Listen to Episode #50 here:
Finding The Darkness with Zoe Rogers
Our guest is Zoe Rogers. She is a stand-up comedian and a comedy teacher. She’s been featured on Disney Babble and Nickmom.com. She performed at the She-Devil Comedy Festival, Laughing Skull Comedy Festival, and Edinburgh Fringe. Welcome, Zoe.
If you weren’t a comedian and a mom, what would you be doing?
I was acting before I had kids and then drifted into comedy so maybe I’d still be doing that, but I will just be home with my kids.
You said that you get a lot of your material from your three children. Tell me about that. Are your kids special? Are they good for comedy or is there something special about your ability to pick out the comedic elements of parenthood?
Everybody thinks their kids are special. For me, it’s just my brain. It’s a strange shift to go from not having kids to having kids and acting that everything that changes in your day is normal. To me, I was like, “This is bizarre. Who does this? Who behaves this way?” I started writing about that and trying to make people understand that by comparing a kid’s tantrum to being with a difficult friend or a drunk person.
You have a bit about how a child’s tantrum is like an adult drunk person.
I have a thing where I say, “Being a parent was the only job that I’ve ever had where I got zero on-the-job training and I had to draw from my previous life experiences. I’d never hang out with five-year-olds, but I’d hang out with drunk girls and it was pretty much the same thing.” They make you late for everything. They wear something ridiculous. The car ride home is always like, “Are we going to McDonald’s because you said we would.” It was just one of those things where I wanted to make it because often when you see a comic who’s a mom or dad, people are like, “Mom jokes. Dad jokes. I don’t care about your kid.” How can you make that relatable to everybody even if they don’t live your specific life? That’s a lot of what I did. I compare and I observe things that happened with my kids or in my life and be like, “In what other circumstance would this ever be okay?”
What are some of those? I don’t have kids so help me understand.
I grew up in New York in an Irish family. Then I was raising kids in California and trying to be a very sensitive parent.
Are you going to tell the hitting joke?
That one is a lot more where I say, “I’m very strict with my kids and I’m the main disciplinarian in our house. I don’t believe in hitting so I don’t hit my kids, but sometimes when they hit each other, I root for different teams.” I noticed that there were days where one of your kids has been difficult. You’re not supposed to have favorites, but somebody says, “I love you, mommy.” The other one is like, “I hate you.” Someone goes out of your way to destroy your day. You will be like, “I’m going to get in there and say something, but I’m going to let him get one good hit. He’s earned it.” Even if you don’t have kids, you’ve been a younger sibling or something like that.
I’ve had those moments where I’m like, “I’m a good mother.” I had it where they were ice skating and my older son kept pelting my younger son with snowballs. He’s just bigger and faster and it’s not fair. My younger son was coming over to me and was very upset and I’m saying, “You play. You take care of you.” My older son came over and my youngest son was upset and I said, “Come here. Stand here. Come hug me.” He hugs me and I grabbed a snowball and I put it down his pants and he said, “That’s not nice.” I said, “You can’t do that to your brother and I have to tell you that because I’m your mother, but I also put a snowball down your pants because I’ve been a younger sister. I know how the world works. You can’t just do that.” There are moments where you can tell a joke and maybe nobody is a parent and they don’t care, but they’re like, “I’ve been in that situation or I’ve had a difficult roommate.” What I like is when people come up and they’re like, “I don’t have kids but I thought you were very funny.” I was like, “Thank you.”
If you’re going to do stand-up comedy and you’re going to use your family as fodder, it has to be funny to the non-family people in the room.
Otherwise, nobody cares. I’ve been in those situations where you can’t just be telling stories about your kid. Nobody cares. Nobody knows your kid. If you can relate it to human experience that everybody has been through, then people will get on board.
What was the evolution of this? You said you were working as an actor. How did this happen?
I was working as an actor in New York and then I had my oldest son and that became increasingly difficult. I was like, “It will be fine. I’ll just bring him to auditions.” No, he was not the kind of kid you would bring on auditions. He would just fall apart. He’s this gorgeous kid, but he was not coming on additions anymore. That was not going to happen. I stopped doing everything for a while. We moved to LA and I had a friend of mine from high school who I met in the grocery store. He saw me with my son in the stroller and he was like, “What are you doing here?” He started pushing me towards taking comedy classes. He was like, “You have to go. You have to write all this down. This is so good.”
