My guest today is stand up comedian/actress/author, Iliza Shlesinger. She is funny, smart, opinionated and just wants to be seen and heard. Iliza has taken a very difficult path in pursuing comedy as a job, but when it’s your gift and your calling, then there is no choice. She is a brilliant example of what busting your ass and being capable looks like, and where it can take you. Funny is funny and smart is smart.
Listen to the episode here:
- Connecting Around Funny [00:01:35]
- How Women Live in the Gray [00:06:00]
- Learning Systems When People Look Up to You [00:10:32]
- Motherhood [00:18:43]
- Iliza’s Take on Being Funny [00:24:21]
- Great Vibration [00:29:29]
- Don’t Panic Pantry [00:33:51]
- From the Road to Settling Down [00:37:53]
- On Stage [00:41:08]
Iliza Shlesinger – Comedian, Actress, Author
My guest is comedian Iliza Shlesinger. To say that she is busy and kicking ass is an understatement. She has five stand-up shows on Netflix. She has a movie called Good on Paper that’s basely loosed on maybe a less than a completely honest boyfriend. She has a sketch comedy show, she’s touring, and she and her husband are expecting their first child.
I wanted to sit down and talk with her about how she’s getting it all done. That’s a tough business and it’s mostly dominated by males, how she navigates that, dating in your 20s and 30s, and following your passion and your calling. Because to do any creative job is difficult and we only see it when people are successful. She’s funny and has strong opinions. I don’t know that Iliza loves to be interviewed. I was grateful that she took time out, came to my home, and was willing to have a rich conversation about a lot of these things. I hope you enjoy.
The thing is, a lot of times when you see someone who’s as funny as you are, makes funny their business, they have this sadness or this and that. I know you had your own things but I couldn’t help but think that maybe also because your dad likes funny, besides you were born funny, that was also a way that you maybe connected with your dad around funny.
People would like it to be that complex. I’m not saying you want that. Especially with women, it’s like, “How did you bond with your dad?” My mom and dad are funny. These are New Yorkers. There’s practicality in the way they approach stuff. There’s this idea that everyone’s an idiot. Later in life, we’ve connected over the fact that I do stand up. I didn’t do stand-up when I was younger. I always thought he was funny, and now it’s like a vibration we connect on.
How do you end up in New York? You guys are in Dallas.
It’s called in-migration and it happened in the ‘80s. I only know that term because I looked it up for a pilot that didn’t go. A lot of New Yorkers moved to Texas in the ‘80s for tax purposes and the land was super cheap. My parents were two of them. There’s a lot of New York Jews that did that. They moved there in the ‘80s and then got a divorce shortly after. I’m from Dallas, Texas. My dad still lives there with my stepmom. My mom was in Florida, as everyone does. I live in LA, as everyone does. We make it work.
I’m wondering when you’re young, you know you’re funny.
I did. I’m not going to speak for everyone, unless I get canceled, but I knew.
We have senses of ourselves. You saw something and thought, “I’m going to do this,” or you had an experience. There’s a lot of people out there who have something inside of them but it’s too scary and they don’t have anyone around them to foster it or do anything. How do you go from the internal calling and then, at this level, it becomes strategy?
There’s something to be said for when no one tells you that you can’t do anything versus people actively saying you’re bad at something. You always hear people, “I want to be a singer.” They’re like, “It’ll never work for you.” That never happened to me. Versus, “You’re so funny. You should be on Saturday Night Live.” When you’re growing up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, that’s the only reference point. You’re the funny girl. My teachers knew I was funny. My parents never pushed me in one way or the other.
I remember I went to two-a-days for volleyball at my new school. It was the first time it was ever like, “You’re going to run a mile.” It was real training. It was high school competitive versus middle school. I came home and I was like, “I don’t want to do this.” She’s like, “You got to go back because you said you’re going to do it.”
You got to finish what you started.
I know this is lame but the two-a-days I did my freshman year of high school, it was a really rigorous program, even for JV. Having completed that, it was my first push in the direction of like, “If it hurts, you still have to do it because you said you were going to do it and follow through.” I wonder if that instilled a bit of desire for pain and a work ethic. You join improv and you try to get it wherever you can. It’s not like sports where it’s an abundant thing where you can always do them. You find the shows that you think are funny.
I start to cobble together my own education, not knowing if there was anyone else like me out there. You look at colleges and then you start to see like, “There are other kids that are like me, that like the things that I like. Some of these kids are weird but some of them are like me.” It’s such a spectrum of creativity. You find the college and then you start to foster that creativity. Luckily, I had a mother who when I said, “I want to do a semester or I’m going to do a one-man show,” it wasn’t a blind acceptance of everything. I was successful young enough that it was never, “What are you going to do with your life?”
It seemed realistic. Sometimes that’s the one thing hard for people coming to Los Angeles or New York to become performers.
