Is vodka soda always your drink of choice?
Yeah. I don’t know why, it’s just good. It goes down smoothly.
What do you consider your big break?
The most obvious would be “Chelsea Lately.” That gave me an opportunity to write for someone but also to write for myself and appear on the show. For the first time I had a full-time writing job. I was on television writing for myself and doing my own jokes. It was great. I got to show off all of my skills, if you will.
Where were you when you got the news?
I had been on the show for about a year doing the roundtable and then Chelsea [Handler] wrote me an e-mail that said, “Can you come in and meet with Tom and me tomorrow?” Tom [Brunelle] was one of the executive producers and I knew what that meant. I thought, “That must be what it is.” I mean, I still spent basically all night trying to figure it out, but I didn’t want to ask her because I felt like she was trying to do the professional thing and offer me the position at the studio— not just over an e-mail like, “Hey, wanna come work?” She probably had to follow some sort of protocol. I think I was just at home when I got that e-mail because I remember my ex-boyfriend was with me and he said, “Obviously they’re going to offer you a writing job.”
What was the most important thing that you learned from your time on “Chelsea Lately?”
I learned how to write in someone else’s voice and stay true to mine. There were a lot of times that I had a joke and I’d think, “Chelsea would never say that.” So then it would go to someone else on the show. Then there were a couple of times when a joke would come out in the room and I’d think, “Oh, shoot. I wish I would’ve kept that for myself.” But you can’t do that. The first priority was to write for her, so you couldn’t do that.
When a comedian has a team of writers, how many of the jokes are written by the comedian versus the writers?
I think it was pretty 50-50— not every day 50-50, but 50-50 overall. You would watch this entire page of jokes that you wrote read and approved by Chelsea and then she would just go off on her own. Some days she would read every joke off of the page. She was so good at being… I’m talking about her like she’s dead… she is so good at being off the cuff. She never worried. If there was stuff that she wanted to say then she just came up with it on her own.
Do you get butterflies on stage when you’re doing stand-up?
I do, yeah. Every time I perform. I think that’s good because I feel like that’s part of what keeps you on your toes. Confidence is very good on stage, obviously, because you don’t want the audience to think that you’re about to fall apart at any moment, but you don’t want to seem like you don’t care at all. I don’t think that’s appealing to watch. So, I like a little bit of butterflies, always. I don’t like it to be debilitating. I’m not like vomiting before.
If you don’t get a laugh do you have a go-to recovery method?
No. If something isn’t going over well I kind of just abandon it and move on. You can read the room and sort of figure out, “Okay, this is up their alley.” It’s interesting because there does tend to be an overall feeling in a room. I can even watch the feature before me and go, “Oh, so they just want dick jokes. That’s all this is. They’re laughing at everything that’s dirty,” or, “They’re not laughing at anything dirty,” and then you make sure not to go into that.
How does performing at Zanies Comedy Club compare to performing at other venues?
This club has been here forever. Everyone has performed here— it’s legendary— so I think it’s amazing. The crowd knows they’re here for comedy. It’s a real comedian crowd. Sometimes you can go to places with people who are like, “What did I just wander into?” You can tell people are like, “Oh, I was just coming for chicken fingers.” You have to mix it up, too. Something that would go over well in Chicago may not go over as well in a small town in Iowa. You have to be aware of that.
Do you have a formula you follow for how to tell a funny story?
I don’t think there is one, but I learned a lot about that by recording my own sets. When I first started, I realized that I was very long-winded. I started voice recording my sets and thought, “Oh my God. Get to the fucking punch line. Why are you not saying a joke?” When you’re headlining and up there for close to an hour there’s room to expand. It’s okay for a little bit of silence in the room while you’re setting something up. You don’t have to be standing up there doing one-liners for an hour. If the audience is paying attention while you’re telling a story it’s okay to wait a few sentences for a punch line.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up?
Tons of times. I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t think I ever really would have, but there were times I thought, “What have I done? What have I decided to do?” All of a sudden you’re in your 30s thinking, “Do I just change my mind now, do something else and go back to school? I can’t.”
At what point did you start to make decent money?
When I got hired as a writer on “Chelsea Lately” in my early 30s. I think I was 32 or 31. That was a nice way to close the door on my 20s. I’m telling you, I had a breakdown when I turned 30. I thought, “I’m still bartending. This is awful.” I thought everything was supposed to just be done by the time you were 30. That’s a terrible way to think because it’s just not the case. It only gets better.