Is it because you were cracking jokes about it in the aisle of the supermarket?
We get together and have lunch and everything. I would vent about my week to him and he would always be like, “Write it down.” Two years later, I have another kid. I started this class and it was the first thing that I had done for myself in years. It’s a stand-up comedy class with Gerry Katzman in LA and it just changed my life. It was the best thing that I had done for myself. I hadn’t been to a class that wasn’t revolving around bubbles and tumbling mats in years. The idea that I got to go someplace and talk about how I felt about things and connect with other adults was terrifying, but also the best thing.
That’s how I started doing stand-up. I did that class. I did the graduation show. I got booked on some other shows and eventually, I started booking my own shows because I realized that I needed to keep getting out. If I wanted to get better, I had to keep getting out. At that time, there weren’t a lot of women on shows. I do a show and people would be like, “You’re great. We’ll call you in a couple of months.” They would only have one woman on a show and it was frustrating. I was like, “I’ve got to start a show.” I started doing shows so I could get up every week so I can get the people I thought were funny up every week.Being a parent is the only job you can ever have where you get zero on-the-job training. Click To Tweet
Did you have a third child to purposely get more material?
No, but she has supplied it. I was talking to somebody about how weird it is. The jokes of mine that I’ve been most terrified to write, the jokes that are the most vulnerable stuff, those have been the jokes that hit the hardest with people.
Tell me more about this. I’m good friends with a comedian named Shane Mauss. I haven’t even had Shane on the show yet because we haven’t been in the same place. He has this rule, which is when he finds himself reluctant to talk about something, he forces himself to talk about it. This sounds very familiar. Give me examples. I want to learn about this.
We struggled to have another baby. It was seven years of fertility stuff. It was that thing that every time I got up on stage I was consciously not talking about. It made me feel very fake because that’s the secret of the room. The secret of the room is I’m not talking about the biggest thing that’s going on in my life. One night, I was in class because I had done the initial class and then there’s a writer’s group after that for working comics. I was in a weird place and somebody was like, “What’s going on with you?” I was like, “Here’s what’s going on with me.” I launched into this thing that turned into one of my closing jokes about trying to get pregnant. It’s such a vulnerable thing to do. I wound up doing it at the Laugh Factory the first night I performed there. I remember as it was coming out of my mouth, I was like, “Why are you saying this? You’re terrified enough to be here and now you’re saying this.” It also has a curse word in it. I was like, “This is way too much information about my life and it’s going to get bleeped out.” A couple of weeks later, it was their clip of the week. I was just like, “You go super vulnerable with something and it can pay off.” I feel that all my jokes that have done well are the ones that I was terrified to talk about.
I know the joke, but tell it anyway because now the audience is going to be like, “What is the joke about?”
I say that sometimes kids will overhear things that are meant to be adult conversations and want to talk about them at very inconvenient times. When we were trying to get pregnant with my daughter, my kids might have overheard some things and they wanted to talk about it at drop off at school. I pull up in the carpool lane and from the back seat comes, “Mom, I hear you and dad are talking about having another kid. How’s that going for you?” An adult would never say, “How’s that going for you?” Kids just don’t have a filter and they have no perspective. I said, “If it happens, it happens and if not, we’re very happy with you and your brother.”
I don’t know why he said this but his response was, “I don’t think you’re trying hard enough.” That’s a very sensitive subject for a woman and I want it to be like, “I’m trying very hard. I’m having sex like a pirate whore. I have two apps on my phone that told me when to fuck your dad. Back off. Mommy loves you. Have a great day at school.” It is that thing you want to say. I have my two reactions with my kids in many different situations where there’s the parent response and I was a human being before you got here and I have my own set of emotions response. What comes out of my face is the parent thing, but my inner monologue is like, “Why would you say that to me? You know how hard I’m trying. I’m peeing on every ovulation test in Los Angeles. Are you kidding me right now?”
A lot of your stand-up is what you can’t say to your kids.
It’s the things that I’d love to say, but I can’t so I wound up saying them in a microphone in front of a bunch of people.
