“I really believe in reporting on life as it’s happening,” comedian Iliza Shlesinger tells me on this week’s bonus episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I never do anything for the material, I just think that’s so hacky. And that way it’s infallible. When it’s your real experience or your real tragedy that you’ve been through, nobody can ever take that away from you. Nobody can say you can’t say that.”
This past month, Shlesinger released her latest stand-up special Unveiled, in which she reports on her real experience of getting married. It’s the prolific comedian’s fifth hour-long special on Netflix in six years and she shows no signs of slowing down.
Shlesinger, who burst onto the stand-up scene when she became the first (and only) female winner of Last Comic Standing in 2008—Amy Schumer came in fourth the year before—has already been back out on the road performing new material about what it’s like to actually be married. Simultaneously, she is working on her own six-episode sketch comedy series, also for Netflix, and filming what she describes as a “revenge anti-rom-com” movie that she wrote and stars in, coming out next year.
Over the course of our conversation, Shlesinger opens up about how she deals with “offended” audience members, expresses her frustration with women who think she’s the wrong kind of feminist, and explains how dealing with the “horrible” male comedians on Last Comic Standing made her the tough-as-nails comic she is today.
On audience members who are ‘offended’ by her jokes
“I would say 99.99 percent of the feedback I get is positive and love and I have really great, special, supportive fans. Occasionally you’ll get someone who says, ‘I found that offensive.’ And I am a very self-analytical and critical thinker and I’m always open to other points of view and I think that’s how we evolve. But when you come at me with, ‘That hurt my feelings,’ my thought is, oh, but you were OK to laugh when the joke was about other people? But when it came to you, all of a sudden you’re shutting it down? Then don’t come to a comedy show. Because nothing I’m saying is designed to hurt anyone. And you can’t please everyone. So as a comic I’m just like, look, I came with a white flag up. Everybody laughed and that’s why it’s in the special and my shame barometer isn’t going off. So I’m sorry that bothered you, but I’m not sorry.”
On women who criticize her for not being a perfect ‘feminist’
“I just feel like we’re at this point in our society where, in an effort to spread open-mindedness and to get everyone to be open-minded, we’re too aggressive with people. And oftentimes, allies pick on one another. As a woman, whatever charity I donate to, whatever woman I stick my neck out for, whatever cause I’m championing, if I’m not perfect in the exact moment that someone who already didn’t like me seeks to criticize me, then I’m crucified. And we do this to women, under the guise of feminism, under the arc of furthering this feminist agenda, we tend to turn on women. ‘Well, she’s not doing feminism right.’ I started telling these jokes about this obligation that all women love each other, which is not what feminism is. Most people are sociopaths.”
On her upcoming sketch show for Netflix
“Growing up I watched Kids in the Hall and The State and then [Dawn] French and [Jennifer] Saunders did sketches before they did Absolutely Fabulous, which is a show that I consider a personal bible. I always loved sketch and my stand-up is very sketch-like. There’s bits and voices and texture and characters. So when Netflix offered me this show, I was like this is perfect because this is how I see my stand-up anyway. And you can make points differently. So it was really more about bringing to life the scenery in my head and all of the gripes I have with society and little moments and really expounding on things that are weird or need attention.”
How ‘Last Comic Standing’ affected her view of the comedy world
“An experience like Last Comic Standing is so brutal and the other comics were so horrible and mean that you start to think ‘everybody hates me.’ I’ve done nothing wrong but this is how they are. I was guarded and nervous that people were going to be mean. So you just put your head down and you don’t engage because everybody was so horrible. Everything was cool and then I won and I had to go on tour with these maniacs. So that was just one of those things where you’re this young girl—I was like 26, headlining these massive rooms with a group of men who hated me. I think it definitely made me tougher. And the good news is, nothing in my career will ever be as mentally taxing as that. And it’s made me who I am today.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Lil Rel Howery, whose new stand-up special Live in Crenshaw is currently streaming on HBOGo and HBONow.