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Laugh It Up

Jessie Johnson

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Name: Jessie Johnson

Socials: Twitter/Instagram/Facebook

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Johnson: My family loves humor. We laugh all the time. As a kid, my sister and cousins and I would write skits and perform them for the adults in our family. Sometimes we would record them on a tape player. One was about a news anchor really getting to the bottom of ‘who stole the cookies from the cookie jar’. It was me. I was definitely the one in school cracking jokes. My high school psychology class nicknamed me “funny girl.”

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Johnson: A couple years ago I realized that my dream of dreams was to be a successful stand-up comedian and that I could potentially do it. My plan was to move to Los Angeles, California, where I am now, and to jump in head first to getting better and getting more opportunities. Eventually I’d like to get signed by an agency and have a manager and get on TV and tour the world… but my plan is always the same: to be the best version of myself consistently, and to continuously learn and understand the craft of stand-up comedy.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Johnson: It took me about four years for me to discover my voice as a comic. I remember when things really started to click. I was in a contest to win a piece of shit car, it was called the piece of shit car contest. I made it to the finals with some other comics I respect and was pretty nervous. Leading up to the show, I just kept reminding myself to have fun and be me. I didn’t win the car but I did go last that night and held my own. I felt really free on stage – something clicked – I had heard my voice. After that and to this day I continue to look within and get closer to knowing it.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Johnson: My first approach on stage was to get the guts to go up. I would tell the same jokes over and over and learn things like, where to hold the microphone so people could hear me, move the mic stand out of the way, make eye contact with people. My approach now is to be passionate about what I want to say and have a cohesive act. So, completely different. I don’t think about the technical aspects anymore I’m just working on being myself, having fun and having something to say.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Johnson: I wish I could answer yes to this question but the truth is I find myself distracted from comedy all the time. I get spouts of depression and feelings from time to time that I have lost my sense of humor. I read a lot of self-help books and work on myself. Some days are very easy and I wake up laughing, other days are like a 24-hour battle for my mind.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Johnson: This really depends for me but most of my jokes I can honestly say pop into my head and are virtually done then and there. I’ll continue working on them, add them as a tag for a pre-existing joke, change a word here or there, but some of my favorite jokes dropped right into my head and straight on to the paper. Most of my time writing feels like just jotting down a lot of trash but being ready with the pen and paper in hopes something will spark.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Johnson: If a joke doesn’t work the first time I will immediately work on the delivery or wording before using it again.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Johnson: This is possible… I’ve heard. No, I’ve been there. It’s important to read your audience. I have a set that is mapped out pretty well in advance, but lately I’ll go up with no prepared set order because you don’t know what the audience is like until you get to the venue. I chalk this happening up as just knowing your audience. And also sometimes audiences just don’t like you.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Johnson: ‘You should never blame your audience’ is something we hear all the time and I believe it to an extent, but damn can you be thankful for a great audience. Yes, it is much more fun to perform in front of a lively, willing audience.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Johnson: I don’t know why this question is so difficult for me to answer. As I think back to all the shows I’ve done and the great and bad memories I have… they all just blur together. Nothing really sticks out as the most memorable because I don’t think it’s happened yet.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Johnson: I’m very non aggressive with hecklers. For me, it works best to stay chill and try to get them back on board. Most the time, in my opinion, those types of people are lonely, sad, attention seeking narcissists that wish they were on stage but have never taken the time to write a joke or go to open mics or put any effort in once so ever but they see you doing it and making it look easy so they think ‘oh wow I can do this’ because their brains are so tiny and void of any intellect and like the real clueless douchebag that they are they yell out, wanting to feel part of something. I want to let them know in a funny way to stop but I’m not about to tear their weak small-minded brains down. I will say, the worst is when the heckler is too drunk to function. I hate seeing people getting kicked out of comedy clubs but the older I get in the game the more I think that is the best method for blacked out hecklers. Just, remove them. Please.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2019? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Johnson: I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I just work hard on the craft and aim to be undeniably funny and a good person. I am always optimistic that that will be enough and that this field will always have room for people like me.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Johnson: Shapel Lacey. He’s a legend.

 

