[su_box title=”8 Questions with stand-up comic Liz Miele” box_color=”#e78411″]Not to sell the other “Nobodies” short, but the reason you want to see the “Nobodies of Comedy” at the Akron Civic Theatre on Saturday, April 18 is because Liz Miele will be there, on stage, being funny. Very funny. The New Jersey native has been performing stand-up since she was 16 and it’s paid off with appearances at Caroline’s, Gilda’s Club and on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and as well as profiles in “The New Yorker” and “Runners World.” Yeah, she’s also a runner—a marathoner, in fact. In addition to her own solo gig tour and the Nobodies of Comedy, she’s doing sets on a book tour with Christopher McDougall, whose “Born to Run” brought barefoot running and chia seeds to the mainstream. Recently, a video of the “Feminist Sex Positions” bit from her new comedy album, “Emotionally Exhausting,” went viral. Liz has also starred in “Damaged,” an animated web series about broken robots, and “Apt. C3,” a live action web series. That’s to say, she stays busy, and for comedy lovers, that’s a very good thing. Tickets: bit.ly/akciviccomedy [/su_box]
Liz Miele: I discovered stand-up when I was 13 or 14. Before I just thought I wanted to be like a funny actress—I thought I wanted to be Sandra Bullock. I didn’t know any other outlet to be funny. Then I discovered stand-up, and I was like, “Fuck that. You mean everyone just pays attention to me? This is amazing.” So, I quickly became very obsessed. I was taping everything off Comedy Central and HBO, and I’d show my friends these tapes of comedians like Mitch Hedburg and all these guys who in the late 90s and early 2000s were not even on the radar… In the beginning I was just watching everything I could get my hands on. I started writing when I was 14 and I got up for the first time when I was 16. I feel like anything you really care about, you start to see so much of it and catalogue so much of it you sort of instinctively know what is good and what has the potential to be good.
CH: You said when you were just 10 months in, you were 17 years old and thought, “Oh, this could be something.” Was there a moment where you crossed that threshold and realized it was something you could actually do?
LM: I started so young that I was probably too dumb to know I couldn’t. There are a lot of things I regret about starting so young, but the one thing I’m happy about is if I’d known how hard it was—or even if I’d had the maturity to know that this was a pipedream—I don’t know if I would have started. I’m more scared in my 20, almost 30s, than I was when I was 16 because it didn’t matter. Just like you feel invincible and take some bodily risks, I took some emotional and career risks I didn’t realize were kind of dumb. …I know people who start doing this at 30 and to me that seems a lot more impossible because people expect you to be married and have kids and a real job and a bank account. But at 16, people are like, “Sure. You can be a ballerina. Go for it.” No one tells you there’s like four ballerinas out there. They don’t want to hurt your feelings like that.
CH: Are you referring to books you read for your “Self Help Me” project?
LM: Well, I read a lot of self-help books because I’m damaged. [laughs] But one of the books I read that I really liked was called “The Talent Code” and the thesis of that book was that there are very, very few people who are innately talented. For most folks, it’s just about hard work. Most people I know, in whatever their craft is, weren’t good at it the first time they did it. They definitely weren’t good a year in, and they weren’t much better at it a couple of years in. It takes a lot of discipline but it’s also about a lot of self-reflection and honesty. In sports, you have a coach who’ll say, “Hey, when you kick the ball, you’re doing this weird spin and that’s why it’s not working out.” That’s why being something like a painter or a musician or a comic, you have to be your own coach and that’s way harder. You have to be so self-aware it’s almost like an out-of-body experience because you have to be able to pull back and say, “Oh, that line didn’t go well because you said this _____.” You can’t be that person that’s like, “I killed,” or, “These people just don’t get me.” It’s a whole different beast.
CH: It seems like it would be just as emotionally difficult to do stand-up because you have to put yourself out there. You have to be pretty honest and open to be as good as you are. Is that another way getting started young helped or is it still hard?
LM: Yeah. It’s funny; there’s this idea that you have to have a thick skin, and actually, for me, I don’t. I really don’t. Instead of having a thick skin, I feel like things hurt me just as much as it did when I was 16, but I have the experiences and the knowledge to know it’s not the end of the world, or it doesn’t mean what I think it does, or it’s not about me, or it’s not personal. So bombing, or not doing well, 10 years ago would affect me for a week. So now, I’ll still get upset about it—depending on the situation—but it’ll affect me for an hour, or it’ll affect me for a night. Sometimes, I don’t even get affected—not because I have a thick skin but because it’s a club full of 15 people and it doesn’t matter, or I was attempting new jokes and I knew they weren’t going to go well. Or, maybe 80-year-old men aren’t my core audience and that’s life.
CH: So how does a 16-year-old bounce-back from bombing? How did you rebound from stuff like that?
LM: I ate a lot of junk food. …I definitely did a lot of drinking and a lot of drugs when I was 16. But I was such a nerd—I mean now, there are a lot of podcasts and all this stuff, but I was such a comedy nerd, I read like every stand-up comedy book. My daddy used to tape documentaries about comedians for me. I read every biography and every book that was written by a comedian—I absorbed so much of that, that even at 16, I kinda knew it was going to be hard, and it was going to take 10 years, and it’s kind of a brutal business. So every time I got shot down, I didn’t like it and it didn’t feel good, but I knew that was part of the process.
CH: What can you tell me about what it’s like to be on the road as much as you are?