Do you have a particular technique that when you notice that you’re scared about something or you’re feeling vulnerable? Do you have a system now that you just go, “Vulnerability alert?”
If I feel vulnerable about something, not just for writing but in terms of survival, I try to think like, “Where’s the funny in this? There’s got to be some funny in this.” You’ve got to find the humor in situations. I remember at one point I was sitting in a fertility office and I was freezing cold. I texted my friend and was like, “It’s so cold in here. I’m freezing my eggs just by sitting here.” You’ve got to find the funny. I was like, “How are you going to make it out?” I just look for the funny stuff and I’ll say like, “How could this be funny? How could I make it funny?” I don’t even think you have to take the dark stuff out. The funny can sometimes live in a dark place. You need that because you need it to be genuine so people connect with it. Before people laugh, they usually are like, “Yes. That’s so true.” It has to hit with somebody because otherwise they’re like, “I don’t believe that.” It has to be a genuine thing where you’re being vulnerable and you’re sharing with them and they connect with you and then you both laugh together.
Have you had moments where you tried the vulnerability tactic and it didn’t work?
When the joke wasn’t ready, yeah. I was like, “I know there’s something here.” When you’re talking about something vulnerable, that’s a big leap. People take a big risk for a big payoff. In my experience, it’s how it’s arranged, how you’re saying it, how long it takes, and how many details you have. I would listen and it’s so painful to listen to your recorded performances that don’t go well. That’s a special kind of hell. I’d be like, “This got a laugh. I need to cut out this part. Maybe if I move it or maybe if this is the last thing I say.”
I wanted to ask you about your choice of a pirate whore for that joke. Did you mess around with that or did that just land and you’re like, “That’s good?”
That’s what happens. I record everything. I think my son was watching a lot of Jake and the Neverland Pirates. I was inundated with all the Jake and the pirate stuff. In my head, I was like, “They’re omitting a lot about the pirates.” I remember being like, “There’s nobody here with scurvy. Nobody is dying from a venereal disease. There are no scrotty pirate whores in Jake and the Neverland Pirates.” That’s what came out when I was like, “I am drawing this on my head.” You can’t say to a kid like, “I am trying hard. It’s not that I forgot.” In my head, pirate whore came out and that hit in the audience.
Your friend was telling you to write it down. Do you have a writing system? Do you have a notebook?
My husband makes fun of me. When you go to shows like Mike’s DC Comics, they take out their phone and they’re like, “I’m just looking at my notes.” I’m not good like that. I just have stacks of paper around my house that looked like serial killer notes where I write things in big letters. It’s just basic paper and I scrawl out my stuff. If I think of something and I’m with my kids and I can’t write it down, I’ll just email it to myself. Some of the stuff is great where I’m like, “That’s so good. I have to talk about that.” Other stuff is like, “That’s not funny. This is never going to be funny.”
Do you have any of the scraps with you right now? Pull them out here. Let’s see what you’ve got.
I’ve left them at home when I’ve gone out to shows and come back. The babysitter put them out. It’s just a couple of bullet points.
For the audience, it’s in 32.5 that you’ve written these things. It says, “Just had a baby that’s on the Navy SEALs, got Pulp Fiction nursing, two different kids, sweep the leg, penis aisle, fifth-grade volunteer, son-in-law and then you’re a pirate whore closer.” I want to ask about Navy SEALs and then we’ll talk about penis aisle. What’s the origin of Navy SEALs?Every adult is Googling their way through life. Click To Tweet
Navy SEALs is where I talk about the difference between having one kid and having more than one kid and it’s just vastly different. I felt that I was never on top of anything. I would see people with one kid and they were having this nice organized existence and I was just barely staying afloat. They had one and I would have two and now I have three. On the joke, I say, “There’s a big difference between having one and having more than one kid. The parents of more than one kid tend to view the parents of only children the way the Navy SEALs look at the reserves.” We appreciate what it is you do, but we have seen shit that will change you.
I have friends who have four. I think they should have four. They’re good people and they can afford four and all this stuff. I remember the line that my buddy had, which was like, “I used to buy seats on an airplane. Now, I buy the whole row.”
