Nicole Blaine is a stand-up comic. She has been seen on NBC’s Today Show, E’s That Morning Show, San Francisco Sketchfest, Laughing Skull Comedy Festival, among other festivals. She is the executive producer of the HBO comedy special, Burning the Light. For six years, Nicole and her partner Micky produced the monthly hit show, Virgin Sacrifice, at the Westside Comedy Theater. Nicole is the head comedy writer for the online magazine RealMomDaily.com.
Listen to Episode #71 here
Making Friends with Nicole Blaine
Our guest is Nicole Blaine. She’s a stand-up comic and she’s been seen on NBC’s Today Show, E’s That Morning Show, San Francisco Sketchfest, Laughing Skull Comedy Festival, among many other festivals. She’s an Executive Producer of the HBO comedy special, Burning The Light. For many years, Nicole and her partner, Mickey, produced the monthly show Virgin Sacrifice at the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. Nicole is the Head Comedy Writer for the online magazine, RealMomDaily.com. Welcome, Nicole.
Thanks for having me.
Nicole, if you weren’t a stand-up and a mom, what would you be doing?
Living a good life. It would be amazing. I have to tell myself every day in the shower, “You’re happy. Enjoy this.” I think if I keep telling myself that, I will start to believe it. It’s the secret retroactively.
I might have an insight we can talk about that might help you. I think happy is the wrong word. If you’re trying to be happy in the sense of feeling good and having pleasure in your life, wrong. If you want to say, “I’m living a good life,” then you are living a good life.
It’s funny because I feel like there are comics that like to talk about all the self-deprecating, “I have the worst life,” stuff which I don’t. I have this great little family life. How do you make fun of that? If I wasn’t in stand-up, career-wise, I might have done what I majored in. I was supposed to be a teacher. I’m jealous of my husband because he has a dream job. Even though both of us are struggling writers and both of us want to quit the day job, he has the best one. He’s a high school theater teacher. That’s dreamy. I once read some article about how in your entire life those four years affect your brain as far as who you identify as and those experiences shape you forever. You always feel insecure if you were that odd man out.
It’s quite formative.
It’s funny I can remember more clearly things that happened in those four years than I can four years ago.
You’re probably soberer in high school then.
That’s a good point. That’s true, I did hit my pot years a little bit late. It meant so much. I love that he gets to teach these kids. It’s not that like if you’re a math teacher, you get kids for a semester. If you’re a theater teacher, you get kids for four full years every day for long hours. They rehearse all night. They come in on the weekends. He gets to make the biggest impression on them and get to be fun guy even though there’s major structure and there are all this work ethic and all that stuff. It’s also the most emotionally raw art form and it’s super vulnerable.
Do you think it’s rawer than stand-up comedy?
No. Nothing is worse and scarier than stand-up. What I mean is in the childhood experience because sometimes I will say, “Would it have been more fun to be a coach of an athletic team in high school? Where do those kids get more from? Who do they get more connected to, the coach or the theater?” His argument is, “I’d get to get them to feel and be vulnerable plus do a team sport. We’re all building the set and doing everything together.” I feel like he has the best job in the world.
Because you’re LA-based, he probably has kids who can act and who are interested in this.
He has super talents. These people are magical kids.
Amy Poehler’s kid is in his class.
How did you know? No, she’s not but he has these incredible LA talented families.
I’m going to make the anti-case for your husband’s great job. Every so often I will interview one of my MBA students for the pod. A few months ago, I interviewed one of my MBA students, Kendall Carroll. Kendall was a theater teacher prior to doing her MBA. Her whole thing was taking a bigger stage in life. She wasn’t doing it in LA. She was doing it in West Texas or East Texas. On the one hand, she talked about it with great fondness. She talked about the skills of being a theater teacher setting her up. She gave the commencement address for her graduating class. She talked about how she used her theater teaching skills to help her MBA program, but she was not excited about spending a lifetime doing that work. In any case, it’s funny because this is a classic, “Grass is green,” scenario.
Here’s also the reason why the grass is greener for me is that I get to be the best-case-scenario in his world. I’m not a teacher. I get to go to all these rehearsals. I used to be a lot younger than those kids’ parents, but I’m aging now. I don’t have a high school kid. I’d like to think that my abortion spared me that. Their parents are still older so I used to look a lot younger and cooler, but they like me. Every year, he takes 20 to 25 of these kids on a field trip for four days to New York. Back when he first started working at the school a few years ago, he needed a female chaperone. For some odd reason, he convinced the school to let him take his wife. He doesn’t even work there. He totally pulled one over on them. He was like, “That way she will be able to share a room with me.” Somehow he ends up convincing them so I’ve been grandfathered in. Every year I get to go on a trip with 25 kids and usually out of those 25, 23 of them are girls. That’s how the odds are in the theater world.
We go on this trip and I get to play this role where I can’t get them in trouble. I’m not a teacher, I’m not grading them and I’m not their mom but I am a mom. I come into this nurturing space where they want to tell me everything. I will get super vulnerable and every single trip on the second night we’re there, I do a girls night in one of the hotel rooms. The three gay guys are always invited but they don’t come. We all pile in and I will tell some real story about how I failed either back when I was a teenager or when I was dating Mickey or how I’m failing as a mom. A bunch of the girls will start crying and then they tell me about their life and we have this amazing, “Let’s make it funny. Let’s normalize the pain. Let’s share this horrible experience,” and we break down. For me, that high school time when they feel alone and isolated, I get to play the coolest moment in their life. I’m over-dramatizing it. They don’t like me that much but I like to pretend they do.
I can see how this is related to living a good life. You don’t have to deal with the parents. That’s a real big benefit. Being a high school teacher nowadays is hard in part not only because the systems are screwed up, they’re piling more and more work on you but then the constant contact with the parents is probably a very difficult part of it.
For some odd reason, he usually gets a few wild parents. They don’t want to get into an argument with him because he’s far too good at it. He will usually be nice and then once he gets pushed past that point with the parent, he writes an email and he will never hear from them again. These parents know those kids that are there want to be there, which is different than going to a math class. That would be the dream job.
