Listen to Episode #73 here
Getting The Price Right with Danielle Perez
Our guest is Danielle Perez. Danielle is a stand–up comedian, writer and actress, best known as the woman in a wheelchair with no feet who won a treadmill on The Price is Right. A 2018 stand–up NDC semifinalist, she’s performed at comedy clubs and festivals across the country, including Laughing Skull, SF Sketchfest, Brooklyn Comedy Festival, and All Jane Comedy Festival. Welcome, Danielle.
Thank you for having me.
Danielle, if you weren’t working as a comedian, writer or actress, what would you be doing?
I’d be deeply unhappy working at accounts receivable at the Chester Paul Company in Glendale.
Is that your side job?
No, that’s what I used to do before stand–up.
What is Chester Paul?
They’re a water filtration, a wholesale parts and supplier, industrial parts supplier, random. I dealt with a bunch of plumbers and companies across the country asking them to pay their bills.
Not even plumbers, but the worst plumbers.
The absolute worst ones. The ones that are actually doing the work.
Not paying their bills.
They’re dealing with their accounting department, which is usually just their wives. Our accounting department, I’m sure.
Tell me about plumbers. I’ve actually made an impassioned case for why plumbing is a good profession.
My mom would tell me that constantly. When I was younger, I wanted to be a prosecuting attorney and my mom was like, “Most plumbers make more than attorneys. It was such a bizarre thing for my mom to come at me with where it’s like, “I’m telling you I want to achieve a real dream.” I’m the daughter of an immigrant woman and I want to be an attorney and you’re like, “Plumbers make more than attorneys.” It’s like, “What?” No one in my family is a tradesperson. My dad is an eye doctor, an optometrist. They both went to college. It was just a bizarre thing for her to fixate on.
Being a plumber when you were a kid, was she encouraging you to do this or she was just pointing out?
She was just pointing that out. This is a very bizarre thing that she fixated on I think in high school. I don’t know why.
I’m going to side with her for a moment. Here’s why being a plumber is better than being a lawyer. You’re not going to be either.
Absolutely not. As much as I want to believe that I’m a Type A personality, I have a Virgo Midheaven. I do like that. Also, the follow through is exhausting. You have to cross every T, dot every I, so much of it is just diligence and that’s exhausting.
I think that plumbing is one out as far as a good career.
You’re constantly building stuff and stuff needs to be maintained. It’s a good living.
No one’s happy to see their lawyer unless they’re in jail and everybody’s always happy to see their plumber.
Until the plumber tells you how much it’s going to cost to replace your water heater.
You’re like, “Let’s get it done.”
I also want hot water, so let’s just do it.
No debt. As a plumber, you do an apprenticeship. You get paid to learn. You don’t go to a plumbing school typically. You usually just start working with a master plumber. You don’t have to do that. You get three extra years of income and no debt to start. You still have billable hours in the same way though. You’re only making money while you work.
Already you’re going to cost people money.
You have to be working to make money. As a comic though, don’t you find the need for diligence?
I think it’s a bait and switch, isn’t it? People are like, “I’m going to be a comic. I can sleep in.”
You think it’s like this cool, chill lifestyle. We’re just drinking and hanging out in bars. Anyone who’s actually very successful at this cannot be like a raging alcoholic coke head. That’s not possible. You have to show up to work on time. You have to show up for your spots. You have to perform.
You’ll just be writing regularly.
You have to be constantly creating and writing new material. If you want to make real money, which is like being in a writer’s room, you have to show up to work, have your brain be on all day because you’re in a room pitching, writing, collaborating. You have the homework of writing the script at night or coming in with pitches for the next day on top of doing stand–up. It’s not a fun, carefree lifestyle. It’s actually legit work. I just finished my first writing job.
Where was this?
It’s for a new show on Netflix. I’m excited about it but it was definitely balancing, doing stand–up at night. The first week I was like, “I’m not going to do any shows at night because I want to be focused on work.” The second week I was like, “Maybe I can do a few shows.” I did one and I was like, “No, absolutely not.” I still haven’t figured it out yet.
I think that’s hard. I suspect they’re not giving you nap time in the writer’s room though they should.
It’s a weird thing because you’re in the room, fueled by coffee and wanting to do especially like me, it’s my first job. I want to let them know I wasn’t a bum hire. They did a good job at picking me. To constantly be pitching and just aware of what is happening, you don’t realize that you’re on in the same way that you are when you’re performing, you’re in the moment and you’re creating on stage. You’re using your brain so hard that when you get out of the room, I’m like, “Why am I so exhausted? Why can’t I form sentences?” You’ve been working all day, even though it seems like you’re sitting in a chair, having fun.
I think it’s probably depleting because highly evaluated people are judging the goodness or the badness of your ideas and then using your brain is exhausting. Most people don’t use their brain.
That was wild. I was like, “I really haven’t been using it all that much.”
I think you have a little bit of pressure. I get that with teaching. Sometimes I’ll teach all day. I’ll be in the classroom area all day, but I do about six hours of teaching.