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Laugh It Up

Alex Falcone

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Name: Alex Falcone

Socials: Facebook/Twitter/Instagram

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Falcone: Yeah, definitely. Not like actually funny, but definitely trying to be. I discovered stand up in middle school, and I would memorize jokes and just pass them off in casual conversation as my own. And for years whenever I said anything remotely funny people would immediately ask, “Who’s is that?” Took a while to wash off that stink of childhood plagiarism.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Falcone: From the minute I left college I knew this was what I wanted to do in some form. So I always structured everything I was doing so that I could do as much comedy as possible. I figured out how to have a freelance career, so that I would be able to take time off when needed, and then just as I got more comedy work I took fewer freelance clients. Eventually they just kind of swapped places. So now I build websites as a hobby and tell jokes as a job.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Falcone: Oh, I have no idea what my voice is. A lot of people say it takes 10 years, so I’m running out of time. I have glimpses of it; I have jokes that I write now that I think I actually like, but that took like years. Really what having a voice means to me is that every once in awhile when I write a joke that I think is very funny but is not me – it’s not what I want to be putting out into the world – I don’t tell it. That’s what a voice is, it’s writing a good joke and then not telling it.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Falcone: It was just a worse version of the same act, I think. When people start, they’re usually just doing an impression of a comedian they like. And I was definitely doing that. And now I’m doing an impression of the few times where I’ve really liked my comedy. I talk about somethings that are more important now, because I feel like my joke writing has gotten good enough that I can. When I was first learning, I always wanted to seem harmless. So audiences would give me the benefit of the doubt as I learned the actual skill set. So I cut my teeth telling jokes about dumb stuff like cake, and now I can talk about like, consent, in a way that is just as funny.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Falcone: Of course, of course. I take 20 to 30 dumb notes a day of things that might be something that probably aren’t. It might not be stand up, it might be an idea for a book or for a TV show or funny way to answer a written interview question. Mitch Hedberg has this joke that really, really just nails it. He said his job is to think of something funny and then write it down, or if the pen is too far away, to convince himself it wasn’t funny. And I think that’s exactly what it is. Everybody thinks of weird, funny things throughout their days – comedians just trap every single one and then tries to squeeze it for laugh juice.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Falcone: These days, I’m comfortable taking something that I just thought of up on stage. I have this swagger now where I know that I can either make a good effort of making it funny, or if it’s not funny, it won’t be the end of the world. I can hide it in the middle of my set so it doesn’t sabotage the rest of it. I still usually put several days of thinking about an idea and twisting it in writing on it before I go on stage, but every once in awhile I just grab something and throw it up there.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Falcone: I would say when an idea is new, I never tell the same joke twice. And by that I don’t mean I throw it away after one try, I just mean every time I test it, I tweak something. So it’s kind of a Ship of Theseus thing; the joke takes 30 rewrites before it’s good or bad, and by the end there’s no part that was part of the original idea. That (pretentiously) said, sometimes I put something on one time and I don’t feel a spark with it and then I throw it away. I also have jokes that I’ve been struggling with for two years that have never quite hit the way I want them to, but I keep polishing the turd because I think that there’s gold in it somewhere.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Falcone: Of course. The difficult thing is that it’s hard to know exactly what it was. It’s easy to blame the audience – and it could be their fault, it sometimes is – but there’s a million other things it could be. Every set is like one of those Russian nuclear power plant control panels from the ‘60s. There’s just a million knobs, and any one of them might blow up the whole thing. So I keep twisting and adjusting and figure out which ones are dangerous and which ones make magic.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Falcone: There’s this old saying in comedy that a good audience helps you write and a bad one helps you edit, meaning that when the audience is really loving it, I feel this confidence like I’m being held up by a wire so I can’t fall no matter how much I wiggle. And then a bad crowd, it’s like doing a tightrope without a net. I don’t take a single step off to the side because it’s too dangerous. It’s also a lot like sex in that the more fun they’re having, the more fun I’m going to have. What I’m saying is, I have sex with the audience.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Falcone: I won Portland’s funniest person this summer, and that was pretty memorable. Everything just clicked that set, and I remember feeling like I was as good as I could possibly do. I also got to open for Sebastian Maniscalco last year at this like 5,000-seat theater at a winery, and the stage was like a castle. And I think about that set all the time. I remember sitting there after the show was over, I went back out on stage and I watched everybody file out of the amphitheater, and just thought, “I can’t believe I got to be here.”

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Falcone: My opinion on hecklers is pretty controversial. I think that they’re a myth. I mean once in a million sets somebody is going to yell you suck, but 99 percent of the time somebody talks from the audience it’s just a person who’s intoxicated who thinks they’re helping. And that’s not heckling, that’s just somebody who is drunk and confused. So if you “destroy” them, you’re just a person taking time away from their job, to yell at a drunk person. And look, nobody loves drunk people, but we work in an industry that’s almost entirely funded by the sale of alcohol, so we have to tolerate them.

If you’re in a good club and somebody talks, the staff will tell them to stop. And if you’re playing bars where people just get to yell at you, then that sucks and it won’t be good no matter what you do.

Also, to be clear, this only applies to me because I’m a dude. Women who do comedy get yelled at way more often and way more things that are not helpful. But since I’m just a meh-looking dude, people don’t tend to sexually harass me on stage.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Falcone: Comedy is amazing right now. There’s a lot of old-time comics complaining they can’t say anything now because people get too offended, but people are always getting offended, they just now they have the ability to speak and tell the world that they’re upset. And I think that’s actually really great for comedy. You get in trouble for saying things that are marginalizing groups of people. I think right now comedy is embracing a wider variety of viewpoints in a way that is very exciting. There’s also so much good comedy right now, so many people pushing it in directions that it’s never gone before. It’s a very exciting time to be doing this.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Falcone: Maria Bamford is the GOAT. I think she is just brilliant. I love Jackie Kashian and everything she does. I’ve gotten to open for Demetri Martin a few times and he cracks me up. Chad Daniels is a beast. Up and coming comics like Kate Willett who just had a Netflix special, and Candice Thompson who was on “The Tonight Show” recently. My favorite people in Portland are Katie Nguyen and my friend Mohanad Elshieky who’s about to absolutely blow up. Also my wife is super funny but not a comic, she’s just hilarious for a Muggle.

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Laugh It Up

Lisa Curry

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Name: Lisa Curry

Socials: Twitter/Instagram

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid?
Curry: As a career, no, it definitely wasn’t “always in the cards.” I come from a very funny, but extraordinarily blue-collar family. The idea of comedy being a career option was about as realistic as waking up one morning with a tail. While my family watched a ton of comedy, we weren’t one of those households who knew writers’ and actors’ names. That’s a thing I envy about a lot of comedy writers’ upbringings – it has to give you a bit of a head start to come into this business with some real knowledge of it.

To answer the second question, yes, I was a funny kid. I was always a weirdo doing silly shit, right up until I learned to be uncomfortable in my own skin – thanks, puberty!

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Curry: I still don’t have a plan! I only started taking stand-up seriously after I was about three years in, so seven years ago. I had every intention of pursuing acting until I started doing stand-up. I resisted it for a long time. It was just too daunting to think of all of the work that was ahead of me if I wanted to make a career out of it. To be totally frank, what pushed me to really get after it was seeing all these people I knew who were 10 years older than me, who had been half-assing things for 20 years and were still scraping together bits and pieces of a career while waiting tables. It was like being visited by a twisted version of the Ghost of Christmas Future.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Curry: That’s something that always feels like a work in progress. I’d say I mostly have my voice, but I’m still a baby in stand-up years and I’m still figuring out how I feel about a lot of things and I’m getting more comfortable with myself and my thoughts every year, which changes everything from my material to the way I move on stage.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Curry: Absolutely. Thankfully, beginner me is unrecognizable to current me. And I hope I feel the same way in another 10 years from now. When I started out, all I wanted was to be Chris Rock. Then, maybe a couple years in, I read or heard in an interview that you don’t get to choose your voice. Your voice chooses you. And that made so much sense to me. I still love Chris Rock but now all I want to be is Lisa Curry, not the next “so-and-so,” unless someone out there is crazy enough to think I’m the next Pryor. That, I’ll take, but I’ll pretend to be embarrassed by it.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Curry: Yes. I’m not a comic who’s “always on,” but my brain certainly is. Sometimes, I’ll almost be asleep and have to get out of bed to write something down. Or I’ll be in the middle of a conversation and think of a joke and I don’t want to be rude and stop to write it down, so I just repeat it in my head again and again, while totally checking out of the conversation. It can be a nuisance for me and everyone around me. By the end of this questionnaire, we’ll have the answer to, “Why am I single?”

