Liz Glick Seeks Self in LA & NY
Liz Glick and I crossed paths recently at Yohei Kawamata’s open mic,Funny Cookies. Liz is a fresh comedian who hails from Los Angeles, and though her time in New York was brief, we had the chance to sit down and discuss NY vs. LA, improv vs. stand-up, and stage-character vs. stage-self.
For the past three years she has concentrated on improv and sketch — Liz is now venturing out alone into stand-up.
So, How did you get into comedy?
Welp, I’ve always written and I’ve always gotten a huge kick out of sharing a good laugh. I guess I got a clue about merging the two when I was about 19. I’d flunked out of college at the time, I had no idea what I was doing there. I’d started as a Journalism major, then switched to Criminal Justice because I was a diehard Law & Order: SVU fan.
At some point after the flunking out, I went to a “running charades” party at my friend Lindsay’s house. I got to talking with her Dad, Larry Shaw, a television producer and director, and he asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I didn’t really know, but that I knew I wanted to write. So we started a story development internship where I was to pitch him an idea every day for an original TV series.
That probably kept you pretty busy.
I had only just become acquainted with what it was like to stay up all night, obsessed with something I was writing or some bizarre idea I just had to flush out and understand. I pitched him so many ideas. Some were good, some sucked. But it gave me a purpose and some kind of direction. I got back into school and changed my major to TV and Film Production. The idea I completely fell in love with came when I started doing more research into what comedy actually was. There was an improv troupe at my school; I didn’t have the guts to audition to be a part of it. But I read The Funniest One in the Room, a biography on Del Close. After that, I was hooked on just the whole idea of improv and got really into figuring out what actually makes things funny and the effects humor has on people and why it just feels so good to get a laugh. It brought me out of my shell in a huge way. I found out what it felt like to be comfortable with myself and my sense of humor, I started making friends, I started my first blog, and did a voice development class and an acting class… that acting class was my first time really performing with/for people. It was a bunch of things that led to “I want to write and I’m good at it, oh and I can’t believe I can actually perform but it turns out I can and I like it. I think I can actually ’do‘comedy."
It was a combination of growing up and into myself, all that research, Tina Fey’s Bossypants (which was released in my last semester of college), and the urging of my mentor/voice development teacher, Lee Marshall, that led me to start improv classes at The Second City in Hollywood.
My plan when I graduated college was to move out to the city in Los Angeles, take a desk job in the entertainment industry and do Second City. The first thing I did was sign up for Improv 1. I did the three beginning levels, auditioned for conservatory, and went through the five levels of conservatory. The move and the job fell right into place shortly after starting at Second City, thanks to my friends the Thomopouli sisters. Looking back, it’s pretty unbelievable that it all started off so well. But it did and it was really neat. Deceptively neat…
It’s hard enough to hold down a job in its own right; how did your jobs mesh with your comedy schedule?
My first job was at a tech startup. It was my first job out of college; I began as an intern and eventually got hired as an assistant. I wasn’t great at the desk job thing. It was hard for me to remain purely administrative. I wanted so much to have a creative role and contribute my ideas as often as possible… I’d get frustrated a lot.
I went from the start up to reception-ing at a comedy management company. That was cool, but the problem was that I kept asking if I could leave early so I could make it to my improv shows on time, and that was just not gonna fly. So after that there were a bunch of other jobs: beach camp counselor, production assistant on a reality show… Then, a really nice guy named Craig Murray allowed me my first opportunity to have a creative role in a company. I began freelancing at an entertainment advertising agency called mOcean, where I got to have a hand in writing movie trailers, television promos, materials for print… I jumped around a lot over there: reception, social media management, copywriting… I learned a ton. I also figured out how to make a jellybean catapult out of pencils.
Then came some personal assisting jobs, house and dog sitting throughout. The works. I’m currently working in a flower shop here in New York — it’s at 93rd and Lexington. My boss is a riot.
And you were still doing improv with Second City between all these jobs?
Yeah, I was going through the conservatory in the thick of my copywriting job. Our final revue show was called Scent of an Old Woman, and then we graduated. My Second City friends and I started our own improv troupe called Brunch Casual; we’d perform at Improv Olympic West, some other places. It was small, it kept us all together which we knew was important. I also have a two-person group called Wine Night.
So where in all of this do you end up at an open-mic in New York City?
Trying stand up was next for me. I’d always wanted to try it and I needed the rush of being in a new, different place to get me going. So here I am and I really, really like it.
Has your experience with improv helped in stand-up at all so far?
Improv has helped me tremendously, in terms of stage presence. I’ve found that if I don’t start my sets out with something improvised, I get extremely nervous. But improv has also given me some habits that I’ll need to adjust for stand-up. I get scared writing things out and thinking about an order. It feels like a 5 car pile up in my mind. I just like being up there and feeling it out—like I’m talking to a friend. I mean, I had to memorize lines and such for our Second City sketches, but stand-up really is a different beast.
Did you know anyone out here that you could link up with?
Stand up-wise? No. I’ve met other comedians, such as yourself, through open mics, Manhattan Comedy School, and through jams atUCB East. Friend-wise, yes. Family-wise, yes. I’m staying with my friend Jalaina; we’ve known each other since we were 4 years old. I’m lucky to have people that could cab it down to the morgue here at a moment’s notice if I wind up dead in some Midtown ditch after a late mic.
