by Ryan Meehan
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, April Richardson moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college (later than most people do). Growing up, she was always obsessed with comedy and was always, as the expression goes, the “class clown.” She never realized you could get paid for being obnoxious and disruptive until she moved to L.A. and got a job on E!’s hit show Chelsea Lately — Hollywood dreams, they do come true! Since Chelsea Lately ended, she has toured with Dana Gould and Chris Hardwick, and have appeared several times on Comedy Central’s hit show @midnight. She’s published her own photocopied zine since the age of 14, and has been a blogger since way back in 1997. April created and hosted the popular Go Bayside Podcast for nearly two years, and has seen Morrissey live in concert over a hundred times. She even made Lord of the Underworld Glenn Danzig laugh once, which was the deciding factor in qualifying April Richardson as my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: Who was the first comedic performer that absolutely blew you away and drew you into the world of stand-up comedy? What was so special about that performance that made you want to dig a little bit deeper into the art form as opposed to being just a casual fan?
AR: Bob Odenkirk. He remains my favorite of all time. As far back as I can remember, I was really into comedy; even as a very young child, I would stay up at my grandparents’ house and watch stuff on Nick at Nite that I didn’t even fully understand — Match Game, Laugh In, Hollywood Squares — but would still laugh at/be fascinated by. They had cable (my parents didn’t), and went to bed around 5pm, and I remember seeing Eddie Murphy’s Raw on HBO one night when I was like, 8 — I’m obviously not going to pretend that I understood it all, but I was absolutely riveted, and the jokes I did get blew me away, and I just loved everything about it: his confidence, his cadence, everything. And obviously when I was back home at my parents’ house, I’d watch Saturday Night Live every week without fail, even if I had to sneak out of bed to do so. But whenever I was at my grandparents’ house, I would usually watch two channels: MTV and Comedy Central (which I think was called the Comedy Channel then?). I loved Stand Up Stand Up, Short Attention Span Theater, you name it… and one night, when I was 12, I saw Bob Odenkirk on The A List, and he did his “Lincoln, Lincoln, I’ve been thinking…” bit, and FREAKED OUT. I laughed my ass off, obviously, but it was the first stand-up I saw that was weird, you know? I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, so most of the stuff I was seeing was dudes in blazers in front of brick walls talking about airplane food — and while that stuff can be really great, the first time I saw Bob was really upside my head, like, “Oh, you can get weird with this stuff!” And then after that I looked for him everywhere, found out he wrote on SNL, followed him to The Ben Stiller Show and then discovered Janeane Garofalo and David Cross, etc, and it just snowballed from there. But he was kind of the first person who really opened my eyes to the fact that you can be funny as shit without a “traditional” joke structure, if that makes sense.
RM: What was your first time on stage like? What was the first joke you told that really hit with the audience; and from that point forward what goals did you set for yourself as far as progressing through the steps of the comedy process?
AR: Honestly, my first time on stage was kind of too good — it went too well, in that it probably gave me too much confidence early on. But I think that’s kind of common? Like the first four or five times you do it, you rule at it and think your shit don’t stank, and then you inevitably bomb super hard that sixth time and contemplate jumping off a cliff. I truly don’t remember my very first joke — I’m on a plane now, or else I’d go find my first comedy notebook and I’d be able to tell you — but I do know it was an inside joke I had with my friend Millie that I was able to translate for the audience, so it wouldn’t just be a “you had to be there” thing, which is really what kept me from trying comedy for so long! I always thought I was only funny in a situational way, in that when people in school or at work would go, “You should be a comedian,” I’d think, “Well, you only say that because I was able to make fun of that thing that just happened in front of us right now,” not realizing the trick is to get that story to translate on stage, you know? So that’s kind of the biggest revelation for me personally and what I am always trying to do — figuring out how to turn the thing I said to make my friends laugh into a good bit. That’s probably the most common-sense thing in the world, like, “Duh April,” but I swear for the longest time I just thought it was impossible, like comedy had a formula, like, “A + B = joke,” that I would never be able to crack, until someone told me, “It’s just figuring out how to make an audience laugh at the same stuff you laugh at.”
RM: How did your friends and family react to the news that you were headed to L.A. to pursue a career in comedy? Was there anything that any of them might have been able to say that could have stopped you from doing so?
