Iliza Shlesinger: Mad dash down a comedic career path
Aspen Times Weekly
ASPEN ” It was clear from early on ” very early on ” that Iliza Shlesinger had a knack for comedy.
“I was born,” said Shlesinger, explaining her roots as a comedian, “and I just took it from there. I’ve always been about comedy ” always read about it, written it, watched it.”
The Dallas native left no room for doubt that she would turn her innate talent and interest into a career; her life since that maternity-ward turning point has been one straight line heading toward laughs. In high school, she was the only female member of the improv troupe; at Boston’s Emerson College, she joined a sketch comedy group. Immediately upon graduation, she headed for Los Angeles, where she did the standard routine of office job by day, open-mikes and auditions by night. She poured far more energy into the night-time pursuit.
“I hit the ground running,” said the 25-year-old Shlesinger from her home in West Hollywood. “Any comic will tell you, you have to be relentless, take any angle you can to self-generate.”
If that sounds like a mad dash to the comedy stage ” well, it is. But the funny thing is that everyone around Shlesinger seemed to envision her career path even before she did, and nudged her in the direction of humor.
“What’s weird, people wanted me to be a comedian before I knew I wanted to do it,” she said. “In middle school, someone gave me George Carlin’s ‘Brain Droppings’ ” and I wasn’t even much of a George Carlin fan, didn’t know much about him. Someone gave me Erma Bombeck’s book, the ‘Saturday Night Live’ book. This was before I even knew what stand-up comedy was.”
Shlesinger had a brief moment of doubt that performance was her calling. In college, she enrolled in the film program, with thoughts of becoming a director. “My mom was like, ‘What are you doing, going to film school? You should be in front of the camera,” she recalled. “I guess I had blinders on.”
The experience of this past year erased any remaining hesitation. A year ago, Shlesinger auditioned for the reality/competition show “Last Comic Standing.” In August she became the first female comedian to take the title.
Shlesinger is currently on the “Last Comic Standing” Tour, which comes to the Wheeler Opera House for two shows on Sunday, Jan. 18. Also appearing are four of the finalists whom Shlesinger beat out: Jeff Dye, Jim Tavare, Louis Ramsey and Marcus.
Shlesinger says that her victory was a combination of talent, looks, determination and adapting to the show’s format.
“Usually, when you do stand-up, your time is your time,” she said. “But this is competition. There’s no relaxing: It’s three minutes, do your best material, all punch lines. And look thin while you’re doing it.
“That competition isn’t right for everyone. Some comics are brilliant, but don’t tell short stories. They can’t wrap it up in three minutes. Any joke that didn’t work, I made it work.”
Shlesinger knows where her comedic gift came from. Her father ” a former men’s apparel salesmen and currently a financial advisor, but in his daughter’s fantasy, a spy ” “is one of the funniest people ever,” she says. And her mother is “really sarcastic, witty.”
The drive to turn her in-born ability into career success, however, is more of a mystery. But Shlesinger has a feeling she knows where it stems from.
“Sometimes I wonder if my success came from a desire to do comedy, or my desire to avoid having a desk job,” she said. She added that she has not been burdened with the latter for a year now, and that is even better than seeing an audience doubled over in laughter. “No day job ” that’s the best feeling in the world.”
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