How Rachel Feinstein Went From Bombing Without Realizing It to a Comedy Central Hour
While listening to Rachel Feinstein talk about the creative process behind her new Comedy Central special airing this Saturday night at 11pm, Only Whores Wear Purple, I couldn’t help but hear echoes of The Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends, a song born of — and somewhat about — creative collaboration. The one-hour special is an “Amy Schumer Presents” production, a label that carries a special significance for Feinstein. “It’s really great making stuff with your friends. Pretty much everything I’ve gotten in my career was through my friends.” I talked to Feinstein about the new hour, learning through bombing, and her working relationship with Schumer.
The title of your special is Only Whores Wear Purple. Kind of odd that your special is about to premiere right after Prince’s death. I mean, clearly you didn’t do anything to kill Prince…
[Laughing] I murdered Prince!
I was watching your Twitter feed wondering if you would use the opportunity to promote your special with a nod to his passing.
I’ll probably tweet something later just acknowledging it in some way without being like, “Since your death is trending I’m taking advantage of it.” I’ll try to find the precarious balance.
You filmed your special in New York at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater. You got your start at a pretty young age in New York, right?
Yeah. I moved to New York with my boyfriend’s band called Dicksister. When we broke up — believe it or not — I did some theater first. Then I started doing open mics. The first time I went out was at a bar that was doing a comedy night and I bombed wildly. I just kept trying to go up and do those bringer shows where you have to bring like five people just to get on stage. I didn’t know many people in New York, so I would just try to make friends with people and bother them into coming to shows. That was hard because I hated asking people to go to something. That’s why I was never good at sales. I got fired in four hours from a place where I was supposed to sell stuff because I can’t do that.
You said that you did a little bit of theater before you did comedy. Was your goal to be an actor?
I wanted to do some kind of comedy. I don’t think that I knew I wanted to do standup, but I started watching standup and thinking about it more and more. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I didn’t have structured jokes and punchlines. I felt like kind of a fraud in that department. I started watching a lot of standup and sitting in the back of this comedy club called Dangerfield’s on the Upper East Side. They would let me go in there and watch shows. I would do that most nights. They never put me up, but they would let me sit in the back. I saw that there were a lot of different styles to comedy: storytellers, people doing characters, impressions of people in their lives. I started to feel like maybe I could do it after watching and seeing that there wasn’t just one style.
Above: A sneak peek from the special.
You’re known for some of the voices and characters that you seamlessly slip into your bits. When you first started were you mostly an impression or character-based comic?
Yeah, my early standup was. I would just go up and do impressions of a few people in my family, or a guy or something. They were kind of these long-winded monologues that went nowhere. Just aimless. It was pretty awful, but that’s how I started. That’s how I would entertain my friends. I would just go up onstage and do it without giving it much effort or context. I remember thinking that the first couple of shows went great. But I was told afterwards that I bombed. I think I was so excited and on some kind of deranged high from being up there that I didn’t realize I was repeatedly and wildly bombing.
I think for people just starting out, the idea of getting onstage, standing there, and talking for the allotted amount of time feels like such an accomplishment. You get that adrenaline rush that overtakes you and you don’t realize that maybe you didn’t connect with the audience or present your material in a logical, funny way.
You’re right. Also, I think you’re so nervous in the beginning. I know I was that way. You’re just unaware of the way you are. It’s like if you’re a kid and you met a celebrity that you loved or you met the president. When people talk about those stories they’re like, “I don’t even know what I did or said.” I think that’s what happens with standup. You’re too nervous to have any insight into the factors that you could have adjusted for the next time. You’re experiencing things in an insane way. You’re almost having an out-of-body experience. It’s like the feeling of skydiving for the first time or something. The first few times I was like, “That was unbelievable!” I felt like I was flying. But then the owner of the bar where I was performing was like, “You went like five minutes over and we were really trying to wave you off and that’s disrespectful to the other performers.” Then she was like, “And you weren’t using the microphone properly. We couldn’t really hear you.” They were really bothered by the whole thing.
Can you look back on your career and identify one or two benchmarks that were monumental in keeping you motivated to continue pursuing a career as a standup?
I remember the first time I got a special where it was my own thing, my first half hour. You know there’s some times in your life where you’re just watching and others where you’re actually participating. This friend of mine was telling me some story about having a threesome and I said, “What was it like?” He said, “You have to make a choice. You’re either going to watch it or you’re going to experience it. You have to do one or the other.” That was how it felt with the first special.
This special airing tomorrow night is an “Amy Schumer Presents” production.
We wanted to produce something together. It’s fun to produce stuff with your friends. I knew it would turn out well, we trust each other’s instincts. It was a really satisfying night. I felt like with this team it was going to be a very well-made, well-thought-out thing. Amy and I had a lot of fun together doing Women Who Kill and stuff on her show. It’s really great making stuff with your friends. Pretty much everything I’ve gotten in my career was through my friends.
What else do you have coming up?
I have some dates coming up. Saturday April 23rd I’ll be in Omaha, Nebraska with Amy. April 28th — 30th I’ll be in Washington DC at The Drafthouse. That’s where I’m from, so it will be fun to go back home.
Only Whores Wear Purple airs this Saturday the 23rd at 11pm on Comedy Central, with the album coming out on Comedy Central Records next Tuesday the 26th.