Everyone can use a little laughter in their life. For a select few spreading that much needed laughter is a calling. Such is the case with Sarah Tiana. Originally hailing from a small town in Georgia, destiny would lead this sassy southern belle to the mean streets of Los Angeles. It was there that she discovered her true calling as a standup comic. Although she is not yet a household name, her perfect blend of southern charm, razor sharp wit and dedication to her craft ensure that she soon will be! As one of the hardest working comics on the scene, she continues to win over crowds night after night as well as the respect of her fellow comics. As her career continues to gain momentum and doors continue to open revealing even more exciting opportunities — there is no doubt that 2012 will be her most exciting year to date! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Sarah Tiana to discuss her comedic roots, the challenges of being a standup comic, performing for our troops around the globe, her upcoming projects and what the future holds for this comedic dynamo!
I want to give everyone a little background on you. First of all, where’d you grow up?
I grew up in Calhoun, Georgia. We have a Nike outlet. You might have heard of us. [laughs] Calhoun is about an hour above Atlanta. A lot of people don’t know that there are towns outside of Atlanta but there are!
What initially drew you to comedy and why did you take a chance on doing that professionally?
I moved to Los Angeles to be an actress after college. I had been out here for two years and I couldn’t catch a cold! I was DJing weddings and Bar Mitzvahs at the time to try and make money. This guy I was DJing with kept saying, “You are so funny! You have to do standup!” I didn’t even know what it was! I mean, I had seen it before but I didn’t really understand how people got into it. I had only really seen it once live and it was Mitch Hedberg. He had given me tickets to his show one time when he was playing in Atlanta. I had interviewed him when I worked on radio in Atlanta. No one had ever told me that I was funny and I didn’t know how any of it worked but my friend kept on me and wouldn’t give up. I was watching the news a few weeks later and they had a story about a guy who had shot himself with a nail gun and didn’t feel it. I wrote this joke about how I wouldn’t be able to feel three and a half inches if I got nailed either, so what was the big deal! It was the first joke I had ever written and low and behold, I became a comic! [laughs] I was getting laughs on the first joke I ever wrote so I always had a joke at open mics, so I would write a lot more. It was a hobby that worked out and became something bigger. I just never quit doing it. I think not understanding how it worked actually helped me a little bit. Growing up, I never really watched standup, so I didn’t compare myself to anybody and I just worked from the things I thought were funny and the stories from my life and it ended up working out!
Getting into it a little later, were there any comics you then looked to for inspiration?
Mitch Hedberg was the first comic I ever saw live and I became a fan of his after that. When I started my own standup adventures, I definitely listened to a lot of his CDs. I listened to Jerry Seinfeld a lot. For me, doing standup was a hobby for six months. I was at a point where I was giving up on LA and I was going to move back home to The South. I literally packed all of my bags, told my parents I was coming back and was just about out of there. I took a break from packing and I went to see a movie. The movie I wanted to see wasn’t playing but “Comedian” by Jerry Seinfeld was, so I went to see that instead. Everyone in the theater was laughing and I was crying! [laughs] I was like, “OK, I have to do this forever or I am going to be miserable! I can’t give up!” From there, I literally went home and unpacked my bags. I took it as a sign, ya know? People were already telling me that I was funny and I was determined to work really, really hard. That is exactly what I did! I didn’t know that it would lead to anything. To me, it was a creative outlet to perform. I thought Roseanne Barr started doing standup after her TV show. [laughs] I didn’t realize that her standup was what lead into the creation of her TV show. Clearly I had to learn a lot of things but I went into it with the best of intentions which was, “I am funny, I enjoy being on stage and I love making people laugh!” I didn’t expect to make money at it, I never even thought about it like that, so I guess that is why it all worked out!
I am sure it is different for everyone but what are some of the challenges to performing standup comedy for you?