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Curry: Zero. I’ve straight up read out of my notebook on stage before. I mostly write on stage, so a lot of my bits start out as terrible, rambling nonsense at mics or bar shows. If I’m showcasing or featuring or headlining, I have a set list, but it’s never totally firm. If something pops into my head suddenly while I’m on stage, I have to say it, even if everything inside of me is telling me it’s going to fail.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Curry: Oof. Too many, probably. I don’t have a hard and fast rule on this, but if I’m really excited about something, I may keep doing it for a year and trying to rework it. Other bits are more of a compulsion, where I just have to say the dumb thing once to get it out of my brain and then I can move on. That’s a weird thing, by the way. Sometimes a stupid thought will eat at me until I say it out loud and then it’ll disappear and I can move on. It’s like being possessed.

Please send me your recommendations for a reputable exorcist.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Curry: Yes. Absolutely. I’ve had nights where I did the same set at different places on the same night and had it go wildly different. I still haven’t decided if it’s better to bomb first and then crush or the other way around. You either start the second set in an insecure funk or you go to bed wanting to die. Tough call.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Curry: Definitely. I come right up to the edge of the stage and perform from there, making eye contact with everyone that I can. It’s very aggressive, but in a friendly way, if that makes sense? I truly just love connecting with people. The more they’re into it, the more loose and physical I’ll get and I think they can pick up on that heightened vulnerability.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Curry: Oh damn, so many! It feels gross to mention the best, but I sold out my solo debut at the Mach Comedy Fest in Machynlleth, Wales this year. That was an indescribable feeling. On the other hand, I bombed for 45 minutes in Louisville a couple years ago and it still upsets me to think about. So much so that I’d vote to remove Kentucky from the United States if it were ever on the ballot.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Curry: It really varies from show to show. I’ve never had a really bad one and I’ve never “destroyed” a heckler, nor do I care to. Almost 100 percent of the time, they’re just drunks who want attention. My family has owned a biker bar since before I was born and I grew up in that environment, so I’m exceptionally adept at de-escalating situations, especially with drunks. I don’t ever want to deal with a heckler, but unless I’m recording or it’s an important showcase, it doesn’t bother me much.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Curry: I don’t know what the future of live comedy is. Technology is changing the infrastructure of the entertainment industry so quickly, it’s impossible to tell where it’s going to land. I’m always optimistic, mostly out of necessity. I have to believe things are going to be good for a long time, otherwise, why am I even doing this?

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Curry: I’m all over the place. Chris Rock has always been my favorite. And of course there’s Pryor. Dave Attell is a master. If there was a joke writing Olympics, he’d be buried under a mountain of gold medals. Adam Sandler’s Netflix special is pure magic – not that he needs my help promoting it. Leslie Jones blew my mind when I was coming up. I had never seen a woman perform like she does before her. I’m also a huge fan of Monty Python. My favorite comedy is either smart or vulnerable or both.

Now that I’ve covered famous people, there’s an unbelievable number of incredibly talented comedians right now. I work between LA and NY a lot and I’m constantly meeting and seeing new people I hadn’t known of who are absolutely killing it. Then, this May, I toured the UK and met a whole new crop of incredible comedians. I’m constantly blown away by people’s creativity. I have so many insanely funny friends and I don’t have space to list them all so check my Twitter to see who I’m following and retweeting. And for fuck sake, support live comedy. There’s so many free shows out there! Fuck “The Wire.” You can watch TV when you’re old and in hospice.

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Laugh It Up

Leslie Barton

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Name: Leslie Barton

Social: Twitter/Instagram

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Barton: Yes. But I drank a lot as a child.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Barton: Comedy will do with me what it sees fit. My only plan was to not sleep with any comics after I started doing it.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Barton: I wish that wasn’t such a difficult question. My voice? I don’t have one – or one that I maybe feel is as fulfilling to me personally as I would like. I keep my creative voice open to change. Right now I’m combining painting and comedy and LSD.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Barton: If I try to recreate anything from when I started, it’s the nervousness. And the looseness. And the sobriety.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Barton: Of course. Some people have writing all the time anytime, some people have writing scheduled. Those are the people I envy a little. I need more of a schedule.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Barton: I think one has to be pliable when creating. Be ready with your equipment, ie: pen, paper, phone. Maybe you’re thinking immediate thoughts with a general write up, or you save your one sentence for an open mic and see what you get with that. Or you start a writing group by gathering three to five comics that only hate each other a little and that you think are funny.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Barton: I try and figure out why I like it so much and go from there. Some jokes just fall out of pop culture, too.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Barton: It’s also possible to kill one set, drive across town and fail miserably at another mic, the same night.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Barton: A hot crowd is the best crowd, and I hate wasting it, but I still do, if I’m being honest. It’s also on the comic to raise the bar and try and read the audience and consider which jokes might work best.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Barton: Too many to count: performing a set with the Altercation Festival people at the now defunct Fire House booked by Matt Micheletti. Fucking hardly anyone was there, but I had a great set and it was such a good show.

It’s hard to say what drives me. Comedy is what I imagine surfing to be like, with its learning curve and unpredictability.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Barton: I kind of started talking over them early on and still kind of do that, unless they give me a great idea for a comeback. They are unruly children.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Barton: Who knows what people find funny, now or in the future. But as soon as everyone starts outlawing comedy, only outlaws will do comedy. Besides, I’m as optimistic as any white, middle-aged woman with no children, that owns a house. I can always live in my attic and die there. That’ll be funny to me.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Barton: People that are trying to do something beyond what I see on a daily basis. Broken people trying to act fixed. And old scary movies. And bad dreams and irony. Plus old British comedies. Mel Brooks. Richard Pryor. My mom was pretty funny. My dad. Erma Bombeck. Marquis de Sade. Bill Hicks. Jessica Kirson. These are a few of my favorite things.

