by Ryan Meehan
Sarah Tiana has been a “working” comedian/ex-waitress in Los Angeles since 2003. Originally from Calhoun, GA, Sarah’s act emphasizes the thrills of growing up after “The War Of Northern Aggression” and trying to survive in the current battle of the sexes. She doesn’t call herself “single,” (she’s too old for that), she prefers to be called “sexually active.” Sarah’s big break came after she was recognized for her “breakout performance” as Carmen in four episodes of Reno 911!’s 7th season. In 2005 she helped create a sketch comedy company called The Strait Jacket Society as a way to help young actors in Hollywood accelerate their stage time and gain exposure while still having fun (she has currently put over 500 actors through the program). A downright ‘Merican, Sarah has done over 10 tours of comedy for the troops including Germany, Singapore, Afghanistan, Guam, Okinawa, and several Wounded Warrior Facilities. A trip to Iraq at the beginning of the war is highlighted in the documentary film, “We Love You Mrs. Bevins.” Sarah recently wrote and starred in “The Burn” with Jeffrey Ross for 2 seasons on Comedy Central. She is currently a correspondent on “The Soup Investigates” and a regular on the “Chelsea Lately” roundtable. An avid sports fan, Sarah wrote for the ESPY awards and the Rob Riggle NFL segments on Fox. She can also be seen at The World Famous Comedy Store, Twitter, and numerous unhealthy relationships in and around Los Angeles. She will never be seen in the three pilots she taped last year or be caught dead in the dress she wore on Craig Ferguson (it no longer fits) but she is still my guest today in 7 questions.
RM: Calhoun, Georgia doesn’t exactly seem like a hotbed for stand-up comedy…What did you see early on in your life that made you so interested in making people laugh? Can you recall the first time that you got up in front of a group of people with the intention of entertaining them?
ST: I never thought I would be a comedienne. I was always told I was NOT funny, but looking back I realize I was always being sarcastic and people were telling me that in jest…”that’s not funny Sarah!” I was raised in the South but I wasn’t born there so I never really fit in to one group which made me an outsider/observer. Ultimately that made me a good comic. I always say I get paid to notice things that most people don’t notice. That’s what being a comic is all about. Most people see a guy walking down the street with tattoos on his face, a mohawk and crazy piercings…I’ll notice that he’s wearing Sketchers.
The first time I was ever on stage was at age 5 in a church play. I was the only kid that was over dramatic and energetic. I got so many compliments when I got off stage that I never wanted that to end. Being a comic is like being a bride at a wedding, I’m the center of attention every time I get on stage. What girl doesn’t want that?
RM: What exactly was “White Trash Noir” and how did you come to be involved with that project?
ST: Haha! My friend Danielle Vasinova asked me to play a small part in that movie, I think because I’m from the South. I played the wife of a guy and I think I was on set for a total of 3 hours. Longest relationship I’ve ever been in.
RM: Who is your favorite NFL team, and what’s your prediction for that franchise in 2014? Do you think that by 2025 there will be pro football in Los Angeles? Taking yourself out of that situation as someone who would benefit from it, do you think that having an NFL team in LA would be good for the league?
ST: I love sports questions! I’m a die-hard Falcons fan. I’ve always loved sports but the longer I live in LA the more I get into them. I go to games by myself a lot. I realized that I like sports so much because it’s the only thing in my life that is fair. It’s sad to say, but the entertainment business isn’t always based on merit, so football and other sports really resonate with me. I think the Falcons will have a decent year. I always expect my teams to win every game (very disappointed in the 39 losses the Braves currently have), but I realize the Falcons are still in a transition. We have to build up our O Line and now that Tony Gonzalez is gone we are going to feel a real void in our TE department.
I think there should 1000% be a football team in Los Angeles. I actually think it would be great for us to have 2 different football teams. LA loves competition and rivalries…we also like going out and being seen at sporting events. I mean, if I get on the big screen that counts as a TV credit, right? But more importantly, I think introducing new teams is always exciting for the league…especially when there is a fan base around it. I also think it opens more spots for all the incredible athletes out there who barely miss the cut every year. Imagine if there were 100 new open positions out there? Work is work. That’s an idea that resonates in any field or language.
RM: Is “The Strait Jacket Society” an entity that is still active? What inspired you to want to put that company together in the first place?