I’m around great comics all the time. I’m also around comics that shouldn’t be doing it. First of all, it’s not your place to say, “You’re terrible.” On a selfish note, you never want to tell anyone to stop because what if that person gets that sitcom tomorrow and then you need a job from them? It’s this spineless encouragement of like, “I’m not going to be the one to tell you to stop. You are truly terrible and don’t understand timing but you’re the person who would get a break.” You always want to be on the side of like, “I was always cool to them,” because it happens all the time.
[bctt tweet=”Build a body of work that speaks for itself.”]
I read your Girl Logic book. One of the things that you said was when you were in the house, part of the reality show, you figured out that you weren’t going to be the one to say anything. I have three daughters and one thing I always talk to them about is avoiding drama, keeping your mouth shut.
What we’re talking about here is how women live in the gray and men are black and white. Also, when you’re a man, you are instantly imbued the day that you’re born with this hubris and this entitlement to be direct that we don’t afford women. In theory, we say that. But in practice, it’s rarely lauded because it’s like, “She’s a bitch.” The easy answer is like, “Who cares?” But you do care because when you’re a woman, other people’s opinion of you quickly becomes the reality, even if it’s not true, and that can affect a lot of things.
Whereas if a guy is a dick, it’s like, “He’s a dick but we’re still going to treat him as if he’s not.” Your consistency builds a body of work that speaks for itself. I have this rule where I never pass on a negative sentiment I hear about another female performer because chances are a lot of people don’t like her and I don’t need to pile on.
I do believe in building a body of work that speaks for itself so that when you show up on set, you’re not an extra, you’re the star. You connect with that director. I always say, “I show up, I want to do my job, and then we want to go home. I’m not here to fuck around. I’m not here to show up drunk. I listen, I’m thoughtful, and I treat everyone with respect.” You don’t have to bend over backward, but if you establish this professionalism and if you’re number one on the call sheet, it’s okay.
There’s that weird thing where if you’re the girl and you’re not like, “How was your morning?” It’s like, “What a bitch.” You set up an energy and an expectation and you teach people how to treat you. You’re cool to people. You don’t have to smile at everyone but you give people the time of day. That way, when there is an outlier, it’s easily identifiable.
I’ve had that happen. I showed up to do a show. It was an interview show. I sat quietly. I ate with the makeup artist. I waited until my turn. This guy mispronounced my last name and I corrected him. The feedback was that I was difficult. I knew it was from this one guy and we traced it back to him. My publicist called and he’s like, “Why are you telling people that?” He apologized. It doesn’t happen often, but if you’re consistently good enough, those minor opinions based on their own ego and what they’re going through tend to fall by the wayside.
Baseline manners, respect, and decency. “Hi, nice to see you. How are you?” You can split. You’re the perfect person. After I read Girl Logic, it’s dual. You have to show up. You can’t gossip. You better deliver. If you have something to say, say it. Conversely, you don’t have to play by the rules that you think exist for us because we’re female.
For me, when I see the way you approach your job, it’s your craft, your profession, your passion, and all these things. That allows you, because you approach it that way, then to go, “What did you say? I’m not here to turn you on. I’m here to make you laugh.” It’s getting people and also younger females to understand the rules all the way around.
The rules are if you’re good enough at what you do, you make your own rules. The rules are, it’s not a rule as much as it is a game. Understanding that there are dumb people mostly everywhere and most people are deeply insecure. In fact, when you’re talking about gossip or whatever it is that people talk about, it often comes from a place of insecurity. Nothing rattles people’s cages more than when you are secure.
The feedback my whole life is like, “Your success makes them insecure.” I’m like, “How is that my fault?” It’s a choice to show up time and time again, shake a hand, look someone in the eye, and give them the time of day. Never throw the first punch because then people are surprised if you snap at them and you’re like, “You’ve been horrible to me.” They’re like, “I don’t know what I did.”
A big lesson that I’ve learned in stand-up is we do these meet and greets. I do them after the show. A lot of people don’t do them. I happen to have great fans so I like that. People don’t realize how mean some of the things that they say are. It’s toothless when they say it. To say, “I’d never heard of you before and then I came here.” What you’re saying is, “I’m glad I found out who you are.” What I’m hearing as a comic is, “All your work is meaningless because I just found you while I was on the toilet.”
One girl from the audience before the show Instagrammed out, “My husband hates Iliza Schlesinger but he brought me.” I was like, “Is that a little too aggressive of language? Plus, I still have your money.” You meet these people face to face and sometimes they say stuff that is hurtful. Or, it’s that they’re nervous. Being a comic, even though it’s all about me and what I’m saying, a big part of it I’ve learned is giving someone that second chance, identifying, “They’re not mean. It wasn’t mal-intended. It was out of ignorance and they didn’t mean it.”
When they’re trying to connect with you and they have four seconds to do it, a lot of times that comes out pretty awkward and weird.
And they know that. They’ll be like, “I messed it up.” I’m like, “It’s totally cool.”
You know how you go through and you get a little more experience? You put in blinds of defense. You learn how to redirect it. People say some unusual things to me at times and I’ll be like, “What an interesting thing to say.” Also, my size helps. I move closer to people. The weirder they act, I move into their personal space.