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Laugh It Up

Erica Lies

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Photo By: Vu Gandin Le of Gandin Le Studios

Name: Erica Lies

Socials: Twitter/Instagram

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Lies: Definitely not. I was really quiet and all my friends were hilarious cut ups, which intimidated the hell out of me. But with my closest couple of friends (usually other girls) that I could relax around we would do dumb bits to entertain each other. My friend Helen and I had a long-running bit about becoming auteurs of “dork porn.” It wasn’t porn for nerds; it was trying to do really dumb shit in a sexy way, like blowing your nose with a suggestive look on your face. Try it. It’s not possible to do both at the same time. And since I was little, I always did impressions of people to make my mom laugh. She used to tell me I was funny, but I thought she was just being nice. So, I was funny, but I had no confidence in it and I kept those cards very close to the chest.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Lies: Ooof. I guess it slowly switched from being a Very Serious Shakespeare Actress who was only getting callbacks for comedy stuff, onward to doing comedy and later viewing myself as more of a writer than a performer. And I had no plan. But I knew people who worked in the industry, so even if it seemed distant, it didn’t seem completely impossible.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Lies: TOO LONG.

That’s the short answer. The long answer is that I think my voice was always there. I just needed to learn to trust it and to learn the craft well enough to actually execute it. But looking back, I don’t think my overall voice has changed all that much. I just have more skill than I used to.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now with your bits different from the approach you took when you first started out?
Lies: I can’t even really remember how I used to approach it, but I guess now I’m just way less precious with my stuff. I used to really stress over getting the perfect joke on the first try. But I heard all that advice about how you have to write tons and tons of jokes because most of them will be terrible, and that made me way more productive and write down more of the dumb idiocy I think of. So now instead of taking 20 minutes to write one perfect joke, I take 15 to write 10 mediocre ones and one that can be edited and tweaked to be great.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Lies: Yes and no. Most of the time I’m just trying to be present with the people in my life and be a human being, because that’s better material than anything else I could mentally record. But I’m also still that quiet kid that just really loved to people watch and observe. And, I have to admit, when I encounter people who are ridiculously, egregiously irritating yet somehow totally unaware, it hits a certain light in my brain that just says, “KEEP GOING.” I’ll egg on the people that everyone else wants to avoid and it drives my friends insane. It’s like the improv maxim “make it worse,” only I truly make it worse by encouraging pretentious dudes to keep talking about how “Proust ruined [them] on short fiction.”

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a skit before it’s ready to be tested out in front of an audience?
Lies: To give you the most frustrating of answers: it depends. I don’t ever like to take a first draft into the public realm, but once I’ve done one revision, I need a crowd to know if something’s working or not. On the other hand, putting a sketch up without rehearsal is a guaranteed way to fall flat on your face in front of an audience. So. It depends!

TrunkSpace: Are you more comfortable in a pre-written piece or in the freedom of flying by the seat of your comedic pants with improv?
Lies: I can’t really say either way. But looking at it from worst-case-scenario territory, I’d rather bomb an improv show than something I spent hours and hours obsessing over and crafting. If an improv scene isn’t working, you can just edit it and start a new one. But with a sketch or script, you’re stuck with it ’til the bitter end of the show.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of an improv performance?
Lies: I guess sometimes, but most of the time no. An audience will at least let you know instantly when something is working, which is helpful feedback, but most of the time, I tune them out. Some part of my brain still hears the laughs as technical information, like, “ah, this is the funny part of this scene. Keep playing this dynamic/game/character trait.” But the vast majority of the time paying attention to laughs just puts me in a nervous mental headspace where everything I do utterly tanks. So, I tune them out. It’s easier for the audience to love you if you don’t give a shit about them loving you.

Photo By: Jansen Hawkins

TrunkSpace: Comedy can be so subjective, but is it even more so in a written piece? How do you establish tone and delivery in a piece of work where the reader is establishing the voice?
Lies: I hear it in my head a certain way. I don’t know that I can really describe it beyond that. Making the joke clear early on is important — especially in a humor piece. But aside from that, I just focus on heightening. And the rhythm is really important. One extra syllable can throw it off and kill a joke.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Lies: Most of them have blended together at this point but I can remember snippets here and there where it felt like flying. Probably my worst personal moment was when I was performing at a new theater with my old sketch team and didn’t check out the backstage area first. My friend and I had written this really *stupid* rap duo and I was getting hyped as I was entering and then BAM, I slammed my face — full force — into a concrete wall. There were no lights in the back and I hadn’t seen that a pillar jutted out. So what I thought was a clear path… was not. My friend checked on me and I was like, “I’m fine. Am I bleeding? My face is wet.” Then I tilted my head down and blood just ran down my face. One of my teammates had to stop the show while I got first aid and he had to repeatedly explain that it wasn’t a bit. And to top it all off, I was in a costume best described as “fancy jugglette.”

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Lies: I don’t. Or at least, in improv you don’t really get them. But generally when people talk during a show and it’s more than just call-and-response commentary, when it’s disruptive, I mostly just address it directly and make it part of the scene. Most people are so freaked out that you addressed them that it shuts them up, and as long as you’re funny while you do it, it won’t alienate the rest of the audience.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the comedy landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of the medium?
Lies: I don’t really think about it, but yeah, I know there’s a lot of people out there that complain about having to be PC now, but I see it as improving comedy. It forces everyone to make smarter jokes and actually point the critique at the powerful instead of the powerless.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Lies: Richard Ayoade, always. Phoebe Waller-Bridge. All the characters on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” because they’re so crystal clear yet always still surprising. The show “Great News,” but sadly it just got canceled. And I’ll always have a soft spot for lovable loser characters.

Featured image with Katie Stone in “Menenists.” Photo by: Christopher Hwisu Kim.

Below you can view an episode of the web series “Uncomfortable” directed by Lies.

