Comedians to watch in 2015: Eliza Skinner

elizaskinner.com

Eliza Skinner had me looking like an insane person.

She didn’t do this directly, but the power of Skinner’s funny, delivered in this instance through her appearance on “The Todd Glass Show” podcast a few weeks ago, hurled me into a fit of hysterics not suitable for work, which was where I happened to be at the time.

My full-time job as a sportswriter sometimes (usually on Sundays) allows for part-time listening to two things I love dearly — stand-up comedy and podcasts hosted by stand-up comedians. On those occasions when I’ve drawn a solo desk shift and my responsibilities are reduced to just designing the next day’s sports section, iTunes is an excellent companion, and a fantastic diversion.

Normally I can keep it together when I listen to the funny men and women. A wry grin here. A barely audible chuckle there. Nothing that might cause co-workers to question my behavior and/or mental state.

Skinner, a whip-smart stand-up and writer originally from Richmond, Va., made sure that keeping it together was not going to be part of this particular work shift. She was so funny on Glass’ show that, while sitting in front of my computer, scanning The Associated Press wires, I laughed out loud several times, wiped tears of joy away at least twice and bent under the desk repeatedly so my laughter wouldn’t echo through the newsroom.

Although I had heard of Skinner before and had seen her perform on the now-defunct “Totally Biased” and “The Pete Holmes Show,” I wasn’t fully aware of her brand of hilarity until hearing her riff with Glass. It was glorious, and if my antics raised a few of my colleagues’ eyebrows, so be it.

In a recent email exchange, Skinner and I discussed when she first discovered that she could make people laugh, high-fiving Shaquille O’Neal and the aforementioned Todd Glass Show performance.

Enjoy the interview, visit Skinner’s website (elizaskinner.com), follow her on Twitter (@elizaskinner) and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes at the end.

Tony Castleberry: Do you remember the first time, not necessarily a specific event, but at least a period of time when someone told you that you were funny?

Eliza Skinner: When I was a Girl Scout in middle school, my troop put on a puppet show for a younger Brownie troop. I was playing Baba Yaga, the eastern European witch who lived in a house on chicken feet, and I made the puppet myself. Other girls had jumped at the prettier, princessy parts, but to me the villain is always the best part.

Halfway through the show her long witchy nose snapped off, and I started riffing to cover it. It made my troop laugh so hard, one girl peed her pants. Can you imagine that kind of power? I have been chasing that dragon ever since.

TC: Were people in Richmond supportive of you pursuing a career in show business?

ES: I suppose? I don’t know that the people of Richmond cared one way or the other. I definitely had teachers and other “trusted adults” that told me I was talented. I didn’t really decide to pursue it as a career until I had left Richmond though. As far as we all knew, I was leaving to go be a media analyst. Thank god no one invested too much into that

TC: Watching you own Gary Owen on “Upload with Shaquille O’Neal” was awesome. When you’re feeling blue, do you pull yourself out of it by remembering that, in the same sitting, you high-fived Shaq — twice! — and had a bad-ass like Godfrey raise your hand in victory?

ES: Haha, yeah. Godfrey was so great, and after we cut, Shaq just picked me up and walked around with me for a while. He was so stoked.

Hack sexism is always a bummer, and honestly just feels like old man shit. But knowing Shaquille O’Neal has your back is reassuring in the most surreal way. I mean, when KAZAAM is high-fiving you, reality is out the window.

TC: The most I think I’ve ever laughed during a podcast was when you recently did “The Todd Glass Show.”1 You were so good that I don’t think Todd went on an extended rant about anything so, congratulations!

ES: Oh no! Did I rob the world of a Todd Glass rant? I hope not! Maybe he’ll put extras in the next few shows to make up for it.

That show was THE MOST FUN and I love Todd so much. It’s just silliness and goof arounds, and I think it’s good for you. That show is ginger ale.

He talked about having me on a live show, but I haven’t been able to do it yet. Fingers crossed we do it as a world tour.

TC: Is there a big difference between writing bits for your stand-up act and the work you did for Funny or Die?

ES: Every kind of comedy writing is a little different and a little the same. The work I did for FOD was mostly topical political stuff (sometimes even writing for the White House) so I had to find ways to make comedy out of dry — or even depressing — social issues and specific news stories.

My stand-up is much more about me and my point of view on the world. Sometimes it touches on social issues, but that’s not my main thrust. (The work I did on Totally Biased split the difference between my stand-up and my sketches.) There are also differences in format between sketch and stand-up. Sketch has multiple characters being watched by the audience; stand-up just has me making eye contact with the audience, being presentational. What is similar is working with other comics. Being in a writers room with other funny people is the absolute best, and it vastly influences your work. Hanging out with other stand-ups is the same. The comedic energy you create together has inertia. Or momentum? Whatever, I’m a comic, not a scientist.

Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes:

  1. Listen to it here.
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