those people also do not care about the woman in addition to not caring for the child.

Roni: So when people ask me “Oh, are you pro-life? Are you pro-choice? What’s your opinion?” I always say “ I am pro-woman.”  If that woman says “Abortion is for me” cool. If that woman says “Abortion is not for me” cool. I am pro-woman. That’s all there is to it.

Salute:  The politicians that are pushing for this in Washington want to go back to the old narrative, if they can control women’s bodies and healthcare, they can go back to the old narrative, and that is what seems to be happening here.

Margaret: I also believe that this is the last gasp before the newer generations take over, change, equality becomes the norm. That is at least my hope. We made this series because the more people understand what this procedure is actually like, and the people who go through it, the less politicians will be enabled to take control over women’s bodies and the narrative.

Just like I Love Lucy did for interracial marriage. Just like Will and Grace did for normalizing homosexuality. Just like Transparent is doing for the transgendered journey, once people get to know who these people are and they are their neighbors and their friends, you can’t go back from that.

Salute: Why did you decide to make this a comedy?

Roni: Well, first of all, I personally, had a very funny abortion. It was a funny day.

Margaret: It was the first episode.

Roni: Yes, so we described my abortion in the first episode entitled “Roni,” and it was just a ridiculous day. It was so ridiculous in fact, we took away some of what happened to me and sprinkled them into other episodes because we thought people wouldn’t believe that this all happened to one woman, even though it did.

So, I had this funny abortion, and I would do storytelling around Los Angeles and tell the story of my funny abortion. It was really interesting because some people would laugh and some people would be shocked and didn’t like it. When Margaret and I started to talk about making a web series, I asked her “What do you want it to be about?” and she said “Abortion”  I said, “Only if it’s funny.”

Margaret: I said, “Of course.” Both of us find the funny in every situation that is just who we are as people. That’s what we have cultivated as artists. So, if we are telling something, it HAS to have humor in it because that’s who we are. We wouldn’t be true to ourselves if we didn’t.

Also, comedy is the way we have normalized different subjects throughout history. Seeing things through the comedic lens is actually what people relate to the most.

Roni: I actually was just reading this morning, I have to finish the article, but there is a sociologist talking about a way to start a conversation in society, especially something as fought as abortion, is to make people laugh. Because when people laugh their walls come down and they listen despite themselves.

This is funny, this is different, this is human, and so we can have a conversation where we are not shouting at each other from either side of the aisle. Instead, we are listening and talking, and being real with one another. As a comic, that is how I spent most of my life communicating through comedy. The best way to communicate is through jokes.

Salute: That is one of the biggest problems people have is not being combative with one another when they disagree on a topic, and the best way to do so is being relatable and speaking through that.

How have other comedians reacted to your series?

Margaret: They love it. They have been incredibly supportive and gracious. The only people that haven’t been supportive are some men. Women have disagreed with what we are doing, we have had women comment on our videos stating their disagreements but the only people who have been other than gracious, are men who of course want us to “die and go to hell.” Not very many, less than we expected so far, but the women have been very gracious even if they don’t agree with us.

Roni: I would say, women always present it as a question like “ Well, I don’t understand why you’re doing it.  Here is my question, and here is why I am anti-choice.” It is a much gentler basket-weaving conversation.

Salute: The reason for that may be the fact that men cannot have children themselves. I think many times, that is the problem.

Recently, I wrote an article about the Nassar gymnast case. I had a conversation with a male friend about the Nassar case with the gymnasts. He didn’t understand why or how more girls didn’t say what was happening to their parents and how their parents didn’t know what was happening.

I had to explain it to him in the way that, in addition to predators grooming these girls, they were an extended arm of their parents when they were at those facilities. They were under immense pressure to perform, and finally, women throughout history in our society have been put in a “Shame Box” where the blame isn’t on the predator, it turns to them and how they somehow “enticed” the predator. He got it in the end, but a lot of men don’t understand these situations because, in our society, men are rarely put into these types of situations where they have to defend themselves.

Roni: Which goes back to the idea of the shame narrative where people are put in the “Shame Box” and say well “I had to have an abortion because…”  and go back to that excuse where “Well that is why it happened…” because we are put into the “well it’s your fault..” situation where we have to go into defense mode. That is an endemic, societal thing, which I believe we are in the throes of overcoming.

Salute:  I have had many conversations with men over the past several months about the #metoo movement and other situations involving women, and many of them have become more candid and receptive to what is going on. It is becoming more accepted for women to be forthcoming about all of these situations without the shame surrounding it, would you agree?

