By Ryan Meehan
Eliza Skinner is originally from Richmond, VA and started her performing career as an unnamed child revolutionary in a production of Evita. She is now a stand-up comedian and has appeared on The Pete Holmes Show, @Midnight, Chelsea Lately, Upload with Shaquille O’Neal, MTV, Showtime, AMC and the BBC. She has performed in festivals all over the world including RiotLA, SXSW, Bridgetown, the NY Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. In his Reddit AMA, Patton Oswalt called her one of his favorite up-and-coming comedians. Last fall, Eliza was a writer and correspondent on Totally Biased (produced by Chris Rock), and she is currently a staff writer for Funny Or Die and a regular performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York and LA. She was just selected to be one of the “New Faces Of Comedy” at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival. She can be seen every Thursday at The Virgil in LA at “Big Money” – the stand-up show she hosts with Baron Vaughn and Byran Cook. We are delighted to have her as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: When was the first time you gave a performance where you “stole the show”? What was it about the response that you were able to get from the crowd that made you want to continue on and pursue a career in entertainment?
ES: When I was in middle school, my girl scout troop put on a puppet show for a younger troop. I was playing Baba Yaga, the Eastern European witch who lives in a house with chicken feet – it was a great part. I had made the puppet myself, which is probably why halfway through the show her long witchy nose snapped off. I started riffing to cover it – I think it was a rant about low-cost plastic surgery – some really choice middle school material. The kids liked it a lot, but the other girls in my troop LOST THEIR MINDS. One girl straight-up wet her pants. The power in generating that kind of laughter was dizzying. There was no going back for me after that. I’m still generally more interested in making my friends laugh – the idea is just to make the audience your friends also.
RM: What is the most important thing that you’ve been able to take away from your training and performances at the Upright Citizens Brigade? Who were some of the other comics that you worked with on your way to being able to do your own show “Shameless”?
ES: Be undeniable. There is a lot of support in a community like the UCB, but there is also a lot of competition. Tons of people want to be on that stage. The only reliable way to rise to the top is to work very, very hard. When I didn’t get the response I wanted to something I created, it frustrated me – but it also pushed me to make it better. A lot of people would try once or twice, and then tap out when they got rejected. The people who took the notes – who tried again and again – they were the ones who rose to the top. It’s hard to name check anyone without feeling like you’re leaving people out, but I never would have gotten that show on stage without my director, Greg Burke (of the sketch group Greg & Lou). Aziz Ansari and I shared a timeslot at one point – I wonder how things are going for him now? Seemed like a talented dude.
RM: You were involved with “Totally Biased with Kamau Bell”, which was sadly cancelled last November. What was the biggest difference between writing for a stand-up set and writing for a show that discusses political topics and recent events?
ES: I’d say the biggest difference is that a stand-up set is a conversation between you and the people in the room, and a TV show plays in thousands of rooms you have no influence over, and it lives forever. That is why comics are so cagey about being taped at shows – if I’m working on jokes in front of 50 people, those are the people I’m talking to. It’s not ready for everyone in the world to hear. If I’m writing for TV, I am shaping things with an understanding that those little words will have to march out on their own and be able to defend themselves.
Of course the content is different, too. I don’t really address politics in my stand-up – it’s more personal. But I try to bring my point of view and personality to my topical writing also. If issues are important to me, they are important in a personal way – I think telling people why is the best way for them to relate to a different point of view. Human to human.
RM: How did the experience of doing Just For Laughs in Montreal compare to what your expectations were going into that festival? What was the best part about that trip for you?
ES: The best part of Just For Laughs was doing it with my friends. Everyone in new faces was either someone I have loved for years, or someone I got to become friends with over that week. The crowds were great and I had good sets but it was still a little scary given the added pressure of a BIG INDUSTRY EVENT BLAH BLAH. Walking back into the green room to a bunch of my favorite pals made it all feel fun. Also, there was karaoke. That was pretty great.
RM: When it comes to the creation of ideas for film or visual art, do you think in terms of how your pieces will be viewed via modern technology such as YouTube more or less than your counterparts in the entertainment industry?
ES: To a degree. I definitely focus on keeping things brief and getting to the funny quickly. If my audience is watching a film in a movie theater, they are stuck there. If they are watching it on Youtube it better get funny fast, because right next to it there is a link to an Otter Doing Something So Adorable You Won’t Believe It! I also think people really like watching someone online talk directly to them, at about the distance you’d be comfortable having a conversation. That’s getting less important though. There are certainly ways to insure clicks, but I hate them. When I write a video that gets a million views without a celebrity or tits in the thumbnail, that is way, way more satisfying to me. I got the clicks on comedy alone.
RM: What do we need to know about “Big Money”? How is this show different from some of the other weekly comedy showcases in Los Angeles or New York City?
ES: “Big Money” is hosted by me and Bryan Cook – he’s a total crabapple, and one of my best friends – so right there you’ve got two comics I’d highly recommend on every show. Our show is very laid back, so comics feel comfortable trying out new stuff there. I think it’s exciting to see comics shaping new material, and it lets you get to know them a little differently.
RM: Back in May of 2013, you posted a status update on Facebook stating that you were “exhausted with misogyny in comedy”. From what I gathered, your suggestion to address this type of issue was to “stop playing in the dirt with these dudes” – essentially saying that you shouldn’t feed the trolls and instead focus on the great female comics who are killing it every night in the clubs. A year and a half later, do you think the way that the comedy community has responded to such misogyny is improving; or do you still see that at times it’s struggling to act in the manner that you suggested?
ES: I think our who culture is experiencing specific explosions of misogyny – Gamergate, for instance is raging as I type this – that are the death throes of the patriarchy. Everyone wants to be a good person, but our definition of what that means is changing. Most men want equality for women in a theoretical sense, but when they are asked to personally change their behavior, they don’t like it. Nor does anyone – white people, rich people, straight people – everyone with privilege has a hard time with it being challenged initially. I think male comics are more invested than anyone in male comics not being seen as misogynists. That’s why they keep defending each other and getting upset – but it’s also why a lot of them are changing their thinking and behavior. They don’t want to be seen as a bunch of goons. They’re not. So now, female comics usually don’t even have to respond to the jerks – male comics are doing it for us. It’s not about speaking for us, or white knighting, it’s about saying “hey, you’re making us look bad, idiots. This is not the type of community we want to be in either.”
RM: You seem to be an avid Twitter user….How would you rate your skill set when tweeting on a scale of one to ten; where ten represents the tweets of the best comics in the industry, and one represents a kid in an Insane Clown Posse shirt drooling onto a smartphone that his parents bought him?
ES: Haha, it depends on the day. I have 9-10 days now and then, but I also have a lot of 2-3 days when I’m just promoting shows and tweeting about farts. Wait, never mind – the fart tweets are actually the good ones.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
ES: I’m touring a bunch – San Francisco, Austin, NYC. I’m also writing a lot, and working on some new shows with some very talented weirdos. Plus I just got a guitar – like, it literally just came to my door. So who even knows.
Official Website: http://elizaskinner.com
Eliza on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eliza-Skinner/123119781078312
Eliza on Twitter: https://twitter.com/elizaskinner
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.