Taking Ownership of “Dependa”

Military Spouse comedian Ashley Gutermuth shares how humor can empower spouses

In the last two years, TikTok has been the place for many to get the latest dose of humor, memes, and news, including military spouses using the platform to share the lighter side U.S. military life. Enter Ashley Gutermuth — a New Jersey based comedian and voice actress who has not only used TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram as a place to post her jokes but uses her platform as an influencer to reach military spouses who need a laugh. 

“I’ve always loved comedy,” said Ashley. “Both my parents were helicopter mechanics. They both did the same job, which is already an unusual thing to have both your parents go to work at the same place but have them both fix helicopters, I didn’t think it was. I used to go to work with them and we would listen to Monty Python and all kinds of comedy stuff, really, only comedy in the car. So I grew up listening to things that were too inappropriate.”

On TikTok and Instagram, Ashley has posted videos revealing the highs and lows of being a military spouse, often with a humorous twist. She has posted videos that answer questions from military spouse comments. In another, she pokes fun at military stereotypes. And some of her more popular ones talk about deployment.

Her comedy goes far behind social media, though. Ashley has performed numerous open mic nights, attended Toastmasters to get practice, and has looked to inspiration from other comedy masters like Eddie Izzard. As a military spouse of a full-time Air Force Reservist, she has found ways to keep herself in the scene even after moving every few years. “It’s easier now that Zoom is around,” said Ashley. “Most of the comedy I do now, in fact, is for companies. I do it over Zoom or Webex.” She finds it fun interacting with people, even in other countries. Ashley has also gotten into the voiceover business.

In 2020, Ashley had a brief appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” as a contestant of a bit called “Is This Anything” with Jerry Seinfeld. She ultimately won with her rendition of Seinfeld’s “talk show hosts” piece. In 2021, Ashley won the headliner category of the U.S. Comedy Contest. She has performed for The World Series of Comedy, The New York Underground Comedy Festival and The North Carolina Comedy Festival. She has also appeared on shows with Chris Kattan (“Saturday Night Live”), Steve Hytner (“Seinfeld”) and Michael Winslow (“Police Academy,” “America’s Got Talent”) among many others.

Even the occasional military function needs a comedian.

“I did a promotion ceremony,” said Ashley. “They had hired a comedian before but had got banned from it because the last comedian started swearing and being dirty. You’re not going to get that from me.”

There are haters on every social media site and Ashley is no exception. “Most of the negativity I get I will usually know it’s coming,” she said. “When people are saying something negative it means your video has reached a whole new audience.”

One of her most successful strategies in dealing with hate is to reply to the comment with “I love you” with a heart emoji with no sarcasm behind it and the apology will come to her inbox.

Other times she enlists the help of her “fake” assistant, Dominic. “Everyone should have a fake assistant,” Ashley said. Surprisingly, she gets quite a bit of hate comments from males and that’s where Domninic comes in. “I read an article years ago about women who couldn’t get any respect for their businesses. They had these major businesses, so they would have a fake assistant. There was a man, and then they would use that. It was still them responding. But just by that person having a male name, people were nicer to them. I was like, that is horrible. I’m going to use it, though.”

The majority of comments come from military spouses and military moms, though a few are from men.

Although Ashley has plenty of fans, she does occasionally take heat from military spouses who take issue with her use of the term “dependa.”

“When I use the word dependa on my Instagram or any of the stories, I’ll get responses from people that are like, ‘don’t you think this is bullying?,’” she said. “I respond with, ‘no, I don’t think it is.’ I’ll tell them I’m trying to write jokes to take back the word to try to flip it and so that maybe eventually it becomes like a gentle ribbing kind of thing. There’s always going to be horrible people in the world, but you can take it back.”

Even though she jokes, Ashley is not out to hurt any feelings and also uses her platform to help spouses who may have legitimate questions. Going out of her way to help someone, she will answer messages she gets from newer spouses who need help or from civilians looking for assistance on volunteer opportunities to give back to the military. “I got a comment that’s like, ‘hey, I’m a brand new military spouse. I need help. Is this true?” said Ashley. “I will personally go, ‘come send me a message.’ And if you have any questions, I will ask them to everybody and we will crowdsource the answers.” Once answers and resources have been located, she will share them on her platforms. 

She also shares information on Fridays about different small businesses owned by military spouses. “I have to help other people grow,” said Ashley.

Things may seem bleak and uncertain these days with conflict in Russia and Ukraine, but Ashley relies on humor to get through the hardships. “Humor is the way that you get through the hard things,” said Ashley. “Otherwise, things are just hard and there’s nothing good that comes out of them.” Besides focusing on humor, Ashley says helping others is also important. “I think that humor and all of us working together, we can try to make the best of it,” she said. 

Ashley’s advice for all military spouses is try and find humor in everything. 

“Don’t take yourself too seriously, because every day something could change. We live a unique experience that doesn’t last forever, so we might as well have fun, right?”

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