Iliza Shlesinger on Her New Netflix Sketch Show | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Iliza Shlesinger on Her New Netflix Sketch Show

Unwavering and Unstoppable

May 13, 2020 Iliza Shlesinger Bookmark and Share

Even when we’re all forced to curb our activities, there’s no slowing Iliza Shlesinger.

Despite a global initiative to distance ourselves socially and shelter-in-place at our respective homes, Shlesinger’s ability to spin any number of creative plates at the same time has resulted in numerous initiatives paying off at a time when we’re all hungry for a good laugh. She’s even up for helping us when we’re just hungry.

These days, while the acclaimed comedian is stuck at home like the rest of us, she’s launched a daily cooking show called Don’t Panic Pantry with her celebrity chef/author husband Noah Galuten. Beyond that, Netflix recently debuted The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show on April 1, along with Spenser Confidential, a feature film starring Shlesinger and Mark Wahlberg.

While she waits to get back out on the road playing sold-out theatres in front of thousands, she recently spoke to Under the Radar about her creative drive, her passionate fan base, and the lessons she’s learned during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Matt Conner (Under the Radar): It feels weird to start anywhere other than the fact that we’re all homebound right now. I read an interview where you stated that your work is your hobby and your love. Are you learning much about yourself when you’re forced to take this downtime?

Iliza Shlesinger: I’m sort of reaffirming that I’m a versatile performer. People are always afraid, ‘Oh, what if I stop being funny?’ It’s nice to see creativity always finds a way. I built my career by being motivated and unwavering and unstoppable. While there are days I feel really down and want to stay in bed, that fortitude and creative spirit is what pushes me through.

On a more spiritual and holistic level, I’m learning what it feels like to actually slow down and to say no to things. I’m realizing there’s no medal for being overwhelmed. No one cares how tired or how busy you are, so it really is up to you to set your own parameters. I’ve enjoyed that lesson and that exercise and I’m taking it with me into the world if and when it opens up again.

That’s gotta be quite the change from the days when I’m assuming you’re an automatic yes to most things.

Well, the good thing about entertainment is that there really are no rules. Meetings and opportunities come from small conversations. I built my whole career off of just ideas in my head. I don’t have to have a degree to do what I do. All you need is one other person to say yes typically to do something. So constantly creating and pivoting and asking people for chances and presenting material… if you flood the market with enough, eventually you’ll make a name for yourself. People want to say yes and I’m just going to keep pitching ideas until I get everything that I want.

What’s the oddest thing someone has ever said yes to?

Once we had the Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show, I remember I was on set and I’d come up with this character called Cashew Albacore, who’s just a total psychopath who opens an airline. He’s so ridiculous and just having props come up to me saying, ‘Hey, we created this meat belt. Come look at it.’ Because there was a seat belt made of bacon. It wasn’t what I’d thought in my head but what they’d created was beautiful.

It’s crazy when the insanity that’s in your head gets put on paper and some executive says okay. Then costume, hair, makeup, and props all of a sudden are giving you several different options for a Satanic beer label for a sketch. If you believe in yourself, enough people will also believe in you. It’s very strange.

Speaking of the sketch show, you got Smallpools to write the theme. How did that even happen?

Hunter Hill is the guy who opens for me and we were in the car one day and he introduced me to Smallpools. I was like, ‘Oh, I love this!’ and became a huge fan. One year later, I think we were in the Philadelphia airport at like 6:00 a.m. There are only three guys in Smallpools and one of them has this unique haircut. We’re walking through this airport exhausted and just jetlagged but I see this haircut and I yelled, ‘Smallpools!’ The guy turned around and I said, ‘You’re in Smallpools!’ There was no one in the airport but them. He turns around and says, ‘You’re Iliza Shlesinger.’ I was like, ‘Oh my god.’

Fans always want to hug me, but I’ve never wanted to hug a celebrity. But when I saw him, I said, ‘Can I please hug you?’ I had to put my body on him. We just became friends and exchanged info. We can never attend each other’s shows because we have shows at the same time, but when it came time to do this, I reached out, I said, ‘I’d love for you guys to do our song.’ Thank god it’s my show. I have that power. So that’s it. They wrote a cool song and I’m glad more people get to hear about them.

You’ve got the newer movie, Spenser Confidential, on Netflix and then another one en route. Is your hope to lean into acting even more in the future?

Yeah, it hasn’t been for lack of trying. Over the last decade, I’ve read for many major movies and TV shows. That’s going to make me sound like a loser, but I have. They say it just takes one and that movie was just so fun. I think it will open a lot of doors. Corona is slowing that a bit, but we’re still in talks about a few projects.