That’s a lot of standing.
I’m wiped out. I’ve learned if I want to do those six hours really well and be excited for the next six hours, I don’t plan any work afterward. Maybe I’ll answer a few emails or do some very shallow work, but if anything, I’ll actually try to go get some exercise, workout the creaky bones, muscles, and then I reward myself. I’ve learned that I have to do that. I get that. I can imagine you get home from the writer’s room, you have something to eat and then you’re like, “I’ve got to go out to a club.”
Just as the prospect of it was like, “Absolutely not.”
Yet you need to go out to the club.
It was cool. I was able to get it. I was able to do a few shows, but I ended up rescheduling the rest. Fingers crossed, I can figure out that balance.
[bctt tweet=”No one is more critical about stand-up than other stand-ups.” via=”no”]
Most readers understand why you need to do the shows. Let’s pretend one doesn’t, one person doesn’t know. Why is it that you when you get a writer’s gig, which is I think it’s one of the great jobs in entertainment? They pay okay, it’s stimulating, it’s regular work. It’s a union job, and we both agree. It was even just assumed. You’ve still got to go to shows. Why do you need to go to shows?
Because I’m a stand–up comedian, some people do stand–up comedy but they just want to be writers. I’m a performer. I love being on stage. I love doing stand–up comedy. You can’t do it in a bubble or a vacuum. You can’t just write at home and do it in your mirror. You have to do it in front of real people. You have to get that feedback from the audience. You have to practice running jokes to see if they work, to see if they work consistently, to see how you can make them better. That first week I was like, “I haven’t been on stage in a whole week.” That took me aback because that’s a long time.
In a normal week, a non-writing writer’s room week, how many times are you onstage?
I’m usually going up about five times a week, which is good for Los Angeles.
I hear that New York has the advantage over LA, the frequency.
There are just so many more shows. Shows go later in New York and there also so many more clubs that are actually interested in developing new talent.
Things are closer.
You can take the subway and stuff, but it’s not really for me because I am disabled and use a wheelchair. The subway system in New York is not fully accessible, so I have to take Ubers or Lyfts and that’s a pain in the butt because they cancel once they see me in the wheelchair. I went to New York in September. I go about once a year but in September, I was there for a week and I was so sick of all these New York comics coming to LA and being like, “You can do four shows a night in New York. LA sucks. LA comedy sucks. Four shows a night.” I was like, “Fuck it. I’ll do four shows a night.” I landed in the hospital with pneumonia after doing four shows a night for a week and it was like, “No one does this. Absolutely no one.” You can do it but no one does that.
I saw you on a previous guest’s show, Jen O’Donnell’s Ladies Room. It was fantastic. It was at the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. I thought you were great. I was like, “I want Danielle on my show,” so I emailed Jen to do this. You have a knack for stand–up. I also did some research on you. It’s not enough, but I did some. I had to check out this treadmill incident. By the way, if you’re working on a movie about your life, what a great opening scene, just a friendly nudge in case that’s not happening.
We’ll see if Drew Carey’s cool with the cameo, making an appearance.
Also what I thought was really great about it was Jimmy Kimmel had you on afterward and you were so fantastic on that. It was great in part because I think you talked about how some people would just be outraged by this. What were your thoughts about it?
I thought it was really funny. I was there on a total whim truly. My friend, Wendi Starling is a great comic in New York now, but she started in Los Angeles. I was less than six months in a comedy when all this happened. She was one of the first people that I admired and looked up to. She befriended me. I was like, “She’s moving to New York and I have the time, let’s go to The Price is Right,” just getting a whole group of people to go. I get on stage and I’m like, “It’s silly.” I thought it was silly. I was like, “My friends will laugh at this.” I truly wasn’t thinking that The Price is Right is this international show that people are obsessed with. The fandom, I wasn’t aware of and so I won a treadmill. I think the walk–in sauna is funnier honestly.
For the readers, you won not just the treadmill but the suite of prizes, including?
A walk–in sauna and Drew was totally normal. Treated it like a regular day at the office. Actually, I was the first name called down the contestant’s row, but the last person in the last game to get up on stage.
Could you imagine the producer is just thinking, “I hope she doesn’t win?”
We had to play that game twice. They only showed it once in the episode. Everyone overbid the first time, so we had to do it again and I got up on stage. You can’t even write that. It was so fun. When the episode aired, I was blown away by the internet’s reaction to it. It was like memes. I was being interviewed by BBC, CNN, People Magazine, and then Jimmy Kimmel’s people called. That was surreal. I was like, “What? I’m going to be on Jimmy Kimmel Live?” I kept saying, “I’m a stand–up comedian.” They’re like, “That’s adorable.” They were like, “No, absolutely not.” I kept asking them, “Are there any prep questions or anything that you need me to do?” They’re like, “No. Just show up at 4:00. We tape at 5:00.” They didn’t give me hair, makeup, wardrobe, nothing.
You were wearing a sequined dress.