This is the first time I’ve ever tried to talk someone out of their dream job on the show. I should not do that. These are your dreams. Getting back to this idea about living a good life, this has come up a ton of times on the show. I teach this idea and I use it in my own personal life. It’s work by this positive psychologist named Martin Seligman. He has a book called Flourish, which you might like. In it, he talks about how there are multiple paths to living a good life to flourishing. He disentangles happiness as one path from these other paths.
He calls it the PERMA model, which is an acronym. P is for Pleasure is what we often think of as happiness, positive emotions, eating well, sleeping, sex and the things that we think of oftentimes as pleasurable. In your defense, you have a lot of pleasure in your life in the following way because you laugh a lot. I can tell that you enjoy yourself. I can tell you’re a happy person dispositionally. My sense is your family dynamic has lots of laughter and fun in it. You’re doing pretty well given that you’re a mom juggling work and all those work aside, hustle, family, etc. The next is, E which means Engagement. This is living a good life through creative pursuits. This is the time you spend writing. When you get good enough at writing or other types of creative pursuits, problem-solving in general but art specifically, you can achieve what’s called a flow state where time evaporates. You’re like, “I’ve been here for three hours. I forgot to eat.” That’s an indicator that you’re living a good life. Nicole’s making these faces at me.
I know, I’m very facial. My husband loves to watch me work on the computer because he’s like, “There’s a whole symphony in your face.” This is my favorite face story. Back before Hamilton was the biggest thing in the world. It was just starting to pick up all that speed. I was in New York doing a bunch of shows for Virgin Sacrifice. I was living in New York for a month and one of my best friends, Lily, was out there. She was like, “There’s this new musical and we should try to get lottery tickets.” You put your name in a bucket for two hours in advance. If you win, you get to sit in the front row and you pay $10 for a front-row seat. You use a Hamilton because he’s on the $10 and then you can sit in the front row. I’ve never won anything in my life so I was like, “Yeah, sure.” The two of us went down there. She meets her friend who’s like, “I’m going to put my name in the bucket for you so you have a chance. I’ve got to go to work but we’re not going to win anyway.”
We put our name in the bucket and his name was drawn but he has to leave and we get his two tickets to sit in the front row of Hamilton. I’m like, “I know nothing about this play. What is it?” I have no idea. We sat in the very front row and I’m front row the farthest seat on the audience side left, which is maybe the worst seat on the front row. I can only see half of the stage because I’m beneath it and I’m all the way on the left but it doesn’t matter. The show starts and Lin-Manuel is up there and all of a sudden I was like, “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” It’s unreal and he’s so emotional up there. I’m following it and I’m staring at him and at some point, I’m pretty sure he makes deadlock eye contact to me and I feel it inside down into my vagina. The next scene that he’s in, he’s doing his thing and right before he walks off the stage he completely makes eye contact with me and now I’m like, “We’re fucking 100%.”
I have an ex who called it the pelvic tingle.
I get that also when you’re on the pirate ship at the pier and you go up to the top and you drop, you orgasm. If you close your eyes and you lift up. I love taking my kids on it to watch them as babies get orgasms. I’m like, “Strap in babies. This is the beginning of something great.”
Now the audience knows why I have Nicole on this show.
Baby orgasms on Pirate rides. I’m a great mom. By the time intermission comes, I turned to my friend, Lily, and I’m like, “Is it me or do you think he’s looking at you?” Because I know as a stand-up, lights are bright. You look into the audience and you can’t see anybody and you’re doing it for the audience. You’re faking a connection. I know as a stand-up, I am not faking the connection. I hear them and I look at them through the light and I don’t see anybody but I am responding to their space-time by sound. My eyes are locked and they probably think, “We’re fucking.”
I’m not an idiot but I feel like this guy, Lin-Manuel, is picking me out of the crowd or, “Do you think he’s looking at you too, Lily?” She was like, “No, I think he is looking at you.” I was like, “No, it can’t be.” I go, “Here’s the deal, let’s watch throughout the second act and see if it keeps happening.” The second act comes and by this point, twenty orgasms. I’m dead sure, I am fully exhausted on this journey. By the time the bows come, I was like, “It’s probably in my imagination.” At the bow when he’s taking the bows, if he doesn’t acknowledge me, it was all in my head but if he at the very end gives me a little bit of a wink nod, then it was for me. He was into me and I should meet him backstage and we will get married. We will both leave our partners. This is what’s meant to happen.
I waited and it’s bow after bow, nothing. On the very last bow, he goes to leave the stage, he turns around right as he’s exiting and he gives me a wink. I was like, “Did you see that?” She was like, “That was real.” Coincidentally, after the show, we’re in the alley and by the backstage door. She’s like, “My friend is a stage manager here. We have to wait and say hi to him.” I was like, “Okay, cool.” We’re now talking to the stage manager and the next thing I know, Lin-Manuel walks out and he beelines straight for us. I was like, “He’s probably coming to talk to the stage manager.” He walks right up and he goes, “You,” and he points at me and I was like, “Yes?” He was like, “Thank you.” I was like, “Thank me?” He was like, “You make so many faces throughout this entire thing that since I can’t see past the front row, I was able to gauge if the audience was into it. I was able to work with you because the faces you made helped me.” I was like, “He just used me for my face.” I felt so used like we had a one night stand and he walked out at the end. He didn’t even tip me but I’m like, “I’m a whore. Let’s do it again.” Anyway, I think we’re getting married one day.
Do you have a hall pass thing for Lin-Manuel?
Yeah, him and Taye Diggs.
I can help you with that. We’re Twitter friends. Taye Diggs is Twitter friends with everyone but still.
It’s just you. He’s not friends with me in any way, hook it up. Leonardo DiCaprio from Titanic. I saw Titanic three times in the theaters and it was good. Those are my three for sure passes.
Who’s your husband’s? Do you know them?
He says Antoni from Queer Eye. He is his number one. I’m more of the Jonathan, the mustache guy. Those are our Queer Eye tops. He gets a hall pass for Antoni and Natalie Portman is his other one. He also loves an old-school Winona Ryder.
He likes a little crazy.
That’s why he’s with me.
I’m going to finish up. Fittingly, the R in PERMA is Relationships. It’s the idea of having robust and meaningful relationships from loving family to friends and community connections and so on. M is Meaning or purpose. It is doing something that is challenging and bigger than yourself like curing cancer.
I think that’s where I’m lacking.
[bctt tweet=”Parenting is like the highest highs and the lowest lows, which is similar to stand-up.” username=””]
Family can fit that. Raising children can fit the meaning.
I feel like I’m failing at that.
That’s common to feel that way, especially because the future is so uncertain. The last is A, which means Achievement. Finishing something very challenging to do that most people can’t do, winning gold medals, building a business, having a Broadway play and so on. Some of these things start to overlap. For example, Hamilton is both in a creative endeavor and an achievement in that sense and being a mom is both relationship-based and meaning-based. The interesting thing though about the PERMA model is that means, for example, living a good life can change depending on where you are in your lifetime. You were talking about your mother. Your mom has transitioned away from parenthood to a more pleasurable grandparenthood. She has more pleasure in her life than probably when she was younger.
I don’t know if any moms with young kids are enjoying it.
That research is clear on that.
We all hate it.
They wouldn’t trade it but it’s very difficult. It’s the quick takeaway of the behavioral research about it.
I feel like it’s the highest highs and the lowest lows, which is similar to stand-up. It fits into my addictive personality where everything is very extreme. I don’t do anything middle ground. I either love or I hate it. I feel like my kids have brought out the worst side of me. It’s like when you were fighting with your parents when you were little, it all circles back when you’re raising them.
You mean paybacks.
Is that what it is?
I think so. My sister has a fourteen-year-old daughter. They’re chipped off the old block. My sister catches hell. It’s well-deserved for all the hell she dished out.
I don’t think I deserve this. That’s the difference.
I want to talk to you about the parenthood stuff a lot. It’s a common topic of your stand-up.
It’s my brand. I’ve accepted it. At first, I resisted it because I started stand-up super late. I started at 34 when I was beginning with my second kid. The first time I did it, I was pregnant with him. The second time I did it, I was pumping milk on the way to my first mic. I found myself in a lineup of 21-year-old boys. I was embarrassed to tell motherhood jokes because they all still lived with their mothers.
We should double down on that.
“How can you relate to me? Who’s doing your laundry?” It was hard and I was embarrassed to make all those jokes. They weren’t laughing because you’re starting out and you’re new and you don’t know how to tell a joke. Over a while, now I feel I like that challenge of going, “If the joke is good enough, I will get a 21-year-old boy to laugh at it,” end of the story. Funny is funny and he can relate to it still somehow from his perspective. It’s family.
Even if you’re not interested in family, it’s impossible to avoid the topic in your life. You’re familiar and you have your own family life. The world is constantly pushing imagery and expectations and everything about family life on you. In that way, it’s probably as close to a universal topic as you can find in comedy.
Half of my jokes are set from my kid’s perspective. Everyone’s been a kid, so it’s neat to see it that way or to react to it that way.
First of all, a lot of these 21-year-old boys may be smart but they don’t know very much. They’re not very interesting. They’re all the same. They all look the same and they all sound the same. I can’t keep their names straight and so on. I know their perspective. I’ve been a 21- year-old boy, there’s a part of me that’s still a 21-year-old boy. It’s especially cool to do it because I know how challenging it is to do it as you’re older, the hours, the late nights, the travel and then to do all the things that you’re juggling. I got your name from Jen O’Donnell, who’s a previous guest. She’s wonderful. You’re the second mom comic that I’ve had. I’m sorry to call you mom comic. Zoe Rogers was on the show before and it was fun to talk to her. She talked about her kids. I don’t do a ton of homework but I do some homework. Your bio says, “Nicole lives in Santa Monica with her husband and two kids. They all suck so she has great material,” which is very fun. I watched some of your videos and I was like, “I want Nicole to be my friend.”
That’s great because as I was reading all of your stuff when I do my research, I was like, “I want him to be my friend.” I was like, “How do I make this show so I can interview him?”
I may not let that happen but I will answer some questions if you want at the end. I want some of your stuff and you cover some topics. I will start with the more incredibly enjoyable jokes that you tell. It’s too long for you to tell it here but clearly, you’re well-practiced because you tell it at lightning speed. Do you know the joke that I’m referring to?
Is it the DeLorean joke where I go back in time and I talk about parenting from 1985 versus now? It’s my favorite joke in the whole world.
Yes. Do you use it as closer?
You have to use it as a closer because it’s tough on its own in the sense that it’s a slow build.
Before you talk about it, can you give the beats of the joke to the audience? You can tell it if you want.
No, I can’t. I would have to rehearse it because it’s so word-specific, but you can go and see it online at NicoleBlaine.com. All of my jokes come from a real-life story. That one started in complete truth where my daughter was having a two-hour meltdown about the silent K in knife. Before I slit my own throat with the knife, my mom walked behind me and she casually said, “I remember parenthood being easier,” or something like that. It was one of those things where I was like, “Has she forgotten?” That’s what you wonder. It’s the same thing with having a baby. It’s so painful. Why would you do it a second time? They will say like, “You forget how horrible it is.” I’m looking at her going, “Legitimately, have you forgotten?” I was like, “How was my childhood when she was a mom?”
There’s research that suggests that it is rosier in part because the pain and the challenges fade away with the passage of time. The passage of time makes highs less high and lows less low. This is in part why if you break up with someone, you get wistful about the person, not right away, not the next day. You relive the next day but months later.
You get back to them and go, “I remember now why I broke up with him.”
[bctt tweet=”If you’re a single mom, you never get a moment.” username=””]
The passage of time tamps down some of that annoying bad stuff. That’s part of it but not all of it as you go on.
The best part of when I started to dissect that joke was how I could go back in time to my childhood in 1985. I make that joke and I lay out what her day was like raising me. I wake up at the crack of dawn and I make myself cinnamon toast crunch. I watched Tom and Jerry. My mom throws me in the back of the car where I stand-up for the entire ride to school, bouncing back. She’s smoking cigarettes. I get to do that and then as a writer, I got to then completely make sure that every single thing that I outlined that she did was then contradicted in now. I have to wake up and make my kids some organic cage-free vegetable omelets. Instead of TV time, there’s no screen. They have to do some gardening and then they ruined my shirt and so forth and then my carpool. I have to be green. I take all the kids and I can’t strap them in and they all have their own individual car seats. It’s ridiculous. I love that joke.
To be clear, you’re talking not like you are now, you’re talking a mile a minute.
