Interviewed and written by Al Bahmani
To say Iliza Shlesinger has the gift of gab is like saying Martin Scorsese is competent with a camera. Standing tall at 5 feet, 5 inches, Iliza Shlesinger is native Texan with a smile that conceals a sharp tongue that can cut right to punchlines in a heartbeat. In 2008 she was the first and only woman to win NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Her debut comedy special “War Paint” reached number 1 on iTune’s charts and is available on Netflix along with her feature film debut in Diablo Cody’s directorial debut “Paradise”. lliza takes some time off her busy road schedule to talk to Comedy Scene in Houston about her Laugh Factory produced podcast “Truth & Iliza”, her comedic origins and the miracle of uniting people through hate.
You begin every episode with the Henry Rollins quote “Nothing brings people together like a mutual hatred.” What mutual hatred can bring the rival cities of Dallas and Houston together?
You’re talking about that mutual hatred for one another?
Except for I think Houston sweats Dallas. I don’t think Dallas sweats Houston. No pun intended.
I’ve been to Houston. Recently, I was there for Whateverfest, they flew me out and I did an hour outside. The comedy fans were great. I really had a good time, I have a lot of friends from Houston. It’s one of those things again, a mutual hatred. We make fun of each other, but if you’re from Oklahoma and you say something about Houston. Then Houston is my friend and you are a piece of garbage.
How often do you record “Truth & Iliza” episodes?
We try to record it once a week. I travel a lot and try to get people that are relevant. And everyone got their schedules. We recorded a bunch of them so then if I’m not able to record we could still release them once a week. Today my guest is world famous DJ Samantha Ronson. Then we will release them a couple of weeks. The next one we’re doing is Bob Saget. This week I want to say is Rawson Marshall Thurber, who is the writer/director of “Dodge Ball” and “We’re the Millers”. So I try to keep it as consistent as possible.
As we progress and get more and more guests I’m hoping to do this live and have it be something people want to watch. I didn’t see a lot of women doing podcasts and the one that I had seen on iTunes they were almost always relationship based or sex based or something. I was like, “Can’t we just talk like people?”. And I love complaining. Not everything can be positive. I figured why not?
I re-watched “War Paint” on Netflix and noticed how bits of yours turn into a series of mini sketches, is this your improv/sketch background bleeding into your stand up?
People have always asked me about my comedic inspirations. For me it’s never been other stand ups. It was sketch comedy. For me the way I see comedy is in scenes; What a girls says to a guy, his reaction or two girls talking and I naturally act it out. I like to see my stand up show not as a one woman show but a series of sketches done by one person. I like colorful comedy. I like energy. I try to bring that to my stand up.
I grew up watching sketch and in high school I even did sketch. I even did Comedy Sportz when it was brand new in Dallas. I’ve always done improv in high school. When I got to college, I joined a sketch troupe. Then I did a one woman show and I realized I didn’t necessarily need an ensemble to get my point across.
Your one woman show, was this at Emerson College?
It was so long ago. Everyone does a one woman show in Emerson. I am proud to say, I think I’m the only one in history to do a one woman show and not flash her boobs to the audience. That apparently what most folks do at one woman shows. So that’s how I started doing stand up. So depending how you look at it my voice evolved slash devolved into that.
Was your improv training long form or short form Improv?
I did short form. No one wants to see long form improv. It’s so rarely done well. The improv was in high school. It was us watching each other play games. We were funny. Make a toilet joke and everyone laughs. I never took any classes or anything. I never pursued it professionally in LA. I pretty much moved to LA to get running doing stand up.
What?! You started in Los Angeles? I assumed you were originally a Boston or Dallas comic?
I actually started in Los Angeles. I wear that badge very proudly. A lot of people start somewhere else or thing I’ll try a different city before you move here. I believe you go hard or go home. I started in LA, I’m an LA comic. It’s like an edge to me. All my stand up experience and teeth cutting happened in LA. I think part of it, I was a student of comedy, not of stand up. I never studied stand up growing up. I didn’t know the rules. I didn’t know about the Comedy Store, The Improv or the Laugh Factory. What you need to do to get passed.
There’s some power in when you don’t know what you can or can’t do and you just do it. I think a lot of creative things come out of it. When you just do something because no one tells you can’t. I didn’t have someone tell me, “It’s so hard to get into the Comedy Store!”. I just did it. I had no parameter set. I think that was an integral part of my success. I hustled really hard and I didn’t know how much I had to learn.
You have a new special coming up, what are you going to call it?
I’m toying with two different names at the moment. I’ll have to do some creative soul searching, run it a couple of times and see what works. I’m either going to call it “No Mercy” or “Freezing Hot”.
At the end of your Jim Jefferies episode you lament not having enough time to cover everything you’ve planned on covering. How do you deal with that?
There’s always so much to be mined, and it’s always to good to feel that way.You look forward to having them on again. Jim (Jefferies) and Joe (Rogan) were absolute delights to have on. Very smart and they’ve been around the block so they have something to say about everything. Also while you can let your podcast run forever. I think there is something to be said about leaving them wanting more. If you run on for two hours, lets say you go for that as a automatic time and you hit a rough spot. Then you wished you ended. It’s always good to end on a strong high note.