In March 2021, Katie Thurston stood in a ballgown in front of 30 men, each of them vying to become her husband. As the lead of ABC's "The Bachelorette," the former bank marketing manager from Lynnwood, Wash., had become a well-known entity in the decades-old reality franchise. The previous year, Thurston had finished 11th on Matt James' season of "The Bachelor," where she quickly became a fan favorite for her sex positivity and overall candor. These days, Thurston still regularly stands in front of audiences — but instead of trying to find love, she's more concerned with creating laughter.
Two years out from leading “The Bachelorette” — the OG dating show where one single person dates many contestants in the hopes of getting engaged — Thurston now lives in San Diego and is proudly minus a plus one. She is officially an aspiring comedian. In addition to pounding the pavement at local open mic nights, Thurston, 32, has done quickie opening sets for high-profile acts such as Whitney Cummings and Iliza Shlesinger. The Cummings connection, Thurston says, happened as a direct result of her time as the Bachelorette.
“I ended up meeting Whitney while we were both on the set of ‘Kimmel,’” Thurston recalls. We’re both tucking into ahi tuna bowls in La Jolla at a Hawaiian-themed restaurant with a stunning view of the Pacific coast. “I saw her backstage, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I'm such a big fan.’ I love women in comedy. She's so badass. I didn't even know she knew who I was or watched [“The Bachelorette”]. It sounded like she did — because next thing you know, she's inviting me onto her podcast. And we just had such great chemistry. Then I mentioned I've been thinking of getting into comedy. And she's like, ‘Oh, do you want to open for me?’”
As sudden as the Cummings opportunity sounds, Thurston had technically been toying with the idea of becoming a comedian long before her stint with Bachelor Nation. It all started with "a Valentine's Day rant, just for my friends" that Thurston posted to Facebook when she was 20 years old. Even among her circle of friends and family, the video got so many comments that Thurston tried launching a YouTube channel, though she quickly had to delete it because of her job in finance. "We're managing millions of dollars for potentially conservative people, and the topics I'm talking about are not safe for work." After that, she tried taking improv classes, but didn’t gel with the “yes, and” format.
In 2019, Thurston again started playing with the pursuit of comedy. By this time, she was more established in her finance career, about to turn 30, and had amassed about two years' worth of material. Then the pandemic hit, and all of the comedy clubs closed down. So she began posting on TikTok (still in its infancy) and built a grassroots following based on her conversational style, which sometimes included ruminations on quarantine masturbation and sex with ghosts. "I just had this I-don't-give-a-s— attitude," Thurston says of her early content. "I truly believe it's because of my TikTok presence the ["Bachelor"] producers were able to see, 'Oh, she's comfortable on camera.'" (To be a contestant on “The Bachelor,” you can either be nominated, or you can apply yourself. Either way, you’ll need to film an audition video.)
Though she was already a prolific content creator, prior to being cast on “The Bachelor” Thurston looked at comedy as more of a hobby than a potential career track. “I really thought I was going to be in my banking and finance career — that's what I was in for the last 10 years — and comedy would be a passion project,” she says. “And I would just continue my life in Washington. If you told me that all the things that happened in the last two years were gonna happen, I would be like, ‘You're crazy.’”
It’s not hard to see why Thurston was handpicked to lead “The Bachelorette.” While participating in James’ season, Thurston led with humor, sexual frankness (she famously walked out of the Night One limo brandishing a vibrator) and an impatience for bullying. At one point, she took James aside — a risky move in the history of the franchise — and diplomatically informed him about the “mob mentality” forming among the contestants in the house.
Later, as the Bachelorette, Thurston ended her season with an engagement to contestant Blake Moynes, though they mutually parted ways in October 2021, a few months after the season’s end. Soon, Thurston kicked off another relationship, this time with another contestant from her season, John Hersey. They broke up in June 2022. (In an interview on Bachelor Nation personality Kaitlyn Bristowe's “Off The Vine” podcast, Thurston said, "I think it was just unavoidable. We just got on a conversation and at one point, I just said to him, 'I know more reasons why you don't like me than why you love me.' And that's a really s— feeling, you know?")
After “The Bachelorette” promotion wrapped in fall 2021, Thurston quickly relocated from her home near Seattle to San Diego, where she found an apartment for herself and Moynes, who would be moving from Canada (a cohabitation plan that ultimately fell through). Then, when Cummings invited Thurston to open for her Anaheim date of the Touch Me tour, the former Bachelorette was thrilled — even more so than being asked to date 30 men and travel the world on ABC’s dime. However, among other issues, she didn’t feel the support she needed from Moynes. “We were both very much on totally different paths,” Thurston says matter-of-factly. “I'm a big believer in signs. The night that I performed for Whitney, I went home, and that was the same night Blake and I had a phone call and decided to end our engagement.”
Thurston has dated since her relationship with Hersey ended — she cites a “little situationship” from this past summer, which also fell apart. Instead of wallowing, Thurston is reveling in her single status and using dating stories as stand-up fodder.
