Chelsea Peretti on writing standup and talking to creepy podcast callers
Whether she's posting hilarious observations on Twitter, accepting calls from random strangers on her podcast, or performing her delightfully judgmental standup, comedian Chelsea Peretti does it all with sharp wit and magnetic observational humor. Peretti, also a former writer for the Emmy-nominated Parks and Recreation, will be in town starting tonight for a three-day stint at Comedy Works. We caught up with the comedian in advance of this Denver run to talk about the writing process, freaky podcast callers and putting herself in uncomfortable situations for the sake of the joke.
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Westword: What's your process for writing standup?
Chelsea Peretti: Sometimes I sit down and write jokes, but most of the time the words that work the best come up in life or in conversations. Sometimes I've had certain friends that I just always think of jokes when I hang out with them. Sometimes I think of jokes in the shower. But most of the time they're the best when they're largely fully formed when I think of them, versus trying to sit down and write it like some people do.
Do you feel like the persona in your standup is who you are in real life, or is it an exaggerated character?
I think it's an exaggerated character. I think that I probably am more positive and kind and together maybe than I am in my standup. In my life, I won't let myself dwell on negative things over and over, but in standup I will allow myself to explore that, my assumption being that other people will have those feelings as well, and maybe that's cathartic. That said, there are some comedians who are really good at getting their light, bubbly side into their standup and it's just never quite been my strength.
How has your act evolved since you first started?
I think that I have prioritized having a sillier side to it in the last few years. I feel like it should always be evolving. In the beginning I was more personality than joke writing and then I got more into joke writing and I felt like I became really dry. And I think in the last five years it's become a nice balance and I feel like I can explore things that are more subtle and feel more confident about it than I used to.
Can you talk a little bit about your podcast, Call Chelsea Peretti, and what made you want to interact with strangers over the phone?
Well, I was interacting with strangers on Twitter and I thought that even though sometimes I find it extremely irritating, I thought it was an interesting interaction. I just thought it would be cool if there was a way to do that live. I think I'm good at reacting to people off the cuff and that whole battle I have between being judgmental and being nice and genuinely interested in other people and also being freaked out by other people I thought would be an interesting dynamic. What's the freakiest call you've ever received? In the first episode that I recorded we had this weird jackpot where this guy named Oliver from Germany called. I would say that was probably one of the more memorable calls just because the actual quality of his voice was weird and faint and creepy. [Laughs]. He just kept asking if I received his letter over and over. What address? I don't even have a public address! And then he's like "I sent it to your manager." He had a German accent and he just was really the complete package of a call that I wanted to hang up the whole time but I stayed on the line. And he actually called back and left a message recently, so the saga may continue.
What did he say in his new message?
Can't tell you that. [Laughs.] It'll be in my next episode. I will tell you this: It wasn't as exciting as I was hoping. But it was interesting. The plot thickens, because he sounds more normal in this message, but it remains unclear if he even listens to the podcast. It's very strange.
I like the immediacy. I get to do essentially whatever I want and I think that's also why podcasts and twitter are appealing to me. There's just very few middlemen and you basically just get to make something. I think I'm influenced by my brother--he's in technology--and basically if you make something and it's useful to people you can instantly be selling it or innovating with it. And I feel the same with standup. If you have a joke, you can instantly go on stage and if people are laughing then it's so immediate.
You wrote for Parks and Recreation--do you think the process of writing for television influenced the way you write standup?
I wrote for Parks for two seasons, and I don't do that anymore because I wasn't able to do standup or anything else. Any time you're around a group of funny people it influences you in some way or another. I'm not sure in terms of literally how I write jokes if it has impacted that. But you can't sit in a room with people for twelve hours a day for two seasons straight and not have their influence have some impact on you. I like to have jokes and I like to improvise stuff, especially if the audience is really on board. I like to go on tangents and things like that, and I think new experiences help you write new jokes.
What's a recent experience that inspired your comedy? I just went and traveled -- I think travel is useful. I just think getting out of your normal grind. That's the tricky thing about standup, especially when you start getting more professional and doing it more and more frequently, the weird thing is that if all you're doing is standup, what life experiences do you have to write about? That's why I feel like for me it's been an important thing to try to have a full life and do random things like travel or hang out with people where I might feel uncomfortable, like the podcast. It's like, well, let me interact with people I might not normally interact with because it will be funny or interesting. I went to one of those pop up food things where you go to a house and eat with random people and people cook dinner. I don't know, it could be anything. I've learned from a young age to put yourself in experiences where you might be the odd man out or uncomfortable. I try to force myself to do it. I'm not always consistent about it, but when I do that I feel like my mind is more alive.
What are you working on next?
Well, standup. I want to do an hour special so I'm working toward that right now. I wanna write and sell a show that is my voice, which is something I've been working on. I'm gonna sell an app for my podcast that has the sound effects in it that I use on my podcast.
What can people look forward to at your Denver show? Just constant mirth and merriment. A feeling of family. Just whatever you feel like your life is lacking, it's gonna happen that night. [Laughs.] If you're looking for love, you'll probably meet a lover in the audience. And if you're hungry there's food there, and if you're hungry, like, on a spiritual level you'll probably be fed spiritually. Silliness. Sarcasm. Intellect. Dumb jokes. It's really just all there.
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