by Ryan Meehan
Michelle Biloon has twice appeared on the roundtable for E!’s “Chelsea Lately”. She has performed stand-up on CBS’s “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.” She appeared on an episode of Byron Allen’s “Comics Unleashed”, and also conducted backstage interviews for Comedy Central’s “The Gong Show with Dave Attell.” Biloon has performed standup on Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend,” Byron Allen’s “Comedy.tv” and NickMom’s “Mom’s Night Out.” Want to know more about Michelle? She loves Judge Judy, she lives in Philly, and she is fucking hilarious. Her mother has been quoted as saying, “I watched the tape of her before I left for bowling and I laughed so hard that I had to go redo my makeup.” That’s the truth jackasses, and she’s my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: You were recently in New Orleans, and one of the shows you got to do when you were down there was called “Stoned vs. Drunk vs. Sober”…What was the best part about that whole trip for you; and how many drinks did you have before you took the stage that evening?
MB: New Orleans was fantastic. I loved the people, the music, the food. I had never been to New Orleans in my almost 40 years of life and it really delivered. The comedy scene there is really terrific too. I met some amazing people. I definitely want to go back to do some shows. I can’t pinpoint the very best part of my trip because the whole trip was really pretty great.
Now on to the “Stoned vs. Drunk vs. Sober” show. I felt that I owed it to the integrity of the show to get pretty wasted. Beyond the point where I had control, but just before black out times. I’m not quite as a seasoned drunk as I used to be back in my heyday, but I can still manage. My drinking that night started out very respectably. I had a gin and tonic at the hotel bar, then I went walking to go get some food. I ended up going to this amazing restaurant Root (which honestly may have been my favorite part of the trip going back to the last question). The bartender was super cool and really an amazing cocktail magician. He just made up drinks for me one after the other. I ate some food too, because, of course. Then on my way out to catch my Uber to the venue, he and I did a shot. I think I had like six very spirit-forward cocktails there with him not including the shot. That gave me a pretty good buzz. Then, I get to the show and my tipsy self thinks it’s a good idea to get a shot of Patron. Then, I had a beer. Then, I was fucking obliterated. I don’t remember much of the show or the afterparty but I made it home safely. I was hungover for two days. Also, the show was a contest, but clearly the contest wasn’t based on how drunk or stoned people got while still being able to tell jokes because one of the sober people ended up winning. Come the fuck on.
RM: What’s the most recognizable difference you see in yourself with regards to the approach you take to comedy as opposed to the way you went after it ten years ago? Is the answer to that question based more off of adjustments you’ve made personally, or more due to the evolution of the environments in which you’ve performed during that time period?
MB: Well, I think everything up until like four or five years ago was more straight-up joke writing. I was very dependent on beats and punchlines and tags. That’s not to say I’m not now but I don’t think my jokes have that same classic joke rhythm as they had which is good. I am way more confident in myself as a comic and my ability to tell jokes that aren’t so clearly classic jokes but more so observations or stories. Not to say I don’t have funny beats and punchlines and tags in them too but they are more deftly worked into the material.
I think the adjustments I have made in this regards is me wanting to be as much myself on stage as possible. That involves a lot of risks. It helped a lot for me when we made the move to Philadelphia too, because in LA, you are almost always showcasing. You don’t want to use your seven-minute set in a show to try and work out material because maybe you only have two sets in a week and you want to make as good of an impression as possible. And people don’t do open mics in LA because nobody is there watching. The crowds are all comics going up in the open mic. It’s not a great place to work out material. I’ll go further in the answer to the next question.
RM: What’s the best part about life in Philadelphia for a working stand-up comic? Conversely, what’s the worst part about living there and why is that aspect of life in Philly so frustrating?
MB: I think, for me, one of the best parts of living in Philadelphia as a working stand-up comic are the opportunities to go up almost any night of the week in front of pretty good crowds. I hate the term “big fish” but it does apply. I do well at the open mics and local shows and I force myself to take advantage of that to work on new material. I have written more here in the last two years than probably the last five years before that. Not to mention that I’m an hour from New York on the train so I can do the big shows there at UCB and the like.
I think the worst part about living in Philly comedywise is also that it’s a smaller scene so I do have to travel a lot. I go to New York at least once a month and I go to LA every three or four months plus I’ve started to go out on the road a bit to feature/headline in clubs.
