When asked what message she has for the elected officials representing the U.S. in Washington right now, comedian Iliza Shlesinger’s response is pointed and precise.
“Let me keep this as politically correct as possible — I hope you burn for your choices you lying motherfuckers,” says the longtime stand-up comic.
On Thursday, July 14, Shlesinger will make her way to Indianapolis for a performance at the Murat Theatre, leading up to the taping of her sixth Netflix special later in the month. Ahead of her visit, NUVO’s Seth Johnson caught up with the New York native for an interview, discussing everything from motherhood to the cooking show she started with her husband over the pandemic. Read their conversation below.
SETH JOHNSON: When the COVID-19 pandemic first started, what were you up to, and how did the shutdown impact the plans you had for the remainder of 2020?
ILIZA SHLESINGER: What I was up to was touring. I was getting ready to go to Australia. I had just come back from New York. We were on “The Forever Tour,” and we had to stop right in the middle, just like many people had to stop everything in their lives. I had to eat several thousand dollars’ worth of merch that was printed for that tour. [laughs] We went home, and week one of the pandemic, my husband and I started doing an online cooking show [Don’t Panic Pantry] to give people information and a place they could come every day to feel a dose of serotonin.
We continued that, and then I started doing drive-ins all over the country. Of course, I wanted to perform, but people also needed to laugh. I just kept on working until the world opened up. In that time, I pitched a TV show, sold a book and finished a couple of scripts. So because I was lucky enough to stay home, I just took it as a moment to keep working.
JOHNSON: Let’s talk more about the cooking show you started with your husband, Don’t Panic Pantry. Where did the initial idea for that come from, and what did you enjoy about doing it?
SHLESINGER: My husband is a chef, so we thought, “What’s a good way to dispense positive information and also give people some entertainment?” At the time, people were afraid to go to an Asian market to buy rice — there was a lot of fear-mongering going on. So we were just there to say, “Use what you have. Don’t keep going out. Patronize these small businesses. Not everything has to be a major grocery store.” We just committed to doing that. We did over 230 episodes, and my husband got a cookbook deal with Knopf out of it, which is really cool. It also gave me a chance to be funny and perform, and we actually got to do something that was useful for people. So it was all out of love and the desire to entertain.
JOHNSON: You also stayed busy with your podcast, AIA: Ask Iliza Anything, during the pandemic. In what ways did that help you get through things too?
SHLESINGER: I’m an artist so the need to create is always there. Sometimes you create something big. Sometimes it’s small. But it’s about performing for people, feeding off people’s energy and bringing people joy. The podcast was the perfect medium for a pandemic because it’s just you alone in your house. People still needed entertainment, and they looked to comedians to find lightness in that dark and to make light of a horrible situation. Even though I’m not happy all the time, I don’t take it lightly that people look to me for that.
JOHNSON: I know you recently had a child. What's it been like adjusting to life on the road as a mother?
SHLESINGER: I had her January 13, and I was back on tour by the end of February. I’ve been touring this entire time. I leave her at home because she has her routine. She stays with our nanny and my husband, who is very capable.
I’m so grateful to be able to be on tour, and I’m so happy to be back on a tour schedule. But it is a heartache that I never knew before. I just stare at pictures of her on my phone like a crazy person. And then, I come home, and I still stare at my phone while sitting next to her. [laughs]
JOHNSON: People are known for creating all sorts of Iliza-themed swag and wearing it to your shows. What have been some of the strangest things people have made over the years?
SHLESINGER: I actually get asked that question a lot, and I’ve never really gotten anything that strange because that would suggest that it’s bad. I’m a creative person, so I’m consistently surprised at how creative these gifts get. They aren’t just “party goblin” references. People will take a throwaway one-liner from 50 minutes into my second special and make a painting off of that. So what I love about it is that people year after year are discovering and rediscovering parts of my specials, turning my art into their art, and then giving it back to me, which is so incredible.
JOHNSON: You’ve done quite a bit of acting over the years as well. What was your very first acting role, and what was it like going from stand-up to acting?
SHLESINGER: I think my first major acting role was in a movie called Instant Family. I played a woman named October, who wanted to adopt a Blind Side-type child but ended up getting a tiny, red-headed kid.
Acting is collaborative, and stand-up comedy is a solo sport. They’re totally different muscles. I really respect actors because it requires so many people approving of you to get to do your job. With stand-up, you can try it out every night on new audiences, and you have a little more of your own agency.
I love them both for different reasons. As a comic who does this by myself, it is nice to be supported by other actors and get input. Quite frankly, it’s nice once in a while to have a director just tell you what to do too. [laughs]
JOHNSON: 2020 movie Spenser Confidential had a very fun cast, which you were a part of. What was it like working with that group of people?
SHLESINGER: It was awesome. Peter Berg runs a really professional but also fun set. Mark Wahlberg is a consummate professional. We shot it in the heart of Boston. I went to school there, so I have a great love for Boston and have been playing that city for years. These men were collaborative and professional in ways that people sometimes aren’t. Peter was just very cool about letting me bring my own color to Cissy, improvise, and make her something other than what she was on the page.
JOHNSON: You’re scheduled to film your sixth Netflix special this summer. What details can you share in regards to that? Is there anything else on the horizon fans should be looking out for?
SHLESINGER: I’m going to film it July 23 in Cleveland. I do suggest you take a road trip to be a part of that audience. This is the hour I’ve been touring for the last year-and-a-half to two years. It is the best hour I’ve ever written. It’s timely. It’s hard-hitting. It’s personal. I think no matter who you are, you will leave feeling seen, and you’ll leave with your face hurting from laughing so hard. That’s my threat and my promise. [laughs]
That will be coming out soon. In addition to that, my second book, All Things Aside, is coming out this October, and we have a couple movies on the horizon. With TV and movies, it’s never a go until you’re sitting in the theater, so fingers crossed. But I also look forward to going back to Asia for a second tour this year, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and back to Europe. And, of course, I’m just grateful that America is open again, and I get to come back to all these markets like Indianapolis.
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