Chelsea has also said that life gets better with age. You obviously agree?
One hundred percent. I have zero desire to go back. I hated everything about my 20s— sounds awful to me. I enjoyed some parts of it, but there’s nothing that I would do differently. I don’t think, “Oh, I wish I could be 25 again.” It was terrible.
You’re also a New York Times bestselling author. With your most recent book, “Has Anyone Seen My Pants,” were there any stories you were hesitant about sharing?
Probably the “Get That Dick” story. That one I thought, “Is this a little too much?” I was a little skeptical of my mom reading it, you know? Then I decided, “It’s a story, it was funny and it happened.”
The story about the time you were in a rut and abusing things you didn’t even enjoy was funny.
Yeah, like smoking cigarettes and listening to country music? I don’t even smoke, so I was like, “What is my problem?” Clearly I’m in a funk if I’m having cigarettes.
Whose feedback on the book meant the most to you?
My fiancé. He read it before it was out when it was not quite edited. I was a little nervous for him to read it. It’s not like it’s all about sex and dating. There’s so much more to it, but obviously there are a couple of those stories in there. I was thinking, “I wonder how he’s going to feel reading that stuff.” He actually said the best thing. He said, “Everything that happened in the past is what ended up leading us together.” I’m pretty sure that’s straight out of a country song, but that’s what he said.
So you met your fiancé, Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan, while writing about some of your dating disasters?
It could have been a completely different ending.
Yeah. It definitely is different than how I was going to originally end the book. I don’t know exactly how I was going to end it, but I was still single when I got the book deal. I thought I would end it with a nice hopeful ending. And that was another thing. I was like, “I wonder if he’s going to be comfortable with me writing about us meeting and everything,” but he was. We weren’t engaged yet when I finished it. We had just started dating. A few people said, “I had to Google to make sure you were still with him [after I read the book].”
Does Jon make you laugh?
He’s really funny. I don’t think a lot of people expect him to be because he’s a professional athlete and plays for the NFL. People are taken aback by that on Twitter. A couple of times people didn’t realize he was making a joke and took him seriously— like him complaining about food on a plane or something. He makes me laugh a lot. He surprises me sometimes. I’m like, “God, I wasn’t expecting that out of you!” I love it.
Is there anything he gives you a hard time about?
He gives me a hard time about being super picky at restaurants. I never realized it before, and now I’m so aware of it. I think it’s just my many years of bartending and working in restaurants [that makes me critical]. I complain under my breath, not to the waiter, so he has to hear it. I think he jabs me the most about that. I appreciate it because now I try to be better. I don’t want to be the person that’s always complaining at a restaurant.
Did any friends or family give you any heat for getting engaged so quickly?
I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone’s given me a hard time because they can just tell. It just works. If you know, you know.
How do you make a relationship work with two people traveling so often for their careers? Do you think that helps because you both understand that lifestyle?
I think one of the problems I was having with meeting someone was finding someone who was comfortable with what I do and my schedule. If I met someone and I was gone all the time they would just take offense and think, “Oh, you’re not interested,” when I was literally never home. It does help that he understands it. During his season I’ll try to go up to Seattle more. In the off-season he can be with me.
And football was your least favorite sport? Are you a fan now?
It was. I am a fan now, and it’s more interesting now. The Seahawks’ fan base is really great and they have been really welcoming to me. Nobody’s giving me a hard time. Luckily, he isn’t a crazy football fan. When we’re sitting at home we’re not always watching football.
Did Gisele Bündchen ever get back to your tweets?
No, she ignored me. I was having so much fun tweeting at her. I thought it was so funny. Jon threw a touchdown pass against the Packers, so that’s what started it. I was like, “Hey girl. My fiancé throws touchdown passes, too, if you wanna hang out.” I knew she would never write me back. I was basically doing it to entertain myself. Someone wrote me a very serious message and said, “I don’t think she has a great sense of humor just so you know, so she may not respond to you.” I didn’t expect a response. I just wanted to have fun.
Who’s a comedian that you’re not already friends with that you’d like to hang out with?
Kevin Hart. I know him a little bit because he was a guest host on the show, but I just feel like he would constantly make me laugh. I don’t know if he even drinks.
Is the dream still to write and star in your own show?
Yeah. I feel like that’s the ideal place.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. I would also like to have a drink with Ellen because she would tell me stories. I feel like she has a lot of stories.
KIRSTEN MICCOLI PHOTOGRAPHY / A DRINK WITH AT ZANIES COMEDY CLUB
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