What’s your relationship with the audience like?
It depends who’s in the audience. I like being with a room that doesn’t know me. When I don’t have good friends and family in the room, I tend to feel much more comfortable. The trouble is, my friends are incredibly supportive and make every effort to come to my shows. They’re just the worst. When people I know are there, I put this insane amount of pressure on myself to be as funny as they know me to be when it’s just us. When they’re not there and it’s just me and a roomful of strangers, we get to develop our own relationship. It’s the different levels of closeness that have an effect on me, for better or for worse.
When it comes to improv, it depends who I’m on stage with and the dynamic we share. I’m more comfortable when I’m up there with someone who knows how my mind works and vice versa. If we have similar sensibilities, I’m more comfortable. It gets scary when someone’s not up there with you, on the same page or working towards that. It’s gotta be free play and open time, like goofing around or an inside joke with your best friend. Otherwise one nerve leads to another and it becomes “we’re bombing, we’re bombing, oh, God, we’re bombing.” The moment you take yourself out of the scene wondering if it’s going well, it’s going to fall apart.
Any particular miserable memories of bombing that you care to share?
Nothing specific, but just generally when you think that you’re going really big with a voice or a character and it just does. not. hit. Confidence is the thing. If you’re not feeling good up there, it’s hard to do your 'thang.’ Keeping up my confidence when jokes aren’t hitting or if my timing’s off is really tough.
At least you have friendly support to get through that, I suppose.
Sure. But the people that I’m funniest around in real life never think I’m as funny at my shows. I don’t feel as funny either. It’s the nerves.
When I go to an open mic and tell no one, I do great. Sometimes I’ll even get the critique that I seem to be really comfortable up there, but more often than not, inside, it’s just daggers.
Do you have a sort of image of success in your mind? Are you striving to anything in particular? I know a lot of people just tend to enjoy the act of making comedy without a direction in mind.
I started all this with a writing partner. I love that dynamic. Ideally, I’d like to claw my way into a sitcom writing room. I think that would be “success” for me. I will never give up sketch writing—it’s way too fun and it helps with every other kind of writing. It’s my roots. Writing sketches is how I learned to write comedy. My blog, Tiny Rat’s Ass, is basically sketches in news form. That’s how I figure out the beats of a funny idea or scenario or joke. I use the same technique to figure out my stand up stuff.
Things like Twitter have really given a lot more people access to testing out ideas for writing new material; have you clung on to that at all?
I think it’s cool. I’m not much for Twitter; my community is more on Facebook and I like the way interaction works there. I like more than 140 characters. Comedy for me has always been a very intimate thing: it’s how I connect with people. I feel like it’s kind of how you know if you’re on the same page. If you share a laugh with someone, even just for like one moment, you kind of know that you’re seeing the same thing. And that feeling is really rare and it’s wonderful to share that with someone. But with Twitter I feel a distance. I really only use it for my blog.
What have you noticed about the differences between the New York scene versus the LA scene?
I don’t know if I’ve been here long enough to say. But in LA it’s very much a place where people come to be in the [entertainment] industry, be it on the talent or business side. In LA, it’s all the rage to be “in the know.” So with that, you have your comedy snobs. I’m impressed by all the knowledge, but I’m just not that in the know. I do watch the videos that “I just have to see!” but I think more than anything I enjoy being in the community and getting to know people in it, or not in it.
It’s fun to get people into it, like in a cult kinda way. It’s funny referring to this scene as a cult, because in all seriousness it is very culty. But I love that element about it. It’s probably the most non-threatening cult I could imagine. I mean, yeah, improv classes are expensive, but so is Scientology. I wouldn’t trade my Second City friends for the world, even if they are “in the know” comedy snobs.
What kind of people have kept you inspired enough to keep pushing through that scene regardless of those snobs?
My family, my friends. My friends’ families. My mentor, Lee Marshall. My Grandma Janet. I’m lucky to have some really incredible people in my life. I have a very strong support system and I’ve worked hard to build it and nurture it, I need these people. I have this one friend, Tory, who comes to practically every single one of my improv and sketch shows back in LA. She even agrees to be in my video sketches which is the coolest because she’s that genre of actress they refer to as a “triple-threat.” She’s so talented it’s silly. And super supportive. She’s actually here in New York right now as well, auditioning. I’ve been really vague about when I go to mics. I kind of try to fall off the grid en route, throughout and then until it’s over. But she came to one at Broadway Comedy Club—I got really nervous, lost all concept of my timing and I bombed. Not her fault. Again, I’m still getting used to this stuff.
I’ve mentioned in other interviews that being a female comic is a hard job but I feel like the community is growing more receptive to women. Do you think that’s the case, or do you still feel like they’re trying to make all female comics fit a certain “edgy/sexual” mold?
Sometime after my very first open mic, I was getting pizza with a girl friend who asked me “so what’s your character on stage going to be?” That confused me, I said, “well… myself?” She asked me what I normally wear when I do improv, and normally that’s some kind of knit, like a sweater, jeans or leggings, and boots or flats, that’s just how I feel comfortable. But she goes “Well, you have to decide. Natasha Leggero wears dresses, heels, gloves, stuff like that.” But that goes with her jokes, I suppose. I’d rather experiment with my own wardrobe and see what best suits whatever ends up happening up there.
Liz Glick regularly updates her satirical news blog, Tiny Rat’s Ass.
She even has a website.