Before I spoke to comedian Sara Schaefer, I watched one of her childhood home videos. I'm not creepy or anything, because anyone can see it — it's on her website, part of a stand-up routine. But still, it made me feel like I kind of knew her. Like we could be friends.
That's one of the most distinctive things about Schaefer's comedy, which finds outlets in everything from podcasts to sketches, in addition to stand-up. It's personal, cozy in a way. You won't find the confrontational awkwardness of a Sarah Silverman or the quick, punchy absurdity of TJ Miller at a Sara Schaefer show. Her brand of funny could be described as conversational with dips into the ridiculous — an original song, for example. "My first stand-up performance, I was really afraid to just get up there and talk, so I wrote this song about my cubicle, and I had this CD track to accompany me because I can't sing and play an instrument at the same time. I even had these dance moves I had choreographed, but I was shaking too hard to do them," she says.
Today, Schaefer's set is largely based around stories from her life or family, like the time she was at her eighth grade awards assembly and wouldn't stop rolling her eyes and mouthing I hate you to her parents sitting in the auditorium's front row. (That's the amazing home video mentioned earlier, by the way.) "I love telling stories, but I've been working very hard to make it more jokey, more punchlines," she says. "If I'm up on stage where I can try something new, I'll just tell the story I've been telling my friends for two years."
She adds, "Sometimes I don't realize they're jokes. I guess if something happens in my life, it takes me two years to find it funny."
To get an idea of just how personal Schaefer's comedy can get, all you have to do is listen to an episode of You Had to Be There, the podcast she created with fellow comedian Nikki Glaser. The two started it shortly after they met, and they got to know each other on the air. Early episodes encompassed conversations about serious things, like the death of Schaefer's mom and Glaser's treatment for an eating disorder, mixed in with plenty of funny commentary and storytelling. These days, since they know each other pretty darn well, the conversations are a little lighter, a little more of-the-moment. The two also welcome a guest comedian or musician each week who comes in to hang out and talk about, well, whatever. Each episode is recorded in Schaefer's Brooklyn apartment with a small live audience of friends and, now 68 episodes in, random fans who show up wanting to watch the magic happen.
It's the ideal format for the Facebook generation, which thrives on informality and personal connection (at least seemingly personal — but that's another conversation). There's a thrill that comes with knowing our entertainers as regular people, what they talk about, what they're doing, what they're like with their friends. You Had to Be There offers all that plus hilarious comedy, which is probably why it's been named one of USA Today's Top 10 Comedy Podcasts and has been written up in The New York Times, among other publications.
It turns out Schaefer's literally a pro at using the internet to create and promote comedy. Before venturing into podcast territory, she worked as a writer for Best Week Ever's website and as head blogger for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (for which she won two Emmys and a Webby Award). And now — those of you who heard You Had to Be There two weeks ago will already know this — Schaefer will get to put everything she learned on those TV shows to excellent use, because she and Glaser will be hosting their own MTV show, premiering some time either late this year or in early 2013. "We are crazy excited! This has been a lifelong dream, specifically to host a TV show, and specifically this kind of show," Schaefer says.
Though it won't really be like the podcast. "The podcast is just us sitting around talking, and it's extremely dirty. They would never let that on TV," she jokes. The TV show will make use of Glaser and Schaefer's strong chemistry. The format will be "fast jokes at the top, celebrity interviews, sketches and parodies, and some man-on-the-street stuff, kind of a grab bag. I think because it's two women hosting, and it's geared toward a younger audience, it will look very different from what's out there. It's not going to look like Chelsea Lately ... I think Nikki's and my vibe is really positive, so it's not going to be too snarky. I think snark is on the way out. At least, the younger generation doesn't jive with [it]. People want to celebrate what they love."
But despite being poised for major TV success, Schaefer won't be giving up the mic any time soon. She's written, produced, directed, and blogged, but performing is still her all-time favorite thing to do. "Live comedy, there's nothing like it. That energy in the room ... when I'm performing, that's when I feel most alive. Which probably means I'm dead inside."