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Meghan Ross

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Name: Meghan Ross

Socials: Twitter/Facebook/Instagram

Why We’re Laughing: Tapping into past experiences and her firsthand understanding of those moments to find the funny, Ross is throwing open the windows of her mind to air out the place, and in doing so, inviting us to wander around inside.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Ross: Funny-LOOKING. (This is my official resignation from comedy.) I was a comedy nerd growing up, consuming everything from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (I’m the Rhoda) to “Strangers with Candy.” But I wasn’t a confident kid, so I never thought I’d actually perform it. I always tried to be funny though, using humor to cope with being an awkward, hairy Syrian girl among the upper-class Aryan race at my Catholic elementary school.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Ross: I was writing humor pieces and sketches at the end of college, after interning at TV Without Pity (RIP) and continued when I moved to New York and completed the UCB Advanced Studies improv and sketch programs. After several years of improv shows in bar basements, I realized I should focus more on solo work if I want to turn comedy into a career. I started doing stand-up, wrote my first sitcom pilot and screenplay, and pitched more humor essays during my last couple years in New York before moving to Austin to continue it. I host, write, and produce, an all-women late night show called “That Time of the Month” and one of my priorities this year is to expand it beyond the live stage show.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Ross: I’m still discovering my voice after seven years, but it probably took until this year for me to be more comfortable and consistent with my sets, particularly the monologues I write for “That Time of the Month,” which I’d been doing for about three years. Not too bad considering I’m 10 years old if any big shot Hollywood agents are asking.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Ross: I’d consider them different acts. Even after years of trying other forms of comedy, I wasn’t sure what my stand-up voice would be when I started, so I tried to do observational humor mixed in with personal experiences without thinking of the flow or delivery, which are crucial elements to a set. I still balance those two, but I’m more relaxed and try to be conversational versus before when I was robotic and memorizing out of fear of forgetting jokes. (Thanks to local Austin comic Arielle Norman for this much-needed tip from her workshop!)

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Ross: I’m not trying to force every single life experience into a joke, but I do jot down ideas in my iPhone notes app as stuff comes to me during random moments throughout the week. My notes usually read as a transcription of a fever dream by the time I revisit it later to adapt into material.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Ross: More hours of doubt and self-loathing than actual preparation. But I do make sure my former writing partner/co-founder of “That Time of the Month,” Liisa Murray, takes a look at my monologues before the show to make sure it’s not entirely nonsense.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Ross: I’m not married to any of my new jokes (commitment issues) so I usually only give it one more chance before reworking or dropping it completely.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Ross: Of course, and it could honestly be a range of different factors, from your own delivery of the jokes, to how warm the audience is once you get on stage.

I once performed a weird bit at a show in Austin (where I didn’t know anyone yet) that killed and then did that same bit a week later at a show in New York (where I did know a bunch of people) and it bombed. My first guess was because the Austin show was experimental, the host helps manage the audience’s expectations that comedians are trying out stuff they’ve never done before, outside of traditional stand-up. My second guess was the audience in New York hated my stinking guts.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Ross: Definitely, because it makes it easier to play off of their energy and even stray a bit from my set, improvising new lines from what they’re reacting strongest to in the performance. But I’ve learned not to be dependent on the audience for that every time because if the energy isn’t there, it’s still on me to finish my set strong. They’ll notice when I’m nervous or lose confidence in my material.

Photo By: Tess Cagle

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Ross: Last year after my Aunt Dawn, who I was really close with, passed away, I dedicated an episode of “That Time of the Month” to her, including a monologue memorializing her. I was nervous about performing an emotional comedy set, but it ended up being very therapeutic during a tough time.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Ross: I track down a place they like to frequent, such as a coffee shop or public park, stage a meet cute, date them for several years, establish a level of intimacy and unbreakable bond that leads to marriage, get pregnant, move into a refurbished farmhouse upstate to raise our kids, build a life for ourselves over a span of five decades, care for them in their old age, and just as they’re lying on their death bed and we’re sharing our last moment together, I lean over and whisper-scream, “IT’S NOT YOUR FUCKING TURN TO TALK.”

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Ross: I’m excited about diverse voices finally getting the bigger platforms they deserve and I hope the industry continues to recognize them for it. On a separate thought, while it’s gotten a lot easier to put your material out there through different mediums, we’re now watching a lot of those mediums go away, such as with many humor sites shuttering in the past few years. I’m curious to see how comedy scenes adapt to these changes and what the next wave of comedy in the digital age will bring. That last sentence felt like a sound bite from a stammering TV exec at an upfront presentation for pilots adapted from Instagram Stories that will all be canceled by the end of this other sentence.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Ross: Kate Berlant & John Early, Aparna Nancherla, Jo Firestone, Jenny Slate, Ali Wong, Michelle Wolf, Jessica Williams, Chelsea Peretti, Keep It! (Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, Louis Virtel), my dog Dreidel.

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John Poveromo

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Name: John Poveromo

Socials: Twitter/Facebook/Instagram

Why We’re Laughing: Superb writing combined with the kind of relaxed presence behind the microphone that puts an audience at ease, Poveromo delivers on a brand of funny that builds within the set, transforming external laughter into internal contemplation that lasts well after you leave the club.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a funnykid, even at an early age?
Poveromo: The short answer is, yes. (Laughter) The slightly longer answer is, I grew up around funny people, who all had different kinds of funny. My dad was sort of ‘life of the party’ funny, while my mom and her side of the family were very clever funny. My great aunt and uncle were from Brooklyn and no one could tell a story better than they could. They knew exactly where to inject humor into a story, and could tell it the same way every time. So in a lot of ways I grew up trying to emulate all of them. I remember laughing a lot, and thinking it was something I should bring back to the classroom, much to my teachers’ chagrin.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Poveromo: I decided to do it after my first semester of college was over. I had never wanted to go to college in the first place, but that’s what you did. Doing anything else seemed like it was a one way ticket to pumping gas for the rest of my life. At least that’s what my math teachers lead me to believe. I wound up giving stand-up a shot and was hooked right away. I dropped out of college, got a full time job at a bank (as you do), and did stand-up after work and on the weekends on any stage that would have me. My thought process was, I could spend four years at a place that was designed to hammer square pegs into round holes, or I could have 10 years as a comedian under my belt by the time I’m 30 and do something I love for the rest of my life.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Poveromo: I think it changes over time just like everything else. I think I had a voice in my 20s and now it’s evolving more so as I’m in the beginning of my 30s. For me it was more of a struggle of chipping away at everything that wasn’t authentically me on stage as I was off. Not to say I’m on all the time, but if you meet me off stage I’m the same guy.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Poveromo: The act is always evolving, but when I started I definitely would go on stage and wing it a lot. I had some ideas of where I wanted to go and what punchlines I wanted to hit, but I liked putting myself on the spot. I felt it was more important to be fast on my feet than it was to rehearse the same five minutes, club to club. As of right now my act is about justifying my own existence.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Poveromo: I have that little notes app on my iPhone always primed and ready to go. I’ve got joke ideas and notes stored in there from 2011. Actually, I just recently sat down with a friend of mine who has a knack for organizing and he put everything into this crazy excel spreadsheet catalog thing for me. It’s really incredible. I’m not an organized person so this helped a lot.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before its ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Poveromo: Wait, wait hold up… there’s supposed to be work involved? Hoo-boy, am I in trouble.

