Emily Heller: Eyes Wide Open


emily headSUSC is stoked that comedian Emily Heller is on the road and headlining cities on her first national tour: Please Consider this Tour. She is a former Banana Slug (’07) and is returning to Santa Cruz on Friday May 15th at the Vets Hall. Tickets here:

Emily recently starred in Ground Floor on TBS.  You may have seen her on Conan, on the third season of John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show on Comedy Central, or as one of the New Faces at the 2012 Montreal Just For Laughs Festival. She is the creator and star of the Above Average series The Future. In 2011, she was included in Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch, won Rooftop Comedy’s Silver Nail Award, and was named one of the “Funniest People in Town” by 7×7 Magazine in San Francisco. Previously, Emily wrote for Cougartown, Surviving Jack and was a frequent panelist on Chelsea Lately. Check out Emily’s most recent set on Late Night with Seth Meyers:

SUSC: What are you up to?

Emily: I was just doing a college show in upstate New York and the closest airport with a direct flight was in Montreal.

You had to leave America to get back into America?


Were you doing comedy when you were a student at UCSC?

I actually took a class at UC Santa Cruz. I didn’t really start doing it until a few of my friends and I started going up to San Francisco to do open mics.

Who did you come up with once you started hitting mics?

I started doing open mics in San Francisco at the same time as Alex Koll, Chris Garcia, Marcella Arguello, Janine Brito, Sean Keane, a lot of those folks.

That’s a powerhouse group of comics that graduated from the Bay Area at the same time.

It was a good class.

Did you find that your path accelerated quickly?

I feel like I had the benefit of being surrounded by a lot of hard-working, funny professional comedians who taught me to be that way also. I benefitted from the good advice of great people.

You have always had the best schwag, a calendar, a book. . .were you a creative kid?

That was a holdover from college. In college I thought I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a performer yet. I figured out how to do little projects on my own. Then I had to figure out how to shoehorn that into my comedy life. My mom was an art teacher and I have always been encouraged to create my own stuff, whenever I could.

Your sister, Marielle Heller had a very successful off-broadway play that became a feature film, when’s that come out?

Diary of a Teenage Girl is coming out this August.

I know you sometimes perform with your brother. Is your whole family creative?

My entire family is creative. My brother is a super talented musician. My sister is now an accomplished filmmaker. My parents were very encouraging which is not the usual story you get from comedians.

Did you feel pressure to figure out what you wanted to do?

Not at all. They didn’t put any pressure on me which was nice. For a long time I thought, “We have enough artists in the family, maybe I should try and get a normal job.” But, I wasn’t cut out for that.

What jobs did you have before moving to comedy full time?

I’ve been lucky I didn’t have the worst jobs in the world. But, I did work at Longs, which I feel fine saying was a really shitty job. I worked at a pizza place, in New York I did a bunch of temping. Which was alternately, fine and soul-crushing. I drove an ice cream truck for one-day.

I was reading recently that the SNL Digital Video, Lazy Sunday is credited with launching YouTube.

I remember that happening. I had set up a Google alert for my brother-in-laws name (Jorma Taccone) when he got hired at SNL, because I wanted to hear any news about him. And all this news began pouring in about that videos relationship to YouTube. That’s when people began to realize YouTube was a major force.

You have a cameo in Lazy Sunday.

Yup. That was before I even started doing any comedy at all. I got a really early taste.

Having starred in the TBS show Ground Floor, did you have any trouble transitioning from being a comedian to being an actor?

I was really nervous about how that would go, but it was a multi-cam with a live audience and that really helped me a lot. Performing in front of a live audience made it feel like stand-up. It’s not nerve wracking because the audience will let you know if you are doing OK. The energy in the room feels totally natural for a live performer.

Your first Conan set was one of the best stand-up appearances I’ve seen. Did you know you nailed it?

Thanks. I wasn’t sure. I knew it went well, but it took me watching it a couple of times for it to sink in that it actually did go well. I remember the first time I watched it, I sat there thinking, “What am I actually talking about? The words I’m saying don’t make any sense. Why is anybody laughing?” It was a weird out-of-body experience. It was a life-changing event to do. Having a good set on Conan has helped get every other job I’ve had since then. Even if I didn’t know it at the time, now I realize it went as well as it possibly could have. I’ve had sets on TV since then that I wish went that well.

There’s a theory that comedians nowadays have to be adept at a multi-platform approach. Being able to tell jokes, but also act, make videos, have a larger presence. You’re online videos, The Future: with Emily Heller are hilarious. Are those passion projects for you and also looking to build a resume?

It’s a little bit of both. I felt the pressure when I moved to New York and realized everybody does everything, and they do it all so well. I felt like I should branch out and try something new. The thought of it really scared me and stressed me out, more than I expected it too. I knew I wanted to do something that was different then the stand-up I’ve been doing. I don’t think I’m a super natural actor, but I wanted to play mean. I don’t get to be mean onstage too much in my stand-up. That was really fun for me. It was also terrifying to have all these great amazing famous people there. I was like, “Thank you so much for doing this stupid thing and also, I’m so sorry.” I couldn’t believe any of them agreed to do it. I’m always amazed anyone wants to work with me.

Was it difficult to decide after graduating from the comedy world in SF whether to move to New York or LA?

I knew when I left San Francisco that I wasn’t where I wanted to be as a comedian. Sometimes people move to New York to get better before they move to LA. I wanted that stage time. I wanted to put my nose to the grindstone and move up a level. LA is great once you know what the product is that you’re selling. It’s easier to get lost in the shuffle in LA. I’m glad I went to New York first and wished that I got to stay longer. I was only there for two years, but I learned a lot and benefited from the vibrant scene they have there.

Did you have any trouble adapting to corporate meeting and kissing ass?

I’m terrible at it. The nice thing is, stand-up is really cool right now and a lot of times, people in the industry just want to meet you, because they love stand-up. You don’t have to put on a whole act for them, you just have to be yourself. It is an adjustment to go from being onstage and saying what you want to say to collaborating with other people in all kinds of capacities. It is two different skill sets. That’s why it’s so great to continue doing stand-up after working in the industry in other ways. No matter how much you might feel that you are compromising, you still get to have an area of your life where you get to be exactly what you want.

Is Please Consider this Tour the biggest tour you’ve put together?

Absolutely! It’s the only comedy tour I’ve put together. I am so excited about this tour. It’s what I have been working towards my whole career. When I was starting out, me and my friends would talk about the day when we would get to go to fun cities and perform for people who hopefully knew who you were. I look forward so much to hitting the road and getting back into stand-up. In LA I’m so divided between so many projects, acting and writing and stand-up and everything else. I finally get to spend a couple of months doing what I love which is being on stage and performing for cool people in cool cities.

Santa Cruz?

I am so happy about coming back. I have so many fond memories living there for five years. It’s a dream come true to come back as a headliner.





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