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Raunchy, Raucous, Ridiculously Talented: An Interview With My New Favorite Comedian Iliza Shlesinger

By Mayim Bialik     Published on 09/21/2016 at 6:12 AM EDT
Mayim interviews one of her favorite comediennes about comedy, competition and parental support

In an attempt to bring more positivity and laughter into my life, I’ve started watching comedy specials I find on Netflix. I came across Iliza Shlesinger by accident and instantly fell in comedy love. When I had the opportunity to interview her, I jumped at the chance to introduce this funny and insightful woman to all of you. Enjoy!

Mayim Bialik: Hi there! Let’s jump right in. Here’s my first question. A lot of people may not know you, so can you describe what kind of comedy you do?

Iliza Shlesinger: Sure. I am a stand-up comedian and I’m kind of a storyteller but it’s a pretty vivid, aggressive, kind of intense style. I do a lot of commentary on women and our social interaction with each other in society. There’s no male-bashing, and there’s girl-bashing with love. My comedy is also a little bit whimsical; there are some… voices and creatures. It’s a little bit like watching a sketch show but with an underlying meaningful message, so there’s something for everyone, but don’t bring your kids!

Mayim: Haha! That’s awesome. When I tell people about you, I usually do bits from your standup. I hope you don’t mind –

Iliza: Oh, so that’s why people aren’t coming… got it…!

[Both laughing]

Mayim: How did this evolve? Is comedy something you always wanted to do? Were you a comedian kind of young person? Did the interactions between women in society bother you from the time you were 6 and you decided to combat that?

Iliza: Well I can answer that in two parts. I can tell you that growing up I just knew I was going to be funny for a living. I just knew, “When I’m an adult, I’m going to be funny.” And growing up in the suburbs of Dallas, TX, your thought is, “I’ll be on Saturday Night Live” cause that’s all you really know. And then I went to college and I was in this sketch group and I just knew comedy was going to be my job. I was very open to it taking whatever form it took and I did sketch comedy for a while and I loved it, which is why my comedy is a little bit like sketch. And then I tried stand-up and it just worked and I started working fervently in that direction and I just started getting up on stage a lot with no real goal in mind other than just working hard.

Now my goals have evolved as I’ve gotten older: I want to have a show, I want to have a late-night show, stuff like that, but I’m very lucky to be one of the few who’ve made their name and filled their seats based solely off of a stand-up reputation. And it takes about ten years to get your voice as it were, so this came from just getting up on stage, with no mal-intent; I wasn’t angry at society, I wasn’t mad at my dad, I didn’t have a particularly quirky upbringing. being that my heterosexual sexuality is something I think about, my observations in my 20s, you talk about what you know. And mine was about going out and I had a keen eye for observation even if I was out drinking. So it sort of turned into this thing where I kind of made fun of girls but it’s really one of the only things I could make fun of cause even though I’m Jewish, I didn’t grow up in a super-Jewish household so I didn’t have Jewish jokes, and I’m white so nobody wants to hear about how hard that is…

I kind of just started talking and I think the basis for a lot of my comedy was just to be funny as a person, not as a woman. I take a page of that from Ellen DeGeneres’s book: she was always just funny.

Mayim: Was your family supportive of this lifestyle of being a comedian? What was that like?

Iliza: Like painfully supportive; like my father one time asked if he could introduce me at the improv. (The answer was no.) Both of my parents are stand-up comedians who never had a stage. I think, in a way, I got to sort of live out the theatrical experience that they never got to live out because of circumstances. They’re both very funny, they’re Jews from New York, both outgoing and smart. And so when I started performing, I almost wish I had the parents that I had let down so I could have some angst. It’s a semi-charmed life for the most part— not to quote Third Eye Blind – but my parents were super-supportive, and it’s very sweet to see how they each try to support me. They’ve come to my specials, they’ve come to my tapings, they took turns when I did “Last Comic Standing” coming for different tapings because they are divorced. I mean my dad was so supportive to the point where I had to say, “Dad, you don’t have to make t-shirts.”

Mayim: I know your days are probably all different, but what is your life like? I know you’re in Las Vegas now to see the Britney Spears show, and you have a gig there… do you mostly travel? I think people might be curious to hear what your actual life is like.

Iliza: Uh, my life is fragmented, that might be a good way to put it: it’s fragmented, unpredictable…really high highs, really low lows. And maybe everyone could say that about their life but what’s difficult about this is that in the ten years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never gotten used to the fact that I have such an erratic schedule. You’re constantly looking for down time and when you have down time, you’re constantly looking for something to do. My days vary from anything like three meetings about a project, to a day where people want you to audition for something and then they’re like “Sorry, we gave it to a doorknob instead of you”…It’s getting on planes, it’s putting yourself on tape for auditions, but then leading a meeting for a show you’re developing. It’s going on stage and selling out an 1800-person theater and then flying back home and having nothing to do for two whole days.

Mayim: Totally. I get that.

Iliza: It’s like an endless ball of emotion all propelled and propagated by my desire to succeed and my talent. If I didn’t write comedy, I wouldn’t have a living. It’s really cool when you’re like “Oh, I’m on a private plane getting to go to Vegas! I get to see Britney Spears later and then David Copperfield and then I have a show!” But then there’s also the very honest thought of “Why isn’t my show sold out? Why hasn’t my TV show sold yet? Why did I just lose a part to a black girl? Why were we auditioning for the same part of like a Jew in the 70’s? That doesn’t make sense.“ So it’s constantly not realizing that you’re attaining things because you’re constantly comparing yourself to others’ success, which I think is very human. They tell us not to compare ourselves to others, but anybody who says they don’t do it is a liar.

Mayim: True! If people want to know more about how to learn more about you, where would you like us to direct them?

Iliza: Well they can go to my website which is – that’s really the best for touring. And we have a new tour schedule launching in the fall (9/9-10/2) along with my new Netflix special called ‘Confirmed Kills’ (airing on September 23rd). So…Google me maybe?!

Mayim: Haha. Those are good choices. And the specials that I’ve seen— I’ve seen two of your specials on Netflix correct?

Iliza: Yes. One is called ‘War Paint’ and the other is ‘Freezing Hot’.

Mayim: Awesome, Iliza. Thank you so much!

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