A gold, sequined body con dress. My hair was blown out. That day I need to get a blowout. I need to get my eyebrows done. My best friends were with me. We got to beat the face because we’re going to be under studio lights. I’m going to be TV-ready.
You did not take those same steps now, except your nails are fabulous.
Thank you. It’s a lot of work.
I have an ex who says beauty is pain. She said, “If you see a beautiful woman, she’s either in pain or has been in pain.” You suffered for that. They gave you a cruise.
They did give me a week-long cruise. The joke was wheelchair accessible cruise, wheelchair accessible accommodations. They were really fun with it.
I actually admit I got a little misty when they gave you the cruise. I thought it was so sweet.
It was sweet. My family and very good close friends thought it was very funny because they know I hate cruises. It was so much fun. It was great.
Did you go on the cruise?
I did not go on the cruise. I feel very bad about not going on the cruise. I do. What happened was everything got a little crazy and they were like, “You have up until a year to go to the cruise.” I just kept pushing it off.
You don’t want to go on cruises.
It’s not that I didn’t want to go, but I was like, “Maybe I can do a show where it’s like America’s Next Top Cruise Mate to pick someone to go on the cruise.” My schedule got overwhelming. The idea of going on the cruise was like, “Where am I even going to fit it in?” That’s on me. I still have the treadmill though. It’s in a box in my living room. I keep saying I’m going to put together a fundraiser show to auction it off. The longer I wait, the more credits I get. The more I’ll actually be able to raise one day.
This is all a windfall. That’s very funny. Are you working on this as a scene for a memoir, movie or something?
No, I’m working on two pilots but neither of them. I’m trying to figure out how to phrase this in a way that is not the most obnoxious. I am very lucky and I got management this year. I feel very happy with that and I feel like I’ve jumped a huge hurdle. I’m very thankful but they’re like, “We’re not going to tell you what to write, but no one wants to hear a story about a person doing stand–up who isn’t famous, basically.” They’re like, “We can tell you what’s selling our personal narratives, grounded in reality.” Things like Rami, which I love and I think is great or Shrill, which is great but Shrill, she can be a writer in it because it’s written by a woman who legit is a writer and it’s based on her memoir. She’s a person of note as a published author. Honestly, shows about stand–up can feel very insider-y. I feel like people that love stand–up also low-key wish they could do it and think they can do it. Their criticisms of it or the viewership of it is less like, “I’m just enjoying something,” and they want to be like a critic. Just because you can have a Twitter account, I don’t know.
Certainly, there are these shows, there are already a lot.
I love being a stand–up and I love comedy, but it’s also where I am with that. If I want to speak to it truthfully, I think I need to be many more years in it to really come at it from a place that is honest and true. There are still a lot of rungs on the ladder I want to climb up.
Obviously, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel comes up but that seems less about a show about stand–up than this story of about a person’s life with that included and beyond. The other movie, I haven’t seen it yet. It’s on my to-do list and I want to see it in theaters before it goes away. It’s Mindy Kaling’s movie.
Late Night is great. I went to a previous screening of it and it’s so good. It’s so sharp. It’s so funny. The jokes per minute, it’s really punchy. Knowing people who are in late night writers’ rooms, it definitely feels very real. The thing is she’s not a stand–up in it. She doesn’t purport to be. I don’t know if we can spoiler alert or you’re precious about that. I will say that through a series of events, she ends up in this late–night writer’s room.
The trailer gives that away.
Do they? How she gets in the room?
My impression was that she got in because they needed some diversity. That’s all I know.
In the movie, you’ll see. I think the way they handle stand–up comedy in it is actually really good. Only one of the writers is a stand–up, which is a lot of the people and writers. Most of the people I know in writer’s rooms for late night and TV are stand–ups because they do stand–up. That’s an avenue into writer’s rooms. Some people in most of them are just writers.
It’s already hard enough to be one, going to be two in part because as we were alluding to, now you have to split your time.
One thing that I’ve noticed that’s interesting, I know this because as more of my friends and people around me get staffed on shows in late night. There’s animosity from writers who are just writers and writers who got in the room because of stand–up or who do stand–up. It’s not from the stand–ups. The stand–ups don’t care but the writers, it’s weird energy.
The issue is that stand–ups are writers. It’s not like you’re an improviser. If you do stand–up, you perform your material, which you’ve written at some earlier point and are using stand–up to revise and make it better.
It’s like your logic train breaks down. That’s just a little tidbit.
Is it jealousy?
I think so. I’ve never been scared to do a stand–up. My best friend was doing theater in Los Angeles, like Black Box theater, Shakespeare theater and her roommate was a stand–up comedian. We started going to a bunch of his shows. About the third one, I was like, “He’s not funny. I can do this.” We just started doing stand–up. I didn’t have this thing where it terrified me. I also started doing it when I was a 30-year-old woman. Public speaking is people’s greatest fear, being in front of people and speaking, some people are intimidated by that and scared to do that. You’re up there by yourself, so if you bomb, that’s on you there. You can’t blame a room for that. It’s not like, “Bad pitch. We didn’t use it that day.” It’s not a rejection email that only you got for submitting to something. As much as you may want that, you also have to take all of the rejection and silence and noes with that publicly, at least for the people in the room. That’s a scary prospect for some people.
