Today's interviewee is one of my favorite Chicago comedians, delightful both onstage and off (see some of her work here, including a video by Steve Delahoyde.) You can catch her upcoming standup dates here and purchase her first album, "Grab Them Aghast" here. In the meantime, you can catch her as the emcee at El Circo Cheapo Cabaret. If you'd like to learn at her adorable feet, you can take her women-only standup comedy class at the Lincoln Lodge, Feminine Comique. You can learn much more about her here.
What's the very first lesson you teach your standup students?
Get behind your material. When standup works, its because an audience is watching someone state and support an opinion. If you can't support it, don't say it. If you do mean it, don't back down.
You must get a few students who just. can't. do. standup. What do you tell them?
Thankfully, most students that really struggle in class writing wise aren't aiming to be professional standups; they are looking to overcome a fear. That's the hardest thing - communicating why a written joke doesn't work. Performance is easier to hone over time.
Are there any elements of comedy, that, based on personal taste, you influence your style as a teacher? (IE if you hate impressions, do you discourage those?)
I do not allow students to tell cat jokes in my class. Seriously. I dig the atmosphere created by a bunch of ladies supporting and laughing with one another in a Chicago Park District building, but for some reason, once the cat jokes start, I suddenly feel we have devolved into a hemp-wearing massage circle.
What was your most memorable interaction with a heckler?
I am getting ever gutsier shutting down truly rude people with a show of strength from the stage, but I have yet to figure out how to deal with confusing hecklers. A man recently yelled at me that he was gay (though he had his hands all over his female date) and that therefore he and I should shower and shave one another. It was hard to figure out the proper angle of reproach. I ended up turning it into a teaching moment about the meaning of gay. Hint: gay men and gay women rarely shower with one another, and never do they engage in co-shaving.
Who's your favorite comedian right this very second?
Maria Bamford. Maria is inventive across the board: in style, content, speech pattern, oh everything. I opened for her at few shows in December and couldn't believe my luck at just getting to see her work. And she was kind to me. How. Could that be.
Who was your first favorite comedian?
Margaret Cho. Saw her perform at beautiful, schmancy theater in Boston while I was in college. It was my first live standup show. I thought, "If I could just get Margaret to sit down with me and a bottle of wine, we'd be pals." That's the goal, folks! To instill the desire to purchase wine in an audience.
What's your favorite joke that you wrote lately?
I'm outside Berlin nightclub. There's man bleeding on the ground. And another dude rolls up on a skateboard and he says...(see how I caught your interest?!)
What's your biggest, most extravagant career dream?
That you will bring me whatever sandwich I want, Claire Zulkey! And I'll receive this sandwich on the set of a film I wrote/am starring in. It will be a huge success. Sundance. Cannes. Red Box distribution. Thanks to that sandwich.
You're so damn likable onstage...do you do that on purpose, aim not to be alienating or super-edgy?
I am a gay lady working a traditionally straight male job. I see my career as relating to power dynamics in society as a whole. Putting myself out there as someone enjoying my life, a life that could be considered atypical, is important to me. I consider it subversive to show folks that I have a sweet time being me, and I love interacting with folks when they are at ease, ready to chat, and then throwing in something sick, or surprising. I get away with a lot.
Per your likability, how often do you get hit on after a set? What's your typical response?
Well, frequently. And I always move that the suburbs with that person for at least one year. Fair's fair.
Tell us about El Circo Cheapo Cabaret. What is it, what should one expect if they attend?
Punk rock, underground, tattooed lady circus in a warehouse with maybe glass-walking and someone hanging from their hair or juggling a chainsaw sound good to anyone? Yep, me too.
When you open for another comedian, do you need to tailor your act at all for that particular comedian, or you just do what you do because that's what you were hired to do?
I mostly factor in changes in venue; the energy of a club full of standing room party kids requires something different that a two drink minimum brick walled comedy shanty.
Whenever I hear about a comedian's early experiences onstage, it's a really fun, encouraging debut followed by a set that's met by cricket noises. Did your first experiences onstage follow this pattern?
Actually, I really think I was deluded early on about how well I was doing. Four laughs a set felt like, "I'm killing!!" Disconnection from reality can really give you the wherewithal to keep at it!
What would you be up to if you weren't a comedian?
There's only us. There's only this. (Clearly I would have written the musical Rent)
How does it feel to be the 273rd person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
Stiff. Kinda achy between the shoulder blades. Overly aware of the smell of jeans due for a washing.