Here’s what’s interesting because I’ve listened to some of the interviews that you’ve done with other people. I feel like there are people who are better writers but I came from a theater background. I may not be the smartest, funniest writer, but I can memorize and perform close to flawlessly. I can do that almost every single time. I’ve probably done that joke a few thousand times for easy over the last few years. It’s one of those things but I will rehearse in my car and sometimes if I’m getting in shape for a big show, I will run that joke, which is exactly four minutes and 30-something seconds. I will rehearse it over and over again in my living room for an hour. When you say, “What makes someone do something?” I am an over-preparer and I am jealous of the comics who get up there and flippantly talk.
The Chappelles of the world.
They’re geniuses. The Robin Williams, they’re incredible.
Although, allegedly he did a lot of rehearsing. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Robin Williams was so good.
He made us think it was off the top of his head. That’s what they are doing.
I think Chappelle isn’t. He’s just riffing but almost everyone else who’s that level is making it seem off the cuff.
The trick that I’m trying to do is outperform. If my material isn’t the greatest or the writing isn’t the funniest or whatever it is, then I’m going to have my margin of error for performance as a theatrical place as spot-on as possible. I like that joke because it does get ramped up and I like high energy comics. I was like, “That’s my thing,” or pushing it when you’re writing a joke. I don’t know if you saw the one where I talk about sex and I’m telling my kid what sex is now.
It’s the birds and the bees talk. You’re like mom’s words were coming out of your mouth.
It’s the same thing. I compare how my mom told me what sex was. It’s between a man and a woman. When I’m telling my daughter what sex was, I’m like, “Now it’s a man and a man, a woman and a woman, or it’s a man who feels like a woman inside, if they’re born with a vagina, they can feel like a boy. Now it’s not gender, it’s this. There are people who are attracted to electrical appliances.” It’s the pushing the envelope that I like or like those rants. That’s my favorite.
I want to touch on this idea. It’s so hard to be a parent these days. I feel like I can say this too. I mentioned my sister who I adore. Not to brag, but I treated her and her kids to an Italian vacation.
I thought you were about to say Italian dinner and I was like, “Yeah, whatever.” It’s Italy, I got it.
They never left the country. They had to get passports. This is a big family trip. Her boyfriend came and his sons came.
How old are the kids?
They were sixteen and fourteen, now seventeen and fourteen.
They can appreciate it. That’s great.
They’re great kids but they’re teenagers. If they were twelve, that would have been better. If they were twenty, it would be better.
It’s funny, my mom treated us to an amazing Hawaii vacation and the best part because my kids are younger, they’re having so much fun and they’re great. There was a sea of teenagers in Hawaii. There was a sea of them pouting. It’s exactly that. I was like, “Hawaii, your parents had spent a fortune on you.” Go on.
They’re doing it better than most. The reason I bring up the treat is that on the one hand, it made me feel more responsible and on the other hand, I could be less responsible. I skipped a bunch of tourist stuff. I’ve done my work financing this. You go do the tourist stuff. I’m going to go sit in a cafe and write and read and drink cappuccinos. On the other hand, it was more responsible because this idea of living better came out of my mouth a bunch of times. Also the words, “Fucking children. I’m so glad I didn’t have any,” came out of my mouth at one point.
In front of them?
The whole house heard it, everyone heard it. I’ve now had conversations with the kids about expectations about how they should behave. One of the things that come out of my mouth is, I was like, “You don’t understand this but being a parent is incredibly difficult. I know this because I’m not a parent. I can see how hard she’s working to make this work. I recognize you can’t appreciate this right now. You will someday.”
Only if they have children. I don’t even know if Kenny comes full circle for you.
My sister and I had a very difficult mom who’s now passed. The passage of time has helped. We marvel at what she was able to accomplish as a single mom on food stamps, three jobs. She made our life horrible but she also made her life safe. She led us down a path with a strong moral compass. We are flourishing.
It’s funny that you use the word safe. That’s my biggest thing when I think about the little bit of tragedy that I had in my childhood was when I didn’t feel safe. There was a lot of unsafety for a few years like legitimately an unsafe house to live in. It was the one thing when I went with my kids. I’m going to fail. I’m going to yell too much. I’m totally controlling. I repeat myself a lot. I can’t tell you how many times I’d say, “Did you floss?” I sound like a crazy person or, “Use a fork.” Italy has heard me scream, “Use a fork.”
Versus their hands?
Yeah, or eating with their mouth off their plate, “What are you licking? Are you an animal?” It’s so bizarre. Anyway, I want them always to feel safe. The one time and this is super vulnerable and I don’t even know, I will regret saying it on this show. I was yelling at my daughter. I’m always yelling at my daughter and she’s always yelling at me and that’s our thing. She makes me crazy. I make her crazy. It’s fine. There was this one day we got into this huge fight and I was screaming. Instead of screaming back at me, she went into her room. It was weird because normally she’s like me, we have to get the last word, we have to keep going. She went into her room and I went, “That’s weird.”
I followed her because I was out of control. I was so mad and I was sitting there screaming and she was silent. I looked at her and I went, “Why aren’t you saying anything back to me?” She went, “Because you’re scaring me.” It was the moment and I’m telling you this was a few years ago where I walked away. I went into my room and I dialed my therapist who I hadn’t been in for a year. I was like, “Make me an appointment,” because the moment that I crossed the line to make my kid feel unsafe like I had years ago, I will never do it again. I went through a year of therapy of why am I getting so triggered by her and what is the problem? We had this great a-ha moment.
[bctt tweet=”Virgin Sacrifice involves one person who’s never done stand-up, was never planning on it, and is never going to do it again.” username=””]
When you say we, was it you and your therapist or you and your daughter?
At first, it was when after many months of therapy, my therapist threw a mirror in my face because I kept going, “Look what she’s doing to me. Look at how difficult this personality is. Anyone would have a hard time raising this. She started it. When she was a baby, she sucked as she started it.” He’s always been incredibly empathetic and listening. He’s like, “That must be hard.” At some point, he looked at me and he was like, “What are you going to do about it?” She’s smart and amazing. She’s going to be a superwoman. I’ve always said the joke for me with raising her is I’m assuming at the end of the day, Hillary Clinton’s mom wasn’t like that. That would be easy. This is what it’s going to be taking. I’m raising an AOC. That’s what I have. How do I not ruin her because she is probably the coolest person in the world but it’s not easy to be around when they’re a child.
People like that aren’t always easy to be around as an adult.
That’s my goal. How do I raise you not to be obnoxious? How do I take this and use it for good? What is your moral compass then? I had this a-ha moment with my therapist who pushed me and said, “Do you want to keep this relationship ten years from now? It’s only getting worse.” I went, “No.” I finally heard the thing that she had been saying to me and it was always, “You’re so nice to my little brother.” I kept going, “That’s because he’s so easy,” but you can’t say that to her. You’re like, “No, I’m not. I’m the same.” She’s not an idiot and ultimately, I’m gaslighting her because if she keeps saying, “Look at the way you treat him,” and I’m like, “It’s the same.” She’s like, “Am I crazy?” I asked if I could go with her to her therapist who is amazing and incredible.
Do your kids have their own special therapist?
Of course, I can’t share mine. Get your own. She has a great therapist. It was because I realized I was scaring her.
I’m teasing. It fits this idea of organic breakfast and gardening.
Everyone got their own therapist. We all have our own Reiki healer. What are you talking about? I was like, “Can I go with you to your shaman?” She said, “Sure.” We were in that session. Unprepared, I turned to her and I said, “If you could say one thing to me that you would want me to say I’m sorry for, you can say it right now. I promise I will apologize and I’m going to own it. I’m going to take responsibility.” She goes, “Really?” I go, “Anything.” The therapist was even looking at me like, “We’re going off-script here. What are you doing?” She goes, “Okay.” I go, “Anything that you can’t stand.” She goes, “I never want you to make chicken again.” I was like, “I will never make chicken again but don’t think this is about the chicken. This is definitely not about the chicken.” She was like, “Okay.” I go, “Can I say what I think it might be?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “You can stop me but you might want to say, ‘Mom, I’m upset because I think you love my little brother more than me because you’re nicer to him.’” I said, “I’m sorry.” She was shocked and I went, “I have not been nice enough to you and that’s on me.”
I’m about to cry right now.
I was hysterical. She was crying. I said, “I’m sorry. You should never live in a house where you don’t feel you are loved by your mom 100%. I got you and I’m never going to make you feel like you live in a house where you are any less than anyone else.” This was a few months ago. I don’t think I’ve fought with her even close to what I used to do. I connected and I went, “I fucked up.” I don’t know where and how I will use this in writing comedy but that’s my goal. I need to get a little more space from it. I needed to find a way because I feel like I’m willing to stand-up in front of people and say, “I screwed up here and haven’t we all?” Whether we’re the parent or the kid or somehow. I don’t know how to make it into a joke. I have no idea.
I made a note, “Shannon, listen to Nicole Blaine.” My sister doesn’t listen to my show. I’m going to ask her to listen to this because she’s tussling with these same kinds of issues. Our family is not a sophisticated Santa Monica family. It’s an unsophisticated South Jersey family.
You don’t have five therapists.
No, I made it out. The fact that I’ve done what I’ve done with my life is. It’s my mom’s greatest accomplishment. It’s what my sister and I have achieved. It was a painful process but I still have to marvel at how it was hard but it got done and so that’s great. That’s an amazing story.
I don’t know what I will do with it.
Here’s the thing. This is my opinion. If you do nothing with it, 99% of the benefit has been realized because this is something that changes the course of your life.
I was on this New York trip with the students. It had happened and I went vulnerable to them. I told the story.
They must be bawling.
All the girls but there was one little girl that was sitting next to me. She’s the new girl in the theater program. She just started. She’s the young one and she’s strikingly beautiful. Her body is to boot. She looks like a Disney princess. She’s incredible looking and she walks in as this young kid walking into the theater department where you’ve got all these other seniors and juniors that have been working for years to get these parts. She walks in, she opens her mouth and she sings like an angel. She can dance and she can act. She is perfect. She’s smart and she’s whatever. She gets the lead in the show. All these kids are probably going to hate her because who is she to walk into the theater department after all these kids have been blood, sweat and tears for years, and then she gets the lead?
She’s undeniable and she’s unreal. I’m sure that puts a lot of pressure on her socially too because how do you make friends if people hate you because you won? You got the coveted spot. We go on this trip and they don’t totally know her yet. She looked so perfect on the outside and I tell this story. She’s next to me and I barely know her. She’s shaking and crying. She’s collapsing. I look at her and I go, “Are you okay?” She says, “I wish my mom would say that to me.” I went, “Why?” She goes, “I have a younger sibling who has cerebral palsy and as soon as she was born, all the attention went to my younger sister and I have felt completely left out.”
I don’t even want her to hear it. I realized she was my daughter in teenage years. I took her and I was like, “Your mom doesn’t understand yet how amazing you are. Let me be the one to tell you like you are so loved.” I fell in love with her in this bizarre way like I would adopt this kid. I’m so sad that her mom hasn’t had the opportunity but I get it. Her mom is busy. She’s got a child at home with cerebral palsy. I’m like, “Come be with me.” That’s why my husband gets to make a difference because that kid, she’s the first one in the door in the morning. She’s the last one to leave. She builds the sets with him. She does the makeup. When she doesn’t get the part, she’s there because she gets the attention and love. She’s going to be with him for those four years. It’s going to save her.
The issue is these parents are doing the best they can.
I don’t blame this mom.
I can’t even fathom my mom is getting one-tenth as close to what you described of self-awareness. All she was doing was trying to survive to keep these meat puppets alive.
If you’re a single mom, then you’re not going to get a moment. If you get lucky enough to be married to someone who gives you that respite, that’s right.
I will give you the alternative story to your nine therapists. I have a therapist, I talk about him a lot. I’ve had therapists throughout my life. They’ve been very useful. Part of the reason that I had therapists is that when I was a kid, my mom would drag us to the community free therapist for poor families. These are social workers mostly. These people are trying their best. This is the ‘80s too. We’ve come a long way when it comes to these things. I remember one day, this is as close to your story as I can get. We’re young teens, mom takes us to this therapist. It’s nighttime because she works. I’ve always said if I were to write a screenplay, I’ll write the scene into the screenplay. We’re in there, family therapy, the three of us, my sister, me, therapist, mom. My mom’s like, “These kids are terrible. They’re out of control. How do we fix them?” All this stuff. We were good kids, not perfect but we were good kids. Kids know if they’re good or not good. The therapist says, “I’m going to stop you right there. It’s not the kids.”
She held up the mirror just like mine did.
She’s like, “The kids are not the problem. You’re the problem.” She didn’t say exactly like that but that was the message. I remember sitting there and going, “Yes.” This is close to the end of the session. We get into the car. It’s our Buick Regal. I remember this car. I sit in the front because I’m taller. My sister sits in the back and the door shut, this big Buick door. My mom pauses and says, “That’s the last time we’re going to that therapist,” and then starts the car. It was the most deflating moments. I still could hold on to that. I was like, “I see the glimpse.”
It’s too hard to admit that failure from a mother to a child. It’s supposed to be the one thing that you do, you don’t let them down, you protect them and you make their life good. It’s so hard and you don’t know what you’re doing. One of my biggest problems with being a mom that is the hardest thing every day is leaving the house and getting the kids in the car to school. I am surprised every day that I get it done. I am shocked because my husband leaves at 7:00 AM to get to school. He’s amazing. I can’t complain because by the time I roll out of bed, they’ve eaten breakfast and their lunches are packed. What am I complaining about? The hardest thing is getting their shoes on.
[bctt tweet=”Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” username=””]
How old are they right now?
My daughter is eleven and my son is eight but this year it was second grade and fifth grade. We’re leaving elementary school. I feel like from day one, getting my daughter out from one room to another is a major battle. I’m at the point now like she was ten this year. I was like ten years of this, I’m broken. I don’t know how many times I can scream, “We’re leaving, five minutes. We’re leaving, four minutes, get your shoes on, floss your teeth,” whatever it is. It’s ridiculous. One day, it was the only day in the year that was pouring and my kids are from LA. They look up like, “What is that from the sky?” They have no idea what rain is. It’s very overwhelming. My kids have also walked to school. We lived ten blocks away. We live on the street that the school is at.
I need to interrupt because related to your joke, we were latch-key kids. That was the term for us.
I only walk to and from school.
We came home to an empty house and a list of chores to do. Parenting now is so hard in part because those kids are trying to be good parents. They’re trying to do this impossible task of not only keeping their kids safe but letting their kids thrive, get into Stanford. If you don’t get into Stanford, every little thing seemingly is a make or break step to getting into Stanford. Almost none of it matters. I can say this as a behavioral scientist. You’re also supposed to be their friend. You get this helicopter snowplow parent phenomenon that in a lot of cases backfire where you now have kids who are no longer kids, who are adults and they’re soft. My mom kept us safe but we were cut out of stone.
We can weather the storm. That’s what I can do, they cannot. The rain is dropping, in LA it’s a drizzle. You’re absolutely right. Here it is. I’m telling them, “It’s 8:05. We’ve got to be out the door by 8:05.” For the first time in ten years, I realized she’s walked to school with some friends. I said, “I’m going down to the garage,” and we’re in the alley. “I’m going to pull out the car. If you are not in that car in two minutes, I’m leaving without you and you can walk.” I don’t tell her how to get there. I fill in the blank like she should be able to figure it out. She’s ten and she’s a straight-A student. She will be okay but I’ve never done this. I’ve never threatened it and I’ve never left.
I grabbed my son who had his shoes on twenty minutes ago and he’s been standing by the door with his backpack. I’ve got that kid who stands there and is like, “How can I help?” We walk out and I go down to the alley. I opened the garage and she doesn’t come out. There’s no sign of her and I’m waiting. I wait four full minutes and she doesn’t show up. I’m like, “Do I do it?” At this point, if I don’t do it, she will never believe me again nor should she. I realize this is that moment like a defining life moment. I made a threat and I have to follow through. I closed the garage and I start to drive away and I see my son in the rearview mirror. He was like, “What? You’re leaving her?” I was like, “Yeah.”
I started to drive down the alley and I get all the way to the end of the alley. I looked in the rearview mirror and I see behind at the other end, this little girl and she is running with one backpack on the side and her notebook on the other. It’s like, “Run, Forrest, run,” in the rain. She’s panting and she’s calling out, “Mom.” I’m like, “This is perfect. She knows I left but now I can stop and she can get in. I won so hard.” I’m applauding myself. She gets in the car and she closes the door and it’s that same ear-piercing silence that you said in your mom.
I’m feeling good and now we have to drive those ten blocks which are two minutes in complete silence. I’m like, “This is great.” She gets out of the car. She opens the door. She goes to slam it but right before she does, she opens it back up. She sticks her head in and she goes, “I hate you,” which is fine. I got that right. I’m like, “Okay.” She goes, “I want to tell you the truth all those nights that you leave me to go out and tell jokes on a stage, you think those people are laughing. They’re laughing at you. You’re not funny.” She closes the door and walks out, vicious. All of a sudden I’m like, “I’m not funny? Come back.” This whole thing completely backfired. I’m going to tell you something. I never had a problem getting her out of the house. It’s old-school parenting that works.
I’m going to post in the exhibits an article that I saw many years ago. I don’t even know why I read it because it’s for parents. It was on Slate about the parents as a coach versus the parents as cheerleaders. The parents as cheerleaders are like, “You’ve got to do your homework. Have you done your homework yet?” Coaches aren’t like that. Coaches are like, “You’re late for practice. You’re not playing in the game on Friday.” Coaches are about lines in the sand. The coach is like, “You’ve got to do your homework tonight.” If they don’t do the homework, then the kid has to live with the consequences of not doing the homework. It makes a persuasive case for parents as coaches. You were a coach at that moment. Coaches aren’t always beloved but they are especially in hindsight, the good ones appreciated.
The worry is what would have happened if she didn’t come out in time and did feel like abandoned? That’s where I worry about that safety thing. She could have walked in the rain.
It’s easy because I’m not a parent.
I told my husband the story. I was like, “I nailed it.” He was like, “You were abusive.” I was like, “What? I thought I was the best mom ever.” He was like, “I don’t know.”
Here’s the issue. Your kids can’t always be happy and thrive at the same time. That’s an impossibility. We as humans need challenges in our life. Think about it. Would you ever be able to get in shape if exercising wasn’t painful? It’s impossible. Would you ever be able to be a good stand-up comic if the craft wasn’t painful? We’re not meant to always be in a good mood. We’re not meant always to be comfortable. When you’re establishing boundaries and norms and self-sufficiency and all those things, you have to be able to delay gratification. Nicole, I don’t think you were abusive. I applaud you. I was disappointed you stopped the car.
