They say to write what you know. The closer you adhere to the truth (or, at least, your perception of the truth) the more compelling your narrative will be. It will draw in your audience and hold them for minutes, even hours. They won't be able to let your story go.
Good comedians lasso the unwitting audience member, not only convincing them of a truth but also eliciting a physical reaction. Laughter. Howling. Silent shaking and tears running. Deep belly laughs that are a better workout than the gym. Good comedians simply tell you a story, set up a scenario, and you're there, you're with them, you can see it perfectly. They stick with you, leave you wondering, weeks after you've left their show: "Shit, why didn't I think of that?"
Iliza Shlesinger takes us with her whenever she takes the stage — she's beloved on the road — in her Netflix specials (the next one tapes Feb. 23 in San Francisco), and in her new book, Girl Logic. From being cat-called out of a truck or van "never a Civic for some reason" to falling with utter confidence to the floor of a dirty club searching one-handed through a devilish Mary Poppins-like bag seeking out a specific lip liner, to combating destructive gender stereotypes, "ladies, you're never actually going to be a mermaid," Shlesinger weaves elaborate narratives that never lose the listener. Because it's real. And, as Shlesinger would tell you, it's quite logical.
In her stand-up, Shlesinger astutely toes the line between hyperbolic character creation and more serious truths. It may start with a drunk party goblin, one of the comedian's favorite tropes. City Paper had the opportunity to ask Shlesinger pressing questions, including, "How does one become a party goblin?" Shlesinger's answer? You don't. She says, "Party Goblin is something everyone has, male or female. You don't become one, you have one and she enables you to text your ex, dump out your purse on a busy dance floor, decide you can do five Fire Ball shots in a minute, dance on a table, negotiate with a cop. She comes out when she wants and you never see her coming."
Shlesinger is a great physical comedian — just Google her videos for a taste. She twitches her eyes, hunches her back, drags her feet, makes goat-like utterances. She allows the party goblin, or the witch over the cauldron, or the petty high-pitched frenemy ready to talk mad shit after a few glasses of Chard, to completely take over. But just as quickly as she drops her voice into that of a drunken fictitious creature, she's back, standing tall, eyes wide, a 30-something self described upper middle class white woman. The characters are part of a greater narrative. The goblin who dances on a table and orders $100 worth of takeout segues to what it means to be a woman, possessed by a booze-crazed bogey or no, and what it means to be a single woman on her own at night.
Shlesinger's material primarily focuses on Girl Logic, a specific, insightful, and howl-inducing interpretation of the female experience. Based on this niche, Shlesinger has been called both a feminazi and a bad feminist. When we ask Shlesinger about labels, and achieving nuance in a world obsessed with either/or — Shlesinger sticks to her guns. "I think if you look for nuance then you are trying too hard," she says. "Part of the innate talent of a comedian is naturally finding a way that you are different and leaning into it. But it takes time. An audience can smell a forced act. Moreover, labels are for lazy people. We label when we don't want to look further. 'Feminazi' is as outdated as saying 'women aren't funny.' Like sure, there are some that fit that category but, en masse, women are so multi-faceted that all you can do is hope to find an audience that appreciates you for all your layers."
And layered she is. In her stand-up special War Paint, Shlesinger parodies a Friday night with a group of gals you don't even like. "Let's just do girls night, let's just wear wedges and no boys, girls night." Add a few goat noises, and anyone who has ever been drawn into a "girls night" is dead in their seats. She nailed it. And then, in another special, we're at a Ted Talk of sorts, a fuckin' funny talk, but it still feels more like an experience than a comedy show. In Confirmed Kills Shlesinger touches on inherent gender differences. "It's about strength, if women were physically stronger, do you think we would've waited so long to vote? But they say 'oh women are mentally strong.' Mentally strong? What do I do when a rapist runs at me? Math?" She points out in one simple scenario a mere modicum of what women deal with every day.
When asked if it's exhausting to delineate women's experiences like this so eloquently and relatably, Shlesinger admits that, "Girl Logic can be very exhausting and I try to honor that in the book. It can get to you, the overwhelmingness of possibilities. Social ramifications like, 'if I don't get into the right party then I'm a loser and if I'm a loser then I'll talk to losers and if I talk to losers, then I'll work with losers, then I'll date a loser.' Personal fears, even small things like 'if I don't wear these heels then my butt won't look good but if I do wear them then my feet will hurt and I'll be cranky.'"
Even seemingly confident and assertive world-traveling comedians worry over heels and social status. And the thing is, that's OK. It's not petty, or silly, or "feminine." It's a layer. Shlesinger adds that, "Men read this and think 'women are crazy' but, honestly, these thoughts only run through our minds because of the astounding amounts of pressure we face, socially, physically, work-wise and when it comes to other people's expectations of female perfection. Laugh all you want, there is a very high expectation."
So, how does Shlesinger suggest we deal with this expectation? Well, first step, stop dreaming of becoming a mermaid. Use your big brain and that mental strength to your advantage. Command, don't demand respect. As Shlesinger says in Confirmed Kills, "Don't call each other whores...you teach people how to treat you." And, without fear or shame, always embrace your inner party goblin. Embrace your damn layers.