Usually I’ll have an idea for a joke, find out where I can squeeze it into the act and see where it takes me on stage. I’m constantly trying new stuff, if I don’t I get really bored up there.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesnt seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Poveromo: Every comic has a joke they love that’s never worked on stage. Or works like once every three months. I think jokes can be reworked all the time and there’s some that have taken me years to perfect. At this point I know what will and won’t work on stage, but if I had to give it a time limit before you toss a joke, I’d say three times with three different audiences. If it’s still not getting the response you need, you gotta sideline it for the time being.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Poveromo: Yup. Did it the other night actually. It was a showcase show and I was closing it out. The audience was only there to see their friend and they were tired by the time I got up. The set was the same jokes that killed opening for Gilbert Gottfried a couple weekends before but I was getting nothing from the audience. There’s one joke in particular that I was thinking of posting on my Instagram as an example of how a joke can crush one night and get crickets the next.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Poveromo: Absolutely. The audience is a far bigger part of the show than they think sometimes. I had a weekend of shows mother’s day weekend, which is notoriously slow. The first night there were only 12 people in the audience but they were 12 people who really loved comedy and came for a good show and we had an absolute blast together. The next night we had about 40 people who you would have thought were taken hostage and forced to watch the show. Those are the nights when it feels like work.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Poveromo: Hands down, opening up for Jimmy Fallon when I was still a baby comic. It was my first time opening for a national headliner. He was on tour prepping to take over “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and he had come back to his home club, Bananas in Poughkeepsie, NY. We did five sold out shows together and he couldn’t have been nicer, or funnier. I met his family and they praised my set, which was amazing because I really got a sense that they understood what it’s like for the new guy coming up since Jimmy was so young when he started. Something like that will keep you going for a while.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Poveromo: I don’t get a ton of hecklers. Not the hecklers you see comics “battling” it out with on YouTube. I perform all over the country and honestly it doesn’t happen that often. I do engage with the crowd a lot though and when that happens they tend to get overly drunk and chatty but I just handle them in a very playful way. It’s fun watching them dig their own graves.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Poveromo: Stand-up comedy is more important now than it’s ever been. We need comedians who are willing to push limits, cross lines, and take us to places that make us uncomfortable and laugh at the same time. We’re in Trump’s America right now, and in that America it really does seem like comics are the only ones able to cut through all the bullshit and get to what’s really going on in the world. He seems to have forced both sides of the isle into their corners to the point where liberals can no longer tell the difference between jokes and statements, while conservatives have cornered the market on the victim game. It’s kind of a weird time for comedy, though I’m staying optimistic. There’s that whole Samantha Bee thing going on right now and she’s brilliant and funny, but I really wish she hadn’t apologized for the joke about Ivanka. She apologized and called it inappropriate. Comedians are supposed to be inappropriate. Racist? No. Inappropriate? Yes. In her case, it’s her job to be inappropriate while making a point. If there’s people who can’t comprehend that, fuck’em. You know? There’s a reason why entertainers, especially comedians, don’t work at the Gap. If we wanted to let the cul-de-sac culture dictate what we do and say the rest of our lives, that’s where we’d be.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Poveromo: I could list a bunch of famous comics who I and everyone else I know admire here, but they get enough press. I’ve got a lot of close friends in comedy and because we’re always working the clubs and the road we don’t get to see each other a lot, but when we do it’s a blast. Just recently I got to hang out with one of my closest friends and big brothers in comedy, Joe Starr, who came to watch me at Governor’s and wound up doing two guest sets – showing us all how the fuck it’s done. Another close friend of mine, Carole Montgomery, is in Los Angeles right now touring her stand-up show, “Women Of A Certain Age,” which is incredibly funny so if you get the chance, go see it! I just got to meet and work with Taylor Tomlinson for the first time who is fucking hysterical. Then there’s my friends Joanne Filan, Ryan Metzger, Vinnie Nardiello, Ty Raney, Jess Alaimo – who are all great comics from Jersey.

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Emily Winter

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Photo By: Phil Provencio

Name: Emily Winter

Socials: Twitter/Instagram

Why We’re Laughing: Smooth and polished like a precious stone, Winter delivers comedy gems for any season. Rain or shine, hot or cold, you will laugh yourself silly.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Winter: NO times a million. My mom is pretty adamant that I was NOT a funny child, and I had no interest in comedy until I was in middle school and started watching “Seinfeld” and “Friends” and hanging out with a very funny girl, which sort of blew my mind because I thought “funny” was for boys. Even when I figured out that I liked comedy and could be funny, I didn’t realize that I wanted to pursue comedy – or that it would be a viable option for me – until after college.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Winter: After college I was working as a news reporter in Wisconsin, but spending all my free time trying to write a comedy pilot. So after just three months of being a reporter, I quit, moved to my parents’ home in Illinois, worked at the mall and took a script writing class at a college in Chicago. From there, I applied for an internship at “The Colbert Report,” got it, and moved to New York. I only had to waitress in Times Square for a few months before getting a job as a Vogue contributing editor’s writing assistant, and that allowed me to afford to stay in New York and work on comedy writing. It would take five more years for me to get the guts to go on stage. I never saw myself as a stand-up, but it’s hard to break into professional comedy writing without being part of the comedy community. I figured I would try stand-up to boost my writing career, but I (surprisingly) fell in love with it from the first time I took the stage.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Winter: Some days I feel like I still don’t know who I am or what my voice is! But I’d say it took me two years to start getting comfortable on stage, then three more to really open up and add some performative range. I feel like my point of view was relatively set from the beginning, but that’s because I was older than most when I started doing stand-up, and I had already lived through the years of discovering your identity, beliefs, politics, and sense of humor. And by starting late, I’d also (mostly) grown out of the urge to say things for shock value alone.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Winter: I used to write my jokes out. I couldn’t conceive of any other way to create an act. Now I do a mix of free writing and just blabbing at lightly attended shows to find new material.

