A few weeks ago, Writtalin staff writer John O’Neill and I traveled to Comedy Works in Downtown Denver to check out the lovely and hilarious Iliza Shlesinger, a decorated comedienne, who we’d also just named as our #WCW. It was a packed house, as we anxiously waited for the Iliza, the evening’s headliner, to take the stage.
As we sat through a few fantastic opening acts (special shoutout to Denver’s Troy Walker who was absolutely hilarious), we settled in, anticipating the winner of season six of NBC’s Last Comic Standing to take the stage. Soon enough, all eyes were on Iliza as she showcased many new jokes in anticipation of her upcoming, second full-length comedy special. After the crowd had had hundreds of beers and even more laughs, the show was over. We were able to catch up with Iliza and her dog, Blanche, in the green room after her performance, to chat about her comedy specials, being a lovely lady in a comedy scene dominated by men, and of course, about her spirit animal.
Ascher Robbins: So you have a new comedy special coming out this year. How much of the material from tonight was stuff we can expect to see on that?
Iliza Shlesinger: Everything I did tonight was new stuff. It was a full hour of new material, and I didn’t even get to all of it, because I paced it a little slower. The tour I’ve been on right now is all about getting material ready for the new special.
Ascher: Where should we look for the new special? Is it going to be on Comedy Central?
Iliza Shlesinger: Umm, probably not, but it really depends. Netflix was really cool to me. I think it’s a great place for comedy, and it worked out well for my last special, War Paint.
Ascher: Netflix is a great avenue for everything these days. So, a recurring theme in all your performances is referring to a character by the name of “Stacy.” Is this based on someone you know in real life or is she just a placeholder for a run-of-the-mill betch?
Iliza Shlesinger: Stacy is EVERY girl. And being a child of the nineties, Stacy is like the quintessential girl name; not now though, now it’s like Skyler or something.
Ascher: See, for me it’s more of a Jessica. Pronounced Jess-kuh.
Iliza Shlesinger: Jess-ykuh. With like a ‘Y.’ It could be any girl name, any common girl name. I just started using it because it’s kind of all-encompassing, and I just ran with it. I guess it’s a sign of A) how old I am and B) It evokes an image of a certain kind of girl, of an attitude.
Ascher: Yeah, Stacy brings a certain type of girl to mind for sure.
Iliza Shlesinger: Right? Stacy. Like, you’ve never met a Stacy that’s a rocket scientist.
John O’Neill: What about Scott, or Brian? You seem to dislike Scotts and Brians.
Iliza Shlesinger: Scott’s an asshole name. I’m sure there are plenty of nice Scotts out there, but SCOTT is like – you know that guy’s a real dick. I’m honestly kinda bad about coming up with names on the spot so these are just names that are there. But Brian was this sociopath that I dated recently and when I wrote my Pinterest joke, I happened to be dating him.
John: Do you hope these guys watch your new special and realize the joke is about them?
Iliza Shlesinger: Well, that Brian guy, he’ll probably end up in jail, so I don’t think he’ll get the chance to watch it from there. But yeah, I don’t know, I don’t try to single people out and make it personal. I’d never be like “This guy, he had a small dick! And he was a real asshole!” That’s not what the jokes are for; it’s not about revenge. Most of the guys are flattered when a joke is about them. It’s never for anything too mean.
Ascher: Best twenty seconds of fame they’ll ever get!
John: Being a comedian, do you ever have experiences in your daily life like, “That shit was crazy, it’s gonna make for an awesome joke?” Or do you kind of exaggerate experiences like a fishing tale?
Iliza Shlesinger: Umm, it’s both. All of the stories I tell are true. Comedy is rooted in truth, and that’s where the authenticity comes from. That’s really how you tell a bad comic from a good comic; a good comic always comes off as authentic. An issue I have with a lot of female comics is they get on stage and are like “Oh my god, I’m such a whore. I fuck everything!” And I’m like “No, you probably don’t. I mean, sometimes we all get drunk and make mistakes, but you know that’s not how you live your life. Like, I’ve met you when you’re sober.”