What do you fear?
No one liking me. The same thing all comics fear. Everyone hates me. I’m a fraud. Everyone’s just humoring me and being nice. Everyone in the whole world is in a giant group text that I’m excluded from and they’re like, “She’s the worst.”
I thought you were going to say nothing scares you.
I wish. I try to act like nothing scares me.
That feeling that you just expressed in a much funnier way than I could have.
Imposter syndrome, but make it hilarious.
The world’s biggest group texts, is that a bit you have? There’s some potential there, maybe. I think this is a very interesting idea, one that I’ve been kicking around. I can’t claim to have come up with it. I’ve certainly heard people talk about it. What’s interesting is you know who talks about it? Not comics. Typically guys with Asperger’s, which I mean guys who are in the tech world who are entrepreneurs, those things can go hand in hand. It’s advantageous to be a little bit on the spectrum as an entrepreneur. Just be able to focus and work for twelve hours a day every single day until you make $1 billion.
This idea is that there’s this leftover tribalism that some people would call it part of our DNA or wired within us. Others would just say it’s like a leftover vestige that’s still part of our culture when we lived in this hunter–gatherer world. Where if you did do something stupid, embarrassing or bad for the group, that was incredibly threatening and you get left behind. To be exiled was to be killed. We have Postmates now, DoorDash and Uber Eats. To be frank, you can live a solitary life with no concerns about your survival.
Is that an emotionally fulfilling life?
Perhaps no, but the other one is that even if you get left behind by your social group, there’s another social group who will take you in. In ideas, this is a big world. Twenty million people live in Los Angeles County. If it doesn’t work out with this group, there’s another group that it will work out with. We’ll call it tribalism, we’ll call it the monkey mind, doesn’t recognize that. It takes that ultra-rational person to say, “It’s okay for me to misbehave. It’s okay for me to be non-normative. It’s okay for me to do stuff that other people don’t think I should be doing.” I’m not suggesting they break laws. You can live at high integrity, ethical life in which you may disappoint people in order to live the life you want to live, in order to create the things that you want to create, but this leftover vestige of our previous world keeps us from doing that. Don’t rock the boat. When I hear you say this concern, I wonder. I’m speaking for myself, not for you. I wonder. I’m like, “How many more boundaries should I be pushing in order to fulfill my life?” Knowing, yes, we live in a world of outrage culture and where people are very comfortable giving you feedback about what’s right and what’s wrong and not even your friends. These are strangers.
[bctt tweet=”With stand-up comedy, you succeed on the goodwill of your fellow comics.” via=”no”]
My favorite thing about Twitter is that it was broken for a long time and I couldn’t see any of my at replies and I was like, “This is amazing. I want this broken forever.” I didn’t even try to fix it.
I don’t know, it’s an interesting thing. You live in a world where you are breaking rules and you are pointing out the norm. I think that comics, in general, live a little bit of a non-normative life. They don’t accept the typical as okay. What stand–ups do is they’re typically pointing out what’s wrong versus what’s right.
I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. I guess stand–up comedy is so ever–evolving and changing. I think more with the-everyone-hates-me thing is I’m less concerned about. There are so many things. Number one, I think that not saying that the group that you went to preschool with has to stay your same friend’s circle all throughout your life. I do think there is something for someone who was like, “They never stay in town too long,” or like five years within one scene and five years in another. It’s like never having a home base or something like that. That seems a little suspect. A little grifter-y. It’s like, “What’s going on there?” The format of stand–up is changing and I appreciate people that pushed the boundaries of that. There’s been a big influx of New York comedian stand–ups moving to Los Angeles and they’re a little more cabaret, very like alt.
When you say cabaret, what do you mean?
They’re incorporating musical, maybe characters. Maybe it’s a little bit more of like a one–person show than a traditional stand–up set up punch line format. I like that because it’s someone taking a risk, someone is authentically themselves and doing what they find funny. You see an audience come, you know they’re coming with huge fan bases to LA. You don‘t just move to New York from LA because you feel like. You moved because you have to. It’s the next step. All roads lead to LA. I find that very encouraging. No one is more critical about stand–up than other stand–ups. That’s the thing I fear. It’s she’s not a real stand–up. She was on Jimmy Kimmel, but did she do stand–up? Is that a credit? It’s bullshit. It’s what you think and you shouldn’t be doing stand–up for other stand–ups.
It doesn’t pay the bills.
How can you be truthful in your voice and do comedy in a way that excites you? That’s what I want. That’s scary. It’s scary to say I’m going to do a one–person show or I’m going to do a show that isn’t a traditional setup punch line. I’m going to play around with the formula or the format and trust that people will show up or trust that people will even laugh when you know what gets a laugh, you know what’s safe.