RM: You’ve done several panel shows, and that’s a format that has recently become more popular in the news and comedy genres…Why do you think fans of comedy have taken such a liking to that format; and do you think we’ll start to see an increased number of panel shows as comedy continues to evolve out from beyond being a club and theater art form?
MB: I love panel shows because you don’t have to prepare anything at all. And I think that I am way funnier off the cuff than my jokes are sometimes. My brain goes on auto-pilot and I just have fun. When I did Doug Loves Movies a couple months ago here in Philly, it was such a blast. It is so much fun sitting up there riffing with other funny people. I think that’s why comedy fans like the panel shows. They like seeing their favorite comics venture from their material and just be funny as themselves.
RM: Why did you decide to end “Walking with Michelle” after just ten episodes? Did you feel in any way that the podcast market had become a bit over-saturated by that point; or were there other reasons for you ending what was otherwise a great set of interviews?
MB: “Walking With Michelle” was so incredibly hard to produce. I wish I would have continued it because it was so popular and it started so early on in podcasting. I think maybe it would have helped my career a little. People still listen to those ten episodes too. And every once in a while people approach me and say that they are a fan. That’s really cool. But the end of the podcast had nothing to do with the podcast market being oversaturated even though now it certainly is. We used to go out and do things for like four or five hours and record the whole time and then painstakingly edit it down to an hourish of a podcast. And I had to have somebody else edit it for me because I can’t be a good judge of myself. After the last person didn’t want to do it anymore, I just stopped doing it. I actually have the raw footage of a day that Steve Agee and I spent together that was never edited into a podcast.
The good news is it’s going to start again. I found a person here in Philly who was a fan of the podcast and is going to help out with it. James Adomian and I spent an afternoon together when we were in New Orleans and, cross your fingers, hopefully, that gets edited into the first episode of the second series of “Walking With Michelle.” The next one I plan to record is with the very funny Aparna Nancherla in New York. I hope people are happy with its return. Knock on wood.
RM: What was the best part of getting to work with Dave Attell on The Gong Show? When you get the chance to work with somebody who has been in the comedy game that long, do you ever look for certain things they do naturally that you can pick up on and learn to apply to your own act even though you’re a seasoned veteran?
MB: I love Dave Attell. I love Dave Attell. I love Dave Attell. He is my number one favorite comic. I was lucky enough to meet him the first year I was doing standup and we’ve been friendly ever since. He asked for me specifically to do those Gong Show backstage interviews and it was such a great time. Too bad the show only lasted for that one season.
I just worked with Attell again here at Helium in Philly in September. I watched him be a genius for seven shows. He is a prolific joke writer. And he’s always tweaking. Watching him work is so inspiring. Inspiring is a dumb word, but it really fucking is inspiring. His jokes are funny. He’s funny around his jokes. He’s the best. I watch him and I want to be better. And he is so motivating. Like I said, I’ve known him since I’ve started and he doesn’t let me forget it. He’s so unbelievably supportive in the grumpy way he has. After every set, he’ll say something nice. He actually watches or listens. He cares that the comics he supports are doing well. Not all headliners are like that.
RM: I’ve noticed that a lot of comics seem to really be excited about working at the Knitting Factory in NYC…With so many other legendary comedy clubs in the New York area, why do you think that has been such a popular landing spot for comics who can’t be working at Caroline’s or The Stand every week? For those of us who have not had the chance to visit that venue, how would you summarize the environment there?
MB: I haven’t done a show at Knitting Factory since Hannibal Buress used to run a show there up until a couple years ago. I am trying to work out spots for their Sunday or Wednesday show though. It will happen probably early 2016. Along those lines, I love doing Night Train at Littlefield. That’s a great show in an alternative venue. For me, I don’t really have the option to work in the comedy clubs in New York. They want people who live in the city which I do not. I’d like to be getting spots at The Stand most definitely but so far that hasn’t worked out. Until then it’s UCB, the Creek and the Cave, etc for me. I can live with that. I think people like these alternative venues though not necessarily just because they aren’t clubs but because they’re booked differently. They are more comedian centric, not audience centric. The bookers are fans of comedy and usually very entrenched in the scene. You want to be in the shows, because you know you are part of that select group who gets the opportunity to be on the shows and you want those audiences because you know they are there for the very-curated comedy that comes out of that.