I’m going to teach you something that I have used a lot. You know when someone’s like, “I don’t want to waste your time,” and you’re sitting with your husband and eating but you want to honor them? You’re there because you have people that like you and you have to honor that. That’s part of your job.
Also, you’re fortunate. They say, “Can you take a picture?” What I’ve learned is you go, “What’s your name? Brad? Hey, Brad.” I shake their hand, I put my hand on their shoulder, “Nice to meet you.” I literally will manually move them. As you get through things, your ability to recognize, “This person’s just uncomfortable. I’m not even going to take it personally. Here’s one of those comments. They’re nervous. Cool.”
You learn also systems. That’s a great thing of experience and age. You don’t react to everything. You take it in stride. But we don’t talk about that. Boys learn because they have punch-ups. They learn how to take things personally. One of the things I also appreciate about your book is that reminder to teach women that you have to not always meet it with emotion.
I can’t say that I always do a good job of that. I’m a very sensitive person. The older you get, the more you’re like, “It’s the same stuff.” Most of it is good interactions. What’s interesting about your tactic is you’re playing into your strengths. You’re 9’2”. As a tall person, that is something you’re comfortable in moving your body, especially as an athlete.
You say, “Let me come over after. I’m eating dinner.” That doesn’t happen to me a ton. If somebody is making me uncomfortable or it’s going on too long and I can see they don’t know where to go, I get it because I know there’s no mal-intent. They’re excited and I get that. I tap into the fact that I’m from Texas and it’s a big old smile. It’s like, “Where are you guys from? Thank you so much for coming out.” You keep it minimal.
I’ve done the thing where I launch into a story or I try to answer a question. People’s minds are blank when they’re meeting you. I’m thinking, I’ll treat them like a friend. I’ll give them context and I’ll be like, “A funny thing about that joke…” They almost are incapable of receiving it, just as I would be if I met somebody who was massive to me. You’re in stun mode. It’s about identifying, “I’m bigger, physically or mentally.” Not that they’re stupid but just, “In this moment, I have control.”
A friend of mine, Chef Robert Irvine, this big celebrity chef, we did a USO tour. We were at a Mexican restaurant in Tampa and people come rushing in to meet him because he’s this big guy. I was impressed. Someone’s like, “Can I get a picture now?” He was like, “When I’m done.” I was like, “I would never be able to speak like that.” Part of it is his size. I’ve seen Joe Rogan, the same thing. After his show, some idiot comes out and he’s like, “I’m in the back right now. This is a private place. You shouldn’t be back here.” I’m like, “To be able to speak to someone and be that adroit about it.” It all comes from your physical comfort.
I never want to hurt anyone’s feelings but I don’t need to please everybody.
I do talk about this in the book. You can’t please everyone. Just you existing is going to offend someone. For the most part, you’re like, “I treat everyone kindly. I’m a good person.” There’s something wrong with that person if they took umbrage with the fact that I smiled, or I’m blonde, or I’m good at what I do. It rarely does have to do with you. It’s one of the four agreements.
That being said, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it hurts because it’ll feel personal and you’re like, “All I did was show up and do my best. Somehow, you’ve decided that’s attached to you.” my answer to that, to anybody who feels that way, go out, pick up a weight, a book, or a hobby. Spend less time thinking about that. Once you put your phone down, the world is your oyster.
The funny thing is unplugging. You think about the narrative even in your mind, you’re like, “If I switched that dialogue, it doesn’t exist.” Your mind is like, “It’s not coming through the front door.”
It’s not real.
This is something I’m learning. If something happens that bugs me, I let it live and die in that experience. I won’t repeat it. Maybe I’ll find one person that’s the container, that isn’t the gas to make the fire hotter. They’re the container to let me go, “Can I tell you something?” It then goes away. When you stop reliving it and bringing it up and be like, “Can I tell you what she said?” It dies.
I’ve been practicing that. I think about this type of discussion even you and I are having, I don’t think men have these types of discussions. This is a common conversation with women. Not that your interview is common. This stuff that we’re talking about, I’m reticent to say mental health because that takes it to a different place. But more like, “How am I confident? How am I okay?” Men don’t have these types of conversations. It’s like, “How much ivermectin can I have? How many sheep can we clone?”
Women are the ones doing the work. We are the ones doing the work based on the prison of society that we’ve been put in. It isn’t as if these constructs were put there by us for us. These were things that we’re born into. We’re trying to navigate the healthiest way out of it. To your point about, it lives and it dies at that moment, the biggest gift I’ve given myself is being like, “Nobody cared and it’s not as weird.”
I have a stalker. The first time he ever made contact with me is when he had come up to the stage. This was years ago. I’m on the stage and I can only see a body coming up. I stopped my set and I go, “What are you doing? What is that?” It was the next comic. He had come to the middle to set up his camera to film his set, which is normal, fine, but a little distracting. I was like, “Get out of here.”
He had no idea that I was reacting to my own safety. Women’s safety is such a joke to most men, the fact that I might be protective of my space. That was such a weird thing for him. I felt bad because I snipped at him and no one knew what I was talking about.