I have two reactions as I listened to this. The one is it’s easy for me to say, but comedy rewards novelty in the sense of more than other forms of art, I would say. By nature of being a comic, you have to be doing different stuff anyways. If you’re doing the same stuff you did before, people are like, “She does the same thing over and over again.”
Some people love that. Some people, that’s all they need. There are a lot of people on the road that make decent livings and it’s like they’re doing the same thing over and over again.
Although that’s more of the commerce than art side of it all.
Who is art for if it’s people buying tickets?
I get the fact that people have to pay the bills. In terms of doing stand–up for other stand–ups, you were saying having peers who are writers and so on now. I talked to Mike Reiss who writes for Simpsons and one of the things that’s striking is the number of jobs that he has gotten because of the people he knows or vice versa. The number of jobs he’s helped people get in that way. These peer effects, these generational effects are present in academia also. People I went to graduate school with during the same time period, we were assistant professors together and beyond. These are people who they’ve helped open doors. If you get a job in another place, it’s often because you have a friend or acquaintance there. You get invited to give talks. You get opportunities that come from your network. In that way, it does matter.
You can’t be an island. I think that there’s this huge myth with stand–up that you have to be great, that no matter what, as long as you’re funny. Funny is funny. Funny always rises to the top and you can be successful without any of the bullshit. That’s just not true. Other people have to recommend you for things. Other people have to book you, other people have to bring up your name. If no one’s doing that, it doesn’t matter how funny you are if you’re an asshole that everyone hates to be around. You’ve got to be fucking funny and not that many people are, truly. You’re not this great genius that’s worth all of that trouble. There are plenty of funny people who are a lot easier to deal with, work with and get along with.
Speaking of Mike Reiss, this story came up in the conversation. He was saying that he cares about working in friendly writer’s rooms. It’s very important to him. He was saying that The Simpsons writer’s room is a very amicable, fun, healthy place.
How many people is that? It seems like it would be a big room.
I think there are over twenty writers for The Simpsons, but they don’t all work on this at the same time. The day I visited him, it was just him, another person and a PA. He works in more of a consulting role and doing punch ups. Any case, he was saying that maybe they had one and a half bad days in the entire run of the show, where it was combative and so on. In his book, he talked about a particular writer’s room where there was this one guy who was an asshole. It’s so funny. The showrunner, producer, whoever says to this writer, “You can’t be an asshole or we’re going to have to let you go.” He must have been good because the guy said, “I need to think about that.”
That’s honestly amazing, hilarious and wonderful, “Let me get back to you on that. I don’t know if I’m going to take the note about the attitude adjustment. Let me just think about it.”
He went home and talked to his wife about it. He came back and he goes, “I can’t do it. I need to go.” I’m sure that person has made his money.
If he didn’t need a job enough that he could just not work it, I’m sure he is fine.
That’s the exception of course. It’s such a fun story.
With stand–up comedy, you succeed on the goodwill of your fellow comics. That’s a lot of the argument for doing a lot of these independent comedy festivals that don’t pay any money and don’t have any industry. You’re going outside of your city meeting other comics from other cities, connecting with them, building friendships so that when you go and visit, they can get you spots. When they come to visit your city, you can help them get spots. It’s a community. It’s a one–person sport when you’re up on stage, but we all want to see good comics succeed. We all want to see funny and that doesn’t happen if you don’t nurture it, if you’re not hosting mics and creating shows, putting people up and recommending people for things.
Let’s indulge me for a moment. On one hand, stand–up seems like you are largely writing your material alone and you’re performing it alone. However, we’re both in agreement that it’s not really a solo endeavor, but to be successful you need others. Let’s try to list out all the ways that you need others. I’ll start and then you fill in. Let’s do it, let’s do you.
I started stand–up. I started with my best friend, Madison. We’ve known each other for several years, so long friendship before stand–up. I was just like, “What do we do?” We go to open mics. We’re going to open mic. She’s like, “We need to start a show.” I was like, “Why do we need to start a show?” “Because that’s a guaranteed spot for stage time, also we can book other funny people and get to know other funny people and create those friendships and relationships.” “Fine.” We started Gentrification and it was a good show. It was a hot show for a little bit, and so people wanted to be on this show. I’m sure I got booked by people who thought that I was going to book them on the show, but we tried to have a lot of integrity and be like, “We want to book funny people.” Our focus was also having a diversity showcase. We were booking women of color, men of color, queer people, disabled comics.
That was the focus of the show because we saw such a lack of diversity on the East side where we started doing stand–up or just in stand–up in general. With that, it’s like I want to know who the other Latino comics are. I want to know who the other black comics are. I want to know who the queer comics are because there are so few of us and we still rarely get booked together. We don’t get time to connect. When someone asks, “Where are the Latinas?” I can be like, “Here’s the list. I know twenty of them.” We’re not these special unicorns. There’s an abundance of us, there are too many of us to be getting too few opportunities.