AR: Well, I actually moved to L.A. to get a job in publishing — I got a degree in journalism and moved out here because more magazines are published out here than in Atlanta, and I didn’t want to (read: couldn’t afford) to move to New York. I knew I wanted to SEE comedy often and be around it, but I wasn’t 100 percent on whether I’d start doing it, so I went to shows all the time while I worked at my day job as a copy editor. When I started stand-up, I didn’t tell friends or family until I was more than a year into it — I mean, I knew I wasn’t good and I knew I didn’t want anyone to come see me yet, so I just didn’t talk about it. Once I started getting on actual booked shows, then I started to tell people, but still not very often. But I always had a day job, and then a few years into comedy I got a job on a TV show, so I don’t think anyone would have tried to talk me out of it? Because I kept my day jobs, I was never like, destitute, so I don’t think my parents or anyone would have tried to talk me out of it, heh. No one really cared! When I told my mom I was doing stand-up she was just kind of like, “Okay, that’s nice.”
RM: Is @midnight as fun as it looks on television, or is it even more fun than the final product that comes through the TV screen? How would you best describe that whole experience to a comedian that has not had the opportunity to appear on that program?
AR: @midnight is the most fun TV show I have ever done, and I’ve been on like, THREE other TV shows, so I’m an expert. (Har.) For real, everyone who works there is super nice and awesome and encouraging, and they give you fancy cookies backstage, and although I’m biased because Chris is truly one of my dearest friends in the world, he really is just one of the coolest, kindest people, especially in comedy. The environment is just really chill and everyone wants you to crush — they just want the show to be funny, and anything to help that along, they are down with. I love the fact that a show that is just a delivery system for constant jokes is doing so well and that they feature so many different comedians who get to be 100 percent themselves on television; it’s great.
RM: How do you go about creating differentiation between yourself and other comics? Is that something that comes very natural to you, or has there ever been a time where you’ve felt you had to go out of your way to do so?
AR: Hmmm… It’s not really a conscious decision, it’s just… I mean, comedy is one profession where “be yourself” is hammered into your skull so much because it is the #1 thing that can benefit you. You’ve just got to have confidence in your own point of view. I do often feel insecure about certain parts of my comedy, like that I’m not “edgy” enough or something, but I have to come to terms with the fact that that’s just not me. I’m never gonna be Bill Hicks, you know? I grew up admiring a lot of hard-hitting, cynical dudes who told dark jokes, and sometimes still get tripped up by the fact that a lot of comics still think that’s the only type of comedy that’s “real,” but that’s just not me. I like stuff. I’m a goof. I’m often smiling. I don’t get mad a lot. I can’t pretend to brood just for comedic respect, you know? (“BOO HOO MY LIFE IS SO HARD BECAUSE I’M MOSTLY HAPPY.” Barf.)
RM: What are the details of the Glenn Danzig story? Was it a little bit relieving to discover someone who has that dark of a personality also has a sense of humor?
AR: Yes! When I saw him smile, I nearly fainted from surprise. This happened on my 31st birthday: My best friend Millie was in town from Atlanta, and as a gift, I asked her to give me a Danzig makeover, so she drew all his tattoos on my arms with sharpies, and I did a photoshoot where I posed just like him, and I put the photos side by side. (You can see it all go down here) So then the next day, we heard he was doing a signing at a comic book store that was right around the corner from my apartment, so I couldn’t not go! My ex-husband David (who was the first person to introduce me to the Misfits) came with me, and we walked up and I said, “Do you know what I did for my birthday yesterday? I got a makeover to look like you!” and I showed him the picture and HE LAUGHED! Honestly, that was probably the apex of my career in comedy; it’s all downhill from there.
RM: What is the most bizarre thing that has happened to you in all of your years doing stand-up comedy? In retrospect, do you think that if it you could respond to that event all over again you would have handled that situation in a different manner?