I think I still use one joke from my first few years, but most of my old material is just not that good. My act is always evolving – I keep things I like, I chuck jokes I’m sick of or jokes that don’t get as many laughs. And I weave old jokes into new ideas.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Winter: Yes and no. Since I’m a writer too, I spend a lot of time thinking, “Where does this comedic idea belong? Is it a tweet? A stand-up joke? A New Yorker submission? A pilot? A graphic? A sketch? A text to my boyfriend? A slideshow? A game? A one-off themed live show? A character? A song?” Trying to figure out a place for an idea is a challenge in itself, and that takes up a lot of my time and mental hard drive, both when I’m awake and asleep. (I dream about the mundane parts of comedy almost every night. It’s a little embarrassing.) But I do think it’s important to be able to stop seeing the world through the lens of “how can I use this for comedy.” Sometimes you just have to be a person and genuinely connect with the world and people around you. Otherwise you are a sociopath.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Winter: Not a lot! If I have a new idea I’m excited about, I’ll try it that night, unless it’s a high stakes show: one that’s super packed, or attended by particular people I’m trying to impress, or if I’m being paid well to be on my A game. But typically, I’ll start with solid material, test out new material in the middle of my set, and then end with more crowd-pleasing material. This allows me to see if a new joke has legs without it tanking my entire set.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Winter: If a joke isn’t working at all, I’ll probably kill it after about three tries. If parts of it are getting some laughs, I’ll keep working on it, either until I find something I like better, or it gets polished up into good material.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Winter: Yes! There are so many variables every time you perform: audience members, audience size, age of audience, room setup, temperature, mic volume, lighting, stage height, what you’re wearing, how you’re feeling, the host, where you are in the lineup, state, city, and neighborhood you’re performing in, how you’re introduced… the list goes on and on. Your job as a comedian is to try to navigate all of these variables, but there is no “right” way to do that. For every show, the answer is different. That’s what makes every show a unique experience, even when the material is the same.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Winter: Hell yeah! As a comedian, you always walk into a showroom hoping the audience will be warm and receptive. If you can get a collective energy going, it creates an almost tangible buzz in the room. This is why show hosts are always trying to get people to sit in the front row – they’re trying to fill in the space between the comedian and the farthest laughter to create a unifying, collective electricity. So fill in those seats! The entire show will improve!

Photo By: Steve Shohl

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Winter: Ah man! One time pretty early on I was bombing my dick off at a show, and then suddenly I got a HUGE laugh. I was thrilled that a joke had finally worked, even though I continued to eat it for the rest of my time on stage. When I got off stage, I realized a button was missing from my dress. Another comic informed me that it had popped off during a punchline, revealing my bra, and that’s why everyone had been laughing. That moment will keep me humble for the rest of my career.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Winter: Kill them with kindness. My first tactic is to kindly ask a heckler to stop. Sometimes, audience thinks comedians like it when you heckle, and they just need to be educated. If that doesn’t work, I’ll usually say something to let them know that I’m not happy, but will also get a laugh and keep the mood up. For example, I’ve told men, “You’re so handsome. It’s too bad you’re so annoying.” If that doesn’t work, I’d probably signal for the show’s host to ask them to leave. Luckily, I’ve never been in a position where I’ve felt threatened by a heckler who refused to leave and there was no one around to kick him out, but I know that stuff happens.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Winter: I live in Brooklyn, and the market is soooooo oversaturated right now. There are too many shows and too many comedians. It’s great that there are always shows to do, but it’s a pain to produce quality shows when you’re competing with other shows in the same neighborhood – or even on the same block! One positive thing is that the Brooklyn scene has been very dedicated to diversifying lineups. You won’t see an all-white, all-male lineup in Brooklyn the way you did just five years ago, which is awesome. A diversity of voices is what makes a comedy show great.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Winter: Some comedians I love and admire are Mary Mack, Ophira Eisenberg, Josh Gondelman, Kyle Kinane, Aparna Nancherla, Jo Firestone, and Chris Calogero. I love Chris so much that I hunted him down and made him my boyfriend!