I really try to be authentic, when I tell stories about the stuff girls do in bathrooms together, or how we eat, you’re laughing cause you know those girls, you know those experiences…or maybe it’s just cause you’re high, I have no idea. But comedy is about that connectivity and the shared experiences we have as human beings. On the opposite side, when something really weird and unique happens to me, and I can’t believe it, that can also be great. So it’s less about straightforward experiences and more about soundbites I hear, like if I’m in the bathroom and some girl is like “OMG I’m sooo stressssed.” I just latch on to little bits of life.
Ascher: So, being a woman in comedy, which is, at least traditionally, more of a male thing, what other females do you think do a great job; who else do you look to for inspiration?
Iliza Shlesinger: You know, it’s funny. Even as a comedian I really don’t watch a lot of standup. Growing up – and I know this is a weird one – I always thought Paula Poundstone was great. And I thought Ellen was great. I mean, I’m straight so I do a lot more about male-female interactions, but I always thought their comedy was funny and relatable, really about just being a human and I thought it was great. I mean, I watch some comedy, especially when it’s my friends and whatnot, but at a certain point it’s like being a kid who grew up in a candy shop – at a certain point you don’t want to eat any more fuckin’ candy. So, I don’t watch a ton of it these days cause I don’t want to accidentally absorb someone else’s stuff and rip it off, cause that totally happens. But I think any girl making it out there in comedy is awesome; cause it’s a tough gig, it’s an exhausting gig, and there’s nothing graceful about this career, so I can respect all that.
Ascher: So you’re a good looking girl, thus why I wrote that piece about you
Iliza Shlesinger: (Laughs) I know! I know!
Ascher: I know you’re flattered! But obviously you’re a good looking girl, how do you think that affected you getting your start in this industry?
Iliza Shlesinger: I don’t know, and I’ll probably have to look back at it many years from now. I think at first – even now – when you walk on stage and you’re pretty, especially if the audience doesn’t really know who I am, I’ll walk on and I’ll be like “How’s everyone doing?” And it’ll be dead quiet, so I’ll be like “I know, I’m pretty!” and they’ll start laughing so hard. It’s like, I know I’m pretty – not so pretty it’s like I’m so pretty I can’t look at you! – but I’m a bit prettier than the fat guy who was on the stage right before me. So if I address it, that elephant in the room, it kinda lets people know to loosen up. At this point though, I think it’s past that stage – people know I don’t have a hunchback or horns. I think people initially look at a pretty girl like she’s probably pretty stupid, just like if you look at a really muscular guy you’re like he’s probably not that bright. And some people will write you off just because they don’t like pretty women, there are a lot of women who really don’t like women that are attractive, and I’ve dealt with bookers that don’t like me just cause I’m a girl. You never know with people, like, some cheerleader broke a guy’s heart in high school and because of that he HATES blondes. You never know. So the best thing you can do is just address it like Look, I’m not getting any uglier…well, I am getting older, but this is ME, so deal with it.
John: You use comedy in a lot of different avenues too: Twitter and tumblr and other mediums. How does that play into your life when you’re just sitting on your couch and want to share some laughs with the world?
Iliza Shlesinger: I think Twitter is like the second-best invention ever, right after electricity. It’s an amazing promotional tool, it’s a great way to reach out to fans. But, as a comedian, I really have a desire to connect to my fans and share my thoughts. Like, let’s say I’m sitting at LAX and it’s 5am, to be able to throw up a thought and get a response back from people who know who you are, they know your dog’s name, they know YOU – to get that response on a daily basis it’s awesome to get that validation. I like that validation and I like that gratification; anyone who says they don’t like a response when they post on social media is a liar.
Typical gold from Iliza’s twitter.
— Iliza Shlesinger (@iliza) June 1, 2014
John: Have you ever been on stage and told a joke that was a little TOO offensive and the audience really didn’t like it? What do you do when that happens?
Iliza Shlesinger: Oh yeah, of course. Hell, I had one of those tonight.
Ascher: What? Did I miss you insulting medical marijuana or something? Denver hates that.
Iliza Shlesinger: (Laughs). Yeah, but of course you have those nights. And what are you gonna do? You keep going! Nobody is ever gonna bat a thousand, you’re gonna hit some foul balls and strike out but you just get right back up to the plate. There’s nothing to do but keep going…you can’t let people know you’re afraid of them! They’re way more afraid of me than I am of them.
Ascher: So with this new special coming out; how do you think it reflects your career growth since you did War Paint?