I got offstage, great set, I ran to get in my car, and I saw who I thought was that comic. I went, “I’m sorry that I snapped at you.” I babbled something and I left. My friend was like, “That’s not the same comic.” I go, “Oh.” She goes, “Honestly, he was probably so pumped you were even talking to him that it doesn’t matter what you said.” I was like, “I’m not going to go back. It’ll be a weird interaction and no one will ever think about it again.”
[bctt tweet=”The rules are: if you’re good enough at what you do, you make your own rules.”]
That is the bulk of interactions. Nobody actually cares enough because everybody’s thinking about themselves. If I ever make fun of someone in the audience and they’re cool and it’s not to tell someone to shut up, as I’m walking offstage, I put my hand and I go, “Thanks for being a good sport.” It’s to let them know you were a part of it. No one comes to a comedy show to feel bad.
As far as the guy stuff, this is a hack that I’ve tried to teach my assistant and friends. When you speak to men like men and you let them know that’s what you’re doing, they have no choice but to rise to the occasion. When you use language like, “I wanted to come directly to you. I wanted to give you the respect of letting you know this.” They hear the word respect and they’re like, “Thank you so much.”
When you do it to a woman, you’re like, “I wanted to call you personally. I had to cancel a USO tour. I take those seriously because I’m pregnant.” She was not only understanding but she was like, “I was pregnant at your age as well. I get it.” Sometimes that little bit of directness and vulnerability, like telling someone a secret, goes a long way because they’re reminded that you’re a person.
They understand your reasons. What’s in your mind? You’ve conquered quite a bit. You’re successful. To go on stage takes a lot of courage. You’re in a relationship. What about this unknown adventure? What do you think about it?
What’s popping into my head is like, “Who are you? Who is she? What are you going to be like? What do you look like?” It’s such a vast, massive concept to wrap your mind around. The best way to do it is one day at a time. Not reading every book. I’m sorry if that bothers people. Not driving yourself crazy. Your body tells you what’s wrong and what to do. Not subscribing to all the hype. Not buying into it and tapping into, “What do I want? Do I need a doula? Is that something someone said?” Also, knowing the way that I work and how I like to provide for my family.
Women are like, “Are you going to stay home with the baby?” I’m like, “You’re going to stay home with the baby. I’m going to get a nanny because I’m the one that creates this life.” By the way, if this baby is born, I’m like, “Shut it down. I’m staying home. No one touches my child.” I’m giving myself that grace of whatever I discover. I’ve heard enough birth horror stories like, “The baby got her own plan.” Whatever your plan is, it’ll be what it’ll be.
One thing that I’ve learned with this career and perhaps how erratic this career has prepared me for is life is consistently erratic for me. I’m realizing this as I’m saying this. There is nothing normal about it. I’m wrestling with the fact that I own this home and we’re decorating it. I watched 100 Foot Wave. I knew nothing about surfing. I knew who your husband was but I never had context or anything.
I was inspired that the main characters were like, “We picked up and we went. We brought our kids and we went all over.” I was like, “That’s right. I don’t have to have all the normalcy that I think I do but I want it.” It’s constantly opening up the possibility that you can create whatever you want if that’s who you are. I will never live on the north shore of Hawaii. It’s cool that you can do that. I know that sounds weird but you can create whatever you want.
I’m in the perfect mood to do this ad. I came from prepping dinner and I had a moment where it was like, “Prep dinner, get it done on time, or do something outside.” I’m coming in and talking about Sakara. I’ve talked a lot about them. They’re a nutrition company. They do focus on overall wellness. However, like everyone, they believe it starts with what you eat. Incredibly, they make that easy.
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You’re always producing and creating. I know that your life is changing. Your comedy comes from your life. Where do you get it from? As an outside person who isn’t a comedian, I’m always in awe of people who can encapsulate these experiences and make them funny, share them, and make them relatable on some level, regardless. I know some of them are universal. How do you know when it’s funny?
If it pops into my head, it’s funny. I don’t know how funny it’s going to be. Sometimes you got these jokes and you’re like, “This is it.” You tell it and you’re like, “No.” You tell a joke and they’re laughing and I’m like, “What did I do? I’m not positive at what they’re laughing at but I’ll keep saying it.” Not everybody thinks the way that you do.
You know it’s funny, especially if it’s dark and you think it’s funny. If something horrible happens and you’re still laughing at it, you know it’s something good. It pops into your head, you don’t know until you try it. You say it on stage. You know when things are funny. Also, I always say that the comedy gods reward vulnerability. That’s about giving a small piece of yourself.
You don’t have to give all of it, you don’t owe anyone anything. But just enough, especially when you meet other women. It’s like when you meet a dog, you put your hand out and another woman sniffs it. You don’t come at a woman, like, “I’m the best. I’m beautiful.” She’s going to want to bite you. If you go up to a girl in the bathroom, you both look gorgeous and you say, “This Spanx, I’m sweating. My butt is sweaty.” She’s like, “My butt is sweaty too.”