Right after that, I shot a movie called Pieces of a Woman, which is a Kornél Mundruczó film and it’s got Shia LaBeouf and Ellen Burstyn and Ben Safdie. It’s got heavy hitters and it’s a very serious movie. I think it’s about getting these opportunities to flex different muscles and challenge myself and grow. Hopefully they’ll still keep coming because I will be there knocking on every door.

Is there a part of you that’s anxious to show your fans these other sides?

Anytime you want to show it to your fans, I think deep down what you want to do is prove it to yourself first. I’ve always loved sketch. I’ve always loved acting and the idea of being a writer. I consider myself pretty multi-faceted, so it’s really just creating these chances to prove to yourself that you can move in those directions and be versatile and grow as an artist. I have no desire to do the same schtick or even just stand-up my whole life. I think it all feeds each other. Your standup feeds the acting which feeds how polished you are for the sketches which feeds your desire to log all of this into a book. Being a creator, there are no limits to what you can create. Just look at Donald Glover.

You’ve clearly got a passion for sketch comedy. How far back does that go?

Sketch for me was my first love. I watched sketch as a child. I was in a sketch group in college. That was my first creative foray into performance was writing sketches with my friends and recording them in my parents living room. I love the texture of a sketch. I love unique characters and creating a scene and I take a bit of that into my stand-up.

My stand-up is very colorful. There are a lot of characters, a lot of voices. It’s almost like a one-man show. I do the best I can to paint a picture because, to me, the scene I’m describing is so vivid in my head, so I do everything I can to convey those images. Stand-up, however, is all about telling. At the end of the day, all you have is your voice.

Sketch is all about showing. If you want to have a monologue in your sketch, you have the benefit of a camera or an ensemble and costume. You want to show people what the joke is. There are just so many types of comedy that can be mined whereas stand-up is limited. I love that I get to bring color and texture and different visuals to my humor in sketch. And I love collaborating with the writers that we chose. It’s comforting to know there are people with odd thoughts in their heads that are just as funny as mine.

Are you hopeful for a second season?

In my highest of hopes, I’d say 100 percent, but I can’t confirm that. If you got the numbers you got from streaming that you get on, say, a cable show, you’d have second, third, and fourth seasons guaranteed. Streaming is different. I know the numbers were really strong and they continue to be very good. Again, it’s one of the things I can do as the main star of the show is to take every interview, push it whenever I can. I’ve made it my full-time job to promote the show because I’d love a second season. So fingers crossed. I’ve done all I can do.

Do you think most fans would be surprised at the long journey to get to this point?

I don’t think my fans would be surprised because many of them have been with me from the beginning. I think we’d all be surprised to learn that any job well done comes from having that 10,000 hours’ worth of practice. No one becomes a good surgeon overnight and no one becomes a good artist overnight. I do think we live in this world where it does seem automatic and people do get opportunities without putting in the necessary work and then sink or swim based on that merit. But I think it’s not anyone’s job to know the years of schlepping and trying and the bad clubs and the drunk crowds and the exhaustion and how I have to miss every friend’s wedding and all you sacrifice in pursuit of this dream.

Nobody really wants to hear about it. They want to hear about it for a second, but it’s nobody’s job to understand that pain. But it’s that pain and sacrifice and effort is what makes me undeniable, is what makes the performance undeniable. We all want to get there faster, but it would be joining the military while skipping boot camp. You’d be lacking certain skills. So I’m grateful to have been forged in fire.

At the end of the day, I can still do stand-up if I can’t do movies or acting. It’s a craft I’ve dedicated many years of my life to, so it’s all been an act of love even when it hurt.

You mentioned fans who’ve been there from the beginning. I know you’ve got quite the passionate fan base and many of them dress up or give gifts, etc. What’s the greatest length to which a fan has gone to show their appreciation?

I don’t even think I could say. We do shows for thousands of people at a time and it’s hundreds of fans per show. What touches me the most is when people dress up even though they know I’m not going to see them after a show. They make their own shirts. Before the world came to a halt, I’d post every single gift. Sometimes people come in full party goblin makeup or she-dragons. They’ll come dressed as whatever kernel of a joke they’ve resonated with, and it happens so often that it’s impossible for one stick out. We’re talking 50 gifts on a light night and several homemade T-shirts.

What’s never lost on me is that these people not only paid to see me do something that I love, but then they spent even more money on gifts for me and on T-shirts for themselves just to show how much my art touched them. I think that’s such a cool exchange. When you tell a joke, it’s not yours anymore. It’s the audience’s and they can interpret it and attach themselves to it however they want.

I always think that’s such a cool energy exchange to see what they gravitate toward. There are jokes I’ve written I thought would be huge and no one’s ever referenced them, but then they’ll latch on to the most random things. My office is a testament to that. It’s covered in oil paintings of my new dog and of my dog who passed away. I have a rose that was forged out of metal. I have stained glass art. I have jewelry. It’s a constant inundation of their love for the act, for me, for the dog.

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