Iliza Shlesinger: Well, I think because War Paint was on Netflix, so many people have seen it – I sold out of all my DVDs last night. The entire crowd had seen the special, and on this tour I’ve done callbacks to the special which was kind of a ballsy move, but the whole crowd got it and loved it. So, I’ve built a little more of an audience, and they really know me more, and now you really know what you’re getting when you watch an Iliza Shlesinger special, just like you know what you’re getting when you watch a Chris Rock special or something. I also have a lot of pressure to do better on this one – everyone’s sophomore album is always their shittiest album – so I have to make sure this is the best yet. I’ve been on tour for five months just practicing and polishing for this hour special, getting it ready. Hell, maybe we’ll do it in Boulder!
Ascher: You can crash on my couch! I promise, I’m not a rapist.
Iliza Shlesinger: Well great! We have that on tape. Like, you’re not a rapist, but maybe a murderer.
Ascher: I like to use the roofies, but just on myself, I like to experiment.
Iliza Shlesinger: Of course! The drugs are all for me!
Ascher: So with your tumblr, which is awesome by the way, how is it a different outlet for you then stand up and how does it let you get out some jokes and ideas that you can’t really do in front of an audience?
Iliza Shlesinger: Because it’s a visual thing, where you really have to look at a picture to get what I’m talking about, it’s a little different than painting these broad generalities. I also really like writing, and that is a WORDY tumblr. If I did it on stage it would be like Dennis Miller, metadictionary, and it would be way too much. So it’s definitely a different sort of creative outlet, to do some creative writing, and have an image go along with it, which is something I don’t do in stand up – I’m not a prop comic!
Ascher: So where do you see your career going in the future? Do you plan on sticking with stand up or do you want to kind of segue into some other things?
Iliza Shlesinger: Yeah, I’ve already done some late night pilots, I’d love to have a late night talk show. I think there’s a real gap in the market, nobody is really talking to guys and girls in the same demographic, it always seems like one or the other.
Ascher: And there’s not really any notable late night female host.
Iliza Shlesinger: Yeah, it’s like there’s no room for women, but there’s room for two men named Jimmy with brown hair. Weird. I would love to do that, I’d love to have a late night talk show. It’s weird to talk about what I want to do, because I really am doing it. I did four pilots last year, but you haven’t seen them, so it seems like I’m not doing them. But all actors, all comedians; we’re always working on stuff, but sometimes it doesn’t hit, and it’s like nobody ever knows you spent four months working on it. I really try to keep busy, I’m always working on something. I had a screenplay picked up this year, and I was in this show called Deadbeat on Hulu recently, too.
Ascher: Ok, so little less serious…what’s your spirit animal?
Iliza Shlesinger: (Picks up her dog, Blanche). Right here.
Ascher: Well that was easy! For me, I think meerkats.
Iliza Shlesinger: Oh yeah. Love meerkats. Love capybaras.
Ascher: You’re speaking my language now. I love capybaras. Nothing better than a giant fuckin’ guinea pig.
Iliza Shlesinger: Absolutely.
John: So really, how much time do you spend in front of the mirror making faces and making noises?
Iliza Shlesinger: Oh boy. My whole life, anyone that’s dated me can attest to this, I just make noises. Like, you’ll just hear me in the bathroom like “meow meerrr rawr,” like it’s not even trying to be cute or quirky, sometimes I’ll just be by myself and noises just come out. It’s just a great way to occupy your time!
Ascher: So last question: growing up, how did you get into comedy? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
Iliza Shlesinger: Yes, always. I didn’t know how or in what way, but I knew I was going to make money being funny. It wasn’t even a question, it wasn’t a lofty goal, it was just like what else would I do? I was always going to make a living being funny.
Ascher: It’s hard though, I mean I like to think I’m hilarious but I’ve never had the balls to really get out there, cause there’s always the possibility that a crowd will be like “You fucking suck. You’re not funny, you’re offensive.”
Iliza Shlesinger: Oh it’s not a possibility, that’s the reality.
Ascher: Definitely. So the first time you went out and did it, did you just NAIL it, or…?
Iliza Shlesinger: Yeah.
Iliza Shlesinger: I did. I’m really good at this. I NAILED IT.
Make sure to check out Iliza’s Netflix special, War Paint, here! We’ll give you a preview below: