INTERVIEWS

Rachel Feinstein: The Einstein of Fine.

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rachel-feinsteinRachel Feinstein is appearing at Rooster T. Feathers on November 13th to 16th. You might have caught her voice work on Adult Swim’s Venture Brothers. Or, maybe you saw her first Comedy Central special, appearances on Chelsea Lately or as a finalist on Last Comic Standing. Feinstein is part of the new wave of female comics who are strong, unbridled and hilarious. SUSC talks to Feinstein about low self-esteem and what “making it” means, and guess what? She has Santa Cruz roots!

You just wrapped up filming a Comedy Central special, how did it go?

It was my second special so I wasn’t as terrified as the first time. The first time I was hoping I got mangled somehow beforehand so I wouldn’t have to do it.

When you have a high-profile gig, do you invite friends and family?

I might bring a couple of people with me, but it’s better when it’s out of state. I would rather play in front of a thousand strangers then play in front of a couple of people I know in the audience.

Did you do it in one take, or was it a couple of shows you edit together?

Just one.

Did you nail it?

(laughter) Nailing it? I don’t know if anyone feels like that. Actually there are probably comics that feel like that.

Those well-adjusted comics. Fuck them.

It was a good set and it went better then I thought. But there are always things you wish you could tweak or change. I felt like I was OK with the way it went and I never feel like that.

Once the special is aired on Comedy Central, do you abandon the material?

I’m also taping my Comedy Central CD this Sunday which is basically the same material. Other than that, I’m done with that material for television.

You’ll hold on to some of it live?

Absolutely, it takes time to build another half hour or 45 minutes of material. The new stuff doesn’t just arrive and say “here I am”. So you weave material together.

Do you workshop most of your material in New York City, or do you take it on the road?

I do more of it in New York. When I’m on the road I have to deliver as a headliner and don’t play around with stuff as much. I’m more comfortable trying out new things at home and my home rooms around the city. I do a lot of radio where I mostly tell stories, then I go back and listen to that tape–a lot of things come from conversations. I’m constantly writing stuff on my phone.

A lot of comics are very concerned about “making it”–was that ever your goal.

Making it? I don’t even know what that means anymore. Does it mean going to Hollywood to be in the pictures? I just want to make good funny things with my friends. I like that we are at a point where people can create their own content–and it’s not like it used to be where Hollywood would buy you and own your talent. Thank god.

Nobody specifically said they want to be in “pictures”. Most people I know don’t speak like they’e from the 1930s. But, a lot of New York comics are desperate for Twitter followers, have business cards that say “comic/actor/producer” and are convinced their story is interesting and funny enough. . .

to be made into a sit-com.

Yes.

It doesn’t even make sense, sit-coms aren’t developed like that anymore. That’s why I don’t spend a lot of time in LA. My family is from Santa Cruz and the Bay Area, so I spend a lot of time there.

Were you born out in California?

No, but my dad grew up in Palo Alto and all my aunts and uncles are in Santa Cruz. I love it there so much. My dad is such a crazy San Francisco fan that he has compiled a 300 page scrapbook about the Giants. He invites people over just to see the scrapbook. He will embarrass my mom if they are out on a date and the men are arguing about their manliness. My dad will say, “I don’t know if you heard about the scrapbook, but its up to 300 pages now”. He hasn’t really grappled with how to print things off the internet so he will drive to the public library and print various San Francisco Giants documents, brings them home and gets to scrapbooking.

Wow. Does he keep it on top of the scrapbook he made of you? The thin volume underneath?

(laughter) My parents met at UCSB and moved up here because my dad was a civil rights lawyer. My mom had to find him some friends because she was the social one and he was a weird internal musician. She was asking around the neighborhood who liked the San Francisco Giants and she finally found someone. He and my dad became best friends and they started a band together called The Vomit Tones. My dad thinks throwing up is really funny.

Vomit Tones, gotcha.

They like to do weird covers and howl like wolves at the end. My dad plays blues on the piano and likes Howlin’ Wolf. . . they do songs like “I don’t know much about history. . ”

Wonderful World.

Right. And they do a little Beach Boys and some Sonny Boy Williamson, but at the end of the performance they all howl. Or sometimes they play Blue Moon and moon everyone. That was back in Bethesda (MD). Now he does his own stuff and goes by Hurricane Howie.

Would his dream be you marrying Madison Bumgarner?

Yes, that would rock his life. Are you into sports?

My family is. I have the dubious honor of having the most vacuous knowledge of sports in the family. Somebody wins, somebody loses, what more do you need to know? You’re comedy is unique. Most stand-up comics do not do voices and characters. When you started did you see anybody that made you think, “Oh, that’s something I can do?”

