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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Iliza Shlesinger interview 2014

Iliza Shlesinger came to town a couple weeks ago. I did a story on her for the Georgia Straight based on the following phone interview. It was a quickie because she was on her way to an afternoon date. (While she was in town, we also did another quickie chat for the radio show. That episode will drop soon.)

Iliza Shlesinger
May 2, 2014
"I like the chance to show people repeatedly – and you have to keep proving this – I'm just funny. I'm just as funny as all the other guys up here so it almost doesn't matter that I'm a girl." 
Iliza Shlesinger

Guy MacPherson: Miss Shlesinger.
Iliza Shlesinger: How are you?

GM: I'm good, how are you?
IL: I'm good. I have to have you on speaker phone because I'm driving so I hope we can hear each other.

GM: I have you on speaker, too, because I'm recording. Where are you?
IL: I'm in very warm and very sunny Los Angeles going to the park for a second time today. So that is my life.

GM: Just for a walk?
IL: First one was for a hike and now I'm going to go meet a boy.

GM: Oh, congratulations! Is this a new fella?
IL: I don't know. It's our first date but I don't want to go on a date. I wanted to do it in the daylight with animals so it couldn't be misconstrued as anything in case he's the worst.

GM: He must be cute because I know physical attraction is a big part of your criteria.
IL: That's so funny. A lot of people say that. Yeah.

GM: Well you say that!
IL: Yeah. Yeah. So we'll see. We'll see how this works.

GM: I heard that you don't like hikes. You don't like nature.
IL: The bit that I did, which is where this all comes from, is how girls always – and I pretty much named War Paint after this bit, my last special – girls always say they like hiking. And we say it because it makes us sound healthy and outdoorsy and it's something we do to attract guys. But the truth is no one really, if you live in a city, we're not really hiking. Like today I went on a hike but what really happened was I brought my dog, I went with a friend, Blanche got over-heated ten minutes in, and my friend had to hold her and walk us back to the car. That's not a hike. That was just a schlep in shorts and I was sweaty. There were no trail sites, there were no walking sticks, there were no snacks, there were no lesbian mountain rangers. It was not a hike.

GM: You're kind of proving your own bit there. You probably told the guy, 'Hike! Great!'
IL: Well, the hike was just with a friend. It was our LA way of trying to get some sun and some exercise, but really it was too fucking hot.

GM: It's been hot up here this week in Vancouver.
IL: Good! You guys need some heat.

GM: Congratulations on War Paint.
IL: Thank you.

GM: That came out within the last year, right?
IL: Yeah, it came out in December. Or November, I think. So yeah, it hasn't even been out a year yet.

GM: It made it to a lot of people's Top Comedy Specials of the Year lists.
IL: It did. I was very proud of it. I really put a lot of heart and soul into it. It made iTunes top 10 albums for editors pick last year. So I kinda got in right under the gun. That kinda made me happy.

GM: Did you feel validated, not that you didn't before?
IL: Yeah, you are right. I mean, as a comic, I don't think we ever feel validated. But I definitely... Like, I know that's a good special. And I think that it really resonated with a lot of people. And I think for comedy it was very important for me to do it on my terms. I wanted to do the cover my way for specific reasons, my jokes, my point of view. I put out albums before but this one was a wide release and I really feel like I came out of the gate being like, 'I'm a girl, this is what I feel, I'm not afraid to say it, and I don't have to do filthy, horrible, low-hanging-fruit jokes to get the point across.' And I think we got the authenticity of it regardless of how popular it was. I think that's what really resonated with people. And I'm topless on the cover.

GM: And bottomless.
IL: And bottomless. Let's not forget the bottom.

GM: Apart from that exposure – literal exposure – has it given you a lot more exposure just for work?
IL: Yup. I mean, clubs fill up a lot quicker. People have watched it. And then just even on a day-to-day level, just having fans be able to go like, 'Oh, I've seen your hour.' People that are like, 'I didn't know who you were and then I was watching Friday Night Standup and I found you.' It was huge. Netflix is a great outlet and they really took a chance. It's just great to be able to share your art with people on that great of a scale – I know it sounds so hippyish. It's a very special thing.