LM: There are a lot of things I love about it. I love hotels. …As much as I love my roommates, I love having my own space to, you know, walk around naked [laughs]—you know, have your own space. Another thing—I love driving. But I just got a speeding ticket so I’m starting to love that less as I continue to get those. Traveling at this point is mostly speeding tickets and almost missing my flight, so there’s a lot of stress. But I do love driving by myself. It’s where I come up with a lot of ideas, reflect. I get to run a lot. There are a lot of these quiet moments that I enjoy a lot.
But when I don’t have a choice about those moments, like coming back to my hotel after a show because there’s nobody I know to hang out with—or wanting to call a friend up on a Friday night then realizing that even though I’m done with my shows, they’re hanging out with friends and being people. There are a lot of these I’m-glad-I’m-alone moments, but there are a lot of pockets of I-wish-I-wasn’t-working-when-everyone-else-is-hanging-out moments. I’ve missed a lot of weddings. I’ve missed a lot of birthdays. I’ve missed a lot of important moments in people’s lives. A lot of them haven’t known me as anything but a comic, but the older I get, the more it bums me out. Like, I missed my little brother’s 21st birthday. He’s like one of my best friends and later we hung out and we celebrated and it was fine, but my whole family was there and I missed. Apparently my mom got drunk. [laughs] And I missed it. But I don’t have a choice about it right now because I don’t always know when my next paycheck is coming.
CH: So I read that George Carlin befriended you when you were young and you stayed in touch for years before he died. What did you learn from him that you’re still using now?
LM: I’m a list person. I’m very organized. So seeing how he had a system—not similar to mine, but he was someone who had taken that to the next level. I’m struggling right now with my workload, my travel and the amount that I’m writing because I had a system that I had in place for years and it worked fine but whatever template I had is not sufficient anymore. So it helps me now to go back in my mind to remember how he organized things on his computer and how he grouped jokes together in his act. …Even though I’ve been doing this for 13 years, this is only the second time I’ve had to go back and write a whole new hour. So it helps to go back and think about someone who, that’s what he did for years.
CH: I’m utterly fascinated by how busy you are, and that you’re also somehow a marathoner. I just signed up for the New York City Marathon and I’m hoping you have some tips for me since you’ve done the Marine Marathon in DC with your dad like every year, is that right?
LM: Last year was the first year I didn’t do it and because of my schedule I think I might be done with that one. But before that I did it seven years in a row with my dad.
CH: That’s the one that finishes like straight uphill, right?
LM: Yes. It’s so mean. If you’re doing the one in New York—that the first one I did when I was 19—it was intense. I’d like to do it again but it was a rough one. So hill train. Hill train. Those bridges are brutal.
CH: I didn’t think about that. You know, when my wife suggested it, I thought, “Hey, that’s a great idea!” And I always do until I’m actually running one and realize, “Oh yeah. This hurts a lot.”
LM: [laughs] That’s entirely every race I’ve ever been part of—“Won’t that be fun?” Then as I’m getting up at 6 a.m. after I went to bed at 1 a.m.—and I haven’t trained because I’ve been traveling—I’m like, “Who do I think I am?” …Right now, I’m not signed up for any races and I can see my motivation waning because I don’t have something pressuring me. I still run every other day but I haven’t done a long run in probably three months. For me, that’s A) kinda boring, and B) my body is like, “Yeah, we get it. You can run four miles.” So just like having goals in comedy, I like having fitness goals because it gets me out of the house. It’s a good way to get me out of my head. I like doing something that’s completely non comedy-related. I like using it when I travel—like when I was on tour in Europe—because it’s a great way to see a new city. It’s a cool way to soak things in and get to see stuff.
(Ed. – Of course, I recommended she check out the Towpath when she visits Akron. Go to thedevilstrip.com for the full interview with Liz Miele.)
Chris Horne: How much of the landscape—in terms of technology and opportunity—has changed since you got started at age 16?
Liz Miele: It’s changed drastically. I feel like comics today don’t have an excuse not to take their careers into their own hands. People were doing that beforehand, but you had to have money and experience and you had to know how to do stuff. You really don’t now. I mean, everybody has a computer; everybody has some kind of smartphone to work on—you really don’t need much extra outside of what you have being an everyday average American to get your name out there. I don’t have an agent and I don’t have a manager and I book everything myself. A lot of it is word-of-mouth and a lot of it is recommendations and a lot of it is me reaching out to people.
My manager ended up closing up shop and when that happened to me, I told myself, “Right now, I don’t have people jumping up to represent me but that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to offer people.” I had to find a way to get my name out there so I decided to invest myself in social media.
We all hit these walls where it’s like, “I’m doing all this stuff and I’m not getting the gigs I think I deserve and the attention I think I deserve, and I’m having trouble paying my rent.” I’ve had so many struggles with that over the years. Only in the last four or five years, as I’ve decided to take on projects and develop ideas I have now and not wait for someone to pluck me from oblivion, and try to stay connected and find people who enjoy what I do have I seen more work come my way. And actually, I’m happier because I have more control over when and where my work is coming from.
I’ve read every book I can think of about social media and I’ve asked a lot of people about what they do and I’ve become very experimental—I’ve always been like a weird researcher. I’m very curious. …I’ve just been very open to making mistakes and some of it has had some effect. I mean, my video going viral wasn’t an accident. I wrote to a bunch of feminist blogs and I released it when I wanted to release it, and I made sure at the end it had my album because it’s a joke from my album, and I made sure it had a subscribe button. That came from research because I didn’t have enough money for PR. I had to be my own PR, so I took a PR class. It’s not the most efficient way and I’ve made a lot of mistakes but I’m starting to grow a fan base and I’m starting to see the effect of the things I’ve done. It was cool when my video went viral because I kind of felt like my own manager, and I kinda pulled back and was like, “Hey, look at that cool thing I just did.”