RM: How do you go about maintaining a healthy balance between family and career when success in comedy is largely based around the ability to travel and fill clubs all around the country? How lucky do you consider yourself to have a husband that’s so supportive of your aspirations in the funny business?
MB: It’s hard to maintain the balance between family and career. I really put the brakes on comedy the last few months of my pregnancy up until the first year and a half of my daughter’s life. It was so hard to be a mom for the day, and then to go out at night. When I got to Philly, my daughter started going to daycare which helped a lot. I was a little guilty about putting her in daycare and that motivated to me to start really focusing again on comedy. Now, she’s three and it’s just a fact of life to her that I’m a comedian. I still feel very torn about going out of town like I do but that really pushes me to work harder and make the most of things. Sometimes I stop and think, I’m leaving my daughter in another state so I can go tell jokes then hang out with people. That seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? It’s the best that my husband is so supportive. He’s amazing. It’s great. We talk about how great it is. That being said, I think sometimes people give him more credit though because he’s a man being supportive of his wife traveling to work as opposed to a wife whose husband is on the road for business again. People don’t go on and on about how supportive the wife is. So it’s great he’s supportive but we don’t need to knight him.
RM: Judging by your Twitter feed, you’ve been an avid follower of the debates which have taken place up until this point in the election cycle…What do you think the American public has really learned about the candidates a year out from the actual election; and do you typically do a lot of political material in your stand-up?
MB: I don’t do any political material in my standup. Sometimes maybe I’ll adlib references here and there but never really any jokes. I do follow it. I read the news every day. I have a very good curated news feed. I think I know what’s up. And I have opinions about it. It’s just not something that really inspires punchlines for me. When Wyatt Cenac got his job at the Daily Show, they were looking for writers and I was one of a handful of people he recommended so they asked me for a packet. I started working on it and it was so hard to put together that I had to ask myself, is this something I want to go through every day for my job? No, it wasn’t. So I never submitted a packet. It’s not something I regret. But I do think it’s important to really keep up on things and to have an opinion on it.
I don’t know what the American public has learned. I don’t know where people get their news. From Facebook? From Fox News? I think if you just read the headlines or the memes maybe you will only know a couple things about each candidate by this point but there certainly is plenty more to follow if you’re reading some good sources. The problem is sometimes people only want to think one thing about a candidate which is why Donald Trump has ridden such a wave of popularity. The right-wing propaganda machine has trained so many people that facts are bad that offering up somebody who runs on this aura of “not being politically correct,” they love it. It’s really sick but what can you do. Ben Carson? Come on. He’s straight up nuts. I don’t believe Trump and Carson are what the majority of Americans ultimately wants as their leader so I try not to let it bother me. But sometimes I catch some sort of crazy Facebook thread that a friend of mine is in with some rubes from their hometown and my brain explodes.
RM: You just celebrated your thirty-ninth birthday…Do you go about setting career goals for yourself in comedy based on specific periods of time, are you the type of person who generally just lets the chips fall where they may and continue to work on writing new material without any mental checkpoints which might prevent you from putting together the best set possible?
MB: I would say I let the chips fall where they may. I think in the beginning of your career, there are defined steps up the ladder. Get that first hosting gig, start featuring, headlining, get that first television spot, but then it just becomes arbitrary in a way. Right now, I’m just trying to work on my next hour of material to maybe record a special early 2017. I would like another television spot too, I guess. I need to make that tape. Sometimes I feel frustrated and I think about just quitting because, honestly, when I started doing standup in 2000, I never would have imagined I’d have accomplished what I have. I feel good about that. But I think I can do more. I have a hard time being focused sometimes. I don’t have as much hustle as others do. Hustle gets you far in this game.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
MB: Nothing huge for 2015 other than going to New York a few times for some fun shows. I’ll be there for the New York Comedy Festival in a couple weeks which should be great. I’ll be back in LA in 2016 in the beginning of the year for a couple weeks and I’m headlining The Velveeta Room in Austin the first weekend in February and The Comedy Corner Underground in Minneapolis the first weekend in March. Oh, also, I’m starting a monthly show here in Philly called “Northern Comedies” at Bardot Cafe in Northern Liberties. The shows will be the first Wednesdays of every month. The first show will be December 2nd, 9pm and we have a great lineup. Also, look for the return of “Walking With Michelle!”
Official Website: http://www.biloon.com/
Michelle on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages/Michelle-Biloon/8935282183
Michelle on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/biloon
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