I think there are many challenges. One is letting people relax about the fact that I am a woman because we all know the stereotype. I think the biggest challenge is to set up who you are and where you are from in an adequate amount of time, so they can hear the things you really want to talk about. I think it is so important for people to understand your point of view when you are discussing issues and topics. I really have to talk about being from The South before I get into my opinions on things, so they know where I am coming from. That is really hard to do in 15 minutes or 10 minutes and sometimes, you only get seven minutes! That is so difficult and it gets more challenging as you create more material! Laying it down in a quick efficient manner, so that you can get into who you are and what you want to be, is the biggest challenge for me!
What can you tell us about your writing process?
Everyone is different but an idea will come to me as I am living life. I try to live life because I think it’s a big thing that many standups don’t do. They might sit down and read the paper and just write. For me, to be a storyteller up on stage, there would be so many things that I wouldn’t see if I wasn’t out there in the world enjoying it! I try to go up each time and have as much fun as possible. I work things out on stage, when I am really vulnerable. It forces me to think on my feet and to open up the joke and not just be tied to the words, ya know? I feel that, as a comic, you don’t always live in the moment all of the time and that moment is where the comedy is. There is no such thing as a bad crowd or a bad audience. There are crowds that are tired or that have been through a marathon of comedy or are drunk. I always feel like I can win anybody over or I should be able to because that is my job! My job is to read a crowd and see what they are really laughing at and what they aren’t laughing at. I always know where I am going to start and where I am going to end but the crowd decides where I am going to go in between. It is their show! They are the ones that bought the tickets to my show. Yes, I am talking about the things I want to talk about, and that is my reward, but the crowd is who I am there for. I want them to buy a ticket again!
Speaking of being in the moment, how has social media impacted someone like yourself?
I think there are some people who are better at social media than others! I think it has both positive and negative effects. For example, you can break somebody too early. For a comic to be in the limelight before their time, before they are ready, is always really dangerous. The is no way for a comic to not know when they are ready because we always think we are ready! [laughs] Actually, me, I never think I am ready! I definitely see a lot of comics who think they are ready before they are. Some people are really good at writing jokes on paper or on Twitter or Facebook but they might not always be best at performing them and vice versa! Some people are way better performers but they don’t have a social media presence because that’s not their goal. My friend Angelo Bowers was a genius, he got killed in a car accident in January. No one knows how he is because he never had a Facebook or Twitter presence — he just wanted to be a comic. He was a genius! He didn’t have videos of himself or anything. It is sad when the world doesn’t get to meet someone as awesome as Angelo but it is also great that he was never exploited in that way.
That is an interesting perspective. That leads to my next question. As a comedian, how do you view the state of the comedy scene these days? It seems like there is a revival of sorts going on.
I definitely think it is in a different place than it used to be. I think over these past few years, we went through this whole alternative comedy phase where it was really bizarre and alternative comedy doesn’t always translate on the television, so people were like, “What the fuck is this?” [laughs] To be honest, standup comedy is the last form of free speech and that is what many people are noticing. We live in this world where we don’t talk anymore and we don’t communicate. We are on cellphones, Facebook or Twitter and no one is really communicating. To go and hear somebody live with opinions and laughter that you can reach out and touch and are attuned to for hours at a time — that is a really incredible statement. I think people are yearning for that type of creative outlet, where they are in a room with someone telling jokes. In that setting they can’t fast forward and they are listening to opinions that are not their own. It’s like literally watching CNN, Fox News, Comedy Central, CMT and every other television network at once when you see a comedy show because everyone comes from a different place. I am talking about seeing a comedy show with 10 comics. Obviously, if you go into see Patton Oswalt, you are going to see Patton and his opener. They are going to be totally different but in a way they are going to be similar, ya know? Patton isn’t going to have someone open for him who is a Jesus freak or something! [laughs] Because he doesn’t want to be in the green room with him. [laughs] I don’t know, I am just saying you are going to see something similar. I think comedy clubs are more crowded these days because people need a laugh. Everyone feels like the world is ending, they don’t have a say in politics, that their votes don’t count, our money is drying up or we don’t have the answers to anything Everything seems really confusing and the world is fighting. I think being able to laugh and understand and appreciate that someone has an opinion is really refreshing. It’s like you not being fed garbage, you are just being fed an opinion in a funny way and you can take it or leave it!
