Inside Carmen Lynch’s Debut Album, 15 Years in the Making
Comedian Carmen Lynch is at an exciting stage in her comedy career. She just performed her fifth late-night set, this time on Colbert. She just released her debut album Dance Like You Don’t Need the Money, available now. And she just earned a credit as the star of a Chloe Sevigny-directed short film for the fashion label Miu Miu, part of a series entitled Women’s Tales. I caught up with Lynch to talk about the fear of recording her first album, being headhunted by Chloe Sevigny, and her upcoming trip to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
I just listened to your album, Dance Like You Don’t Need the Money. You seemed so loose and relaxed. I’ve watched a lot of your TV appearances and it was nice to see you get a little darker than you’re able to on a late-night spot.
Awesome, thanks. I love that room, the Punchline in San Francisco. It’s such a good size and such a good club.
Why did you choose that spot? Did you just happen to be in the area when the opportunity to record came up?
Yeah, I’ve always had problems, like under pressure kind of things. If I have to tape myself for an hour and make it good it kind of bugs me. I never invite people to shows and stuff. I’d rather just do a show in front of strangers and not need to have it mean anything. To prepare for something kind of bugs me a little bit. It was one of those, “Hey I’m going to be at the Punchline. Let me just make this my album.” Surprising myself and putting it together last minute seemed to be the way I had to do it. I think for my next album I won’t be so neurotic about it. I had never put an album together. I mean, I tried it, but I didn’t like the results. Now that I’ve done it I don’t think I’ll be so insane about it next time.
So you’re saying that you recorded an album before but decided not to release it?
Yeah my really dear friend and I recorded our album in Boston about five years ago. We just randomly picked Boston. Only about 50% of the room was filled. We were like, “We’re not releasing this.”
You’ve been doing standup for about 15 years, right?
I would say about that long. I took one year off, so I’d say between 14 and 15 years.
I like that you waited this long to release your first album. I say that because now that aspiring comics can pretty easily hop online and get an idea of how the business works there are people who are just a few years in who are already releasing albums. I’m not saying it’s definitively right or wrong. I just know that the albums that I’ve enjoyed the most in the last few years are from people who have been doing standup for at least 10 years or so. I also like that you tried it once, weren’t satisfied with the product, and decided not to release it. So many people seem thirsty to check things off of their comedy to-do list. I admire your restraint.
I would call mine more fear than restraint. I tend to make things a bigger deal than they are and then once I do it I’m like, “Oh, really? That’s all I had to do? Okay.” It’s not going to take 15 years for my next one. That’s one of the good things about waiting that long: you have stuff ready that’s not in that hour that you can use in your next one.
Did you ever have anyone put pressure on you, like, “How come you haven’t done an album or special yet?”
Only in a good way. Like after a show a fan would say, “Do you have an album I can buy?” or looking at friends who have albums out and wondering, “When am I going to do that?” But I would always follow that up with, “Why am I not excited to make one?” For the longest time I wondered, “What’s wrong with me? I don’t want to do this.”
You just appeared in a short film called Carmen directed by Chloe Sevigny. It’s part of a series she did called Women’s Tales. How did the two of you get connected?
I was at EastVille Comedy Club and she walked in. The servers were like, “She’s here to see you.” She was looking to make something and based on the criteria she was looking for, somebody from UCB suggested me, which I thought was really cool because I love UCB, I do Whiplash shows there, and I’ve taken a couple of improv classes, but I hadn’t really grown up with the UCB. We spoke for a while and it just kind of came together. She had done stuff with Miu Miu before. Chloe is amazing. She’s hilarious. She loves the dark stuff. I love my dark jokes, but they’re the ones I kind of feel bad about because I can only do some of them on late night TV. Some of them are a little too much. But those are the ones that she picked. It’s such a fun combination of her style, my humor, and fashion. I’s funny because I’m six feet tall and growing up I always wanted to be a model. People who know me well, like my sister, are like, “This is such a funny thing that you’re wearing Miu Miu outfits, being something you’ve always wanted to be, and getting to tell your jokes.”
I thought that the short really captured what it feels like to do comedy. There was a surreal aspect to it that kind of reminds me of that feeling you get sometimes when you’re onstage.
I know what you mean. I think she has a really good eye and gets it. I think that’s why she makes a great director. She came to several shows and different clubs to watch so I think she got a vibe of what standup is like, what happens when something is funny but the audience doesn’t react, how we act differently at every show. When we made the film, some takes I was sillier and others I was more deadpan. It’s cool that she caught how we can be very different even when performing the same jokes.
You’re getting ready to head out of the country this summer for some pretty big dates.
Yeah, I just got accepted into the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m very excited about it. Last summer when I was in London I went over to Scotland and checked it out. It seems like such a fun, intense, insane-in-a-good-way festival. So I’m going to do that and then spend a couple weeks in London doing shows there.
Photo by Phil Provencio.