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Kelly McInerney

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Name: Kelly McInerney

Socials: Twitter/Instagram

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
McInerney: It kind of was, yeah. I think I didn’t realize it at first but I was always obsessed with comedy. Jim Carrey was my idol as a kid. I was pretty quiet though – didn’t act out – but I was the quiet but funny type in that I was funny with my friends and if people asked me questions, I just wasn’t the big, loud class clown.

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?
McInerney: I decided to pursue stand-up around 2010. I had been doing improv a while but there comes a point where you’re like, “I don’t want to blame someone else for a shitty show,” and stand-up is just you and you get to write. I didn’t have a set plan… just did as many mics and shows as I could while doing improv too, and eventually I just decided to focus primarily on stand-up.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
McInerney: I don’t think it took me long. I always had a certain type of humor I gravitated to even as a kid, so it came kind of second hand when I started to do 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?
McInerney: I think my voice is louder now, both literally and the figuratively. Starting out I would just wing every joke but now I try to focus more on the technical aspect, like connecting jokes and if this bit is funny how can a make a similar bit, etc, etc.

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?
McInerney: Yes and no. I always look for premises but sometimes it’s hard to flesh out the joke. Sometimes I’ll have a funny premise and just hold onto it for months or years until I can grow a solid fun joke out of it.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
McInerney: Some jokes are immediately funny – a lot of those are the one-liners. A lot of times the silly, dumb jokes are just very easy to do off the bat as well. It’s the smarter ones that take a bit to rework and polish off into a funny. Also the ones that are based in tragedy or a serious topic that turns into a funny bit also sometimes takes a bit to rework and sometimes those darker ones don’t work in front of certain audiences.

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?
McInerney: Probably a handful of times – not long. I think you can feel it in the air if an audience kind of likes the way it’s going, but it’s “not there yet” versus “nobody gets the premise,” I’m gonna trash it. Sometimes I don’t trash it though and just save it for a future premise that ends up working better.

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?
McInerney: Absolutely. You could blame the audience – doing the same set in, say, Denver, might not hit as well in Phoenix. It also could be your energy. Sometimes I get tired of certain jokes and find myself not selling them as much and the audience can see that. The audience can see when you don’t care. You just have to remember to commit to the bit and jokes even if they’re old. Sure, they’re old for you, but this is a new audience and everything is new to them – you have to remember that.

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?
McInerney: Yes, nothing better than an audience that just loves comedy.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
McInerney: Man, I have no idea. I guess one of the best was when I did a mic in Mexico City in 2017. It wasn’t a traditional open mic – I did at least 10 minutes. I was the only English speaker and even the guy in charge was like, “Hey, heads up, they might not laugh.” And I was going in super nervous, ready to bomb, but hey, at least I did a set in Mexico, right? I ended up crushing so hard. It was one of my favorite sets I’ve ever done. Turns out jizz jokes are universally and internationally loved. The guy in charge ended up giving me a set the following day on their booked show. I was so proud. I kind of like surprising people like that because they don’t expect a blonde white girl with a potty mouth, but I bring it and they get a kick out of it.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
McInerney: It depends on what they say. Sometimes I’ll ignore them, but sometimes I’ll yell back and it ends up becoming a great tag for a joke. One guy boo’d me once as I was doing a blow job joke comparing BJs to ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s) and I said, “Have you had a dick in your mouth and have you eaten ice cream? What tastes better?” Now I add that to the joke and it makes it funnier.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2019? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
McInerney: I think too many people are doing it right now. LA is oversaturated. I mean, in a way, I guess it’s cool and good that a lot of people are because comedy is hot right now. Look at Netflix… they have a new special at least once a month. I do think it’s harder now to succeed though because there’s a lot of us, but because there is so many of us there is going to be so much good live comedy coming in the future.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
McInerney: So many things. I’m a big fan of just classic ‘90s humor: poop jokes, guys dressing up as girls, physical comedy like in “Dumb and Dumber” and any ‘90’s Jim Carrey movie. I also love dark jokes and smart ones that I could never think of – the bullets bit in Chris Rock’s “Bigger and Blacker” is one of the best if not the best joke out there. SNL during the Dana Carvey and Will Ferrell eras. Huge fan of assholes that you root for a la “Eastbound & Down” and any Danny McBride thing. Chelsea Peretti, Sarah Silverman, etc, etc. “The Tom Green Show” from way back when is basically what made me the gross goofball I am.

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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

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 exactly porn for nerds that you’d find on a site like www.nu-bay.com; 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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Laugh It Up

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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Laugh It Up

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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