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Johnny Azari

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Name: Johnny Azari

Socials: Twitter/Facebook/Instagram

Why We’re Laughing: Combining a bad boy persona with a social commentary spin that cats like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin made iconic to their comedic brand, Azari is saying things that he hopes will resonate beyond punchlines.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Azari: As a kid all my teachers called me a “good kid with bad behavior.” Still not entirely sure what that means. I think I was always a comedian. It was just that nobody pulled me aside and told me that that was what I was doing – they just called me an asshole.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Azari: I fell into comedy from touring the country singing sad, sad blues music. I would be in dive bars in towns like Evolution Is Illegal, Idaho, just bumming everyone out. So in between songs I try and chipper things up. Didn’t take long ‘til the banter became the show. So in July of 2015 I made the conscious choice to just do stand-up without the music. That’s when I stopped my tour and did a month of mics in Chicago. I haven’t looked back since.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Azari: I don’t think you ever stop looking for it. Your voice changes as you grow as a human being. But I knew from the get I wanted to be a rebel comic, outlaw and going after the truth and society’s hypocrisy. Observational day to day, “this is why I’m a loser” comedy never appealed to me. I feel like we are manufacturing our own extinction as a species currently and there just isn’t time for any art to address anything but that. But that’s me – a self righteous prick who’ll whore out the revolution to get his fireman smackled.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Azari: I think my narrative hasn’t changed much. The growth has been in learning to cut the fat and keep every sentence funny, or at least try to. Also as I progress I’m leaning more toward cleaner comedy. It’s harder and when done right way funnier, and, you can reach a larger audience. Dirty is always there if you want it. She follows you around like a three-legged dog. Clean takes a lot of thought and skill.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Azari: It has been until recently. I did 36 shows in 27 days over 8,000 miles and four states. I was grinding the first draft of the new hour together in that time. When I got back home from that I turned everything off. Xanax, Netflix, and forcing my wife to fuck me while I lay on my back and sob for two weeks. But normally I don’t stop writing. I can’t stop if I want to. My brain just grinds constantly. Thank God I found comedy, a perfect outlet for the neurotic.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Azari: Depends on how I feel about it. Most of them I finish pretty fast.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Azari: Three to five.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Azari: That happens for sure. Though when you do it all the time it doesn’t feel like bombing anymore because you aren’t filled with the fear and terror that normally comes with bombing. After you do a bit enough times to know it works, when it doesn’t land or certain parts don’t hit, you know it’s the room and then you have to start playing the game to twist their minds into your narrative so similar jokes later in the set won’t die.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Azari: Of course. A performer can only give the room what the room gives them. If the room feels like a roofied fat chick you have to carry to bed, then that’s how your set feels. But if they are lively and know they are at a comedy show and that their feelings don’t matter in that room, then you can have a lot of fun.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Azari: I played a nudist colony once as a musical act. I closed by getting naked and singing “Blowin’ in The Wind” by Bob Dylan. They did not think it was funny. Fucking hippies.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Azari: I can very easily get to evil very fast so I have to check myself. Usually I can ignore it and pretend I didn’t hear. If that doesn’t work then I ask nicely. Then I talk to them like a child. If they continue, I go Adolf Hitler on their ass and make the room seriously tense. I have a bunch of handles, none of them are funny because fuck you for interrupting a staged performance.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Azari: Comedy is booming. It’s more popular than it’s ever been. I love seeing the range and explosion in the art. It makes me happy that there is so much to laugh at.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Azari: My dad. He’s a funny fuck. Besides him, all the people that every other comic says inspires them. (Laughter)

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Laugh It Up

Ellory Smith

EllorySmithFeatured

Name: Ellory Smith

Socials: Twitter/Instagram

Why We’re Laughing: Smith’s brand of personal comedy serves as a tour guide through her emotional pain and shows us all that even in darkness there are slivers of light to be found.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Smith: I wasn’t funny as a kid, but I was definitely odd. I didn’t have a lot of friends and spent a lot of time in my own head. I always knew I wanted to write, and thought for a long time I’d go into poetry or creative writing or something. My senior year of high school, I started doing stand-up and realized there was a way to utilize my love for writing and need for attention that didn’t have the sort of… pretentious review process that creative writing sometimes involves.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Smith: I was studying Writing for Television and Film at Emerson College, and doing stand up two to three times a week. I was paying attention in class, but really only my writing classes. I knew I wanted to be a comic and write for television, that I wanted both of those things. I couldn’t see another option. I had read enough about people in the field to know that if this was something I wanted, I had to go after it as though I was training for a marathon. Writing a lot, performing a lot, putting aside anything that wasn’t comedy – at least at first. When I moved to LA to finish college, I immediately upped how often I did stand-up. I began going up four to five times a week, and seeing shows on weekends. It became my entire life, to the detriment of some things (friendships, relationships) but it was all I wanted, and it felt like I could never have enough of it.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Smith: I’ll let you know once I find it. I’m six years in now, so give me another six and hopefully I’ll have gotten it down.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Smith: I think when I started, I was so young I was just trying to imitate comedians I loved. I was doing just observational material, nothing raw or honest or interesting. Now I try to be more open with the audience, I am still worried that they don’t love me or think I’m funny, but first and foremost I want them to know that I am here and in pain and ready to talk with them about the things that make me most human. It’s a fine line to walk, when people see comedy they are looking for an escape, they don’t want to hear about my trauma necessarily. But I’m up there looking for connection and love and validation, and maybe that’s too much to ask for, but I’m going to keep asking for it anyway.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Smith: I write everything down all day long. When my father was dying, I wrote down every detail. Not necessarily for stand-up, just to remember it. I guess it’s a way to not cope with the things going on around me. But, then I have the notes for later and I can mine them for something funny. I do this at gas stations, grocery stores, funerals. Ultimately, it’s rude. But my note pad and I are one in the same and where I go it will be.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Smith: Stand-up is like an experimental science. There are a lot of variables to getting something right. A joke is ready when you’ve written it, and you will only find out if it works through performing it. That’s what open mics are for!

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Smith: If I am in love with a joke, but after five or six tries in front of different audiences it doesn’t work, I table it until I can find a better take. Or I bring it to someone I know is funnier than I am who will help me find what is going wrong. That being said, a good artist knows when they have shitty work and is able to move on from it.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Smith: Absolutely! It’s easy to blame the audience for this, but again, there are a lot of different variables. Maybe you weren’t as confident, maybe they weren’t paying attention, maybe your tone was off and when they weren’t laughing you got hostile. It could be anything. I think it’s important to pay attention to WHAT went wrong so you can fix it for next time, and not take any of it too personally. (Easier said than done!)

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Smith: A good audience is both like having the most intimate conversation and playing a very good game of tennis. You can ping something to them and have the audience send it right back. It is wonderful, it will only raise your confidence, making you more daring, more willing to try risky material. It is nice to feel trusted.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Smith: One time a man threw some of those Mardi Gras beads at me while I was on stage which is a few different layers of rude.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Smith: I cry very hard until they apologize to me.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Smith: I personally am excited for it! People seem to be enjoying stand-up a lot, it’s getting very popular. I think it’s a good thing that homophobic, transphobic material is getting less acceptable. Hopefully we’ll be moving towards a more accepting space, and away from “I hate my wife and mother-in-law” tropes.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Smith: Pain, loss, love, fart noises.

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