The show itself resists easy definition: It’s somewhere between a stand-up comedy set, a theatrical production, and a deeply unhinged TED Talk. As Loftus takes the stage, she transports her audience to the fictional Sheryl Sandberg Girlboss Summit, where she plays keynote speaker Shell Gasoline-Sandwich, CEO of Pee-Pee Smarthomes (“the all-seeing, all-hearing, definitely-not-watching-you and not illegal smarthome technology”). The topic of her keynote address? How to “empower yourself by participating in capitalism.”
But while Gasoline-Sandwich is a character of Loftus’s own creation, she might start to seem familiar.
“I’m very fascinated with the Silicon Valley wunderkind type, and so I wanted to basically just build my own character who was the most heightened version of that type of person,” says Loftus.
As the name of the show might suggest, Loftus was especially intrigued by the “girlboss” archetype: a personal branding invention of the past decade, created by Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso. Depending on whom you ask, a girlboss might be described as an empowered, rule-breaking, feminist-icon businesswoman or a sort of corporate-exec-slash-influencer who profits off a haze of pseudo-feminist marketing tactics. For the sake of the show, Loftus’s interpretation leans toward the latter.
The character of Gasoline-Sandwich arrives onstage as an unsettling amalgamation of #girlboss qualities borrowed from Amoruso, Facebook COO and “Lean In” author Sandberg, actress-turned-Goop-CEO Gwyneth Paltrow, and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes (right down to the grifter-chic black turtleneck and artificially deep voice), with an extra-obvious shot of chaotic evil thrown in for satire’s sake.
But Loftus is an adamant feminist and emphasizes that the show isn’t an indictment of women in leadership roles. It’s about leaders who co-opt social causes for personal gain. “I feel like there’s an equivalent of a ‘girlboss’ for almost any social movement, really. It’s just someone who recognizes, ‘Oh, this is a moment I can capitalize on and hopefully no one will check my work on it,’ ” she says.
As the show goes on, Loftus’s absurd humor far overwhelms the heavier ideas at its core: Gasoline-Sandwich consults with her increasingly sentient A.I. companion Patricia, recites her resume while delivering a karate demonstration on a male American Girl doll (“the patriarchy”), and reveals a series of increasingly insidious secrets to her success. The depth of chaos onstage belies the amount of research and preparation that went into the production.
While Loftus wrote and workshopped “Boss, Whom Is Girl” over five months leading up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in a way it had been a long time coming. “I’ve had two separate areas of work for so long that I’ve been trying to inch closer together over the years,” she says. “I’ve written for different journalistic publications over the years, and that’s one part of my brain that I find really stimulating and exciting. And then there’s just the goofy insane stuff.”
That “goofy insane stuff” — eating books, Shreking nudes — tends to make more headlines, but her journalistic streak has kept her busy offstage, too. Since moving from Boston to Los Angeles in 2015, her other work has often focused on cultural commentary: She cohosts the popular feminist film podcast “The Bechdel Cast” and has written for The New Yorker and Playboy, among others. (Prior to moving, she briefly worked for Boston.com, which is owned by Boston Globe Media Partners.)
As a result, research holds a prominent place in her process. While developing the show, she read everything from pop-empowerment books like Amoruso’s “#Girlboss” and Rachel Hollis’s “Girl, Wash Your Face” to more academic titles like Shoshana Zuboff’s “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.” (“I have a whole bibliography, which is humiliating and doesn’t sound very funny,” says Loftus.)
“The ultimate goal was to make something that’s a little bit political and has a little bit of a message, but make it fun and palatable and not punishing,” Loftus says. “The best part of the absurdity is that you don’t need to spit out facts. . . . You just need to take the idea, and then make it insane.”
Of course, riffing on Silicon Valley antics among LA’s alt-comedy crowd was one thing, but bringing that show to the opposite coast is another. Loftus was a regular in Boston’s stand-up and improv circuits prior to moving, and knows her material isn’t quite the local norm. Still, she looks forward to performing at the Rockwell as a homecoming of sorts.
“I had a great experience doing comedy in Boston and found that people were very cool and accepting and wanted to see weird stuff, which I don’t think is always associated with Boston in general, but I’m really excited to come back and do it,” she says.