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Want to go to college to become a stand-up? A degree in theatre criticism isn't a bad place to start. When we do the headline for the lead-in of a story on a comic like the one you're reading about now, usually it's pretty easy to pop off one or two credits to get the reader's (your) attention. Well, when it came to tagging Natasha Leggero with a quick highlight, the joke was on us.
Natasha is the definition of a HOT comic (easy there fellas), because she is all over the map right now. Where to even start? She's a regularly featured guest on the "Chelsea Lately" roundtable, she was a judge on the past season of "Last Comic Standing," she's a co-star in Comedy Central's "Ugly Americans" and featured regularly in Nick Swardson's "Pretend Time." She knocked it out of the park with her debut "Comedy Central Presents" special in March, the same month she released her album "Coke Money," (available on iTunes) and, oh yeah...she's got a feature role in a new NBC sitcom premiering this fall, "Free Agents."
Wow. I'm a bit shellshocked just listing all of that...imagine how Natasha feels. She tells the readers of Campus Activities Magazine in this exclusive interview, "It is so exciting to be a part of so many funny things and what is really cool is people in the industry have started to become familiar enough with me and my voice that they have begun creating roles for me. Being able to work with so many funny people is a ton of fun."
Originally from Illinois, Natasha moved to New York after an extended stay in the world of academics. She left the East coast to head out west and try out L.A. after receiving a degree in theater criticism. This literally makes me laugh out loud. "You think that's funny, huh?" Natasha says, obviously amused herself. "I got a degree in theater criticism and moved to Los Angeles and was immediately shocked at how superficial and uninformed a lot of the people were. I saw this random girl I knew from New York doing stand-up and, until then, I didn't realize a job option could be standing on stage just talking about how stupid everything was. I thought to be a comedian you had to be some old guy in a suit with a cigar talking about your wife, so I was kind of shocked. I knew I would love to talk about how dumb everybody in L.A. was, so I got on stage and did it."
Tasha took the stage and never looked back. In fact, she's been "chasing the dragon" ever since. "It worked and everybody laughed...I kind of couldn't believe people were laughing. I just kept doing it and I still have never gotten back the feeling I had my first time on stage," she says laughing. "I think I am struggling to get that back because I was so shocked by the laughter that it was an intense experience. Also, I think perhaps someone slipped me a quaalude, so maybe I should get some more of those," she jokes.
All joking aside (considering we are talking to a comic after all), Natasha's studies in theatre and criticism certainly attuned her to the forum for stand-up. "It really did have an impact. I had excellent teachers and we would regularly go to plays. I would always get high scores because I would just roast these plays and actors. I was funny in my own way...I was probably more inappropriate than funny but it worked for me. In any major, you hone your critical thinking skills and in terms of comedy, the kind in which you are thinking about the world and sharing it with other people in a way that's enjoyable is the best kind. Hopefully you are thinking about something other people have thought about before but just couldn't articulate fully. You are there to bring it to the forefront and, also make it funny. That is how I view my role as a stand-up."
She is an extremely unique formulation of comic. Elsewhere in this issue, our cover artist speaks about how a background in one form of comedy won't necessarily translate to skill in another form(improv to stand-up), conveying the view that there is no real training for stand-up other than doing it. However, Natasha has clearly shown an example of conditioning occurring in her background that translated directly into her skill as a comic, however unwittingly.
The second thing that makes her unique was her total unfamiliarity to the world of comedy prior to her entry into it. She said herself how shocked she was that it was even possible; this also means she didn't have preconceived notions about the art, nor did she have stylistic traits of comics she idolized that she had to unlearn. She walked in with a blank slate with a sharp, crafted tongue. She was trained, but didn't know it and, not polluted by being too immersed as an observer before becoming an active participant. "I have to say, I really did not know any comics when I got into this. I mean, sure I knew who Rodney Dangerfield was, but I think comedy has experienced something of a boom in the past ten years."
A fair point; our culture is cyclical and everything comes in waves, but since the advent and widespread use of high speed internet and viral videos combined with the overall success of Comedy Central and "Last Comic Standing," its easy to have stand-up in your face all the time. It's not as if stand-up were just invented, but when Natasha was in college, comedy required seeking out more than in today's digital world.
"I don't think it's necessarily bad if you know a lot about comedy before you start performing, but I do feel lucky in that sense, because I wasn't emulating anyone. I was just trying to get something out that I wanted (or needed) to get out. There are so many funny people out there...if I would have seen my friend Tig or Sarah Silverman before I tried comedy myself, I would have thought, "Oh my God, I could never do this!" So in a way I had some blind luck in that I wasn't comparing myself to anyone else."
That kind of comparison can be critically fracturing to a comic's self-esteem which can in turn cripple their confidence on stage...generally, certain death for a stand-up. Natasha agrees? "Totally. I think I am still learning and having some kinds of 'comedic breakthroughs' if you will. It's an art form, so one is constantly learning and going through phases. You beat yourself up, then you have something really cool happen, the inconsistency is the only constant."
It is always interesting to hear just what it is about comedy that drives some people to eat, sleep, breathe and live it. "What I love about the art form is that even with commercial success and its compromises, when you are on the road, you can say anything you want...I want...whatever I feel. Television is constricting; in the clubs and at many colleges, comics aren't neutered the way they are on TV. I can have an open and honest dialogue with people...and talk to them afterwards, another significant difference between television and the live stage."
There is often an unfortunate difference between comics willing to bend for commercial success and those torn by the desire to stick to their guns. There are droves of amazing comics lurking in the shadows of obscurity because they were unwilling to bend their artistic integrity. Just ask Bill Hicks. Never heard of him? Well, exactly, but you should have.
"Many people don't realize that when a comic does a set on TV, they can't say 'Doritos,' they can't make fun of Paula Abdul, they can't sing any music they don't pay for the rights to (which can be six figures). I feel really restricted. When people get to see my live show, whether it be at a theater or a club or a college, they really get to see me...the unedited version."
As a judge on "Last Comic Standing," Natasha got the inside look at the process and details many casual viewers might not pick up on. Sometimes you can't know how truly remarkable some of the comics are on the show because of the restrictions. Natasha explains this is a two-edged sword however, because every comic that is being constricted on TV, is being seen on TV. "I think anything that makes more comedy clubs possible in the U.S., which I am finding to be true, is a good thing. Any kind of comedy boom that brings the art to the forefront of pop culture and makes people come out to the clubs is a great thing. Every comic who is censored on television gets to speak their mind to more people in the clubs because of the interest generated by the exposure."
Natasha isn't speaking theoretically; she delivers us the first-person perspective. "With 'Chelsea Lately' doing as well as it has, I have noticed a lot more people coming to the clubs for my shows and I know the same is true of the other comics on Chelsea Lately. "For many of these people, this is their first time in a comedy club, and that is awesome. Anything making comedy more popular is a good thing."
Bring a good thing to your campus and have Natasha Leggero spread some comedy from the mainstream of television to your campus.
BOOK IT! For more information on having Natasha Leggero on your campus, contact Gina Kirkland at KP Comedy at (866) 769-9037 or email@example.com