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Monday, September 24, 2018

In Advance of Saturday's Shows at the Ohio Theatre, Iliza Shlesinger Talks About Being an 'Elder Millennial'

Posted By on Mon, Sep 24, 2018 at 2:25 PM

  • Courtesy of Playhouse Square
For the second year in a row, comedian Iliza Shlesinger was prominently featured in Elle’s Women in Comedy issue. Additionally, her digital scripted series, Forever 31, is currently streaming on Hulu.

And then, there's the fact that her fourth stand-up special, Elder Millennial, premiered on Netflix earlier this summer.

Speaking via phone from her Los Angeles home, the prolific Shlesinger spoke about the tour that comes to town this weekend.

Performances take place at 8 and 10:30 p.m. at the Ohio Theatre.

You started doing improv when you were in high school. What was that experience like?
I remember you only got to practice for 45 minutes a week because it wasn’t considered that important to them, but I remember the guys in improv would just mess around in practice. I was the only girl, and I remember being frustrated about that and thinking that they weren’t taking it seriously. I remember thinking, “You guys are going to grow up to be doctors and lawyers, but I’m going to do this for a living.”

You moved to Los Angeles after college. What was that transition like?
I moved around schools a lot as a kid, so even though that was in the city, change wasn’t a big deal for me. I came out here with an internship from my college. The good thing about moving to L.A. when you’re in your twenties is that your life is gross and you have no money but you don’t even notice it because you’re young and getting drunk every night and working really hard because you have the energy to do it. You’re just like, “A hangover? Who cares?” You’re built for it.

What did the internship entail?
Oh my God. I interned at United Artists, and it was my job was to log submissions for independent films that quasi foreign and semi-homemade. You’ve never heard of any of these films for a reason.

Were you trying to get into the entertainment business?
Yeah. I was doing standup around town. I did small shows and things like that. I wanted to get into it, and you are looking for any way in. For me, it was whoever would give me a chance whether it was hosting or producing commercials. I was also a copy writer for a little bit. I was just like a bug around a light bulb at night. I just knew I needed to be near it and in it and I didn’t know what that path was.

How'd you get on Last Comic Standing?
I auditioned for it. You see the footage of people camping out but the reality is that if you are anyone, someone calls on your behalf. It could be a club owner or a manager or an agent. They pitch you to the producers. You still have to audition, but I definitely wasn’t outside with a plug-in hot plate and a tent.

What was the experience like?
It was so long ago, I’ve blocked it out. It’s a weird experience because you’re taking an artform that’s subjective and personal and something we do out of our need for attention and to bring joy to other people, and you make it competitive. I came from that world, so for me, this business has always been competitive. I have to remind myself at times that it’s okay to relax. Nothing will ever be as hard as that was.

How do you manage to be so prolific?
I have a fear of irrelevance and failure. You get these things going hoping that one will work. You could pitch a book but it could not work. You could pitch a special but nobody buys it. Artists create. I’m merely doing what’s to be expected. I have gotten a couple of good chances. Not as many as I’d like and not as many as I’m going to get, but it’s worked out pretty well so far.

I know you’ve done some acting. Do you aspire to do more?
I’m in [the upcoming comedy] Instant Family.  I get to play a strange woman. It’s a really funny movie that’s a true story about adoption. I also booked another movie that hasn’t been announced yet. It’s something I always worked at but haven’t gotten the parts.

Is there a comedian you admire who’s made the transition to acting?
If you look at someone like Jim Carrey or even Adam Sandler. Those are guys who started with standup and they got to play themselves in movies and characters if they chose to. The goal is to do my own comedy on my own terms in bigger and better ways. Michael Keaton is on the Comedy Store wall. People dip their toe into it and find they like different types of comedy. A lot of people pass through comedy on their way to better things.

Talk about why you want to be identified as a millennial?
I don’t want to be. It’s not like I walk around thinking that. This is me staking my claim on this chunk of my life. At 35, we have earned the right to have hindsight and perspective to pass on some wisdom, but we’re not so old that we’re like we’re like your parents or that we don’t recall recently going out and partying. It’s that weird time in your life where you’re just starting to have children, buy houses and transition into adulthood. I thought at this age, I could offer a retrospective of life so far from this mid to high position.

How did you come up with the concept?
It’s my standup. I’ll always find a way to do a weird character who sounds like a witch or something whimsical. Elder millennial became this wizened old creature that would tell you the tale of the landline and remembers when Skechers were invented. We’re not that ancient but we can have a bit of nostalgia. When you think millennial, you think super young, but 35 doesn’t seem so young. I looked into it and I made the cutoff because I was born in 1983. There’s got to be a spectrum of youth. You can be a millennial but without being the youngest. I wanted to honor that.

You remember Napster and MySpace.
And I remember the internet not being around and not having a cell phone.

You identify as a feminist. Are things getting better or worse for women?
Things are getting better. When Black Lives Matter became a thing, the whole country’s eyes were opened to the fact that horrible things were happening in back communities around the country. Black people were like, “Yeah. We know. This has been going on forever.” I think now with #Metoo and #Timesup, women feel safer about coming forward. People are like, “I can’t believe this politician or this high-power executive assaulted women.” All these women are like, “I can believe it. It’s been happening for a minute.” Things are changing and there’s a huge pendulum swing. Will it come back to center? Of course. The main thing is that women don’t feel shamed about coming out about being hurt or having something horrible happen to them.

Does the current show that’s coming to Cleveland have any political jokes in it?
No. If you listen to my act, you can get a feel for my views. I’m proud of a diverse audience, and that goes beyond color and background. It extends to political identities. I will get a fan who says, I don’t agree with your politics, but I like your comedy.” I respect the fact that some people work hard and don’t have a lot of money and spent it on their tickets. They’re coming to relax for a while. No one is coming to be preached to or be told that they’re wrong or bad. While there is this agenda of hoping women feel good and people feel heard, there’s no political jokes. That’s not my forte.

But it’s not mindless entertainment. Your comedy is fairly intellectual.
There is heart. At this point, four specials in, you have to have a message. I prefer that people feel uplifted. Among the jokes, there should be some social commentary. I hope people learn something, but at the end of the day, it’s about putting on a really funny show with a lot of energy. I’m bringing all the energy, and I hope people are ready. It’s a really fun show. Whatever you look like and whatever you identify with, you’re welcome at the show.

You recently got married. What jokes have you had to change as a result of that?
I have a lot of new material about things that I find stupid about weddings. They’re not specific to him. Eventually, I’m sure there will be. I married a man who is super low key and super supportive. I think shitting on that to 1,000 people isn’t a healthy start. I’ve never been a fan of dragging a man through the mud on stage. But the institution of weddings is something that needs to have the piss taken out of it. I think married people are like, “That’s what I’m talking about.”

Any good memories of performing in Cleveland in the past?
No. And that’s not a bad thing. I don’t think I’ve been there in a while. This is so random and such a suburban thing, but I was a big fan of Bone Thugs N Harmony when I was in middle school and high school. I remember the last time I was in Cleveland, I asked someone to drive me to East 99th Street and St. Clair, so I could take a picture. The last time was so many years ago. I don’t know why I haven’t come back, but I’m very excited to come back there. Ohio is one of those states that’s proud of itself. It’s nice to visit a state that has an identity.

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