To the naked eye, Mormonism and comedy seem to have as much of a natural relationship as peanut butter and pickles, but with a quick wit and a sharp sense of self, Elna Baker makes it work. For the 27 year old practicing Mormon comedian, life is a good: consistent stand-up gigs are flying in at all angles, and October will see the release of her memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. Here’s what she had to say to Punchline Magazine:
How did you get started in comedy? What inspired and drove you to it?
I was drawn to the comedic stylings of Fozzy Bear and did my first stand-up routine in a pre-school talent show. I could only remember one joke though: Why did the chicken cross the road? I told it five times in a row, each time believing it was new. It was very Kaufman-esq. After college I finally admitted to myself that being in comedy was my dream. So I spent three months holed up in the Museum of TV & Radio listening to every comedian I could find.
Of everything I listened to, it was Woody Allen’s early stand-up that most intimidated me. Why bother trying? You’ll never be this good. Instead of giving up I committed to doing one-hundred live performances. After the 100th show, if I listened to the same Woody Allen set and still felt like quitting, then I was allowed to. That was five years ago. I’m on my eighty-fifth show. I had no idea it would take so long.
Other than providing you with material, in what ways does your Mormon faith influence your comedy? Is there a natural kinship between the two that non-Mormons might not be aware of?
While many of my jokes are unrelated to my religion, Mormonism played a huge role in the shaping of my voice. Any religion that puts a person at odds with his or her own impulses is good for creating neurosis. The stricter the rules, the more challenging it is to have a mind of your own. There’s also a lot of comedy that comes out of expectations. When you’re taught that your life should turn out one way, and instead you end up a 27 year old virgin living in New York and telling jokes at bar with three drunk people, it’s either tragic or hilarious.
What would you say is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in both the comedic and religious worlds?
It’s hard to be true to yourself. I’m not Mormon enough to please most Mormons. I’m not non-Mormon enough to please most people in the comedy world. I don’t know which side I’ll end up on yet, but I’m trying to figure it out on my own time. Either that or straddling two worlds is such great fodder that I’m really just in it for the jokes.
Check out elnabaker.com for more info. And check out a video of Elna below performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City.