Iliza Shlesinger and the Contradictions of ‘Freezing Hot’
Iliza Shlesinger is about as confident, bold and honest of any comedian as they come. She knows who she is and what she wants to talk about. Oh and did I mention she’s hilarious? No surprise, then, that after her first huge hit special War Paint, Netflix asked her to do a follow up. Freezing Hot comes out today and is definitely one you’ll want to put on your list.
I think I can guess based on watching it, but how did you come up with the name, Freezing Hot?
You know it was kind of a last minute name. Basically, what I found was a lot of the material I was that I was commenting on girls’ thought processes. I’ve come up with something called “Girl Logic” which is basically sort of wanting what you can’t have or wanting the one thing that you want, but not wanting whatever makes that thing a thing. I want cold weather, but I don’t want to be cold. I’m hungry, but I don’t feel like eating. Everything in our brain is a contradiction and this is just the way our minds are beautifully wired, so Freezing Hot just comes from the idea that everything in our brain is a contradiction of ourselves. It’s a commentary on women’s thought process.
What were some of the other names you considered?
Umm… Well, there’s always War Paint 2, but that’s stupid. Then the running girl name I always use in my act is Stacy, so I thought of calling it War Paint 2: The Rise of Stacy. There’s also my end joke. I thought about calling it What’s My Middle Name? You know, you always want it to be somewhat referential to whatever you had in your act. Then you know, because I put on a pretty intense show, there’s always sort of the action movie thing of calling it No Mercy or Team No Mercy, because on Twitter I have a whole thing about you’re either on team “No Mercy” or team “Merciful.” It’s a whole thing with my dog. So yeah, there were a bunch and of course with each team comes up with the artwork. There’s a lot to consider and Freezing Hot just became what it was.
As far as the artwork goes, how does designing all those details work?
Okay, so it’s weird. I am a creative person, I’m an artist, but usually something just comes to me and I go from there. If it doesn’t just come to me then I kind of don’t have an idea. It either pops in my head or it’s not there. Because we knew it was Freezing Hot, the artist we work with, they want to get a peek inside your head. I was like, “I’m thinking I need a stage that shows the dichotomy of freezing and hot,” so we all just started throwing out words and you know, “Maybe I’m thinking palm trees with snow or fire.” I might’ve said an explosion in the background. I’m a big fan of explosions and I don’t want to give away the end, but someone suggested the end and I was like, “That’s the most perfect thing I ever heard.” It’s a very Andy Kauffman-esque thing to do. The ending that we have I think just ties it all together personally.
Yeah, I don’t want to say it, because I don’t want to ruin it either, but it’s perfect. You’re right.
I was more excited about that then the jokes. I walked into that theater and they did a test run and I was like, “This is my favorite!” As for the artwork, you know we didn’t do a photo shoot. That’s always tricky, because you’re pulling stills from the special, so you can’t pose for it. When we did War Paint, obviously that is something I posed from. I didn’t do my special naked. And with War Paint that was my first big special out of the gate, so I wanted to make a statement. I wanted people to click on that because I was naked and I felt the material would speak for itself. With this one, you know your sophomore album is always the toughest one, because people only compare it to your first work of art and I thought I had pretty big shoes to fill. I knew I couldn’t go sexy again, because then you have a girl that always goes to that well and while there’s nothing wrong with it, you know that’s not the business that I’m in. So I just decided to go with something that looked cool. I didn’t want to go understated and I didn’t necessarily need to go for a joke in the cover. I mean I’m all for funny covers, but my comedy is nothing if not aggressive and honest. So we kind of went for this sort of action movie poster thing.
I love that you mentioned being naked on the cover of War Paint, did you ever have fear of backlash from other women, especially feminists?
I was not afraid of that, because part of what we do is put it out there and not apologize about it. It isn’t that I’ve offended someone or said something horrible and Being a feminist is all about keeping things equal and people are allowed to… why not use whatever assets you have. I happen to be in shape. As a woman you should be proud of that. I think we live in a society where women are told to be thin and be in shape, but the second you are, don’t flaunt it, because you’ll make other people insecure. I just don’t subscribe to that. I was raised in a house where I never heard my mom talk bad about other women. It was always, “Ah! Look at her, she’s so beautiful.” “Look at her hair. It’s so amazing.” My mom never called anyone a bitch, so you know I grew up admiring other women for being attractive or for being funny or smart and not being jealous. Obviously we all get jealous, it’s a human thing. So, what I’d say to anyone is if that cover bothers you you’re going to need to look inside and think why that bothers you, because it’s not on me.
The reason I did it is because A.) that I could. And B.) the simple phenomenon of marketing. Just like you said, you’re scrolling through your iPad, you’re on a plane, let’s say you’re a dude, and there’s 800 J-pegs of comics holding microphones. Then there’s one of a girl naked. Which one are you going to click on?
It’s a business.
Yeah and it’d be one thing if the comedy wasn’t good. “Oh, she’s just luring us in,” but I knew the comedy could stand on its own two feet and I knew that once you got in there and got over the mild disappointment that I was clothed, you’d be okay with the fact that you clicked on it. And I was right. It got number one on iTunes and it did well enough that Netflix wanted to make an original out of it with this one. It was sort of a one trick one-time thing and now we just have to do funny covers and regular covers.
What was different with your sophomore special?
It’s so weird. I don’t think about the process until people ask me about it, but we finished War Paint and I literally hit the ground running. I was like, “Well, time to make another one.” I don’t believe in pushing yourself to come up with content. It just kind of comes naturally. I do all my writing on stage, so over a year of touring and doing shows around town, you write on stage and you build up this act. Then one day you’re like, “Oh my God, I have 45 minutes worth of material. Just need 15 more and we’ll be fine.” I think what’s different is that my point of view is just stronger now. Like I watch War Paint, but it’s hard for me to watch. Most artists are hard for them to watch. I can’t even listen to my own voice. I look at it, as funny as it is; I’m so much more polished now. My point of view is even more at the surface. And I really think if War Paint was about observations, then Freezing Hot is about substantiating those observations with more examples. So I’m not just saying, “Girls do this,” I’m saying, “And here’s why we do this.” And even though I did that in War Paint I think it’s even more articulated in Freezing Hot.
I’m sure that’s normal too, because you continue to hopefully grow and evolve.
Some of the topics are similar. Look, I’m a girl and I just got out of my twenties, so I have a lot of observations and observations that are sometimes contingent on observations that were made in War Paint. It’s a stream of consciousness and sometimes it takes two albums to get everything out. So the topics are, you know men and women, women being a little weird and our thought processes and of course my own brain and self deprecation. You know, you look at a lot of men and their whole act is about their family or what they ate that day. I think there’s a lot of gold to be mined from the world of girls.
When you’re onstage working out material are you literally improvising it or you kind of have thoughts that you jot down from time to time?
You know you’ll be sitting and home and be like, “Oh, ham sandwich. That’s a funny phrase, okay. Maybe I’ll work that in tonight in an example of something.” “Oh here’s a premise.” I’ll write it in my phone or write it in my notebook. And then on a Tuesday or something I’ll get up and try out these premises and you slowly start to work them in. That’s how most comics do it. But a lot of things, a lot of things come from improv, which is why for young comics that are just starting, it’s so important to get stage time. So many comics are like, “Yeah, I do a lot of writing.” It doesn’t matter. Because none of it matters until you get up on stage and say it. And every set is different and every night is different and even your worst show, there’s something to be learned from it. I’m not really great at recording, which is a shame, because you say these things and you get off stage and are like, “What I did I say about acorns? What’s so funny about acorns?” And you’re going around the room asking people like, “Excuse me. Do you remember what I said about acorns? You were laughing.”
“Was it the way I said it or the words that I said?”
“What made you laugh about it?” Yeah. And the way I do it is, if it’s funny, if it’s truly funny and it’s truly in my voice, I believe that it will stick in my brain. I think the cream rises to the top, so if I said a thing about acorns and I don’t remember it, sometimes that bit was meant to be let go and it just lives in that time and place and that was their bit for that night. The good ones stick out.
Do you remember how long it took or sort of a moment when that confidence of being able to improvise on stage and being like, “It’ll stick” came?
It happened yesterday around 9 o’clock on the second show. Umm… I don’t know. I think you’re funny your whole life. You’re doing crowd work before you’re a stand up comic. You know, you’re joking with your friends on the bus, you’re in school… I think crowd work and improv is an art in an of itself and you only have so much time on stage. The benefit of having a polished act is that you have that act you can always go back to if your improv isn’t working. Sometimes I’ll take a whole set to do mostly crowd work. You know, it’s a muscle that needs to be worked. I think I’ve always be confident with doing that. But I’ve definitely had gigs where I was scared out of my mind and I just wanted to get through it. I did a corporate gig recently and it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It was just a room of 300 dads and I was like, “Oh my God, what am I going to…” and I just started doing crowd work and people go nuts. It’s like a magician to them. If you can make funny appear out of thin air, they’re mystified, they’re in love.
