The Comedian and Actor Discusses Her Background and Approach to Work
By Jeremy Pasker
Not so world renowned, but with 20 plus years of comedic impact, comedian Aisha Tyler presents her brand of stand-up to the folks willing to shell out $25 dollars–50 percent off for students–or roughly the cost of mid-shelf wine for you connoisseurs of fermented fruit.
She’s been around the block, so to speak, in Hollywood. Currently, anyone can hear her voice the character of Lana Kane in Archer or Luna on an episode of the Boondocks, once upon a time back in season two.
Though, most recently, she’s taken up the reins as host of the improv show Who’s Line Is It Anyway, made famous a little ways back by Wayne Brady of the infamous Dave Chappelle sketch.
She was graciously made available for interview while prepping for a trip abroad, which was handsomely accepted with bells and whistles. Not often do you get a chance to speak with a member of ISIS, right (Archer reference and pun: sorry I couldn’t resist)?
But seriously, Aisha Tyler was comfortably forthright instead of dizzyingly cryptic in the vein of a politician or Christian Bale’s Batman. For one, she considers herself a feminist but in general terms, not in the maligned societal misrepresentation.
“If you believe in equal access, socioeconomic, and political freedom of opportunity for the sexes, then you are a feminist,” she said, feeling no pressure to change her public persona to fit into any one idealistic concept of what an empowered women should be.
She credits her mother, firmly, for influencing her confidence to carve out a space of equality amongst the comedic ranks. Then she mentions a not so obvious choice for modeling her aspirations after: Whoopi Goldberg, who shattered the mold for Hollywood fame in her heyday. She was the proverbial circular peg in Hollywood’s square hole, dominating film roles in the 90’s that were initially written for men but rewritten for Goldberg, according to Tyler.
Growing up, her comedy apex was whom most others considered there at the time, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks and still to this day Chris Rock. She was impressed by the risk takers. Those taking a literal and figurative stand and doing it through laughter and through interpersonal connections with the audience.
She mentioned that her sense of humor comes from how her father would tell stories. She’d listen to them as a kid, a sort of indirect apprenticeship. She doesn’t do political comedy or write jokes the way comedians are known to lay out material before hand, so her comedy comes from, how she puts it, her good observations.
But she doesn’t use one liners like, “What’s up with bagels?” or anything. “I just go up there and riff it. If I find it funny, it will be funny” she reasoned.
Listening to her Spotify standup, it’s as if she’s speaking to a room of friends. “Life is what strikes me as funny,” Tyler goes on to add. She speaks fast when she sets up her comedy.
The punchlines are big, as are her teasers. Her transitions are appropriate, given her material of dick jokes and, the ever relatable, mild adult alcoholism.
After interviewing her and listening to her Girl on Guy podcast, she is roughly the person she portrays on stage. It doesn’t seem she’s constructed an elaborate character to conduit her funny to the masses. But she did come to comedy late in life, and isn’t sure if that had an effect on her routine.
There was no Bill Hicks or Eddie Murphy story of writing sketches from youth into adulthood. She transferred to comedy from, of all places, a prospective career in Law. She majored in Government as an undergrad.
“Be yourself,” she said, “and your stage presence will develop as you do.” Yes, a cliche but it seems to have worked for her, given the longevity she’s had in show business.
She quoted Chris Rock’s “The audience is the comedians litmus test” comments when referring to whether the stage is a suitable environment for offensive comments. “It’s alright to challenge the status quo but it’s really about intention” she said afterward. “Satire is used to move the social, economic and political [conversation].”
Some comedians have said performing to crowds where ratios exceed tens of thousands on occasion can be very lonely, while others have committed to adoring the personalized attention the setting provides.
Regardless of which camp you side with, simply because not everyone is up for it, picking up a microphone to make that many people laugh is like, entering the ”daaanger zoneee.”
Besides, admission to her show is only $12.50 for students. That’s a fair exchange to help procrastination efforts right?