ST: Yes! SJS has been in operation for over 9 years now. We saved up our money for 6 years, so 3 years ago we got our very own theater. That was a big accomplishment. The company was formed after another sketch company that I was in disbanded. There were 6 of us that headed up the charge to form a new alliance and I was one of them. When I first got to LA I came here as an actor. Whenever I told anyone that I was an actor their first question was always “Where can I see you perform?” If I didn’t have an answer I felt like a failure. That’s what SJS does, we give actors a place to create and perform. Most sketch companies in LA charge twice as much as we do and you only get to perform in one show. We give you 8 straight weeks of performance. I teach the writing seminar at the first of every run for all the new recruits. I think writing and creating for yourself in LA is an invaluable lesson. This town doesn’t welcome you with open arms, you have to show up with a plan and knock down the door.
RM: How do you think that live stand-up comedy has managed to succeed to the level it has, given the success of YouTube and other sites like FunnyOrDie where people can stream it from their living room? Is it something more than just the experience of being there and/or crowd interaction that has allowed the art form to subsist?
ST: Regardless of what people can watch at home, humans will always need to get out of the house and socialize. That’s why we watch movies at home but still get excited to go to the theater. Also, laughter is contagious and being in a room where the energy is infectious is really exciting. I think stand-up comedy succeeds not only because it taps into people’s emotions but also because it is the last form of free speech. People can plan and edit what they put up on the internet, but there’s no backspace button when you’re on stage in front of a live audience. I think there’s also a sense of envy from an audience that comes to a live show. A lot of people think they are funny but don’t have the guts to try to get on stage. That’s where hecklers come from…the firey hell of envy and self-loathing.
RM: Speaking of crowd interaction, what’s the strangest thing that you’ve ever had happen to you on stage at a comedy club? Do you think that club owners need to do more as far as controlling unruly patrons?
ST: I had a fight break out among black kids and white kids at a college I did in Pennsylvania once. I did a joke about having a day care in my high school (which was true). In the joke I say, “It was always the white girls that got pregnant, it was never the black girls or the Mexican girls…because they weren’t allowed in our school” (that part wasn’t true). Ironically the white kids were offended and the black kids wanted me to keep telling jokes. This happens a lot. Not an actual fight, but white people tend to get uncomfortable if another white person is talking about race. I hate when people tell me I do “racist” jokes. They aren’t racist…they are racial. And as soon as I see that the audience is uncomfortable I tell 10 more. If they aren’t uncomfortable I’ll probably move on. It really bugs me when people get “offended”. You’re not really offended, you’re just worried someone is going to think that you’re NOT offended…and that’s offensive. Because what you are saying is, “If I laugh at this joke and someone of another race confronts me about laughing at this, then I don’t know what I will say or how I will defend myself.” And why don’t you know how to defend yourself? Because you don’t know ANYTHING about other people/races. So I’m going to expose your discomfort and hopefully you’ll grab a fucking book or shake the hand of someone who doesn’t look like you. Stop getting offended people, it’s a waste of time.
RM: What was the most important thing that you learned working with Jeff Ross on “The Burn”? Who were some of the other writers on that show that you connected with; and what was the best part of that whole experience?
ST: That was an intimidating room. A lot of Emmy award winners and guys who have been in the business for many years. It was my first real writing job. What I always do in that situation is sit next to someone I look up to so I can privately run things by them. I also ask a lot of questions, it’s my best/worst quality. I learned how to edit my jokes down and get to the point from those guys. I’m used to being the only woman in the room, that was nothing new, but I wasn’t used to being asked my opinion because I’m a woman. That was new to me. I learned just how powerful I could be and I really challenged myself to think outside the box when it came to roasting women or women’s issues. For instance, while we were working on the show the military approved female soldiers to fight on the front lines. We decided to tackle the topic but I made sure I attacked it from the point of view of the female soldier, as in the perks of women being on the front line. I knew there would be a lot of “We don’t know why she’s bleeding” jokes, and I wanted to make sure I took a different approach. I wrote jokes that were like, “Well the benefit is there will be a lot less accidents because women don’t feel the need to speed up when they see another tank that looks just like theirs.”
RM: You’ve been a panelist on “Chelsea Lately” eleven times…What do you think it is about the panel format that seems to be so successful on cable television these days?
ST: I think a panel is successful because it is a variety of opinions. Plus it’s more jokes crammed into a half hour, and audience gets to see more than one comedienne at a time. This is America, we want more of everything. And I’ve been on Chelsea 12 times now. Glad we cleared that up.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
ST: I’m going to Edinburgh, Scotland for the Fringe festival in August. I’m so excited about that. I have a lot of irons in the fire, (web series, cooking show, 2 sitcoms, 2 movies, tinder dates…) but nothing need ironing right now apparently. Hopefully that means I’ll be doing a lot more stand up. No one will complain about that…except white people.
Official Website: http://sarahtiana.com/
Sarah on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarahtiana
Sarah on IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2276345/?ref_=nmmd_md_nm
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