I’m the baby of four and I keep thinking about how my mother did this and not lose her mind.
I grew up on the East Coast with an Irish-Catholic family and there was a lot of hitting.
We didn’t have a lot of hitting and I’m surprised. My mom never lost it with me. I remember being like, “How did she do that? What for? I think maybe she was one of seven and her grandparents are one of twelve. She was like, “This is a nice neat sized family.”
What about penis aisle?
I was at Walgreens with my husband and he was commenting like, “This is what happens when you’re a comic. Everyone around you wants you to say something funny. You can keep that.” My husband is an attorney so he will try to chime in with what he thinks. We were walking around Walgreens and he was commenting on everything I’m putting in our cart. Finally, he looked around and he was like, “They shouldn’t call this the personal care aisle. They should call this the vagina aisle. You get all these washes and lotions. We don’t have any of that. That’s not fair. We deserve a penis aisle.” I said, “You don’t have a penis aisle because the world is your penis aisle. You don’t have a penis aisle the way white people don’t have a history month.” It was just this idea that he felt that it was unfair that they didn’t get a penis aisle and I was like, “You have congress.” It was one of these moments where I was like, “What?” I wound up saying it onstage because I was so frustrated because also things that happened in my life are somehow echoed in what I’m dealing with when I go to do shows.
There have been many times where I’m dealing with entitlement with my kids. I’m trying hard to get them to come out of that because I will occasionally work with very entitled adults. I’m like, “You can’t grow up to be one of these people who talk through everyone’s set and shows up late and says I’m going next and then leaves. Don’t be that guy.” I felt that I was seeing some entitlement too. I’m not one of those people who get up and be confrontational with an audience or with another person, but I could talk about my own frustrations in my family like what I’m seeing with my kids or what I’m dealing with my husband. That can echo with other people.
Your comedy is fun and it’s playful, but it’s about difficulties. It’s about these challenges. You took this Gerry Katzman stand-up class and you got to look into how to do this. You cut the learning curve.
If you take a class where they’re teaching you how to write and how to work with other people and give them punch up lines, you’ll move a lot faster as a comic as how your material evolves. You’ve got nice people being like, “I want to hear more about this, but you lost me here,” Instead of having to learn that over three years of rough mics or different shows.
You’re doing some instructing yourself.
Since I came here, I helped with a class there in LA. I and a couple of other people would sit in and help with new classes that came in. It made me feel a comedy TA and it was so much fun. When I had spoken to him, he was like, “When you go, you should teach. You’re going to get frustrated, you’re going to not see the diversity you want and you’re going to have to create that diversity. When you go there, you’re going to have to teach. You’re going to create the comics that you want to have more females, to have more gay comics, to have more comics of color, to have more trans comics or whatever might be lacking.” When I got here, I didn’t hang up a shingle but hang up a microphone and I’ve been doing some teaching and I like it.
Tell me about the class. What’s your syllabus like? Do you have a syllabus?
I don’t have a syllabus. I ask people to come in and answer in advance, essay the things that make you crazy. What are your pet peeves? What are your nasty naughty little pleasures? Tell me about your life. I tease through it and find the funny in it. I’ll say, “I think this is funny. If you work in this particular division, it would be funny to hear things you can’t say at work.” I just talk with people about what’s relatable and funny.
Is this one-on-one or is this a class?
It’s a class but it’s a very small class. We only have two people. It is for two hours every Wednesday and each person gets an hour. We pour through their stuff and I have them get up on the microphone and go through it. A lot of what can happen if you don’t write things down and record things as you get up and you say at one night and it kills. You get up the next night and you’re like, “That got nothing. Why did that get nothing?” It’s all about the arrangement of how you’re saying it. I was like, “You need to record this. You need to write it down. You need to memorize it like your phone number so that when you get up and the nerves hit and the anxiety, you just know it. It just rolls off your tongue with the cadence you’ve memorized.” Everybody always starts off saying, “I’m afraid I’m not funny. I’m one of those people who are not funny.” Those people are very few and far between. It’s fun to help people find what makes them funny.
You have two students right now. What are their motivations? Why are they doing the class?