Whenever there are opportunities to submit maybe a writing packet, like the SNL writing packet or stand–up, NBC or something like that. I share that with this network that I am now connected to because the more of us that show up, the more they have to recognize and make space for us. That for me is very important and maybe that’s a little bit different I think than the way that you wanted to go down. For me because it’s like I’m Afro Latina, I’m disabled, I’m a woman in stand–up. There’s just not a lot of mainstream visibility for women, women of color, queer people in comedy. For me, representation is really important and having those voices be seen and heard. Sharing resources is important. Supporting each other is important, showing up to each other’s shows and being a unit. That’s my success with Gentrification and Thigh Gap Comedy that I started with Madison Shepard and Danielle Radford.
We were able to do that because we created our own thing and we weren’t worried about the establishment as it existed accepting us. We’re actually making very dope cool stuff. We’re making cool shows and we’re booking cool, funny people and you guys got to catch up. Sometimes people will complain about shows not booking them or these people and stuff like that. Not to say that I’ve never been mad that a show just won’t book me. Most of the good things I’ve gotten have been because of other women and women of color, and a few guys too, but I’m more interested in a matriarchy. I’m more interested in linking up with the other people that know what we’re up against and know how hard this fight and battle is.
The reason I’m asking about this is I think we people talk about the lone genius. Any lone genius story you look at and you find an uncle, a mom, a friend, a partner, a team, a teacher, this or that, that has contributed. This lone genius may head a group, but they still need the group.
We need the group. You see that, especially in comedy. Entertainment loves a young breakout success. They’re twenty, they’re 21. They started comedy when they were sixteen. They love to romanticize this idea of this genius ahead of their time that just had it from day one. The thing is, there’s someone behind that’s a very successful comic and was like, “Let me take you under my wing.” That 100% always happens. There’s another comic that’s like, “Let me put you in contact with some people. Let me get you stage time. How can I help you? How can I be your mentor?” That’s wonderful and amazing. To say that they did it on their own, it’s like there’s a support system.
Even the typical, and I’ve seen this happen, even if just simply like you do a set and then you’re hanging out with your mates afterward and they’re like, “You know that joke. Have you thought about?” They offer ideas, punch ups.
That’s the great thing about open mics. It’s like you’re watching people‘s sets evolve, giving tags. It’s a community. You’re in the trenches together.
I was listening to an interview with Nikki Glaser where she was talking about roasting people. She basically emails her friends like, “I’m roasting X person.” They’re just tapping on their computer, “You should say this.”
My roast battle, one of my good friends, Paige Wesley, is an amazing roaster. She’s such a killer, but it’s like she’s always sending me her jokes beforehand and I’m giving her jokes. We’re punching up stuff. I’m not saying that I write her jokes. She obviously writes and stuff, but it’s like you’re always looking. Any good writer knows that you need feedback. 100% why not have another set of eyes that you trust and think it’s funny to look over stuff and see? That’s why you have a writer’s room and you’re not just writing it all yourself.
Speaking of roast battles, I didn’t know much about them frankly. I knew from The Humor Code, I knew about roasts in The Friars Club and so on. I had Julie Seabaugh on who’s a comedy journalist and she wrote the book about roast battles. She’s taking me some Tuesday night to The Comedy Store to see those roast battles.
There’s truly nothing like Roast Battle at The Comedy Store in The Belly Room. It’s so much fun.
[bctt tweet=”Stand-up is not really a solo endeavor even though you go on stage alone. To be successful, you need others.” via=”no”]
Make a case for it, if you don’t mind. I was a teenage boy, so I engaged in roast battles before they were called roast battles. It was called busting, bust on each other.
Is that in front of a pack of black teens?
Actually, yes. It happened to be my friends and I’d made fun of them. I have to admit, I’ve lost a little of my appetite for it. As I was prepping for Julie’s show, I watched some roast battles and they are entertaining. What is so special about the Belly Room too? For our readers, The Comedy Store‘s on Sunset Boulevard. The world–famous Comedy Store. We actually do a bit of a profile of it in chapter two of The Humor Code. There are three rooms. There’s the Main Room, there’s the Original Room and the Belly Room.
The Belly Room is upstairs. It’s up this little flight of stairs. It’s a tiny room.
It’s a very brightly lit stage, as I recall, and it’s dark. You basically look out in the darkness as a comic.
It’s a lot of fun. Every Tuesday night they do Roast Battle at The Comedy Store, and it’s verbal boxing. Two comics going head to head, joke for joke.
They’re making fun of each other.
Insults are being thrown, but you’ve got to make it funny. Some people go up there and they just say mean stuff and it’s like, “That’s not funny.” It’s got to be funny or laughing.
Have you done it?
Yeah. I used to do roast battle pretty often. The thing about roast battle is it does take away a lot from stand–up writing.
It’s not transferable.
Not 100%. Once you use those jokes, they’re done. I really love roast battle. I was battle ranked after my first one. She’s good at writing a roast joke.
If you were going to roast me right now, what would you say?
I don’t want that. I would like to leave still in your good graces.
I promise I’ll hear this no matter what you say.