So, when I talk to women who are comedians, I don’t normally talk about dating and guys, because you’re so much more than that obviously, but you talk about it a ton in your material, so I feel like it’s a good subject to broach here. Do you ever have trouble dating because of your material?
That’s so funny, a lot of people ask me that and the answer is absolutely not. There are two types of men in this world, men who like funny women and men that don’t. There are definitely men who make themselves known if they don’t like when women speak, you know on Twitter they’ll write something mean to you, but you know I started my career with a mostly male following. I’ve always been friends with guys and I’ve always been comfortable with men and I think that you know, I’m not afraid to say my opinion. Not in a bossy way, but in a “Hey, we’re having a conversation here. I’m just going to let you know how I feel as well. I’m not backing down just because you’re bigger than me.” What you get on stage with any performer is an exacerbated version of themselves, exaggerated for artistic affect. I’m not at home doing dinosaur noises. I mean, maybe a little bit, but I’m actually quite sweet. I believe in treating my boyfriends with respect and taking care of them. You’ll also notice in my act there’s never anything negative about men. It’s never, “This boyfriend was a jerk” or “Men are stupid.” I don’t feel that way and I don’t believe my act is somewhere to air my dirty laundry personally. That being said, anything that happens in an act that involves a guy is from a real story, but it’s done with love and they’re always flattered. The story about the ideal break up did happen. A boyfriend did forget to ask my middle name, but the real story when I brought it up to him again he goes, “I already knew your middle name. That’s why I didn’t ask your middle name.” But of course being like a crazy person, I just ran with it and made that bit out of it. It’s all done from a place of love, never from a place of spit.
So was it harder to win over your female audience?
I think women are starting to consume standup comedy and comedy in general more than they ever have. And literally that’s a change I’ve seen in the last five years and a lot of that has to do with the Internet, Netflix is a huge part of that, people giving women speaking roles in comedy. Stuff like that. So it’s sort of a new era. So, it wasn’t always their thing. Comedy clubs are dingy places where dirty old men go to talk and nag about their wives and complain, right? So, while it started out being a lot of men, you know they bring their girlfriend, “Check out this girl. She’s funny.” And then the girls come in and comedy sort of involved into this thing. Like Last Comic Standing, I ragged on girls a little bit, and I can’t even tell you what I talked about, kind of random, very aggressive comedy. And then I got honest with it. At a certain point I was like, “Women aren’t bad, and we’re not stupid, and men aren’t stupid. Let’s just call it what it is and say that we’re both crazy and we’re both coming from a good place. And let me try to elaborate on my own crazy thought processes and I bet other girls feel this way too.” In doing this really honest sort of labor of love, women started getting attracted to it. The more women were into it, the more I see myself in other women and they see themselves in me, and that’s what makes comedy so relatable, when you see yourself in the performer.
What do you have coming up next?
Well, we have an ABC pilot we’ve written, so fingers crossed that gets made into a pilot. We don’t know yet. I don’t know when this article will come out, but I’m doing The Tonight Show on Monday. I’m doing The Today Show on Wednesday and then Freezing Hot comes out on the 23rd. Then there’s on my website Iliza.com there’s all my tour dates and a couple of other things. I think it’ll be a really good year and I think people are really going to enjoy Freezing Hot. I know that I had the best time making it and I hope they’ll like it.
So, what do you do that’s not comedy related?
That’s a great question. I don’t know. I don’t know. I feel like a loser.
How about hanging out with your dog, Blanche?
Yeah, that makes me sound even more like a loser. Because I hang out with my dog when I’m not doing comedy.
But she’s not a cat, so it’s okay.
Totally. Though, she’s similar. She’s very quiet. You know, I genuinely love comedy and I love working. I’m not happy if I’m not working and I know that’s probably not on the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People list, but let me think, let me think… what do I do? Honestly, my brain works in such overdrive all day and I work so hard, sometimes I just sit on the couch and watch The Food Network and write tweets. Last night, I came back from my shows. They were wonderful shows here in the charm city of Baltimore and I ordered food from a diner and I sat on my bed and I watched MSNBC and I ate a giant piece of salmon and I sat with my dog and I had my phone and I was just texting friends. To me that is Zen. Having food at your fingertips on a bed, watching a show about giving a business a makeover, so that you’re learning a little bit, but your dog’s right there. That’s it.