A conference call has never felt so personable and fun.
Most of the time, my interviews with stand-up comedians are done cell phone to cell phone, but occasionally, I go through a comic’s management or publicity team and it usually works out just fine. Although I prefer talking to a stand-up when they’re in the comfort of their own home, or when they’re in their car, or as they’re walking out of a Starbucks, the conference call serves the purpose even if I’m picturing these creative, funny people answering my questions in a static office building somewhere.
Wherever Sarah Tiana was when we talked on Wednesday evening, she immediately put me at ease just seconds after we were connected through a third party. “Sarah, you’re on with Tony” was followed by an upbeat “Hi Tony” and you know how you can sometimes sense that someone is smiling on the other end of the line? I felt that right away and Tiana and I were off and running.
Tiana, a Georgia native who lives in Los Angeles, is doing shows at Goodnights in Raleigh this week and, after two stops in Canada and a California show with Dave Chappelle, she will return to the Carolinas at the end of the month for appearances in Charlotte, Greenville, S.C. and Wilmington. We talked about her being back in the South — “real football country” as she described it — her hilarious “Reno 911!” character, Carmen, the ironic freedom provided by The Strait Jacket Society and much more.
Tony Castleberry: You’ve got a show coming up with Dave Chappelle. Have you performed with him before?
Sarah Tiana: I have, yeah. Chappelle and I are good friends. There are a few people on that show. Chris Tucker’s on it too and couple of other comics. It’s a radio event for iHeartRadio.
Chappelle always judges the roast battles (at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles) so he knows me from the roasts and I’ve opened for him a few times here in L.A.
TC: He’s an icon and you’re tight with him. That’s pretty cool.
ST: I’ve always been a fan of his show and then when he became a friend of mine, that was pretty humbling. It’s fun to hang out with him because he’s just a really chill, laid-back guy that really likes comedy. Last week, we did a show and they announced it the night before because they sell out so fast. They didn’t want it to be overcrowded, but it’s the first time I’ve seen him where he’s actually worked out the material that he’s been working on. He’s about to go on tour so I got a sneak peek at that and I was really impressed. I think a lot of the stuff that he talks about now is so different but it still has that same Chappelle edge. It’s so smart and it’s really pushing the envelope on things that I think a lot of people want to talk about but don’t have the courage to say.
I’m really happy that he took his time, because I think a lot of comics rush it and then their material suffers. He really marinated on this for a long time so I think people are going to be really happy.
TC: I can’t imagine having a bad day on the “Reno 911!” set. Was doing that show as much fun as it looked to people like me who watched it on TV?
ST: It is actually probably more fun than it looks on TV. I mean, Tom (Lennon, who played Lt. Jim Dangle) and Ben (Garant, who played Deputy Travis Junior) are just so smart and so quick. That was one of the first things I ever got to do on TV. I walked in with a sketch I had been performing in my sketch comedy group for a while and it was really the only thing I brought in. They said, “Tell us if you called the cops or if the cops were called on you.” So my character was like, “No, I called the cops because I need friends and people to come over.” That’s kind of how it started and I kind of improvised it. I found out the next day that I was going to be in the show so I got there (for filming) and I saw that I was in a scene with everybody. Everybody was listed next to my name and I thought, “Oh man, that’s going to be really hard to perform with so many people.” Especially with improv. Then, they just started coming one by one and two by two and that’s when I found out that it was going to be four episodes.
TC: That show is just as funny today as it was during its run.
ST: I agree. We didn’t want to stop doing it. Tom and Ben did not want to stop doing it and I’m lucky that I got to meet them so early in my career because they’ve been good friends to me ever since then. It’s kind of nice to have those guys in your corner because they work all the time.
TC: How did The Strait Jacket Society come about?
ST: There was a group of us that had been doing sketch in a company and that company disbanded and we didn’t want to stop. We banded together, got some more people, changed the name and decided to make a place where people could perform for very little money. The big schools out here in L.A. like Groundlings and UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) and Second City are expensive. You’re paying, obviously, for the great classes that they offer, but you only get to perform one show at the end. In Los Angeles, some people go, “Oh, you’re an actor. Where can I see you?” and if you don’t have an answer, nobody takes you seriously. We really want to have a place where people could perform constantly. Our company was a third of the price and you got 10 shows. We listed it as a non-profit and put all the money back into the theater and into a place where people could write for themselves and perform. Honestly, creating your own content is really the key to survival out here.
TC: Exactly and It’s cool that you’ve been able to help so many people, you know?
ST: We’ve sent about 400 people through the process and helped a lot of people get agents, get on TV and a lot of our people are working constantly so I’m really proud of that for sure.
TC: I think I know the answer to this, but I’ll ask anyway, what’s your favorite sport?
ST: Football is my favorite.
TC: That’s what I thought.
ST: Baseball is like my secret passion. It’s not as much fun because I don’t play fantasy baseball. It’s just too much, but fantasy football, yeah. I’m in three fantasy leagues and then two pick ‘em leagues.
TC: Damn. You really are a fan.
ST: I am. Sunday is the Lord’s day and I watch football because God gave us football and that’s what Sundays are for. I don’t go to work on Sundays because that’s what the Lord has given us and I’m not going to abuse that.
TC: Why would you mess with what God intended?
ST: I agree. I’m excited about (the NFL) season starting and I’ll be in real football country by then. In Raleigh. Back in the South where people actually have teams. They don’t have a team in Los Angeles. People get excited, but they don’t take it that seriously.
TC: I saw Godfrey at Goodnights a couple of years ago and he said something about Carolina and these idiot Duke fans — or maybe that was reversed — he said something about Duke and it was idiot Carolina fans and they started heckling the shit out of him. He got the show back on track but it was uneasy there for a few minutes so just be careful with your Carolina-Duke material.
ST: I don’t ever say anything about them, but I talk about how everybody used to be one in the Confederacy, but SEC football totally tore us apart and I talk about how I wasn’t allowed the say the F word in my house growing up unless it was in front of the word Florida. I think I’ll be safe. Georgia is not as big a rival as those guys.
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