When Icon Vs. Icon caught up with Iliza Shlesinger 4 years ago (read the interview here), it was clear she was going places. Since then, she has continued to kill on stage and hit each project she takes on, no matter the size, out of the park. For the uninitiated, Iliza Shlesinger made a huge splash in the comedy world when see became the only female and youngest comedian to hold the title of NBC’S ‘Last Comic Standing.’ Over the years her impressive list TV credits continues to grow and includes multiple appearances on NBC’S “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “TBS’ Deal With It,” “Comedy Central Presents,” “Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham,” E! Network’s “Chelsea Lately” and many more.
Her debut one hour comedy special, “War Paint” reached #1 on the iTunes charts and was named one of the “Top Ten Albums of 2013” on iTunes. Her follow up Netflix Original Comedy Special “Freezing Hot” premiered to rave reviews in January 2015. Her latest Netflix produced special, “Freezing Hot,” solidified her as one of today’s leading female comedians whose material focuses on the relatable when it comes to being a woman. Whether it’s giving the play-by-play of what it’s like to order at a restaurant with a group of girlfriends or the addictive nature of Pinterest, she prides herself on staying connected to current day issues we all face. Both of the specials are currently streaming on Netflix.
If all those projects weren’t enough, she also hosts a killer weekly podcast, ‘Truth & Iliza,’ where her and her friends talk about all the things that bother them. One of the best podcasts on the web, her recent guests include Adam Carolla, Jeff Miller of Thrillist, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Reggie Watts, Ben Gleib Carney Wilson and Jay Leno. As her legion of dedicated fans grows larger with each passing day, her creative fire that burns hotter than ever.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Iliza Shlesinger to discuss her career, the making of her specials, her upcoming role as a game show host on TBS’s “Separation Anxiety” and what the future may hold for this star on the rise.
It’s been awhile since we last spoke, which was in early 2011. You have been a busy woman in that time. How has life changed for you?
Wow! Well, I have had two Netflix specials, “Freezing Hot” and “War Paint.” I have probably made a bunch of pilots since then. I am hosting a new show, which will debut in January on TBS, called “Separation Anxiety,” which I am the host of. I am excited for that! It has been a lot of touring and fun projects. It’s hard to encapsulate four years of growth in a couple of sentences!
Before we dive into those, I wanted to go back to your early days as a comic. Was it a difficult process to find your voice, so to speak?
To say it is a process means that you are cognizant of the fact that you are working on finding your voice and I think the truth is that your voice has to find you. All you can do is keep getting up and eventually you sort of hone a process and a way that you see things. You step away from jokes that you don’t want to make and move more toward ideas you want to discuss. I think that is a combination of intelligence, know how, desire and drive. You can’t find a voice unless you are getting up a lot and are prolific in your writing. It really just takes time. You have to find the confidence on stage to say what you want to say and back it up with not only humor but intelligence.
You are headed to Baltimore this week for a few shows, which is how we connected. You have been to the city many times. What are your impressions of the city?
I can only speak to the one club. I sort of have a standing arrangement with the Baltimore Comedy Factory. I can tell you, I think I am the only white woman that plays that club, so I wear that proudly as a badge of armor! The people always come out and are supportive. I don’t think I would have a standing date there for all these years if I wasn’t an act that wasn’t appreciated there. I really like Baltimore. My thing is, cities usually stand out if they are really bad and I tend not to go back to those cities! [laughs] I definitely like going and I like the venue. They changed it recently. I get to see some friends and I couldn’t be more excited to go back to Baltimore.
You spend quite a bit of time on the road. What impact has life on the road had on you as a person and your comedy?
You know, it really has nothing to do with the act aside from I am tired sometimes. Nothing in my act really comes from touring. I used to have an old joke in my act about boarding zones but, aside from that, the act onstage doesn’t have anything about traveling or anything. That being said, the more you travel, the more of a perspective you get and the more you are able to adapt to different kinds of audiences. If you are somebody who only does jokes about the South and you go to Oregon for the weekend, it might be a little bit different for you. The travel really puts me in tune to the different perspectives of the different cities and states. I think it definitely helps you become a more well-rounded comedian.
You have two specials on Netflix right now, as you mentioned. As a fan of comedy, I don’t think we see what goes into bringing it to life behind the scenes. What goes into bringing it to life?
With Netflix, “War Paint” was an acquisition, meaning we made it, they acquired it and put it on Netflix. “Freezing Hot” was a Netflix Original, so basically Netflix said, “We loved your material and we would like to have you do your next one.” They give you X amount of dollars and they are very good about letting the artist be themselves. They don’t come in and edit out anything, so it is very much your special. I tell my agent the names of three cities that I would like to shoot the special in because you might want to shoot your special in Seattle or Tempe but if the dates you want to record are already booked, you can wait but I am not great at waiting. You have to have an idea of different places you want and find something you like within those. It is a question of if you want a big venue or a small venue but it is all totally up to you. I just picked the city I liked for the last one and we did it in Denver. I always forget how the altitude gets to me! Then you get an audience coordinator who makes sure all of your fans show up. The hardest part for me is figuring out an outfit! When it comes to the material, it is like training for an athletic event. I have been on the road almost every weekend for the last five months. I am booked through February and I am working on my third tour. I want it to be absolutely perfect, so I am putting in hundreds and hundreds of hours to make sure I am saying exactly what I want to say.
One of the things I found really interesting about “Freezing Hot” was the incorporation of the hashtags. Can you tell us a little about that?
