While most of us are barely leaving our houses, comedian Iliza Shlesinger is everywhere. She’s playing an assortment of kooky characters on Netflix, enthusiastically boinking Mark Wahlberg (also on Netflix), and even guest hosting late-night talk shows.
“To be fair,” she says on the phone with Houstonia while stopping her pooch, Tian Fu, from going all Fight Club on an unsuspecting beagle (don’t worry, it deserved it), “the sketch show was shot and edited before Corona, it just happened to come out then. Spenser Confidential as well.”
Now, the Elder Millennial will be blaring through our car stereos when she takes over Moonstruck Drive-In Cinema on October 9. We don’t mean one of her many specials is playing on the big screen—she’s going to be there in person, making you laugh your butt off in real time. Sure, she planned to be playing sold-out theaters as part of an eight-month international tour, but a drive-in comedy show is kind of cool.
“Actually getting to go out and do what I love to do is so healing,” she says. “And people underestimate their need for entertainment in something like this. You need a mental break every once in a while. Standup’s the perfect thing for that.”
The Texas native’s cross-country sets make her one of the first comedians to embrace the drive-in nostalgia sweeping the world. Of course, she’s used to being a trendsetter—you don’t become the youngest contestant to win Last Comic Standing, write five Netflix standup specials, or slice and dice your way to the top of Instagram’s foodie world while doing virtually no cooking without knowing how to hustle (though having a professional chef as a hubby does make that last accomplishment easier).
Before she parks her car in the Bayou City, Shlesinger chatted with us about creativity during a pandemic, her character Party Goblin’s housebound revelry, and standup at the drive-in.
You went from selling out arenas to, well, this. What happens to Party Goblin when the only parties out there are Zoom parties?
Party Goblin is a self-starter. She can get the party going by herself. Partying is something that you have in your heart; you don’t need other people to have a party. So she finds other ways during Corona. Has Party Goblin been a little drunk and played Vanilla Fudge a little too loud on her Sonos so her neighbors were wondering what was happening at her house? Yes. Has Party Goblin woken up in a guest bedroom wondering where she is in her own home? Yes.
But seriously, what has quarantine been like without standup?
Standup comedy is something that has been a constant in my life for 15 years. It’s a part of my heartbeat. Having that really just dissolve overnight was heartbreaking. But I’m an artist. I always want to be creating. I started working on the screenplay I promised my agent I was going to finish. I started pitching a cable idea. I got attached to an acting project. I got attached to a directing project.
A key for an artist is you create for the sake of creating. And so, when Corona hit, and I was like, “How can we do something? How can we help and also satisfy that creative itch?” My husband’s a professional chef, so we started Don’t Panic Pantry really trying to do our civic duty, trying to encourage people to flatten the curve.
Speaking of the cooking show, you’ve made many jokes about people who Instagram food, and now here you are live-streaming it.
Well, there is taking a picture of your shitty rigatoni, lit by a desk lamp, and then there's a beautifully shot Edna Lewis dish, executed by a professional chef. It's a fine line between keeping yourself honest on your Instagram, which is pictures of my dog and promoting comedy, but also being like, “Hey, I'm proud of my husband and this show.” I’m definitely putting that food out there. I guess my only saving grace is that I'm not like, “God, killer burger.”
Most of us are barely doing anything. You have Don’t Panic Pantry, the Netflix shows, and apparently tons of new projects. Why are you such an overachiever?
At the beginning of quarantine, everybody kept writing about how we should all just slow down, like “You don't have to write the next great novel.” And I remember thinking, you're gaslighting me. Everybody's working; I'm not coming out of this thing behind.
And now you’re on a drive-in tour. What’s that even like?
After I did the first two shows, I realized this is less of a drive-in, and more like a rodeo. It’s like a rodeo-meets-a-tailgate-meets-Warped-Tour. It is a hang; it has that vibe. You do not have to come and sit quietly in your car.
Comedians, yourself included, are finding new ways to connect with audiences and provide laughter in these difficult times. What do you think this says about the future of standup?
Comedy always finds a way. People not only have a thirst, but a need for comedy. So as long as people are willing to come out, I’ll be there. Have act, will travel. This will not be the last revolution in the evolution of comedy. It will remain as it always has because people need to see themselves in other people. We need social commentary, and we need to connect.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Oct 9. From $100 per car. Moonstruck Drive-In, 100 Bringhurst St. More info and tickets at universe.com.