I didn’t know a girl in a wheelchair could just sidestep so swiftly and so easily.
That’s fine. It was probably for the best.
Just go to a roast battle, see and then you’ll understand why.
I could just tell you whether that group of black teen boys were worse than you.
The reason I love it is at least you know what makes it special in LA comedy is that I only roast people that I genuinely think are funny, that I like. There’s a respect there because you don’t want to roast someone that sucks or your enemy. Why would you give them that? I know what they’re going to say about me. I’m a fat, disabled black woman in a wheelchair with no feet. Come on now. If I’m going to be called those kinds of things by someone, it needs to be someone I respect.
The best roasts, I think, feel like teasing versus bullying.
No one wants to see a bully. No one wants to see someone beat up on someone that’s weaker than them. I think that’s also the great thing. It’s like you can see this scared, timid little girl that’s like, “Who let this twelve-year-old in here against this big burly doofus of a guy? Who’s going to win?” You want her to win. Oftentimes she does because her jokes are killer.
His muscles don’t matter in a roast battle.
My friend, Hana Michels, is so funny. She’s such a brilliant and great writer. Her roast battles are so great and she’ll just take on these crazy men. You’re like looking at her and it’s like, that’s how strong a joke writer she is. It’s so funny.
The pen is mightier than the sword.
I think there’s a lot of catharsis in it where we’re confronting all the ugly truths about ourselves and taking ownership of it and laughing at ourselves. Frankly, people talk about PC culture. The roast battle is truly a safe space. It is the safest space in comedy for comedians because nothing is off. Absolutely nothing’s off. Maybe not for the audience, but for the comics doing it, truly anything and everything is on the table.
It is an exception where you don’t hear the outrage.
Everyone agrees on the rules and there’s an understanding of what it is. If I was at a regular show and someone was intro–ing me with the things people say at roast battle, the judges were saying those things. It’s like you go back and forth and then there are judges. They provide commentary after the battle for the main event. They score each round. Usually, main events are three rounds. It’s like everyone’s making jokes. They have like the Saudi prince who was this character and it’s just 9/11 jokes and women as slaves jokes. Your face, your eyes are getting wider and wider. We all know what it is and there’s an understanding of it and you’re encouraged to fight back with words. Does someone want to say something sexist at me? It’s like, “You better watch out because I’m going to talk about your teeth, your hair and your body too.”
I think one thing, besides the rule thing, which makes good sense, that there are these ground rules.
There are grand rules, all original material and afterwards you hug. Every battle ends with a hug. The ones that don’t, usually it wasn’t a good battle and it was weird. Someone battled someone they didn‘t like and there was real beef. That’s not fun. It’s entertainment. We’re putting on a show.
The fact that it’s equal opportunity seems to help. If you’re making fun of a group and they have no chance to respond, you’re making fun of someone, the audience, they have no chance to respond. In roast battle, you go tit for tat. The reciprocity probably helps also. I think that’s very funny and I can see why it would also attract a certain audience member who might be a little bit tired of the limits, the rules and so on.
Roast battle fans, that’s honestly something I don’t super engage. I don’t like to engage with anyone online that I don’t know. Truly, I stay away from fandoms. Roast battle fans, I don’t know. They live Periscope the roast battles at The Comedy Store every week. On Periscope, it’s on Twitter. You watch it, you can see the live comments. I turn those off. I don’t want to hear what someone who’s never done stand–up thinks about stand–up. I truly do not care, don’t at me. I don’t want to hear it. I will ignore you. The people in the Belly Room, it’s a mix of people that heard it was a cool show, saw it on TV. It’s a lot less of the fandom. The fandom is usually online. It’s people that find it and latch onto it and they can’t be there every week. Sometimes there are people that are there every weekend stuff and obsessed, but it’s less of that and more of just people that are like, “I heard this was a cool thing to do. It’s LA, it’s The Comedy Store. It’s a tourist destination.”
This equal opportunity element, I really puzzled over the change from the original Friars Club roast to the Comedy Central roasts worked.
The roast of Bruce Willis, that format versus the Friars Club format, they think ratings. They want money. That’s what it is.
I think the Comedy Central ones are so much more vicious than in the Friars Club. I puzzled over why that worked, especially for someone who’s trying to understand what makes things funny. What I realized was that the Friars Club roasts truly come from a place of love. You get roasted by your friends and the people who know you and know you well, and you could tell that they love you. That makes sense. The Comedy Central roasts, these are strangers roasting people and these are people who may not even be as beloved, to begin with. The insight I had was that it actually shares something similar to the roast battles, which is everybody who does roasting for Comedy Central’s roasts also gets roasted. People get up, make fun of their fellow presenters and then they’d finish off with the person thing. It has that equal opportunity feel to it which is, “If I’m going to roast, I’m going to get roasted also.” That gives a level of license that makes it work in the same way that you just described for Tuesday night.
