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The Jester Interview: Michelle Buteau

Jester kicks off 2007 with a new series of Q&A interviews with performers from the worlds of stand-up, sketch comedy and improvisation. The first interview here is with Michelle Buteau, a gifted and energetic comedian who is also making forays into television and YouTube-style short films, with a Comedy Central Premium Blend appearance already under her belt.

Jester: Is your onstage persona an extension of yourself or would you say itís completely different?
Michelle Buteau: It started out as me just being me but now I have a definite stage persona. Itís me but just bigger. Itís a bigger version of me.

J: Comixís Fresh Meat show has a Q&A with the comedians afterward. To steal one of their questions, what was the first joke you ever came up with, when you were a kid or in your first stand-up set?
MB: The first jokes I ever wrote were about my ex-boyfriend. We had just broken up and Iím glad we broke up because then I had my first set. Stuff about his man-breasts and sucking his titties Ö I was just trying to talk it out to my friends, and they said, Ďyou got to be kidding me.í Seriously, like, Iíd talk about how he didnít know how to read. This is my life -- he didnít know how to read. It made it difficult. I would write him poems, he would never read them. I had a whole set on my ex-boyfriend. My first joke about him was the titty-sucking one. My first joke was about titty-sucking, greatÖ

J: Did you get into comedy only as an outlet for that, not thinking about anything else?
MB: It was nothing more than an outlet. I got into comedy because people told me I should, in talking to my co-workers or friends back home -- telling them about my New York experiences or how I had a roommate who was crazy, who had a white cat named Cocaine. Theyíd say this wasnít serious, but I said Ďthis is serious.í Iíd write really long e-mails about my day. People really liked them and would forward them in their office.

I never went to comedy clubs; I never did stand-up comedy until someone told me I should do it. Then I went to a couple clubs. Nobody was really funny. ĎWhere are all the funny motherfuckers?í I can be funnier than them. And there were no women. Iím like, ĎWhere are the women?í

J: Itís always said that itís tough for women in stand-up comedy or comedy in general.
MB: In any field itís tough for women, because women have to keep house, and have babies and take time off to raise babies, and still do the job, bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan Ö

J: Do you keep diaries or notebooks of jokes Ö a library of things like Orny Adams in ďComedianĒ?
MB: I never do that. I have notebooks with ideas, premises and set lists. Thereís always a notebook of some sort, but I donít categorize my jokes. I prefer to let them happen organically. Plus Iím able to do other things beside characterize stuff. I donít categorize anything. Maybe I should, but Ö

J: How do your ideas come to you? Out of life or your experiences? Or is it your observations?
MB: It just really comes out of inspiration whether itís observational humor or Ö sometimes, when I first started, in my first year, I would talk to my friends and be on a roll. When I get upset, the funny really comes out. Whatever my friends would laugh at I would remember and write down, but you canít rely on that because that wonít happen all the time. So I force myself to write a lot even if itís just a to-do list or things Iím thinking about. Then I just talk it out, whether with a friend, or on stage. Like James Brown just died -- Iíll think of two or three things that are funny, or ironic or interesting or even sad.

I like to really work out bits when Iím hosting because you get more time to play with the audience, and theyíre less judgmental if itís not a joke or not funny. Itís just a process. Some things I will say and it works immediately. Other things you have to work it out and play with it.

J: James Brown was scheduled to play a New Yearís Eve show at B.B. Kingís, and the ad had already gone to press and appeared after he died.
MB: Thatís kind of cool though -- he was still playing up until [the end].

J: Who do you like in stand-up or sketch comedy and how have those people influenced you?
MB: Iíve never been a comicís comic. I never had Richard Pryor albums that I secretly listened to. I was just into music and sports. Iím just starting to get my comedy education. People compare me to this, that and the other. But people who really influenced me are my immediate family and friends Ö and my peers, people I work with who I really appreciate like Becky Donohue, Rachel Feinstein and Greg Giraldo. People I work with inspire me because I know what the struggle is like for them. I can relate to that and empathize with them. My peers really inspire me more than anything.

If I have to go with someone famous, I love Louise Jefferson [played by Isabel Sanford], Leslie Nielsen, old school slapstick, facial expressions. But Iím also into the groundbreakers like Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce. Ö Iím not into improv so much.




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