You already have a comedy album out, which people can get via your website or iTunes. Where are you in regards to new material and possibly another album?
I am working on a whole new half hour. It is called “I’m A Gentleman.” It is about my dating life. Dating in Los Angeles has been a really tough thing for me in the past two-and-a-half years. I have been talking a lot about men and I am not mad at them, I love them. I am really trying to help men get laid more often! [laughs] I feel like some men are really a mess! [laughs] It is a detailed thing about my deal breakers like don’t wear Sketchers, don’t have a roommate in your 30s and I try to make it all really funny. I also talk to women about what they shouldn’t do. I think there is a revolution of women. especially in their 30s, from what I can see. I will go to bars by myself to get a drink. I feel there is this whole state of independence with women that is totally different, it is almost like we are swapping lives. I mean, I drink black coffee, I love sports, I have two fantasy teams and I go to baseball games by myself. I’m not a lesbian, I just enjoy being alone! [laughs] I think we are getting past that feeling as women where we have to be married and raise babies in order to feel we are productive or we are lovable. I feel like there is this whole revolution going on out there where men are becoming less and less like men and women are becoming more independent and breadwinners, so that is what my new CD is about — this shift in the world. I plan on doing that and I plan on doing a half hour just for the soldiers and the military.
That is great. I know you have been very involved with performing for the troops. What has that experience been like for you?
It has been fantastic! I am actually going out next month as well! I am going to Djibouti, Africa, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. That will be my 10th tour! I got into it just because I grew up in a small town and I am a pretty liberal person. I don’t consider myself a Democrat or a Republican. I consider myself and I make decisions based on what I want to do, not based on a mascot. I grew up in a town where it was, “Do you want to be a factory floor manager or a hero?” I find that to be a really unfair decision, so I just wanted to go out there and see the people I grew up with and make them laugh. That’s what I do! The shows are fun but the real experience of going and talking to the soldiers and Marines and see how they are feeling and what their experiences are like has been amazing. I feel like I have so many questions about the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan and what is happening in the world. In talking to them, you get all of these different opinions. To me, that makes me feel so much better, knowing that not everyone is brainwashed, that not everyone wants to be there and that the people who do want to be there are doing the right thing. You see all of this stuff on the news and I just wanted to see it for myself! It really opened my eyes to a lot and that is why I keep going back!
What’s the best piece of advice someone gave you that you would pass along to someone who is looking to make standup comedy a career?
I would say that if you are not committed to doing standup every day for the rest of your life, you shouldn’t do it! It is a really misunderstood field and it is really tough. The only way to excel in it is to practice every day. It is like being an athlete or a doctor, it takes years to become great, at least 10. It’s great that you think you are funny but until you can be funny in front of an audience every day, I would keep working on Excel and trying to get good at that! [laughs] You know how in sports there are fair-weather fans? I feel like in comedy, there are fair-weather comedians. Doing comedy seems like a great idea to some people because really good comics make it look effortless and easy. That is why so many people are intrigued by it and want to try it. Honestly, I think more people should try it because I think it is a great creative outlet but if you want to be a professional you have to practice every day and you can’t do it in front of a mirror. You have to do it in front of a live audience and every day that you don’t perform, just know that there are hundreds and thousands of other people performing instead.
What else is in store for you for 2012? Anything we should be on the lookout for in the coming months?
I have a show coming out this summer on Comedy Central with Jeffrey Ross called “The Burn,” where we roast weekly events. It is Jeff’s show and I am one of the writers. I will probably be on the panel every once in awhile, so that is really fun! I have the military tour coming up, which we mentioned, and I have my other tour dates as well. I am on Twitter at www.twitter.com/sarahtiana and people can go to my website, www.sarahtiana.com for information on the tour dates!
I thank you for your time, Sarah! We look forward to spreading the word on your work!
Cool! Thanks so much! I really appreciate it, Jason!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.