Yeah, I did that because Netflix doesn’t share their numbers. You might think that you are doing well and I can see the exponential growth of my tour business by how well my special did but I did it as my way of not only gauging who is responding but also to interact with fans. We all watch TV these days with our phones in hand. You can be watching anything and you will interact with it on Twitter or Instagram. I did that to give people another way to feel connected to the material and it has worked. For example, #friedshrimp. People come out to a show and we do fried shrimp poses. #partygoblin is another big one and we just recently got that trademarked. There are all these different ways that people can feel connected to the material and respond to it and I get to see what they like. The weird part is that whatever joke it is that they love, it isn’t like I can do it again. However, it is gratifying to know that something you created is making people respond so whole-heartedly. That is why I did it.
For those who are familiar with your body of work and coming out to see you again, what can we expect from your set these days? Also, has your writing process changed much?
For me, the writing process has stayed the same. I used to get up as many times as I could because that is what I thought you had to do. Now, I have been getting up so much for so many years, that is the way I write. I don’t sit at a computer. My bag is filled with little bits of paper with jokes, words and letters written all over the place like a serial killer. I get up and that is where I write, onstage. When people come to see me in Baltimore, for example, they will see 98% of a brand new hour with one or two old jokes. It depends on the crowd. I know we all have our favorite jokes but I think people are really going to like the new stuff. Party Goblin might make an appearance!
If people love your comedy, they need to check out your podcast, “Truth & Iliza.” What do you love about the medium and what do you bring to the table as a podcaster?
You know, I am going to have a late night talk show. It is going to happen at some point in my life. I really started the podcast to work on my listening skills. I do it for my interview skills, as well. However, I think a lot of comics are funny and then they think they can do anything in the realm of comedy, only to find out they are terrible at podcasting. I think that is because most comics aren’t good listeners and everything is about teeing up for your next bit. What I have learned in doing this podcast is to let your own agenda go and really try to be present and listen to what someone else is saying and build jokes off of that. I think you get that with this podcast. I also think you get the perspective of an intelligent girl that is funny that you have been a fan of for a while and putting that into a dialogue as opposed to a monologue. I think a lot of girls go this really sexual route and everything is about sex, dating and relationships. I definitely complain about those things on the podcast, as the whole point of the podcast is complaining about things, and I can find fault with anything.
You had some great shows and amazing guests along the way. What have some of the highlights been for you on the show?
You know, everyone has been great. What really stands out to me is the opportunity to reach out to people and when they say, “Yes,” it is really gratifying. I had Jay Leno on. I had Jim Jefferies and he is pretty great. I just had Lizz Winstead on, who is the creator of “The Daily Show.” Every guest I have had, I have really enjoyed having, whether they are my friend, a Twitter friend or someone I respect in comedy. We recently had Diablo Cody on! You do a podcast to sort of branch out and have other perspectives, so every guest has provided a great episode. I have been really happy with all of them!
Tell us a little more about “Separation Anxiety” on TBS, which is headed our way in 2016. How did you get involved and what can we expect?
They offered it to me and I said, “OK!” [laughs] They offered it to me and I said, “Ya know, I don’t really want to host a game show.” But then, they explained the premise of it and I was like, “This is amazing!” I am not even saying this because it is my job! I have never seen a game show like this. The whole premise is that you take two people who know each other really well, which could be your wife, best friend or sister, and you think you are on an Internet game show to win $2,500. What you don’t know is that you are actually playing on national TV and the prize is actually a quarter of a million dollars. One of you knows it, the other one doesn’t and we separate you. It is the anxiety that comes with the person who knows how much money is at stake watching the other person play and they aren’t taking it as seriously.
Standup comedy is experiencing an amazing boom right now, which is awesome if you are a fan. What is the best part of being a part of the scene right now? What excites you as an artist?
I think the best part is the opportunity. I think people are more open to comics and women in particular and letting us speak. It is a marathon, not a sprint. The more love and time you put into your act and the more of an image you build for yourself, the more opportunities will present themselves. I don’t get asked, “Hey do you want to host a red carpet for a webcast?” It is interesting to see, after putting in 10 years, the type of jobs that are offered and the types of roles you get offered to audition for. It is really interesting to see what you put out there and how people respond to it. I know that sounds like a weird answer but I am just loving the connection with my fans. They mean everything to me and I am loving creating things and having them validated on a daily basis. That is really what you hope for as a comedian.
You have a ton of irons in the fire. Where do you see yourself headed in the short term in terms of other projects and when might we see a new special?
We have another special and I am polishing it now. I will be having a talk with Netflix very soon, so I don’t know for sure. I couldn’t tell you when we are going to shoot it but it will likely be in the next six months. As we mentioned, “Separation Anxiety” will be coming out in January. I did a couple of game shows that will be coming out soon, where I am a contestant. “Hollywood Game Night” with Jane Lynch is one of them. We also have two TV shows in the works but I am not one to talk about projects before they have fully come to fruition, so that is all I will say about it, without sounding like a liar! [laughs]
Looking back on your career to date, how have you most evolved as an artist?
I think I have most evolved material-wise. I did a show a couple of months ago where you had to do the first set that you ever did. While the jokes were never bad, I would not make a herpes joke now. [laughs] Having the confidence and intelligence to back up your point of view is so important. Your material is everything if you are a real comic. What you say on stage is how people judge you as a public persona, so I would have to say the material is my biggest evolution. The older you get, the more you evolve. I definitely have jokes about being drunk but I’m 32 and if my material was the same as it was at 22, then that’s a problem!
Well, that is the truth! We can’t wait to see this new hour, Iliza! Thanks for your time today and we wish you continued success!
Thank you, Jason! I appreciate that! Talk to you later!
Be sure to check out Iliza Shlesinger’s official site at www.iliza.com. Connect with her on social media via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Check out both “War Paint” and “Freezing Hot” on Netflix. The “Truth & Iliza” podcast is available on iTunes for your listening pleasure!
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.