When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
It depends on who is asking. If it’s someone I don’t feel like engaging with, like a seatmate on a long flight, I’ll say “writer”. This answer is just normal enough that their questions taper off sooner than they would if I said stand up. Otherwise, I usually just say “comedian” and hope that they don’t ask me “are you funny?” Because it physically hurts me to answer that. And then I hope they don’t follow up with “are you famous?” Because, if they have to ask, then obviously the answer is no. But, in general, I just say stand-up and hope the conversation to follow is interesting. I’d much rather hear about what someone else does, to be honest.
Hit Makers by Derek Thompson. I chip away at it because by the time I have downtime at night I just want to get to sleep as fast as possible.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I remember reading the serial number on the forceps used to pull me out of my mother. Kidding. I guess it would be The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. I was about 3 and I memorized it so it looked like I could read — I guess that sort of counts.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be and why?
ONE? I guess The Odyssey by Homer. It’s not the fastest or the most fun of reads but it really serves as a blueprint for so many modern works of literature and filmmaking. Books that I find myself thinking about long after I’ve read them are The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (all white people should have to read this), So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (all social media users should read this), and, I know it’s not a book, but Our Town by Thornton Wilder. I read this in high school and it shaped the way we take the mundanity of everyday life for granted.
When did you fall in love with making people laugh?
It’s been a love affair my entire life. I’ve always needed to make people laugh, I can’t remember not having that agenda.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I was always happy to have a job, I love working. But the job that was the biggest pain in the ass was in high school, I worked at the Speedo store at the mall for, I think 2 weeks? It was freezing in the store, I was too pale to wear shorts anyway, and no one ever came in. I would take my lunch break and just sit in the hall to warm up and stare off at nothing.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring comedian?
Do the work, be open to thinking uncomfortable thoughts and be kind. That’s three but my fourth would be “don’t worry about the rules.”
Who would you say your three biggest comedic influences are?
Sketch comedy, cartoons and righting social wrongs. It has never been about stand-up comedians specifically.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
No. Not by a long shot. I read a lot of Op-Ed pieces, articles in newspapers and magazines, that sort of thing, but I love historical fiction and I need to carve out more time for that. My brain needs to breathe. I need to read more things that don’t have their origin in a Tweet.
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path?
I think it’s important to read about other comedic experiences — autobiographies are good if for no other reason than they let you know you aren’t alone on this very weird journey. The Comedians by Kliph Nesteroff is also good, ya know, to remind each comedian that we aren’t God’s gift to comedy and that many came before and paved the way.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
No. I have, however, been reading boring books and had to reread paragraphs multiple times so, technically, I guess I’ve read a few books, in one sitting, multiple times?
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd- it was just so gripping.
If you weren’t in comedy, what do you think you’d be doing?
I wouldn’t be doing anything because I wouldn’t be me and I don’t like to speculate about other people.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
Fiction, History, historical fiction and I also find linguistics fascinating but those books like Tower of Babble by Dore Gold or Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher are ones you need to read carefully and with a highlighter.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
A lot of arm wrestling for food and probably whatever the inside of Donald Trump’s brain looks like.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
I read more for content than for author. I will give any author a chance if the book seems interesting. I’m hoping people will feel the same about my new book.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
It will come close but I think there’s a decent number of people who love the feel of a book. I also think there are millions of people who don’t have access to Kindles and computers, so yeah, books are here for a while. Maybe in the year like, 3000, when we are all half android or something.
What book do you feel humanity needs most right now?
A book about the ability to ask questions and have a productive dialogue without emotion taking over and fights breaking out.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
This is so lame but I read The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer in high school and the characters on the pilgrimage stayed with me. This was middle English in the 1300s but those archetypes still exist today. I also had to memorize part of the prologue so I think that’s why it has stayed with me.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I want to dive more into Linguistics. I think etymology, how our words change and evolve, how our languages came to be, why we say certain things and how and why we communicate with the words we do is endlessly fascinating.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Wait! I’m Not Done Yet.
If you’d like to learn more about Iliza Shlesinger, you can find her on her website, Facebook and Twitter.
Image credit: Maarten de Boer