There’s a beauty in offering up the thing that we’re not supposed to talk about. It doesn’t have to be inappropriate. It comes from a place of, “I’m strong enough that I can withstand your judgment when I say something that I know I’m not supposed to say because it’s uncouth.” People in the audience, male and female, are like, “Yes, that is the thing that I wanted to say.”
It’s all about, how raw is it? It doesn’t have to be like, “I was assaulted.” Where’s the truth? When you’re writing a script, it’s like, “What’s the truth?” What’s the note behind the note? What are you actually wanting to say? What I’m actually wanting to say is the raw sentiment. Not like, “Everybody’s trying hard.” No. What I’, actually wanting to say is, “Most people aren’t and your taxes are paying for it.” It’s that honesty and then you get people on board. They trust you that you’re going to shepherd them through a set with a truly unique opinion that perhaps reflects their own.
There’s a lot of weird and unfair things culturally for women. Also, simultaneously, you still have to do the work.
It’s tricky. Especially with the conversation we’re having now, which I fully like participating in. We don’t have to make this about race, but it’s tough when you’re white to say to someone of color, “Just work harder.” I can only speak to stand-up. If you’re funny, you’re getting somewhere, if you’re doing the work.
Stand-up, art, sports, or whatever, I’m a big proponent for those 10,000 hours. Your hustle does not have to look like mine. Your results don’t have to look like mine. Lord knows, I compare myself to people all the time. At a lower level, when you start, it’s like this rat race. The harder you work and the more you start to pull yourself up, there’s more generosity, there’s a calmness. We’ve all accomplished something. You had a show. I had a movie.
You have a lane.
You have a lane that you’ve created. It’s less back-bitey at the bottom. You compare yourself to others but I try to do it as a way of gauging where I am. It’s like, “She did that. That is possible to do a movie and that at the same time. She did write her own thing. I could do that.” Not in an I-hate-her way. It took a long time to remove the petrifying competition and be able to say, “No, she’s really funny,” because that cream does rise to the top.
Having the luxury of being able to look at a fellow performer comes down to being unshakable if you are determined. If you’re an Olympic athlete, you’re going to go to that practice every morning because that’s what you want. Some of us are born with a sense of like, “I know what I want.” I don’t know what I want. It’s not a concrete thing. There’s a drive. For me, the goal has never been, “I just need to get this one thing.” It’s always been, “I just need to get this one thing that occurred to me a couple of months ago and to be able to create and perform on bigger and better levels, less encumbered by other people’s ideas.”
That’s what success gives you, that freedom for choice. Isn’t it the best? It’s like, “I like that director and that writer. I’d like to go there.”
They then say, “No.” You’re like, “How about this other director? How about I write it myself?” You then get it. Sometimes you don’t even realize you have it. My manager will be like, “This is what you wanted.” I’m like, “It’s not enough now.” That’s never going to change because the goalpost is ever-shifting. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I know that’s trite to say. Especially in show business, that’s what it is. Finding a way to be happy at this moment anyway, because it is all that you have. Versus, “I would love to learn Swedish.” That is completely useless.
You got to be born into that.
Your happiness could be an iced tea, taking a break for yourself. It could be buying some tacky fall decorations. It could be pushing yourself to watch a documentary. Constantly expanding your mind so that you don’t become small-minded. In doing all that, you forget to give a fuck about all the pedantic stuff that they tell us to harp on.
I’m at a place where a friend will call with gossip about someone who’s low vibration. Gossip is fun. Talking shit is fun. I’ll be like, “I don’t care about this info.” You’ll know when I care because I find it delicious. I believe in the vibrations of people and things. You’ll know when you meet someone. The more colloquial term is good vibes, bad vibes.
I met you and I was like, “Great vibration.” You can feel it. Sometimes people take a minute to adjust it. Find out what vibrations work for you, what situations do you want to be in, and what situations do you not want to be in. Part of seeking out your happiness is, vibrationally, “What’s uplifting my vibration versus dragging me down?” This is such a tangent, but women are conditioned to accept a bad vibration and kowtow to do that or find a way to make it work or apologize. It’s like, “No, you don’t have to. That dude’s got a bad vibe.” If you got a friend that’s a shitty vibe, you don’t have to offer them anything.
I did stalk your Instagram a little bit. I left you a note. What is loud on your Instagram is your softness with your husband.
It feels like that. I could be misreading it but it feels that way so much.
I appreciate that you picked up on that. Using this toward him is natural. I can’t say that when I got married I was content with the idea of marriage. It wasn’t about dating other people. Your parents are divorced and you’re a comic. He’s like a rudder. I always knew Noah was good. Even when we started dating, he was like, “Just so you know, I’m never going to say anything that isn’t on your side. It’s always to help.” I trusted him and he trusted me. It was unshakable. I would never jeopardize that. He’s a soft, sensitive, and sweet man.
He’s a chef.
He smokes whole animals and picks up hot pots with his hands. There’s a toughness to him that’s understated. As a comic, the best example is, “Take my wife, please.” You look at stand-up and it’s always like, “My wife’s a bitch. I got to deal with this.”
