Aspen Laff Fest performer Ophira Eisenberg discusses her ‘very schizophrenic career’
IF YOU GO …
Who: Ophira Eisenberg & Robert Dubac
Where: Aspen Laff Festival, Wheeler Opera House
When: Tonight, 7:15 p.m.
FULL LAFF FEST LINEUP:
Friday, Feb. 20
Andrew Sleighter, 6 p.m. $12
Ophira Eisenberg & Robert Dubac, 7:15 p.m. $22.50
Kira Soltanovich & Tom Rhodes, 9:15 p.m. $22.50
Full Friday pass: $46.50
Saturday, Feb. 21
Emily Galati, 6 p.m. $12
Pete Lee & Josh Sneed, 7:15 p.m. $22.50
Christopher Titus, 9:15 p.m. $30
Full Saturday pass: $52.50
An Aspen audience got its first taste of Ophira Eisenberg’s stage show last winter, as she emceed a sold-out taping of the storytelling show “The Moth” at the Wheeler Opera House. But that’s just one of many hats that the ascendant comedian wears: she’s also a stand-up comic, host of the NPR game show “Ask Me Another,” and author of the memoir “Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy.”
The Calgary-bred, Brooklyn-based comic returns to Aspen tonight at the Laff Festival, on a bill at the Wheeler with Robert Dubac. We caught up in advance of her set to talk about what Eisenberg calls “a very schizophrenic career.”
Andrew Travers: How was your experience hosting “The Moth” here?
Ophira Eisenberg: I think when I arrived someone said to me, “This is the Beverly Hills of the mountains. The millionaires have left, so now it’s just the billionaires.” But it was breathtaking, and I didn’t know what to expect form the audience – like, “Is this people from the area or people on vacation?” It was a mixture and it was a great crowd.
AT: Do you approach stand-up and storytelling in creatively different ways?
OE: In storytelling you can use funny stuff but you use it in a different way. There’s a different expectation from the crowd. With stand-ups, you get up there and the expectation is ‘We’re here for laughs.’ Every line out of your mouth should be leading up toward the funny or be the funny. And the pacing is quick. Storytelling, the audience is expecting more of a journey. There has to be a beginning, middle and end where you change. Jokes don’t really do that at all. And a big difference is vulnerability. In storytelling, it’s good to be vulnerable and explain your point of view in how much it meant to you. That brings your audience in, even if its something they’ve never experienced. The emotion is what brings them in and makes it a universal experience. In stand-up, you have to be bulletproof and you relate to people because you’re dealing with universal things, not on an emotional connection.
Recently, though, I have been weaving some stories into my act. So maybe you’ll kind of get both of these things.
AT: And hosting “Ask Me Another” probably demands a whole different approach.
OE: I know. It’s a very schizophrenic career I’ve woven. It’s high energy, and any of the comedy [on “Ask Me Another”] is weird because the comedy has to be positive. And it’s hard to do positive comedy. You want to keep the contestants in a good frame of mind, because they’re up there and they’re worried. Even the smartest and most confident people, you put them on stage in front of 300 people and start asking them questions and they’re freaking out. Obviously there’s not a lot at stake on the public radio game show – it’s not like anyone is walking away with millions of dollars – but still they feel like they’re on the spot and that’s what’s fun about it. The comedy happens in the moment, in real time, and you just need to react. Humans, we’re crazy. Very unpredictable.
AT: Do you get crossover audiences between “The Moth” or the NPR show and your stand-up tours?
OE: “The Moth” is such a popular show that many people have come to my stand-up shows because they have heard me on “The Moth,” but it doesn’t go the other way. And it was through “The Moth” that I got asked to audition for “Ask Me Another.” I just did a little blizzard comedy tour, I picked hilarious places to fly to in February – I was in Rhode Island in six feet of snow – and doing an hour of stand-up and most of the people that came out were fans of “Ask Me Another” and “The Moth.” It’s a new audience for me because they’re smart, they’re nerdy, they’re somewhat stereotypes of public radio listeners that are dying for fun entertainment.
I have a triangle math joke in my act right now that I can do for them and that they will enjoy. But when I’m playing the Broadway Comedy Club in the Times Square area, I’m not going to do the triangle math joke.
AT: What about here in Aspen?
OE: I might. I think I need to take a look at the audience.
AT: Check and see how many NPR tote bags are out there?
OE: Right. You need to scope them out and think, ‘Are you going to enjoy an isosceles joke or not?’
AT: You’ve flourished in this era when every comic seems to wear so many different hats – podcasts, Twitter, web videos – in addition to doing stand-up on the road. Is it by design that you do so many diverse things?
OE: For me, the only thing that was by design was that I was willing to put as many irons in the fire as I could. It seems like you’re just expected to put out a huge amount of product in a lot of different ways. It sounds so great to focus on one thing. I crave that. But I’m starting to understand that I’m just not that person. When i go do stand-up a lot I start thinking, “I want to do different kinds of material for a different audience. I like having the ability to use stuff that I’m interested in pursuing that maybe doesn’t work in a comedy club. Like, what am I going to do with my isosceles joke? And, of douse, the book is about sex and that happened just as I got an NPR show, so I’m just bursting categories left, right and center.
AT: Last I read, your book “Screw Everyone” was optioned by Jerry Zucker for a film. Any news on that front?
OE: I actually have a copy of the first draft of the screenplay in my inbox. We hired [screenwriter] Harper Dill, who spent time on “The Mindy Project.” She wrote the fist draft and later this afternoon I’m going to get on the phone with her. So it’s going forward. Where it goes form here, I can only wish and hope.
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