GM: Guys like seeing nude women. But did you get flack for doing that cover?
IL: I really didn't. One, because I don't think I'm famous enough for anyone to care. And it isn't like I'm Gloria Steinem doing it. But if anybody decided to challenge me, if anybody cared enough to wage that battle, which is a blessing and a curse if they don't, my answer is this: Look, I took that picture for two reasons. One, because I could. I feel like our society wants women to be ashamed of their bodies and be insecure, and I was like, 'What? Society told me to be in shape so I'm in shape. And now I can't show it off?' So I did it because I could. But I did it also for marketing. Simply that I don't have a billion fans and I don't have a huge TV show behind me and I don't have a PR team so if you're a guy sitting on an airplane with your iPad and two comedy specials come up and one's a dude holding a microphone and one's me like that, you're gonna click on mine 99% of the time for nothing else out of curiosity. And I like that the material's strong enough to once you click on it and you're mildly disappointed that I'm in fact clothed, you'll stick around because the content is great.

GM: Or maybe in the hopes that by the end you'll have them all off.
IL: Yeah, maybe, but that'd be dumb.

GM: Sex sells but you have to have the content to back it up otherwise people are going to be shutting off pretty quick.
IL: And I think that's where people get annoyed when girls are sexy or showy or something. You know, a lot of female comics do, like, the sexy thing but then their comedy is whatever. Men don't rely on it as much. But people like to look at women's bodies. We like looking at men's bodies but women are the fairer sex, women are the more beautiful sex. I think it's a double standard where society objectifies women, wants to see your boobs, wants to see your body, wants to see all this, but when you do it on your own terms, all of a sudden it's not okay. Well, fuck that. I'll walk around topless if I want, when I want.

GM: Did you enjoy the process of posing? You didn't show anything but in I always wonder about the other people in the room.
IL: They were all women. One male writing guy who I made turn around. But I've heard Playmates say this, by the end of the shoot you're not even thinking about it. And I had my hair covering my boobs. But even without that, it was a room full of women. At first I was really uncomfortable but by the end I didn't care. I mean, I'm not going to let anyone tell me that I have anything to be ashamed of. I have enough insecurities and my body doesn't get to be one of them.

GM: I just watched your Grantland piece. When was that filmed?
IL: We did it a couple months ago. I'm good friends with the guys over there. We've got a project that's kind of in development. They'd done a couple of these Inside Joke pieces. They asked me so I suggested a typical night for me does include doing all three clubs, very harried and running around and hanging out. So I'm like that should be the theme of my piece is doing these three clubs. It was cool and I really respect Grantland as a website and an entity. So I was excited to be part of that.

GM: Yeah, they're great. They started out mostly sports and some pop culture. Just because of the quality of the work they do, that's gotta help comedy in general.
IL: Definitely. Comics love sports, and sports are fun to make fun of, and they do good work. And it's a legit site. It's not a horribly-run site by like one nerd that's like an Angelfire-built website. It's good and the writing's good. Like you were saying about the special, the content backed it up. So I was proud to do it with them. I probably wouldn't have done it with another website, like or something.

GM: You said you like being the only girl in a comedy lineup. Is that usually the case? When you're on the road, you're the headliner.
IL: Right. I've had female features and I've brought women to feature for me. If I bring someone, it's because I trust them. On the road, I don't care if a girl's on a lineup. My thing is this: There are plenty of horrible male comics that have opened for me that I've worked with that are just bad, but I get a special kind of cringe when I hear the typical female 'I'm a whore' kind of joke, which so many women do. So many women go blue so fast without even giving themselves a chance. But I'm an upperclassman now, I'm not a baby that just won Last Comic Standing. I like the chance to show people repeatedly – and you have to keep proving this – I'm just funny. I'm just as funny as all the other guys up here so it almost doesn't matter that I'm a girl. I take it as a compliment when it's me and a bunch of heavy-hitters or comics that are more successful than me. Would I like to share a lineup with Sarah Silverman? Absolutely. She's great.

GM: You like Lori Gibbs in Calgary.
IL: Lori who?... Yeah, I love Lori. When I'm in LA and it's like a Saturday night and they have all headliners, I usually am the only girl because there aren't a lot of female touring headliners. And that's the God's honest truth.