“I was getting tired of men and dating, truly,” she says. “I was so built up with anger of failure after failure when it came to dating. It inspired me to start writing. I was like, ‘F— dating!’ I'm focusing on me now. I'm gonna pursue what I want. I don't have to ask permission. I don't have to adjust my life around anyone.”
Soon, Thurston was attending open mic nights at Mic Drop in San Diego. “Normally, [open mics] are in this tiny little gold room. But for whatever reason, the night I was finally ready to do my first open mic, we're all in the big main room. And I was like, I can't help but feel this is a sign from the universe. This is the path I'm supposed to be on.”
Onstage, Thurston’s style is confessional, engaging and self-deprecating. Yes, she dips into her time as Bachelorette — one bit likens her experience choosing different shades of white paint to “The Bachelor” producers selecting a lead. But generally speaking, Thurston is not overly interested in mining her Bachelorette experiences for stage material. “It's not a priority,” she says. “I think in my last show, there were maybe two jokes. … While there's so much that has happened, I am ready to not keep reliving it. The jokes that I've made are publicly known things. If we're talking behind the scenes [jokes], that's just not a monster I want to fight for in terms of an NDA, or bashing the franchise. You can close doors, but you don’t want to burn bridges.”
Unlike other Bachelor Nation alumni, Thurston has not matriculated through the franchise much since her season. She’s appeared on a few “Bachelor”-themed podcasts and maintains relationships with a few of the women on Matt James’ season, but you probably won’t find her vying for a spot on “Bachelor in Paradise” or doling out advice to the leads on future “Bachelorette” seasons. “Would I go back? No. Do I want to make it my identity or my primary content in comedy? No. But is it still part of my history? You can never really fully get away from it. ... It was a moment of time. And I'm just moving on.”
Part of the reason for Thurston’s decision to not actively engage with the “Bachelor” franchise, unsurprisingly, has to do with mental health. In March 2020, former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay appeared on the season's "Women Tell All" episode, where she led a discussion around the graphic, hateful messages (generally stemming from social media) the show's contestants receive. Though Thurston doesn’t go into detail, it’s clear her experiences with the show — both as contestant and as lead — have created a need to get some distance.
“It's a lot to go through. You have to gauge, ‘How much is it worth making a statement on?' There are things I could very much have an opinion on publicly if I wanted to,” Thurston says, citing controversial subjects like former franchise host Chris Harrison, who recently launched a podcast after being fired in 2021. “But it's not worth [risking] my mental health,” Thurston concludes. “Overall, I've learned a lot about when to speak and when to shut up.”
The one thing Thurston will say about “The Bachelor” — she is not actively watching the new season starring Zach Shallcross — is that the franchise needs to evolve more quickly if it hopes to keep up with newer dating shows, which take more creative risks and don’t shy away from taboo subjects such as how couples handle money and differing political and/or religious views. “I do remember tuning in occasionally and being like, 'This date feels very similar, this storyline feels very similar, this drama feels really similar.' It is not a very creative experience for the viewer now,” she says. “I know the show is trying to figure out how to get back to its roots. What that means in a world of social media, I don't know. In my opinion — and people can argue both ways — I feel like you’re losing your audience to other dating shows.”
Now firmly in her post-”Bachelorette” era, Thurston is determined to make the most of the comedy opportunities coming her way, while also staying aware of how she got them. “There is this level of guilt,” she admits. “There's so many comedians who have worked so hard to get stage time, they've worked so hard to build their brand name. And I do recognize I've been handed this platform. But I'm also putting in the work. I'm doing the open mics. I'm doing what's called ‘barking,’ which is where you're on the streets handing out fliers. I recognize the advantage I have. But I also am going to present the work just like everyone else.”
When Thurston spoke to Cummings about her relative privilege, her mentor had a take-no-prisoners reply: “Women, especially in comedy, already have it hard enough,” Thurston remembers Cummings telling her. “'Use every advantage you can. Own it, embrace it, do not feel guilty about it.’ It was that moment where I realized, she is so freakin’ right. So I try to remind myself from time to time, ‘Don't feel bad about the opportunities you're given. Take advantage of them. Because otherwise, you're just wasting it.”
Another pearl of wisdom Thurston received from comedy kingpin Dane Cook: “Be careful. Don’t f— the comics,” she cracks.
Looking ahead, Thurston describes 2023 as “the moment before you jump off of a cliff.” She’s doing open mics on a nearly nightly basis, where absolutely nothing is off limits, from “bad sex stories” to scatalogical accidents. “It's such a gift to have a room that is quiet and all sudden everyone's laughing,” Thurston says. “I just love making people laugh, that is such a high. I would take that over sex.
“I always tell people when I tell them, ‘I'm a comedian,’ and I try to own that,” Thurston continues. “What that means to me is, ‘I'm pursuing [comedy].’ But also say: ‘I will have a Netflix special. Just watch me. It might not be this year, but I promise you, I want you to remember me.'”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.