I should have flipped her a peace sign and kept going.
This a fantastic conversation. I wanted to talk to you about vulnerability because it’s something that I noticed in your stand-up. It’s funny because what I was going to use as the second example of your joke was you have a story about your birth and about what it did to you physiologically.
Do you mean my baby blowing out my vagina?
Yes, and which you go into some detail. It’s a little cringeworthy and frankly, I was going to use that in terms of vulnerability. It’s interesting that your vaginal challenges don’t even hold a candle to the stories that we’ve been talking about in the sense of this authenticity you have. Here’s what I want to know. Why are you like this? Is it just for comedic purposes? Have you learned the secret sauce to good comedy? What is it about you that allows you? You’ve made me more vulnerable. The show is a new skill for me. I’m 70 episodes in so it’s not fresh, but it’s a new skill for me. One of the things is that I’ve worked hard to try to be vulnerable to this. I try to admit the things that I don’t want. I’m not usually bragging about treating people to trips. I will do that but I also talked about my struggles and so on because I know that this matters from a theater standpoint and it matters because people don’t want to listen to the color beige. You’re even rubbing off on me. I’m way more vulnerable in this show.
You don’t talk about your mom and your therapy session.
I tell them about my therapy. I don’t tell about my mom to the degree that I have. As a man, I’m working on trying to be more vulnerable. Jen O’Donnell talks about the patriarchy and a good friend of mine, Matt and I was visiting in Berlin and we were talking about the patriarchy. We’re talking about masculinity because that’s what we do. We drink rye and talk about patriarchy. He said something so profound to me. He was saying how the patriarchy stifles masculinity like the purest form of masculinity. We tend to think about masculinity in terms of assertiveness, confidence, stoicism and so on. Of course, that is an element of it. The feminine likes that in the masculine. However, a man who has just that is incomplete.
In my opinion, that man should be flexible and easy going and be able to take a risk when it comes to his emotions, not take a physical risk but taking a psychological or emotional risk. What that often means is to admit you’re scared to ask for something that you’re concerned that the answer will be no, to be vulnerable. We always think of bravery as like the guy who is in the foxhole fighting a war. For most men, they will never have to be brave in a physical way. They don’t have to fight off a mugger. What they have to be brave is to be able to say, “I feel something negative or I’m worried about this thing.” I’ve been working on trying to be vulnerable in my relationships, in my dating world and my friendships and so on. This show is a minor extension of that. You’re making me more vulnerable because you’re so vulnerable. Where does this come from?
It’s triggering me in the sense that my husband and I spend a lot of time raising a boy going, “How do I raise a complete feminist who wouldn’t even question sharing it?”
It’s interesting because one of the things that my friend, Matt, said is that women will perpetuate the patriarchy at times. A guy says, “I’m concerned, I’m worried, I’m scared.” His partner says, “You need to man up.” How do you do this with the young boy?
Everyone wins somewhere. Some people get to have their dream job or be wealthy or be beautiful, whatever it is. My lottery ticket in life is that I married the greatest human in the world.
I can tell from doing my research that you’re quite fond of your partner.
It’s gross. I worship him like he’s everything. The best part about it is I made a mini-him physically. He’s the cutest man in the world and I made a duplicate baby that looks identical to him. If you like dogs, you like puppies more because any baby animal, even a baby possum is cute. I took the thing that I love the most and I made a baby version of it. I have a hard time not making out with my son. It’s bizarre. It’s the most romantic crazy relationship ever. In raising him when he was really little, Mickey, my husband, we would talk about letting him cry. I remember my dad was over babysitting. He’s an incredible babysitter grandparent.
They do this mother-boy dance together.
It’s funny you say that because my son and I do other dance. He asked me to do it all the time. He also asks me to suck on his tongue, which I’ve stopped doing just so you know. I get it. It’s weird. Anyhow, he’s too old. My dad was over babysitting. He must have been two or three and he was crying about something and my dad said, “Suck it up. Don’t cry.” I looked at him and I was like, “My kids are allowed to cry.” He was like, “He’s a boy.” I was like, “He’s a human and I need him not to censor his emotions forever.” What I have said is there are times and places to cry.
I also feel like we can’t go to Trader Joe’s and you can’t throw yourself on the floor. That’s not a cry space but you are welcome to hold it together until we get to that car and you can unravel because I’m in safe space. You can have all the feelings but you can’t do it where it’s noise pollution or whatever. I do think you’re right like raising a man that’s vulnerable. I keep thinking, he’s almost like a social experiment for us. Can I create this boy who grows up to feel so okay with sharing his emotions? What will he as an adult turnout? I keep going, “Tell me about it. You’re allowed to feel. Cry as much as you want.” We have to circle back many years. I will let you know.
I have three friends that come to mind that your son could become. This friend Matt, who I talked to you about. My friend Mark and a friend Eric or EL. All of these guys, I admire them. They’re good-looking men. They have this masculine-feminine one-two punch and the ladies love them. These guys think like, “I’m going to get some chicks. I’m going to be an Alpha male.” I have women sprint pass me in a bar to hang out with these guys, not because of their looks but because they have this ability to listen, empathize, hear and deal. It also goes with the fact that they’re also athletic in the more traditional American male style thing. If I can lead in life and continue to cultivate this, I hope the girls will talk to me, especially because two of them are married.
Is this what this show is? You’re luring women in and you’re like, “This is a podcast. I swear there are 70 episodes, come over.” I got it.
It’s funny you say this because of a previous episode, Fearing Failure with Kym Terribile, Kim says, “I like it when you talk to a woman on the podcast. You’re a little more flirty.” I remember saying to her, “I don’t think I am,” and then afterward going, “Maybe I am a little bit.” It’s certainly more interesting to me. I want to do a few questions for you. What is Virgin Sacrifice, the show you do in Santa Monica?
I ended it but it was the best thing ever. I would take one person who’s never done stand-up, was never planning on it and is never going to do it again. They get to a doctor, a lawyer, a bartender or grandpa. I helped them for six weeks write a five-minute set and then they get to headline after huge big professional comedians. It was 80 minutes of watching the pros. It would be something like Ali Wong and David Koechner and Anne from accounting. That was that show. It gave people who want to be funny but have a real job. It gives them that high and it’s sold out every single month.