GM: You make fun of women in your act. Does that hit in the heartland? Or is it a typical Hollywood-type vapid woman you're making fun of?
IL: No, it hits. I'm sitting up there talking about LA stuff, because that's a huge mistake of a comic, talking about your hometown. My things are universal truths. Male-female interaction, the way women think. It doesn't matter what kind of woman you are. I try to tap into what makes us women versus an LA woman vs a Vancouverian woman or something. And I think that's why girls like it so much because I'm letting them know all those crazy thoughts you thought were just in your head, they're in my head, too. It's okay. Let's all take a breath.

GM: In the Grantland piece, you say if you do poorly on a given show, everyone will think that the winner of Last Comic Standing did poorly. And you use it as a motivator to bring your A-game. Is that problematic if you can't try out new things and fail?
IL: Truthfully, I don't think about it anymore. Had I won it last week and they saw me... I think I've accomplished enough. You're always proving yourself. I can't not grow because I'm worried about making sure everybody just needs the best bits that I can do over and over. At a certain point you gotta be like this set on a Tuesday night at 8 pm, this one's for me. But then on a Saturday night at 9 pm, that one's for the crowd. And you gotta just take it when you can and when people don't get it, that's fine. I'm probably never going to go up there and just absolutely eat shit. We're all professional comics. As a funny person, you'll dig yourself out of it. I've definitely had sets that weren't that great but I think we make a mistake as comics of thinking it means so much to the crowd. These people will laugh. They might remember you, might not. Might take a picture. But in a week, it's not something they're still thinking about. Once you've wrapped your head around that – that your set actually doesn't matter; they're going home and their lives don't revolve around it like they do for us – it kind of makes it easier to take your punches and move on and grow. That's all you can do.

GM: Totally. And an audience member can like somebody and still not like everything they did in that set.
IL: Absolutely. I've had fans come and they're so excited to see me and I'm working out stuff. And they're just kind of quiet. But then afterwards they want to buy everything and take pictures and they freak out. So you never know how somebody's going to appreciate your set.

GM: You're not going to lose sleep over a less than sterling set at this point.
IL: I learned that lesson a long time ago. It so doesn't matter. Not unless you go up there and have a Michael Richards meltdown does it actually matter.

GM: I read you're doing a pilot for a talk show, is that correct?
IL: Um... that was a while ago. We're always doing pilots. I think the thing that people don't get about comedy and entertainment in general is that you're always doing stuff. And if it doesn't come to fruition, they're like, 'Oh, where have you been?' It's like, 'I made four pilots this year!' I have to wrap this up because I have to get out of the car. Is that okay?

GM: I guess that's okay if that's all you got time for.
IL: I'm meeting someone and they're here and I feel bad now. Hold on one second. (to her date) I just need one minute. (to me) Okay, we can keep talking.

GM: About that talk show thing, that was a pilot you did. I know you've hosted a similar show online and the dating show on TV. Is hosting something that really interests you?
IL: I've got my eyes set on a late-night spot. The people that work with me, we have our teeth and they're slowly sinking into a very specific late-night spot. This has been the goal. I've made four late-night talk show pilots with major networks, had my own webshow, so you have to involve yourself in the conversation with these networks. And it's a goal we work toward. And in the meantime I've got my standup and I've got my special and the objective is to just keep doing what I love and growing your fan base and keep making these pilots. People think that all your celebrities that you love come out of nowhere and they don't. It's years in the trenches. Say something hits and it's like, 'Oh, where did that person come from?' They've been working.

GM: Craig Ferguson's leaving.
IL: Um, yes. These are all conversations that are had behind closed doors. But fingers crossed.

GM: They need a woman on there.
IL: I agree. We have room in the late-night landscape for two men with brown hair named Jimmy but women aren't allowed. Got it. Okay.

GM: I'll let you go on your date. Good luck with that. Hope he's nice.
IL: I do, too. He seems very tall so fingers crossed. I'll be in Vancouver in a couple weeks. Am I going to see you?

GM: Yes, you will see me. Maybe you'll do my show again.
IL: I would love to. I had such a good time last time and I love Canadians and I love that you always want to interview me. That makes me happy.

GM: And this is the first time for print.
IL: Cool. I like that. Well, I'm sorry I rushed.

GM: Tell me all about your date when I see you.

IL: Okay cool. Thanks, Guy.

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