They’ve been drawn to comedy and they don’t see a lot of women in comedy and they want to get up and do comedy. People get bombarded a lot with the image of a comic. What I hear a lot is, “You don’t look like a comic.” I think maybe they came in because of that. They were like, “I’d like to do that.” You get presented with this one image of this is what a comic looks like. This is what a comic talk about and I think that’s bullshit. Comedy can come from any perspective and it should. You shouldn’t just present one viewpoint and be like, “That’s a comedian.” They wanted it to be like, “Am I funny?” I was like, “Yes, you are. You’re very funny and your voice is important and it should be heard.” There are some programs where people do stand-up comedy to have it as a one-off. I did that like a pottery class or whatever. I was like, “I want you to leave this class with a done set and that you can go out and perform with. Apply to festivals and you can create some diversity in the comedy scene.”
I want to go up and see you in a show and hear somebody walk out of the audience behind me and be like, “She crushed.” I love that. I love when people are surprised by the underdog. I had somebody say something funny after a show and it was nice. The guy came over and he was like, “You are so good. You are fantastic. You are funny. That was so unexpected. I did not see that coming.” I want it to be like, “Can I stop you and ask you what that means?” I do think it’s just that people think a comic looks this one way and they talk about this one thing.
The nature of stand-up in particular and how welcoming stand-up is to for men, men have certain varieties on that. When you look at the greats, they tend to look and behave a certain way. If your role model doesn’t look like you or is not interested in talking to you or is trying to have sex with you, it becomes hard to do it. I had Jen O’Donnell on. She has a monthly show called The Ladies Room. It’s purposely all females. It doesn’t have to be, but it’s typically all female comics. She talked about how it helps create a space where you can try material and work it out so that you can make a crossover. The idea that hits with women first and then you work it so that it can hit with men. She said something that I thought was striking and I never thought about it this way. She said, “Women have a male viewpoint because they tend to live in a man’s world. Men don’t have a female viewpoint unless they happened to be raised in a female world.” It’s why it’s easier for a male comic to be funny to men and women than it might be for a female comic. It may take more work or take more revising in that way. I thought it was a striking observation and I do believe it’s true.The jokes about vulnerable stuff that you find terrifying to write are the jokes that hit the hardest with people. Click To Tweet
I love that she has an all-female show. I had done a bunch of shows in LA. Some of them were to get up myself and get other people up, but some of them were in response to conversations I had with different bookers where they would say like, “I would book more than one woman, but are there that many?” I would be like, “There are so many. I’m going to run a monthly show with the new ones all the time.” Guys would say things like, “I just book who I think is funny.” I was like, “I think who you think is funny is very much influenced by who you’re drinking with after the show or a person have your exact life.” I had a show that I started in LA called Token Straight White Dude where we would only have one straight white man every show. I would also hear from people like, “People say I need more diverse people, but I don’t know how many female Asian comics are there.” I was like, “How long of a list do you want me to give you? There are many and they’re hilarious. You should come and have them headline.” I would do that with both of those shows because if you can’t find these, people go through my flyers.
A business school professor, I’m just struck by what bad business it is. If every comedy club is just playing the same kind of comics, now you’re competing against each other. It’s not on the quality of the show, but on what you’re charging for admission or how many drinks you have to drink or whatever. The key element to business is to be differentiated.
It’s what makes you different. The other thing about the female show is if you’re the only woman in a lineup, even if it’s a dive bar show, you’re going to do your alias stuff. You don’t want somebody in the front to be like, “I told you that isn’t funny.” Whereas I’ve seen guys get up and be so comfortable that they’re unprepared and they’re like, “What else was I going to tell you? This guy in the front on his phone.” That’s a luxury. When you do female shows, you can get up and be like, “Here’s my B-list stuff.” You don’t worry that anybody is leaving being like, “Women aren’t funny.”
That’s an interesting observation in terms of the freedom that you can create.
I’ve also had funny women who are like, “I didn’t want to do my spot at the end of this show after listening to 40 minutes of date rape jokes. I didn’t feel particularly welcome.” I was like, “I understand that.” If you feel that you’re following a hostile thing, it’s hard to get comfortable. If you have a show that’s more diverse and there’s every perspective, then you’re like, “Everybody deserves a chance to get up here and have their voice.”