A ball and chain.
Rodney Dangerfield got no respect. That wasn’t a loving marriage. Right before I met Noah, it was ten years up and coming in The Comedy Store. You’re in the belly of the beast and you’re watching other comics and the sentiment is largely like, “This girl trapped me into this.” This is not every male comic by the way. “I wanted to be the next thing in comedy. She’s a teacher and she wanted to have kids so we did.”
You never met the wives. Sometimes you met the girlfriends when the wife was at home. Everything was this scuzzy attitude. I had plenty of male friends who I loved and I’m like, “That’s not your wife.” By the way, it takes two to tango. It’s not the woman he’s cheating on with, it’s not her fault. There was this vibration, like, “Marriage is gross. It’s cool to be out.” Comedy is not a relationship-friendly thing.
I’d see male comics come and they bring model after model to a show or they bring different girls. I remember being like, “I don’t have to appear single. I can bring the dudes that I date.” I would bring a guy that I was dating. To me, it was like, “You got a hot girl. I got a hot guy.” It was in my head. This is not like Gymboree. This is not a kid-friendly place.
[bctt tweet=”The goalpost is ever-shifting. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”]
For the longest time, women didn’t have kids in comedy. Now it’s so normal. Many comics who are women are married with kids. It’s fine. It became normal. I realized that what everybody wants is to find someone that they love, trust, and that doesn’t bring out the worst in them. I don’t go on stage and trash him. It’s about likability. If I get on stage and I’m like, “My husband is such an idiot. I’m the worst and I’m gross.” You’re catering to the lowest common denominator and that’s also not my truth. Men are very straightforward.
It’s something to be borrowed. I said to him, “I’ll do everything for you. It’s easy for me. I can do it. You seem to enjoy it but don’t treat me like your wife. Treat me like your girlfriend.” Talk to me a little bit about Don’t Panic Pantry.
That’s an extension of my appreciation for him. The pandemic hit in a weekend. We’re all panic buying toilet paper. We didn’t do that because I was like, “This is not sustainable. Something’s wrong here.” I was like, “Let’s do a cooking show.” I’ve had online shows before. I know what I’m doing in terms of going live. We started doing it.
We called it Don’t Panic Pantry because we’re both level-headed and we both believe in science. We both believe in cutting through the bullshit and being like, “What’s really happening in a society?” As best we can. People were panicking and running out and they were not only bulk buying stuff, which is selfish because it’s going to be okay. We do live in America. It depends on where you live. They kept going out. Every time you needed something, you kept going out. I was like, “You’re spreading the virus every time you go out to grab the extra ingredient.”
Our whole thesis was like, “Don’t panic. Use what you have. Don’t panic. You can go to the Asian market to get that rice. You don’t have to go to Ralph’s. You’re not going to get Corona. That is racist. Go to the Indian or Chinese market. Go to these other places. Don’t panic. Cooking is not that precious. Here’s what you can do.” That was the premise of it.
We went live. We didn’t have a TV show. This is on Instagram Live. I said, “Let’s commit to doing this every day.” We did it every day for a year. It’s a lot especially because he’s the heart of it. It’s easy for me to joke around.
You’re like, “Whip something up.”
He would write out the recipes. He put his heart into it. This wasn’t like, “We’re drunk. I don’t know what we’re doing.” There was a system to it and that was him. Of course, I make it funny and interact with the fans. I brought my fan base. I said to him, “We’re going to do this every day. What we lack in immediate star power and stickiness, we will make up for in consistency. We will get something out of this.”
I swam in high school. My mom said, “You weren’t the best swimmer but you always muscled through at the end.” I’ll do six cities in five nights. I’ll muscle through it. They’ll be big venues. It’s not going to be Radio City Music Hall every night. I will do twelve venues to get to that one. We did it every night, every day. We would sit there at night and I’d be like, “What companies do you like?” He would tell me the food companies. We would DM them, as you did with me, “Would you want to sponsor Don’t Panic Pantry?”
We made up a business model. We got Le Creuset, Dansk, and WellnessMats, companies that we use, versus Crisco. We started doing it two times a week. He got a cookbook deal with Knopf. They make these bespoke famous cookbooks. He got one, a Don’t Panic Pantry cookbook with them.
It also helped people. It became appointment viewing. It was comforting in the way that you would turn on Friends to feel comforted. People would say, mental health-wise, “It’s nice to know you guys are going to be in your kitchen every day at this time.” In a world that was so turned upside down, it felt good to be able to provide that. In my wedding vows, I’m like, “He’s my home. My food is where my home is. He makes my food.” He is my home. I’m comforted wherever he is. People were tapping into that warmth.
It’s not cute to be a dick to your husband on camera. It doesn’t make you look cute. You’re not doing a service to your marriage. We’re not perfect. We don’t have fights as much. We’ve had 1 or 2. I’ve definitely said to him like, “You think this is yelling? I will show you yelling.” I have to be careful because we’re both sensitive. He’s like, “The good thing about you is if I mess up, you move on quickly. When you mess up, you also move on quickly.”
