EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Comedian & 'Excused' Host, Iliza Shlesinger
Iliza talks Last Comic Standing, Excused, being raised Jewish in Texas, and her plans for the future
Raised in Dallas, Iliza Shlesinger moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Emerson College, to pursue a career in comedy. Iliza is the youngest and only female comedian to win NBC's Last Comic Standing. She has made guest appearances on NBC'S Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Comedy Central's Live at Gotham, E! Network's Chelsea Lately, The Soup, NBC'S Last Call with Carson Daily, Showtime's Pauly Shore and Friends, Showtime's Bridging the Gap Comedy Festival, and she is featured in the comedy documentary I am Comic.
Iliza had her own half hour comedy special on Comedy Central, and has performed stand up at hundreds of clubs, colleges, and festivals including Montreal's Just For Laughs.
Iliza is currently the host of CBS' syndicated dating show, Excused, which is going into second season, and is in development for her own late night talk show pilot for VH1. Iliza also writes and stars in her comedy news show, The Weakly News, on www.thestream.tv, and just completed filming a role in Diablo Cody's latest, Lamb of God.
Iliza sat down with Shalom Life to discuss being raised Jewish in Dallas (only 45,000 Jews with over 2 million population), being a woman in the comedy world, and her plans for the future.
Ashley Baylen (AB): What initially sparked your interest in comedy?
Iliza Shlesinger (IS): I've always been funny. From the time I was little, I just always knew I'd be funny for a living- which is a blessing and a curse. Would have been fun to try and do something else for a living, like be normal...or office management.
AB: What comedians were you inspired by growing up, and now?
IS: I loved sketch comedy. So for me it was sketches- SNL, Kids In the Hall, In Living Color etc. It was always the colorful characters created by the people on those shows more than actual stand up comedians. But I did love Paula Poundstone and Ellen.
AB: What was it like growing up Jewish in Texas?
IS: It was, weird...at times. It's weird when all your friends are Christian and they do fun church events and have their Christian organizations and all bond over that and you can't do their events because you have Hebrew school on Wednesday nights. I'd feel left out. I was never ashamed of being Jewish but one tends to feel left out and a little out of place when you're prayers involve a foreign language.
When I switched from a gigantic public middle school to a smaller private school, where there were more Jews (duh) and I felt more a part of something. For every synagogue in Dallas there are fifteen churches...on that block.
AB: You were not only the first female winner of Last Comic Standing, but also the youngest. Do you believe female comedians are viewed differently in the comedy world?
IS: I didn't, for a long time- but now I do. I think women are put on pedestals in our society and when a woman doesn't fall within the confines of what they're expected to be they can be ridiculed for it...or praised. You can watch my act and think "wow, she's aggressive...I hate that" or watch it and think "wow, she's aggressive, this is hilarious"- so really, while a girl might have a bit more to prove to an audience, as long as she's funny, it doesn't matter. Truthfully girls have an advantage over guys because a funny girl (really funny, not shocking dick joke funny- like most of the garbage out there) is a rarity and will, therefore, get more attention. If women comics spent their time writing better jokes vs complaining and writing "morning after pill jokes" they'd be a lot farther in their careers.
AB: I know you studied film in college. Are you still interested in pursuing a career in the movie biz?
IS: No, I hope to host a dating show until I'm 50 then come out with a line of cat inspired negligees. Kidding. I audition for a lot of major movies- and the past spring I got one, I got a small part in the new Diablo Cody directed movie "Lamb of God" with Russell Brand- I've very excited to see it. I've also currently pitching a screenplay and it's looking promising.
AB: How did you land the gig hosting Excused?
IS: I auditioned for it- I went in, made up my own jokes and was just myself. They said "can we put make up on you?" I said "maybe" they said "you're hired"
AB: Do you think the selection process on Excused accurately depicts how we decide to pursue potential suitors in real life?
IS: That's a good question. Obviously it's a bit more superficial, for comedy/time sake on our show but I think first impressions are key. Usually on our show, someone is given a chance because they're hot, but...if they prove to be annoying, they're often excused. Good looks only go so far...unless you're REALLY good looking- then you can pretty much do what you want...sadly. In terms of first impressions and looks being important...Our show often proves that personality is ultimately most important but, you can't check out a personality from across a room. That's why looks get you past the front door, but attitude keeps you there.
AB: Do you ever feel guilty throwing insults (witty, mind you) at the people that are rejected on the show?
IS: No. If you get rejected it's on you, I didn't reject you, the other people on the show did, I just break the news to you. I would also never hit below the belt. I'd never call a girl fat, I'd never say a guy is ugly- there are certain things you just don't do. I can only make fun of what you provide me with...so if you act like jackass, you'll get treated like one. I've had my share of polite "excusals"- people usually leave the house with a smile. If they can't take a joke, that's on them.
AB: What's next for you?
IS: We are currently shooting the 2nd season of Excused. We're doing 100 episodes, last year we did 130. In addition to that I just did a set on Comedy Central's "John Oliver and Friends" and I just shot a late night talk show pilot for for VH1, so fingers crossed. I also just had a part in the new Diablo Cody movie "Lamb of God" which should be out soon. In addition to that in the next few months I'll be shooting my second comedy CD as well as my hour special. I also hope to figure out a way to mouth kiss my dog without her feeling violated.