She may look like the cute girl next door, but don’t try to get fresh with Iliza Shlesinger. The comedian packs a devastatingly honest punch, which she currently uses to break the bad news to the contestants on her new television dating show Excused premiering Sept 12 (check your local listings). She was also the youngest person and the only woman to win NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Shlesinger is already a regular at all the major comedy clubs in Los Angeles and with her new show and a few others in the works, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of her. Iliza called me to discuss Excused, what it took to win Last Comic Standing, getting hate mail, and the dangers of being a girl “who isn’t hideous” in Hollywood.
Since you originally from Dallas, is that where you started doing comedy?
No, I didn’t. I just grew up there, then I went to college in Boston; didn’t even start there. I moved to Los Angeles right after I graduated college and that’s where I started– one of the few and proud people to start in Los Angeles.
What was it like starting in LA? I imagine it was kind of a culture shock.
It’s so weird because I think it almost would be easier if I had done it in Dallas, then I could compare it. But I had never done stand-up, I didn’t know anything about it. I just knew that I was funny and that I liked doing it. So it didn’t seem so bad because I had nothing to compare it to. It’s like asking a black person what it’s like being black. They’re like, “well, I’ve never been white…” I started from scratch. I started doing small rooms.
It’s one of those things where the more you get out there, the better it gets. I went out every night. To this day I have not done an open mic because I don’t like showing up without a plan. So I would just book shows, and when I couldn’t get a show I started running my own shows so I could trade with people. And eventually I became a paid regular at all the clubs here. It was just years and years of going out every night.
|Iliza Shlesinger – Snake in the Grass|
Aside from comedy, it has to be another kind of culture shock getting used to living in LA, no?
It’s a culture shock that’s ongoing. A day doesn’t go by when I’m like, ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong with some of these people?’ Some days I’m completely jaded and some days I’m shocked by everything. So Los Angeles is like a giant playground for adults and there’s good and bad things to that. Because there’s no rules. You could literally be homeless one day and a celebrity the next day. So it’s interesting to me that this is the land of the perpetual 40-year old, where men that are 50 date women who are 19; you could be a billionaire and not be talented at all. So it’s kind of like the Wild West, there’s really no rules out here.
How is Excused different than the other television dating shows we’ve seen throughout the years?
It’s different than the other dating shows on TV because it’s funny. It’s funny on purpose. It’s not just funny because there’s pathetic people on it. Of course it has me and I’m a comic and I really try to bring humor to it and a sense of reality in that we’re making fun of people. These are real jokes, they’re not scripted things. I pretty much make up everything I say right then and there. That’s why they hired me. So it’s funny, and when we look at people on the show and people do things and we make fun of them, I’m saying the stuff that you would want to say. Like you see someone and you think, ‘Oh that person has bad hair.’ I’m the one that’s like, ‘And you have bad hair, you’re excused.’
There’s a real stand-up element. There’s a real stand-up, honest sensibility. At the end of the day, the short answer is it’s funny. And other dating shows… Blind Date was an awesome show that the creators of my show also created. I don’t know how we got away from that funny aspect of dating, we take it so seriously with all the shows out there. It’s definitely a fun time.
Can you tell us more about your role on the show?
There’s three times during the show when I sit with the contestants and we eliminate people, we excuse them based on whatever reason the contestants have and it’s my job to deliver the news to them.
You worked on a as-of-yet-untitled show with comedian Greg Fitzsimmons. What was that like?
It was fun. I didn’t know him prior to this. I did know his name, but we didn’t know each other personally and he’s great. He’s like your pissed off but sensitive Irish uncle.
Does he still give you crap for calling him “elderly” on his podcast?
It’s so funny, he brings it up once in a while. He does bring it up. He’ll be like, ‘Okay, I’m going to go get pizza, it might take me a minute because I’m ELDERLY!’ What do you want, you’re older than me. I was trying to be respectful, it came out wrong.
When you first got cast on Last Comic Standing, did you realize that could be your big break?
You know what, it’s so hard because it was so long ago, and there was so many emotions at the time… I remember thinking, ‘It would be really cool to not get kicked off first.’ I just took it one step at a time because it was such an intense process. When you do a show like that you think it might make you a little bit bigger than it will. The reality is, it’s called Last Comic Standing, it’s not Last Movie Star Standing. That show did exactly what it was designed to do and it gave me a career, which I didn’t previously have. I was a feature act, I was just starting out, and I had a day job. And that show gave me the ability and the street cred to go out and do bigger and better rooms, and theaters and it gave me a name.
