Natasha Leggero on Sarah Silverman, Russell Brand and poorly dressed comics
A bitter pill wrapped in a sweet cherry coating, comic Natasha Leggero is a double threat of intoxicating charm and tabloid cruelty. With her Audrey Hepburn style and merciless observational humor, she's known to raise the I-can't-believe-she-just-said-that bar during her regular appearances on Chelsea Lately, while still maintaining an authenticity that transcends shock for shock's sake. In anticipation of her upcoming shows at Comedy Works, we chatted with Leggero about her sweet-and-sour persona, white-trash fights on her Facebook page, and why male comedians dress like shit.
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Josiah Hesse: I assume that, for some people, it comes as a surprise that your comedy has the ability to be so relentlessly cruel, since you initially come off as very sweet and pretty. Is that something you were aware of when beginning as a standup?
Natasha Leggero: That's interesting. I know that's true for someone like Sarah Silverman -- she's so cute, and then she says those things. It's a common thing in standup, but it certainly wasn't intentional. I've always had a mean streak and been sarcastic. Now I just let it live on stage, but it used to be my entire personality. On the stage you can let this part of you out, a part that maybe you've outgrown but it's still entertaining.
How do you balance out being very cruel in the content of your performance while still maintaining charm and likability?
It's called talent, darling. I don't really know how to explain it. I'll tell you this: I studied theater criticism in college -- and when I developed this critical side of me, I would get praised for it. I grew up in the theater as a child, so when I went to Broadway I could write these scathing reviews of things that I hated, and to my surprise, my teachers were really into it. I had trained my mind to do that, and when I went to L.A. I just started directing it toward my surroundings and talking about things that were happening here.
It's interesting that you would use the same faculties for standup as you would theater criticism, considering that academics and many intellectuals would consider one more prestigious than the other.
Exactly. But I talk about toilet babies, so...
But, yeah, I think most of the people who really respect comedy are other comedians, because they take it seriously and consider it an art form. They craft their jokes, and they philosophize about standup with other comics. The people who do it are very passionate and serious about it.
You have an astounding fashion sense, which is unusual for a standup comic. Why is it that so many comics today have this anti-fashion, Seattle-in-the-'90s "realness" about them?
I think there's something bad happening right now where every man dresses like shit. Not quite every man, but it seems like you look around and everyone started dressing like shit. I don't know what the motive is there, but it doesn't age well. You don't want to be a 35-year-old in dirty Converse and a sweatshirt.
I've always felt that you want to dress a little better than the people you're performing for. When I first started standup, someone said, "If you dress like the audience, you become one of them."
I feel like that's part of the reason someone like Russell Brand isn't respected as a standup in the U.S. They want dressed-down, average-looking people like Louis C.K. and David Cross.
Russell Brand has a lot of material about how bad America is, in a pretty edgy way, and I don't think people like that.