If it was a bunch of people going in and no one else was getting roasted, that would be difficult to watch. Especially if it’s people that don’t really know the person. It’s like, “Why are they saying these crazy things?” What Comedy Central has done well with those roasts is that all the comedians, it’s like Natasha Leggero knows Nikki Glaser. They know Jeselnik or Pete Davidson. All these are all people that are already friends and in the same circles. It’s that same camaraderie where they can go after each other knowing that these are just jokes and we’re having fun.
They’re going to laugh in response and the bigger the burn, the bigger the laugh. You said you host the show, Gentrification. You’ve talked about being an advocate for diverse comics. You also are an advocate with regard to disabilities.
I’m disabled. It’s like you are de facto. It’s the thing. There’s such little representation of disability in entertainment on TV and comedy that you become a de facto one. I don’t want to take away real activist work from people who are 100% activist and that’s what they do. They work in academia or in nonprofits and stuff like that.
You’ve done speaking, you’re an advisor. Tell me your flavor of activism. How are you doing it?
I like to be an advocate by being visible. Doing stand–up comedy, being on shows, being in a writer’s room, actually doing the work and being visible. I think that’s the most important and true activist work that you can do. If you say you’re a comedian, then be a comedian. I’m not an activist that started doing stand–up comedy. I’m a comedian. There are a lot of people that can speak a lot more eloquently about the need for representation, the struggle for access and Medicare for all and all of that. The more that disabled people take up space, the better it is for everyone. That’s my guiding light with all of it. It’s the same with I’m also Afro-Latina, to be visible is to be undeniable.
As we were talking about once you make it.
[bctt tweet=”There’s not a lot of mainstream visibility for women, women of color, and queer people in comedy.” via=”no”]
That opens the door and then I’m like, “Rush in before they try to close it again.” Once I see something work and I’m like, “Maybe we can do a little more of that.” It’s not such a risk. It’s not so scary. There’s no way that I could be given the opportunities I have been given if not for women who have come before me, women of color who have come before me, who have shouldered a lot more, know hostile work environments.
I have to imagine that you were talking about the challenges of being in New York. Even LA may be better, but it’s still not good.
It’s still not and it’s still the thing that I can’t just tell The Improv you need a ramp. I have to get people to lift me on stage until one day the manager is like, “There’s got to be a better way. Maybe we can get a ramp.” “That’s a great idea. You have a great idea.” Now there are ramps at The Improv. That’s awesome. Dynasty Typewriter, it’s a beautiful venue. Every time I get asked to perform there, I tell the producers, “It’s inaccessible and it needs to come from you to get it fixed because it can’t come from me. I can’t take that shot.” They’re getting ramps.
That’s on my list of places to go. I’m new to LA.
It’s beautiful. Time Out LA is doing a special showcase called Made in LA. Some of the top comics in LA from Los Angeles and I’m performing on it.
I may be able to do it because I want to check out that space. I’ve heard people rave about it. I’m glad that they’re getting a ramp. I ask this question to all my guests. What are you reading, listening to or watching that’s great? Not just good, but that’s fantastic. You only need to give me one thing.
Big Little Lies was great until that finale.
Finales are always bad.
It was so great. The first half was great.
Do you want to do one more?
These are all things on my to-do list. It’s reading, watching or listening to that’s great. I do love Megan Thee Stallion right now. Hot Girl Summer. She’s a rapper. I want to say from Texas, maybe Houston. I’m not even sure.
I like when people give music responses. I rarely get music responses and lately, I’ve been getting music responses. What’s her name?
Megan Thee Stallion. She is great. She has a song called Hood Rat Shit. There’s this like old viral video of this little boy who is being interviewed by the news because he got in trouble for something. I don’t even know what it was. He’s like, “I want to do hood rat shit with my friends.” She made a song about that video basically. I think it’s very funny. She champions the Hot Girl Summer, which is what we’re all celebrating this summer. She’s a cool, fun girl, like I like to fucking dance and have fun with my friends and date a guy that’s rich until he’s broke. A real fun, carefree vibe that’s joyous and doesn’t take itself too seriously. She’s actually a great rapper. I like that it’s similar to Cardi B or the City Girls where it’s like we’re having fun. We’re just some girls kicking around. We’re cute and we’re being pretty reckless, but we’re having a good time. I like that. I like when women are allowed to be joyful.
Danielle, you certainly are a joyful woman and thank you so much for doing this. I knew it would be great when I saw you at Ladies Room. Thanks so much.
- Danielle Perez
- Chester Paul
- Jen O’Donnell – Previous Episode
- The Humor Code
- Julie Seabaugh – Previous episode
- The Comedy Store
- Friars Club
- The Improv
- Dynasty Typewriter
- Time Out LA
About Danielle Perez
Danielle Perez is a stand-up comedian, writer, and actress best known as the woman in a wheelchair, with no feet, who won a treadmill on The Price Is Right. A 2018 StandUp NBC Semifinalist, She has performed at comedy clubs and festivals across the country including Laughing Skull Comedy Festival, SF Sketchfest, Brooklyn Comedy Festival, and All Jane Comedy Festival.
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