You’re like, “I’m good.”
I don’t want to have those wife-husband spats. Sometimes I’m cognizant when we are talking about the plumbing or a contractor or like, “Did you say we were going to Dan and Susan’s house for dinner?” I’m like, “We’re supposed to be out getting wasted.” That’s what marriage is. There’s a softening and a routine.
Do you have any tricks for getting sleep, because you’re on the road?
People are going to hate to learn about this. I’m a good sleeper.
Even timezone change and whatever? Weird hotel, you’re okay?
The weird hotel doesn’t bother me. I would love it if they’d sponsor me but Bose noise-canceling earbuds are a game-changer. Every hotel room has got a weird refrigerator, a beeping, a thing. Pop those in and you don’t have to hear it. I need a lot of quiet to go to sleep. I don’t have sleep tips.
A lot of times, people feel that excitement, “My girlfriends and I were wasted.” How has that transition been for you into this new, exciting, consistent chapter and adventure? Is it hard?
To be honest, there was a period of mourning when you go from not being married to being married. When you’re dating, it’s still like, “This is fun. We’re dating.” You’re then engaged. He immediately felt like home the day I met him. It was comfortable. There were no butterflies. It was like easing into a warm bath.
There was that grass-is-greener thing. It wasn’t for a specific person. It was that I had to mourn the loss of that static energy on a Saturday night. It is gone. There is no more of that when you are married. You’re trading it for different things. The truth is, that static energy when you’re single and you’re out, which I know about it because I’ve written at least three Netflix specials about it, you’re looking for what I have now. You’re looking for that and hoping to find that. You’re hoping to meet someone.
Yes, it’s super fun to meet someone. You can make out. But it does become exhausting. For the most part, you want to meet someone and then you get what you want and you’re like, “I missed that.” You forget those nights where you’re like, “I wish I had a boyfriend. When am I getting married? Are all men the worst? Why was this guy terrible?” You forget all that. Then it clicks and you ease in.
The first time I was pregnant, I threw my best friend a birthday. I was negotiating. I didn’t want to tell them I was pregnant. I was like, “In theory, how much liquor could a pregnant woman have and it’s okay?”
What’s the line?
One of my friends was scientific. She was like, “You are allowed to have 1.5 ounces of liquor.” She did it. I was three weeks pregnant so it kind of doesn’t matter at that time. But I also didn’t know, or does it matter the most? I set up this whole thing. We rented out this bar through a friend who owned it. I’m sitting there and I’m nursing the most watered-down vodka anyone’s ever had. I am not drunk, I’m bored, and everyone is wasted.
My best friend was trying to have drunk conversations with me and I was like, “I hate this. I hate being here. You’re all terrible. I can never do this again. I can’t be the sober pregnant woman in the bar. This is horrible for me.” I was so unhappy. I was like, “How much small talk do we make when we’re drunk? What are we talking about?”
It’s very face-talkie.
It’s great when you’re drunk but if you don’t have that elixir, that lubrication, I’m listening to someone update me on their schedule. I’m like, “I hope you die. I hate this.” I set up the party and I left. It was hard for me. I came home to my husband and we had pasta and I went to bed. Especially as you get older, that becomes you. It’s not for me anymore. There are no more Saturday nights and that’s okay because I have cozy Sunday mornings.
Before you go on stage, are you scared every time?
Do I get scared? No.
What do you get? Excited?
It depends on the show and what time of night it is. I don’t do third shows at night anymore because by the third show, you’re like, “Did I already say this to you? I can’t remember.” You’re delirious and tired. Of course, you love your fans like you love your kids. You got to get yourself up for it because you’re tired, especially being pregnant, you’re like, “Here we go.” You then turn it on. Especially if I can hear that they’re great. There’s energy back there.
I was at a fundraiser for a disease. I was backstage with Marc Maron and we were peeking out to hear what the crowd sounds like. He goes, “They’re good.” I go, “Yeah.” He goes, “You’ll be fine.” I go, “It’ll be fine. It’ll be great.” He goes, “Do what you always do. Make your animal noises, steamroll the audience, and don’t pause for laughter. You’ll be fine.” I was like, “That is so specific and so right. It’s such an accurate characterization.” You’re champing at the bit because you’re like, “I want to get out there. I got to get to them.”
Get into it.
I’ve been nervous for The Tonight Show. I’ve done it a couple of times. That is a little bit different because it’s a Frankenstein set. It’s not your normal set. It’s its own weird thing. The crowds are always great. When you’ve done it long enough that you can remove any fear, there is something metaphysical.
You’re in flow.
You don’t tap into that for many years. Sometimes you get bits of it. When you are solid and you know that audience is there not to judge you but to see you, versus like, “Who’s this girl?” You feel it. There’s a reason many comics are addicted to drugs. Also, they had terrible childhoods or were molested. Nothing feels as good as that. When you get off stage and you’re like, “I could break a car in half with my energy.” An hour later, you’re like, “No one talk to me. I’m so tired. Leave me alone.” It’s like a serotonin drop.