It has to be a crowd-pleaser.
It was because everyone’s rooting for them. I’d always open the show by explaining who they were. I would roast them a little bit, tell them about their real job, make some funny jokes. All their friends would get drunk and watch these professionals, then they’d go up and do five minutes. No matter how bad or good they were, their friends were laughing because it was a triumph of the human spirit. It was rooting for the underdog. They get to walk away going, “That was the best night of my life.”
You have your new show. This is on Mondays.
I’m helping Ester Steinberg and Brent Gill. They have been producing a show every Monday at Canter’s, there’s the Kibitz Room, which is like the famous Deli Canter’s on Fairfax not far from Santa Monica Boulevard. Every Monday night at 8:30 is where we get some big people. That’s a free show and it’s weekly and that one’s a lot of fun.
I don’t think you answered my question about why you’re so vulnerable. You said why you’ve been working on it in terms of creating the world’s best man. My audience would be so pissed if I didn’t finish it.
When I went through the hardest time in my life where I was living in an unsafe space. My parents had a nervous breakdown and were crack addicts. I was in my teenage years. I was living in a crack house and it was a tough time. I had started dating my now-husband, Mickey, and my little brother was in the house with us. Every Thursday night we would watch Friends at 8:00. For half-an-hour, I wasn’t living in a crack house. I was happy and I was laughing. I thought, “One day if I can give that relief to anyone else, that I will.” Later on, I wanted to do something with my life and I didn’t know what. I wished that I could ask Jennifer Aniston what to do.
I had this dream about her that she came into a diner and I was able to say, “Were you afraid of failure? I’m worried I’m never going to make it. What’s going to happen?” I woke up from the dream. Exactly one week later, she came into my work and now she was in front of me. I have to ask her something. I took her into this private room and I said, “Can I ask you a question? Before you were famous, did you worry about failure? I was super obsessed. I’m never going to make it. What am I going to do?” She said, “Are you an actress?” I was like, “Yeah.” I said, “Are you afraid of failure?” She said, “That’s an interesting question. Nobody’s ever asked me that before. No, I was happy being a waitress.” I call bullshit, first of all.
I am referencing back to this thing with Kym. She’s this incredible writer who’s not writing. I’m not an incredible writer who writes. I asked her, “Why aren’t you writing more?” She’s like, “I’m scared of failing.” I go, “I don’t understand that. I don’t have that.”
For me, I live with this.
I know and it’s so fascinating. It’s such a common thing. I always thought this is some bullshit excuse that people get but it’s not.
It doesn’t stop me from trying. I’m the idiot who keeps going. My feeling about Jen was she was a waitress for a few months.
It’s not like you’re in your mid-40s going, “Is this ever going to happen?”
The difference is I’m twenty years in and she was eight months in. I’m sure the failure feeling wasn’t set in yet.
What job is it that you have that you can take A-list celebrity into a private room? Did you work for an OB-GYN?
It was similar. It was an imaging center. Nothing was wrong with her. She was coming in for a regular check. It’s HIPAA compliant. I’m not supposed to tell you that. She was fine. There was no ultrasound. There was no baby. It was a knee thing, her knee. She said, “Can I give you some advice?” I’m like, “Yes.” She goes, “Are you a writer?” “No, but my boyfriend is.” She goes, “Have him write you a one-woman show and you will be fine,” then she floated away. I’m not that good of an actor and I wasn’t a writer. It was ridiculous and I didn’t know what I was going to do it on. I spent a year going, “If the one person that you wanted advice from gives you advice, you have to do it now.” One-woman shows are so obnoxious and self-indulgent like, “Are you kidding?”
They’re so bad that in La La Land, they don’t even show you the one-woman show.
I love jokes about the one-woman show but now I felt obligated to do it and I didn’t know what to do it on. My best friend who had seen me through my childhood and my mom being an addict, said to me finally after years, “You know you’ve got to do it on your mom.” I went, “That’s not funny.” He said, “You make it funny.” That was where I took the vulnerability and the storytelling and I said, “I’m going to take the pain now that I had a little distance.” My mom had been sober for a few years by that point. I said, “Let’s make it funny.” That was what worked for me, taking the pain from the worst thing in my life and finding a way with parenthood and my vagina or insert whatever horrible thing that it is. It’s tragedy plus time equals comedy and finding a way that makes it specific and relatable because we’ve all been through pain. Hopefully, it can be like what Friends was for me.
It sounds like what you’re saying is you tried it, it works, you got rewarded, you keep trying it, you keep getting rewarded and it’s working.
Some of the time and not all the time.
Last question and I’m going to limit you to one answer. What are you reading, watching or listening to that’s not just good but great?
The best show on television that I’ve seen in many years is Kidding, Jim Carrey and Judy Greer on Showtime. It’s a drama with comedy. It’s taking the saddest subject possible. It’s about losing a child. It’s directed by Michel Gondry and Dave Holstein.
You torture yourself watching this?
Yeah, because my biggest fear would be losing my children.
That was my mom’s biggest fear.
I worry about them every day. I always say if either of my kids dies, I’m out. I won’t survive without them or my husband. I told my husband, here’s the deal if he dies and he knows this ahead of time, I’m not raising these kids because I don’t want to raise these kids with him, let alone without him. We’re all going down. The show, Kidding, is the most genius way to touch on a subject and people having a breakdown. It’s magical. I recommend that show.
Nicole, will you be my friend?
Yes, will you be mine?
Yes, of course. This is great fun. Thank you so much for doing it.
Thanks for having me.
- Kendall Carroll – previous episode
- Jen O’Donnell – previous episode
- Zoe Rogers – previous episode
- Fearing Failure with Kym Terribile – past episode
- Kibitz Room
About Nicole Blaine
Nicole Blaine is a stand-up comic. She has been seen on NBC’s Today Show, E’s That Morning Show, San Francisco Sketchfest, Laughing Skull Comedy Festival, among other festivals. She is the executive produced the HBO comedy special, Burning the Light.
For six years Nicole and her partner Micky produced the monthly hit show, Virgin Sacrifice, at the Westside Comedy Theater. Nicole is the head comedy writer for the online magazine RealMomDaily.com.
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