Towards the end of your season the other comics voted you in to the head-to-head challenge twice in a row because they thought you were a weak link. But you won both of those and eventually won the show. Does the confidence you gained from there stay with you?
Big time. Maybe a little too much actually. Doing a show like that… some people go on tour, some people write for shows, everyone gets their first real taste of comedy and that fighter instinct that was instilled in me from doing a show like that, where it’s literally you versus everyone else definitely stays with you. I definitely have been told I take comedy seriously, or ‘wow that girl’s intense’– stuff like that. I’m just not one of those laid back comics that’s like, ‘whatever, if I get this showcase, whatever… If I do well it’s not a big deal.’ I take comedy very seriously because it’s all I’ve ever known and it’s such a huge part of my identity. I’m definitely pretty intense with it.
Did you think the other people on the Last Comic Standing Tour you went on after the show resented you for winning?
I didn’t think. I knew. They made it quite clear and that’s all I have to say about it.
What were some of the things they did to make it clear?
As much as the girl part of me would love to just sit here and bitch about that, it’s so in the past and they’re not worth bringing up.
You’ve been on Adam Carolla’s podcast a few times now and it seems to be a great platform for you. Do you ever get crap for the political opinions you’ve expressed on it?
I like doing his show. Right Wing or Left Wing, there’s a group of people in America, I guess you can call them Independent, I wouldn’t go as far as to say Tea Party, but there’s a group of people who are just like, ‘Stop whining, get it done.’ California is the opposite of that land. So I don’t know exactly where Adam stands, but I definitely agree with a lot of the things he says. And I think sometimes afterwards, when you open your mouth it tends to offend a lot of men in general. I’m not saying political, just speaking bothers a lot of guys. Of course there’s guys that don’t mind. I get more hate e-mails from doing that show than anything else. He still has me on and I like him a lot. We have a good time, so as long as people are listening, that’s what counts, right?
Isn’t it kind of ridiculous to get hate e-mail from people who listen to that show? Because his listeners know how he is, and you voice a lot of similar opinions.
I don’t want to blame it on the whole woman thing, but it has to be that. Because here I am making jokes, getting along with the host, and people are like, ‘You’re a horrible bitch,’ and you’re like, ‘I don’t think that’s necessary.’ Of course it’s not something you write back to. You can tell by the subject line when it’s going to be a big one, then you just erase it. These are also the same people that are sitting in basements with guns stockpiled on the outskirts of Michigan. These are not normal people.
When you first moved to Hollywood and were trying to establish yourself as a comic did you have trouble with people in the business taking you seriously or guys hitting on you?
I think you get that with anything, as a girl who isn’t hideous. I get a majority of that, but I think that at the end of the day the comedy speaks for itself. So you cannot take me seriously or you can hit on me, but when I do a set, I’m not saying my material was brilliant or riveting, but you see, ‘Oh there actually is talent there,’ and I’m not someone that’s displeased easily. So looking back, there’s definitely a meeting here or there where I’m like, ‘Oh he probably didn’t have the best intentions,’ or having a drink meeting Saturday night probably wasn’t the best idea. I definitely have friends that have horror stories and it’s really up to you how you want to proceed with that stuff. Proud to say, I’ve definitely never flirted with anyone to get anything, definitely never slept with anyone, sometimes I wish I had because I probably would be a lot more famous.
It seems like there’s a plethora of attractive, model-type women trying to do stand-up in LA. Have you run into this at all in the clubs?
It’s funny because those are the same girls who want to be actors. The same thing also goes for guys. At the end of the day, I’m not the hottest girl ever, but I get auditions and I get parts because I’m funny and what got me there was doing stand-up. People see, ‘Oh my God, look at these stand-up comics getting these opportunities.’ In stand-up you get to showcase your talents every night, as an actor you can’t, because you can’t do scenes every night. People get into stand-up, and when I say ‘get into,’ I mean they have a three minute set, and it’s horrible, and they do it hoping that an agent will see them. They think they can do that three minute set then start auditioning. You can spot them a mile away…
I’m not going to say anything to them, but they’re using your art form for their own personal gain. It’s annoying and it usually doesn’t work well for them. They usually crash and burn on stage and they usually give it up. It’s really hard to fake doing stand-up for a long time. But there’s definitely a fashion of people out here who use it as a gateway to acting.
You can see Iliza on Excused, which premieres Sept. 12. Check your local listings for the airing schedule or head on over to the show’s official Facebook page. You can download her 2010 Comedy Central Presents special here.