Roni: That is my hope.

Salute: You mentioned there is a vote on abortion tonight? I didn’t know there was a vote today.

Margaret: Yes, it’s tonight. It is to make an abortion after 20 weeks a punishable crime for which you can go to jail.

Roni: One of the things we want to cover in season two is late-term abortions. There are people that we know who have had late-term abortions and we want to chronicle some of those going forward.

Salute: Are there any other projects that you guys are working on?

Roni: We are also writing a feature on postpartum depression, also a comedy, because “hey let’s talk about things women don’t talk about in a comedic way.”

Margaret: We are also working on a few other series that people don’t talk about that there is shame or stigma around. So that is definitely something that we want to continue doing.

Salute: So you guys are all about empowering people and bringing things to light?

Margaret and Roni: Yeah! (laughs)

Roni: We are in the outline phase of the postpartum series, but we are engrossed in CTRL ALT Delete and making sure that as many eyes as possible see the first season so that we can make season two and pitch it to television, and have this half-hour comedy out in the world.

 

Salute: You guys have gotten a lot of recognition at the film festivals you’ve been involved in. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Roni: It’s been this remarkable glorious thing to make a show and you the creator, watch your own work, and you think it’s good. You watch it, and you think people are going to like it, but you have no idea. Then you submit it to a festival. We had a mentor who helped guide us in which festivals we should be submitting it to.

It has been so remarkable to meet so many wonderful artists from all over the country and the world who are making beautiful, cool, projects and talking collaboratively with them. That kind of artistic love goes back and forth. The other thing that has been happening at these festivals is other artists coming up to us and saying “Yes, Queens! Yes! Thank you for making this! Holy cow! Way-to-go! We hope this explodes!” and having that artistic camaraderie is really affirming.

Margaret: Something else I find remarkable every time we do it, we are so used to talking about abortion because we talk about it all the time through our show. When we go to these film festivals, and we talk about it, I find myself saying, “Well when I had my abortion…” and the reaction to it is still so shocking for many other people. It’s really interesting to see the reactions at different festivals because some were very warm and others were shocked when we talk about abortion, and ours in particular.

Salute: It is great that you got such a warm reception. It is hard as a creator to put something original out there and have it be received well by your peers. I know it can make people squeamish to share their work on such a scale.

Margaret: Also, we felt like we had to get these stories out there. I feel like a lot of the squeamishness goes away when you feel like you HAVE to do something, and you feel very purposeful, and that it is almost a calling. So, the squeamishness goes away because of the need and the drive behind it.

Salute: Is there anything you would like to share with our readers?

Roni: I have something. I have a lot of people who ask me, other than supporting your show about this topic, what more can I do?” I like leaving people with organizations that they should know about. Just so if they are in any sort of position where they need an abortion or need to talk to someone, they have that available.

We are not linked in any way with any of these organization; we just love them. Support them, and are glad they exist. Obviously Planned Parenthood but other than that there is an organization called the Abortion Care Network which is an umbrella organization for independent clinics that aren’t Planned Parenthood. There is an organization called  Abortion Funds, and they help if you are a woman who needs an abortion, but you can’t afford it, they help pay for it. Or if you need childcare, or you need to travel to get it, they help you pay for it. The other one that is one that is about making people aware of abortions is Shout Your Abortion.

Margaret: I actually did an event for them the other day where I told my abortion story, and it was amazing to hear so many stories from so many women, and it was such a great event. I know that they are happening all over the country this month under the hashtag #shoutyourabortion and #togetherforabortion.

Roni: And obviously the last and most important way to make change is to vote.

Since I spoke with the talented writers on Monday, the bill that would criminalize late-term abortions after 20 weeks was voted down in the Senate 51-49. According to CNN, a similar bill was voted down in 2013, and 2015. This current bill, unlike the others, was however supported by the current President, Donald Trump.

No matter what side of the narrative you consider yourself to be on, this issue is a human rights issue as much as it is a social issue. Bridging the gap between both sides and creating a narrative that can open the eyes of millions, Margaret and Roni have shed light on the stories of so many women across America and the globe. Their efforts to change the conversation, and show that people, no matter what their differences in life, can find themselves in the same position, making the same hard choices, is one that needs to be seen.

To learn more about Mar CTRL ALT Delete visit www.ctrlaltdeleteshow.com

Watch: CTRL ALT Delete Season 1

 

If you need information about abortions, here are the websites mentioned by Roni above.

Plannedparenthood.org

abortioncarenetwork.org

abortionfunds.org

Shoutyourabortion.com

 

 

 

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