My manager and I were on the phone. We were going through what European countries we’re allowed in at the moment and what we’re not. We’re trying to figure out routing. We were talking about adding a late show and I was like, “Being pregnant, that’s difficult for me because I can’t have extra coffee. I can’t have a Redbull, which I would normally do at 10:00 PM.” I’ve noticed that sometimes if it’s a big show, it takes it out on me for the next day. It’s very spiritually depleting because you are giving everything. I’m physical on the stage.
[bctt tweet=”To get to fail on your own terms and be creatively fulfilled is the most important thing.”]
It’s the best job that everybody wants. I never take it for granted. I never take the audience or their financial commitment to it for granted. I’m never late to start shows. If I’m late, it’s because the audience wasn’t there on time. It’s their fault. I am aware of how hard it is and all the work that goes in. This audience wasn’t just gifted.
First of all, I appreciate you answering and coming here.
This deep in Malibu, one has to be invited. You don’t just show up here.
Next time, you can come. We’ll give you food and nurture you. If you have your daughter, we’ll take the baby and you can eat with two hands. You’ll see how many times your husband has to cut your food for you. It’s great.
I want to ask one last, which is the books. Why do you do the books? You don’t have to. You have stand-up specials, movies that are loosely based on your dating life, and sketch comedy shows. When you do the book, when you write it and then read it, it’s a different exchange. What is it?
The answer is different for the two different books. Girl Logic was me in my early 30s not wanting to write a tell-all about dudes I slept with. There’s nothing wrong with that because there are some funny ones. It’s just not my wheelhouse. Also, wanting to take it off the stage and be able to contextualize more and get as scientific as you can without a degree in it.
Why do we think the way that we do? We get called crazy and I’m like, “We’re not. Let’s talk about that and unearthing stuff.” It’s being able to do a deep dive that is funny but it’s less about hitting punch lines and more about looking at something in an analytical way, which I do onstage but you have to be mindful of time on stage.
All things aside, in a pandemic, I have this constant need to create. I like to do quality things. That’s why I don’t do a YouTube show every day. I don’t just put stuff out there. It’s never random stuff. We were at a standstill. The tour was frozen. I was like, “What’s something that I can do? I can write this book proposal.” I did.
At the time that I pitched it, I wasn’t pregnant. There’s this weird space when you’re in your late 30s. I don’t have a lot to say about marriage because it’s a delicate, simple, lovely marriage. It’s not like, “Top ten rules for being married.” I didn’t want to be the authority on marriage. I couldn’t speak with any intelligence about children. I was like, “I’ll be funny. I’ll talk about life the way I see it, which is humorous like Erma Bombeck, George Carlin, or any people who aren’t comics who write funny books.” I was like, “I’ll write personal essays.”
It was me also challenging myself to write about things not specifically related to being a mother or marriage or dating. I said all there is to say for me about dating. It was about how do we stay in the pocket in this time of life without speaking about something I don’t know and without going back to the well for something else? I do like writing. I acknowledge that I’m not the world’s greatest writer but I think I’m good at it. How do you incorporate the comedy but still got to write something beautiful?
I think this is important. You have expanded your business savvy where you’re creating things and you’re pitching things and doing that. Has that been also a fun way to express yourself? Is it a means to an end to get it the way you want it?
It’s all about expression. At the core of it, it comes from my desire to be seen and heard. If I come down to it, to be seen and heard and to have what I say be something impactful versus fluff. Not everything I say is this meaningful thing. Jokes about party goblins are not spiritual. But it comes from this inherent desire. Maybe it’s something I didn’t get when I was younger, circling back to the beginning of this. Being seen and heard and being known for being good at the thing that you seek to do.
I don’t have to be the most famous person on the planet but I will be validated in the art that I’m making. Sometimes you’re going to make stuff like my Sketch Show. It didn’t get a second season, but I still made the thing that I wanted to make. As an artist, your goal is to be fulfilled. Not everybody’s going to like stuff. You know if you make the commercial thing, it’ll go. Sometimes you do take that check. Sometimes you do that gig.
To be given the opportunity over and over, to get to fail on your own terms and be creatively fulfilled is the most important thing to me. It’s something that I express to my husband. I’m like, “Please, don’t take a gig.” Sometimes you have to but you need to feel creatively fulfilled. For artists, that’s all there is. Otherwise, what are you making?
Thanks so much for being here. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
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About Iliza Shlesinger
Iliza Shlesinger is an award-winning comedian and multi-hyphenate actor-writer-producer-author, selling out theatres around the globe with a devoted fanbase who create their Iliza-inspired swag to wear to her shows. She’s currently preparing to launch her post-pandemic Back In Action world tour.
Iliza currently has five stand-up specials streaming on Netflix, including Unveiled, which delves into her journey of getting married and 2018’s Elder Millennial, which is the subject of Iliza Shlesinger: Over & Over, her “fan-u-mentary” giving fans an inside look into her life on tour. Her other specials are War Paint, Freezing Hot, and Confirmed Kills.