At the North Carolina’s Funniest Competition finals in August, Maddie Wiener was this close to being named the champion on her first try.
She was nervous as hell, but it didn’t show as Wiener, an 18-year-old Chapel Hill High School graduate, held her own with her competitors, who were all older, and all male1 and during a Thursday afternoon phone interview, she said her set that Wednesday night at Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh was her best so far.
Despite battling nerves that caused her hands to shake when she grabbed the microphone, Wiener killed, drawing roars of laughter from a diverse crowd. Anyone in the audience who might have thought Wiener was too inexperienced to write and deliver hilarious, razor sharp jokes had those concerns dismissed as soon as Wiener’s first punchline landed.
As she waits for an acceptance letter from her college of choice in Chicago, Wiener is doing stand-up “six or seven nights a week” in the Triangle as well as going up in Greensboro, Charlotte and Wilmington when she isn’t at her other job waiting tables. Wiener is precocious and she works hard, which means she will likely be moving to a big city soon not only to study, but also to hone her stand-up comedy skills.
So go see Wiener while she is on stages near you, North Carolinians. With her kind of talent and drive, it’s no wonder that other, more seasoned comedians in the NC scene have used words like prodigy to identify her.
Wiener and I discussed the compliments she’s been getting from fellow comics and why they are her new favorite people and no, it isn’t only because they like her. We also talked about her first time on stage at age 16, why she isn’t able to get every crowd on her side and more.
Enjoy the interview, follow Wiener on Twitter and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes at the end.
Tony Castleberry: You’re only 18. When did you start doing comedy?
Maddie Wiener: I started when I was 16, my sophomore year of high school at (an open) mic in Chapel Hill at DSI. I didn’t really know how big of a scene there was, but once I got there, all the other comics were super welcoming. They were like, “If you’re willing to drive to Raleigh and Greensboro, you can get up six nights a week.” But I couldn’t drive at first so my mom would drive me to open mics and just wait there, which is really cool of her.
TC: That’s incredibly supportive.
MW: Yeah, it’s amazing.
TC: Did your first time or first couple of times on stage go well?
MW: The first time, I only got one minute because it was this weird lottery thing and that one minute went pretty well for my first time. I was like, “OK, I’ve got this.” My second time, I just ate it because I think I was like, “I get it.” It was awful. After that, it was kind of back and forth, bombing and doing OK, but I’m sure now if I listen to some of those sets back then, I’d be like, “No, that was bombing too.”
TC: [laughs] Some comics I know in Wilmington told me before I’d ever seen you perform that you’re a prodigy and saying things like, “She’s so good, it’s hard to believe she’s that young” and now that I have seen you, I agree. Are you taking this in stride or are you a little overwhelmed by all these compliments you’re getting?
MW: I’m a little overwhelmed. It’s weird because comics have become my closest friend group now. I’m 18 and some of my closest friends are 30- or 40-year-old divorced dads. They’re genuinely my best friends. It’s been amazing. I don’t really know what I’d be doing (otherwise). Maybe college would be better. [interviewer laughs] It’s been overwhelming, but the community has been so supportive and I’ve met my favorite people in my life from comedy. I’m really glad that it’s happening.
I know as soon as I move to another scene, (other comedians) will be like, “You’re so young, blah, blah, blah.” That’s gonna wear off and I’m gonna have to start from the bottom. I’m trying not to let it…I sound so arrogant. “I’m trying not to let it go to my head” but it’s just been a blast. Super fun.
TC: For someone who isn’t even able to drink yet, You seem very in control up there. Do you feel…
MW: Maybe I’m in control because I’m not able to drink.
TC: [laughs] Once you start drinking, it’s off the rails?
MW: Yeah, I’m pretty sure.
TC: Do you feel nerves or uneasiness on stage?
MW: If it’s not going well. I’ve had times where I can tell in the first 30 seconds, “Oh, this is not gonna be good.” … I’m good enough that if a room is on my side and is excited to see comedy and kind of thinks the way I do, then I can do pretty well. But if there’s a room that’s against me, I’m really not anywhere near skilled enough to know how to turn around a room and get them on my side. You know what I mean?
MW: I was watching the 25th anniversary of Def Comedy Jam and they were talking about how Bernie Mac had to go out after a comic had gotten booed off stage. He went to the edge of the stage and said, “I’m not scared of you motherfuckers!” and they loved it. If a crowd isn’t on my side, I don’t know how to turn it around, so then I get really nervous. If it’s going well, it feels pretty good.
But at NC’s Funniest, I was shaking and stuff with the mic in my hand, and it was the best set I’ve ever had. I was still super nervous.
TC: You did a rape joke early in that set and some of the other judges and I looked at each other like, “Holy shit. That joke worked right off the bat.” I think it takes incredible courage for you to be able to do that so if you are nervous up there, I want to let you know that you’re masking it very well, Maddie.
MW: Thank you so much.
TC: Were you surprised by your second-place finish at the NC’s Funniest Competition?
MW: The first preliminary round, I kind of ate it and I thought I wasn’t even gonna get through that. I don’t know. The crowd hated me. This is the first year I’ve done the competition so I wasn’t even expecting to get to the finals. I was happy with it.
TC: How often are you going up?
MW: Six or seven nights a week.
TC: No way.
MW: Yeah, I drive a lot. There are some mics in Chapel Hill. I’m mostly in Raleigh or Greensboro. I do some stuff in Charlotte and Wilmington. Six nights a week and if there’s a show on Friday, then I’ll get up then too.
TC: It’s awesome to hear that you love it that much. It is a love of it, isn’t it? Is that where it comes from?
MW: Yeah, I think so. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do. [interviewer laughs] If I started when I was like 22, it’d be like, “Oh, I’m in college now and I’m starting this thing and maybe I like comedy.” I started when I was 16 so I really cut off any other marketable skill at the knees. [interviewer laughs] I guess I gotta stay in it because I don’t really know what else I’m supposed to do.
TC: Your Twitter bio says “comedy maybe.” I think it’s a definitely at this point.
MW: Thank you so much.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes:
- The author was one of the NC’s Funniest judges and one point separated Wiener and first-place finisher J Bliss on the author’s scorecard. ↩