I’m going to ask you some questions a little more rapid fire. You are a mom, a wife, a stand-up comedy teacher and a stand-up comic. Those are the four major things in your life. What are you saying no to? What’s trying to find its way into your world and you’re like, “No, this is enough?”
I am not somebody who says, “This is enough to stuff.” I tend to bite off more than I can chew and work backward from there. I don’t know if there’s anything I’m saying no to. There are projects that I’m working on that I’d love to be further along in. It’s not because of helping people with homework and setting up play dates. I don’t sleep a lot. Sleep is the thing I’m saying no to. After I had done a joke, I just paused and said, “I haven’t slept in so long.” Thankfully, that went well. I love doing creative things. I feel that that’s lacking. I hang out with adults who aren’t comics too and when you stop doing creative stuff, life is not as much in technicolor. It’s so fun to connect with people. One of the things I love about comedy and part of the reason I love the writing process is because people come together and you get to know them very quickly. They’re like, “I want to write this joke about this vulnerable thing that happened to me.” You go back and forth and they have this great joke. Whereas in the real world, it could take years for someone to share something that candid with you.
Creative work is an underutilized and underappreciated path to living a good life. Most people never give themselves a chance to develop creative muscles. They’re too busy consuming other people’s creative work, which is easier but less fulfilling.
People sell it like this thing that you do in middle school and then you’ve got to get a real job. Part of the reason I love comedy is, as a parent, I felt that every other adult I met acted like they have their life together. They feel that they had it all figured out and this was exactly what they thought it would be and it fulfilled every aspect of their being. I did not feel that way. It was nice to go from hanging out with people who acted that everything is fine. I’ve got everything together to being with people who are like, “Here’s what’s weird and broken about me. Can we find a way to laugh about it?” That was much more real to me.
Do you have a rival enemy or frenemy of some sort or some type?
I don’t think so. I generally am a pretty nice person to work with, so I don’t think I have rival frenemies. I’ve worked with unpleasant people who I wouldn’t work with again. Thankfully they’re not somebody that I see in shows. When you’re unpleasant, that gets around in that hampers your potential.
Chris Mazzilli who runs the Gotham Comedy Club just simply said, “Don’t be an asshole.” If you want to get ahead of comedy, be nice to people.
It’s also a small world. If you’re terrible to somebody, people are going to find out. There are two sides to every story but if you know people and one person is a reputable individual and the other one isn’t, that speaks for itself.
As a comedian, you get better with practice and experience and so on to take your comedy class to make it to Katzman level, what is it that you’re having to work on? How’s it stretching you?
His classes are bigger. There are ten people minus two as it unfolds and I’m finding that good for me right now. I like to delve in with people and pick all the pieces out. I love working with people. What I have to work on is just being direct if I’m like, “No, that’s not funny. That’s just offensive.” You’re only going to alienate people, but those things are so limited and I’ve never run into them with the people I’m teaching. When I’ve been helping in classes, I’ve very rarely seen them. I’ve never had to do that thankfully. When I was in LA and I was in classes with Gerry, he wouldn’t say with people like, “I like this better.” It was a very good positive reinforcement. I love hearing about this. I want to hear more about this. The other thing is saying something that was either racist or sexist or homophobic or something. Sometimes I did love that he would be like, “I’m feeling a little racist with that. I don’t know that we want to do that.” I might go that route if I ever run into it because I tell my kids to do that with things. I say, “If you hear somebody say something sexist, racist, homophobic, say that’s sexist, that’s racist or that’s homophobic.” I was like, “Just call it out with humor.” Be like, “We’re being sexist I guess.” We’re not going to use that but let’s move on to the next thing.
Do you find with your students now that you have the opposite problem where you want them to turn up the darkness?
A little bit because it’s women and they both work in nurturing professions. I’m trying to be like, “Part of the fun of comedy is that you can say things into a microphone that you can’t say to other people.” One of them had said her worries like, “I don’t want to seem too much and too angry.” I said, “That’s a thing women worry about.” You don’t see a lot of women doing Lewis Black type stuff because they’d be like, “This angry woman.” I said, “It’s frustrating because you’ve got to play on the edge.” You’ve got to be edgy but not too edgy. You don’t want to seem angry. You want to seem clever. I said, “It’s frustrating but we’ll tow that line. You should unleash what you’re frustrated about. Don’t do it for 25 minutes. Sandwich it between an act out in the premise.” I’m trying to push them more towards like, “Tell me how you feel.” My brain goes to the extreme where I’m like, “How’s the silliest we can be with this and then we’ll reel it back in? Let’s go peak silly and then scale it back down.”
Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette cut through the clutter. It’s exactly this point where she starts doing a traditional stand-up show and then she stops telling jokes for the second half of it. She gets very real and talks about even how she has to hide the truth in order to make some of the jokes funnier then she tells the rest of the story. The critiques of that are going to be the standard variety of like, “Look at this angry woman.” It’s been incredibly well received and it has made her a name in the world of comedy in a way that it wouldn’t have happened if she just did a standard set. The comedy show became an anti-comedy show and it exposed that challenge that the women have.
Any woman who’s ever had a clip featured on the internet has a threefold response where it’s like, “I got featured. That’s so awesome.” Then it’s like, “There’s this horrible thing called the comments section.” The third fold came to me. I had something go up on the internet and I have that thing where I was like, “Yay.” It always happens on a day when nobody’s listening to me and no one could find their shoes and my kids are just being rude. I’m like, “Somebody likes me.” Then there’s the comment section. The third fold for me was the Laugh Factory clapped back at these sexist awful comments, which was awesome.
I feel that there are people who are super invested in women not being funny and they hate the idea that that’s the thing. It’s always either like, “She’s just talking about her boring life. Women aren’t funny. Women always have to talk about sex to be funny. Why do they have to do that?” Are men talking about quantum physics? They’re talking about the same things, but you find them funny. You’re just very invested in women not being funny and it’s so frustrating. It’s driven the women I know to work harder and to have tighter stuff. It’s not fair to say like, “This guy can tell the same joke she told and I love it, but when she does it, it’s too much.”A fun part of comedy is that you can say things into a microphone that you can't say to other people. Click To Tweet
There’s a world of funny people and a world of less funny people and the less funny people can become funnier if they weren’t good at it. There’s no reason to believe that gender has anything to do with it as much as it has to do with hard work and intelligence and creativity and developing those muscles. Your kids are important to your success. If they are not saying and doing these weird things, does it make it that much harder to get material?
I’m an awkward weird person so maybe that stuff lends itself to things that I write about.
Who are those important people? It sounds like Gerry Katzman was important to you.
I love Gerry. I have people that I met in his class who are working comics, who are awesome and that are hugely important to me.
Who are some of these people? How do you cultivate those relationships? The reason I’m asking this question is that the people think that stand-up is this very solitary pursuit. Yet, the more you learn about stand-up, the more you realize that other people are necessary for success. The audience is necessary. You need the previous audiences to make the current audience laugh. They are the people who booked. They are the people who give you notes. Who are some of those people have been free for you?
Gerry is at the top of that list because I took his class. My friend, Daniel Leary, recommended to take his class and that was life-changing. The people that I met in his class that is working comics that I text with a joke or a problem like I’m Tamer Kattan, Christopher Smith Bryant, Heather Pasternak, Nina Manni, and Dave Williamson. People that of stand-up is a very cold and tough world. I have people say to me all the time like, “What makes a normal person like you want to get up on stage in front of a bunch of strangers. That sounds terrifying.” I have two answers to that. The funny one is like, “My children are worse than any heckler. Hecklers have nothing on my children.”
I could get up in front of these people and got out of the house. I’m talking to grownups and nobody is asking me where their shoes are. That’s when I get to connect with adults. The less funny answer to that is, “I feel like I’ve been very spoiled and I started doing comedy through Gerry’s class and meeting people in the LA community that way.” That’s a very warm introduction into the world. It’s very supportive. In my experience, comics are a lot warmer and more welcoming than moms who would try to pick up at a playground. There’s a lot less judgment. I feel like a mom’s thing can be a brutal octagon where they can be like, “You didn’t bring an extra apple sauce. You didn’t know you were going to be here an extra hour.” You just feel that you’re constantly not getting it together.” Whereas comics will be like, “That’s great. Talk about that. That’s a mess.” Comics will be like, “You broke up with somebody. You’re going to have an hour. You got kicked out of your house.” They feel for you and they want to help you write about your real feelings, but they’re also like, “The wealth of material you can draw from.”