I went to see John Leguizamo’s one-man show, Freaks. It wasn’t even stand-up but it was inspiring for me to see. He talked a lot in the show about being a fuck-up. I related to that. That kind of thing wears on your self-esteem. I had terrible grades and wildly failed at everything I attempted. It was good for me to see those stories at that time. I got D’s, F’s, summer school, everything for years. When I got to New York and got fired from jobs. I wasn’t like, “Fuck everybody, I’m a rebel.” I just had a terrible time focusing in different environments. I had no idea how I was going to support myself. I thought I was going to end up like living in squalor. That play made me think that perhaps I could weave together something where I wouldn’t have to be constantly fired.

Does character development take longer then writing jokes? How do you start off developing characters when you only have 3-5 minutes on mic time?

I just do it naturally in conversation. I like doing voices and to tell a story and imitate the people in them. For me the hard part was finding the punchline, so it wasn’t just a never-ending story. I had to learn the funny parts in the middle and not rush and curse too much. I did every dumb thing thing you can do. I was frantic, I wanted everyone to like me. I used big words to try and sound smart. I did every annoying, jarring thing a comic could do when they are first starting off. When I look at tapes of when I started its unbearable, I was a mess.

Besides stirring up bad memories, why would you want to look at old performances? Feeling too good about yourself, need to take yourself down a notch?

Exactly. I was trying so hard, but frantic is the best way to describe it.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but was it easier as a female comic to get gigs in NYC? I go out of my way trying to find female comics so all my line-ups aren’t sausage fests.

It was harder being a female comic. I did stand-up for many, many years before I could even quit my day job. I’ve never heard that perspective. I know so many female comics that should be doing so much more. Think about all the guys that have comedic TV shows and then look at the women. Who is getting all the deals?  You might think of one or two women that you know of. . . .maybe on a local level you’re finding that, but the business isn’t. It is starting to change. When I started it was definitely a boys network, “they don’t want women”. I always heard that. All the comedy specials I came up with were guys. I’m glad Comedy Central is embracing more female shows. It used to be there were only a couple of women who got their thing, but they chose them one at a time. It’s more positive now, but it took a long time for that to happen. I do shows where the promoter says, we just had a women onstage, we cannot have another one. Can you imagine that happening with guys? Ridiculous, right? How about to a black person? But, that would happen to me all the time. If a female cursed onstage, men in the audience would think, “Oh, they’re dirty’. But guys could get onstage and talk about their life, and their sex life and it just a man talking about life and dating and whatever. But if I did it, I was a dirty little whore (laughter). I never felt like a victim because I was so excited about doing comedy. Now I look back and think how at every club I played at if a female said something dirty, they would be scolded when they got off stage. Things shift, whaddyagonnado?

I know you say things are changing. But do you have any sort of filter when you perform where you think, “I better not go too far with this or I’ll lose the audience?”

No. I have a lot of great friends and support systems in comedy. My male and female friends have been really helpful to me. I listen more to what comics I like and respect have to say. There are times though, when I’m on the road and I can see that somebody in the audience is totally disgusted by what I said, I do take it personally. At this point though, I try not to focus on it. I’m happy, I’m working.

You just have the same crippling self-doubt as every other comic.

No more or less then anyone else.

There are times when people groan. There’s one joke I do about being how I like to cuddle with guys and make out. My friends are are like “cut it out, nobody wants to hear your weird fetish.” But I like to tell guys ahead of time, “If I was your sexual attorney, I would recommend that you do not take this deal”. I get very clinical about it. Thats the basic point of the bit. The joke is about my own discomfort and wanting to hang out and cuddle instead of having sex. Still that will be perceived as I’m revealing too much. And it hurts my feelings in the moment, but I don’t want to adjust my joke. I get hurt when anyone doesn’t laugh, on some level, c’mon I always care.

Yeah. The room is rocking, but that one person in the front, not laughing becomes your sole focus.

With their arms folded. And as a comic, and as the sarcastic dicks we all are, we stand there and slay them in our minds. Thinking about the way they look or dress, at the same time feeling deeply hurt because they don’t like us.

Or verbalize it and turn the entire audience against you.

Exactly. But ultimately, the opinions you think are most important are that of other comics. I used to cry when I bombed and I don’t cry anymore, but I still have the low self-esteem that most comics have..

It’s a odd professional choice to want to shatter your ego on a weekly basis. It’s like doing LSD, it can be an out of body experience. But when it all goes right, there’s a great feeling. So that’s the trade-off, self-loathing and feeling good for a few hours.

Comedy is so weird and bi-polar and up and down. Getting inside your own psyche is rough, and its a crazy thing to do to yourself, its harmful and jarring.

 

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11/07/2014

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