Q&A with comedian, Emerson alumna Iliza Shlesinger

Iliza Shlesinger, a visual and media arts major who graduated Emerson College in 2005, has made quite the splash in the comedy world since heading west to Los Angeles. In 2008, Shlesinger won the NBC competition show Last Comic Standing, becoming the first woman to do so. Since then, she has appeared on everything from Comedy Central Presents to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Her first televised stand-up special, War Paint, is now available on Netflix. Friday, Feb. 7, Iliza Shlesinger returns to perform a stand-up show one block away from her alma mater at The Wilbur Theatre. 


Berkeley Beacon: Why did you decide to get into stand-up comedy?


Iliza Shlesinger: I was very active in my sketch troupe, Jimmy’s Traveling All-Stars, in college. I did a one-man show at the end of it and it made me realize I didn’t necessarily need an ensemble behind me to get a comedic point across. It was a step in a natural comedic evolution that I could do it by myself. So stand-up just seemed to fit. Also, I can’t do math.  


BB: Can you describe your style of comedy and your biggest influences?


Shlesinger: Maybe fast-paced. Introspective. Observational. Aggressive, with just a touch of glitter. I always liked Ellen because she was funny and smart without having to reduce herself to making herself to gross jokes or gross girl jokes. Her stuff was funny for guys and girls. Your gender was irrelevant. 


BB:  Describe what your show at the Wilbur is going to be like and the prep that goes into it?


Shlesinger: I’m getting ready to do my second hour long special, so this is going to be a lot of new material. A lot of honest observations, a couple of dark thoughts. Fun, fast and observational. And making fun of girls, because that’s what I do. 


BB:  What advice would you give Emerson students who want to do what you’re doing? 


Shlesinger: Just start doing it. Go sign up at a local club. Start doing stand-up. Make a brand for yourself. Get out there, get familiar with doing poorly. Get familiar with different types of crowds. Get familiar with working really hard and not getting anything for it. It’s not about money or making people laugh. It’s about this insatiable hunger you have to put yourself in front of people and be honest with them. If you’re doing it for any other reason, you’re a piece of garbage. 


BB: What did you learn from your time at Emerson?


Shlesinger: I learned that sometimes the Green Line doesn’t show up. I learned that just because you decided to work out by running to the cafeteria and then taking the T home doesn’t mean you’re going to lose any weight. Oh, and I learned that befriending homeless people is something that only stupid white girls do. And I learned it’s always fun to make fun of Suffolk, ‘cause it’s right there. 


BB: As an upcoming comedian, where do you hope to see yourself in a couple years? 


Shlesinger: The goal is to get to do whatever I want, creatively, on my own terms. To keep your integrity and keep making comedy. Obviously, you want to go to bed in a big pile of money but you want to be able to have a career that you can stand behind and be proud of and know that you did it from scratch and on your own. It’s important to maintain your integrity. Kind of.