AR: I once did stand-up at a rockabilly fashion show. It was obviously pretty odd, but it ended up being fun. I’m also super into fashion and, due to being born with old-timey looking bone structure, I have a side hustle as a sometime pinup model — so I was modeling in this fashion show, walking the catwalk and everything, and in between the fashion portion and the burlesque show that was to be the headlining act, my friend (a wonderful photographer who, in all fairness, asked me to do stand-up at this show months before, but I had forgotten about that as I was preparing for the modeling part) said, “So can you go up and do about 15 minutes now?” There was no real stage — just the catwalk from earlier — and no microphone. I just jumped up there and kind of talked like I was leading a high school assembly or something, trying to project my voice to people in the back and trying to walk up and down the “stage” to utilize the space and so everyone could hear. At first I was trying to do a regular “club” set, I guess (I was only like, two years into stand-up at this point), until I realized I was still super dressed up and in full pinup makeup and these people had just seen me in the context of a model on a runway, so I think they were like, “Wait, why is this lady telling jokes now?” Also, real talk: They knew I was the only thing standing in the way of them and the boobs they were minutes away from seeing, so I’m sure they were impatient for the burlesque to kick off. So I kind of ditched my regular “act” (if it’s even possible to have one only two years in), and realized that a lot of rockabilly people I know also like Morrissey, so since there’s some overlap there, I started telling stories about following him on the road and some crazy stuff that had happened to me at shows, and that loosened the crowd up enough for me to power through it, heh. It ended up being fine, and also pretty invigorating for a beginner — it was my first real test of turning an uninterested crowd over to my side, and served as a small bit of “Oh, I can really do this!” validation. I’m not sure I’d do anything differently now! Does that sound cocky? It ended up being weirdly fun. I’m doing stand-up at a Suicide Girls burlesque show at Comic Con in July, so we’ll see if I can apply what I’ve learned to that situation, ha!
RM: If you were a superhero and one of your powers gave you the ability to change one thing about the industry of stand-up comedy, what would you change and why?
AR: Ha! Uh, no pressure! I mean, I’d have to say I’d want to make it more welcoming for women, I guess? Which is a thing I could say about any industry/vocation, really. It can just get really bro-y, man. Even for someone like me, with pretty thick skin, it can be a real drag to do certain rooms or open mics where you know you’ll have to hear a hundred “You know when you fuck a stripper and her pussy stank?” jokes, even in 2015. Or the amount of sexually explicit tweets and emails I get after appearing on a TV show — it’s just like, really dudes? I was telling jokes. When men tell jokes, it’s not an invite for sex, but often when women do, it’s considered as such — like if I make a joke about not having been on a date in a while, I’ll get dudes going, “Yeah right, you’re just looking for pity!” or “I’ll fuck you,” which never ever happens to dude comics. Just laugh (or don’t laugh?) at my stuff like you would for anyone else! (This is a rambling answer. Sorry.)
RM: On a scale of one to ten with one being “not at all important” and ten being “extremely important”, how would you rate the importance of non-verbal communication with regards to your act?
AR: Are you asking if I make goofy faces? I’d say uh, a 2? I guess I sometimes do? But overall, I rely on words — too much. I’m too wordy and chatty. I’m always working on cutting the fat from my jokes/stories. But I ham it up sometimes? Sure!
RM: Which aspect of the writing process do you tend to struggle with the most and why? Conversely, which portion of joke construction would you say is your specialty; and why do you think that you excel at that particular facet of your craft?
AR: Well, definitely word economy — I get too chatty and long-winded. Also, when it comes to pure or “traditional” (again, whatever that means) joke construction, I’m not really that great! I’m envious of comics who can sit and write jokes in a very disciplined way, like, “Look at that chair — write 15 funny things about that chair,” or whatever. I truly wish I could do that. Almost everything I say on stage is stuff that I did or that really happened to me or was said to me, so recently when I was going through a tough break-up and basically didn’t leave my apartment for a month or two due to sadness, I didn’t have a single new thing to say on stage for the next show I had, because I hadn’t been out experiencing life and interacting with people and saying crazy things to people or having crazy things said to me. But I guess my strength is probably looking at things a little differently than most people? I only say this because almost all my friends (and boyfriends at the time) go, “What are you talking about?!” when I’ve said something out loud to them completely earnestly that I thought was normal, heh. My friend Howard Kremer probably points this out to me more than anyone — we used to have weekly pizza lunches on Sundays, and we’d be talking about something, and I’d genuinely ask a question or make an observation about the topic, and he’d laugh and go, “Are you serious?! That’s probably a distant tenth on a list of questions I’d ask about that. You’re so weird.”
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
AR: I am on tour with Chris Hardwick and we are having the best time! Go to FuncomfortableTour.com to get tickets! I am also headlining a festival in Austin over Labor Day weekend, so look out for that! I will also be following Morrissey around the country in July, so come find me in the front row! I’m currently filming a TruTV show called How to Be a Grown Up that should air in the not-too-distant future! Also I hope to be on @midnight again soon!
Official Website: http://aprilrichardson.squarespace.com/
April on Facebook: http://facebook.com/aprilrichardson.comedy
April on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apey
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