I’ve read something that was like, “How oppressive parenthood has become?” I’m a Gen X so I was a latchkey kid and all that stuff. The parenting wasn’t as hard back then. You let your kids just go out into and now everything has to be so perfect.
It feels like a competition or a pageant. I assumed that in the parenting world there was going to be this great deal of support because it’s so hard and it’s so high stakes, but I found it to be very much the opposite. I found nice and supportive people, but I’ve had more support from my friends in comedy coming through with things and not judging me for stuff.
You’re saying that your rivals or your frenemies and enemies are not in the world of comedy?
Enemies and things are for people with more time than I have. I’ve had people who have been not nice to work with, but then I don’t work with them anymore. I don’t tend to see them working with anybody else either. I have the same policy for adults in my life as I do for the play dates where it’s like, “You’ve got to play nice in the sandbox. You can’t be nasty.” That was one of those fun things when I did shows in LA. I have that policy of like, “You have to be nice and to take rough rooms.” I ran a show in the back of an Irish bar for years and it felt very weird to go back there. I felt that the show changed the energy to a supportive place. I like doing changing the energy of something to be supportive. Comedy is not punching down picking on people thing. It should be like, “That was so weird when you said that thing. That was so strange. I loved it.”
I’m always thinking about what the title of the episode will be. I’m searching for a thing and there’s an idea this one around community or support or something.
I always feel that comedy is a very healing thing. I don’t know who said this, “Laughter is the sound of people realizing that they’re not alone.” I love that because it is that sense of like, “I’m weird and this is strange. What’s wrong with me?” You go to someplace and somebody says that they’re dealing with the same thing in a microphone and you’re like, “Yes. It’s so true.” It has to be true to hit you and be funny. I find comedy very healing for me anyway. The people I love in my life that I’ve met through this, it’s been a fast track to connecting with them because it’s very real, very quickly and very genuine. My problem with some adult interactions that weren’t based around comedy or whatever, they tend to not be very genuine. It’s like your Instagram life or whatever. I like having real things with people because you connect that way and it also makes me feel like, “I’m not the only one who doesn’t know what I’m doing here.”
It must be nice because otherwise, you just feel that this is an impostor.
I always say, “Every adult I know was googling their way through life.” That’s just the reality of life. Nobody knows everything.
That explains why there are so many parenting books.
I don’t know who has time to read them. People buy me these books and I was like, “Get books on tape because I don’t have time to read this. I’m going to open this and somebody is going to run into my room with a crisis. Somebody is going to throw up on this book.”
What are you reading, watching or listening to that stands out?
I’ve been listening to The Moth a lot. I love The Moth. I love hearing people tell their real stories. When I drive home from shows, that’s what I listen to. I wish I had time to be reading something. I love reading and I just haven’t had a chance of moving and getting kids in school. I love to read filth and I haven’t run across any of them.
Do you have a classic filth book you loved?There are two sides to every story. If one person is a reputable individual and the other one isn't, then that speaks for it. Click To Tweet
My phone was full of Outlander and 50 Shades of Grey and photos of my kids. My books section is not parenting. It’s all about life is about balance. I’d love to be reading something. There was a book that I started ten different times called All Joy and No Fun about parenting. Parenting books are great, but doctors don’t go home and read books about other doctors. You want some escapism and something that doesn’t have food allergies in it.
Zoe, thanks so much for doing this.
Thank you for having me.
I appreciate it.
- Zoe Rogers
- She-Devil Comedy Festival
- Laughing Skull Comedy Festival
- Edinburgh Fringe
- Jen O’Donnell – Previous episode
- Gotham Comedy Club
- Gerry Katzman
- The Moth
- 50 Shades of Grey
- All Joy and No Fun
About Zoe Rogers
Zoe Rogers is a stand-up comedian. She’s been featured on Disney Babble and Nickmom.com and has performed at the She-Devil Comedy Festival, Laughing Skull Comedy Festival, and Edinburgh Fringe.