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The Jester Interview: Catie Lazarus

Comedian Catie Lazarus comes to the field with a different approach than most of her peers, having just begun performing in 2003 after pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology. Lazarus didn't grow up performing comedy or even theater. In fact, she tells Jester, she had only been to a stand-up comedy show once, about nine years before entering the field. Today, in addition to performing regularly, writing a book and articles, starring in her first own web show, she launched "Fresh Meat with Catie Lazarus" which she hosts at a new downtown venue Comix. Her monthly comedy variety show features writers, actors, cartoonists, musicians, stand up, sketch and improv comedians who present their work and then talk about their experiences in entertainment on a panel.

Jester: You ask your guests at "Fresh Meat" what their worst experience in comedy was, and what was their first joke. What are your worst and best experiences and first joke?
Catie Lazarus: My first joke on stage was about meeting one of my imaginary friends at a frat party in college. Needless to say, I've thoughtfully abstained from sharing with audiences about how I met the other ones.

Honestly, it's hard to pick just one awful experience, especially when I am such a super star at numbing them out. I can tell you two with happy (ish) endings. Often folks with the biggest egos that are in inverse proportion to what they actually do are in entertainment. One young comedy manager asked to meet with me, only to tell me through out the business meeting that my 'tits were distracting him.' I never said anything, but several months later I heard that he was fired for inappropriate behavior. I guess the poor guy will be able to concentrate, and has lot of time on his hands to do so.

I've had a couple experiences on stage that made tweezing my eyelashes out seem preferable. I performed for a firemen's benefit with about 300 folks in the audience in the outskirts of Nowhere Ville, Pennsylvania. As I walked through the packed room, one "gentleman" barked, 'are you wearing any underwear?' I was mortified because I was but he was as "biggest boned" as they get so once I had the mic I told him, 'Congratulations on the pregnancy.'

Best experiences are also too many. Opening for Lewis Black was totally delightful and the night Dave Attell introduced me, as a comedian, to Louis CK was super duper. I enjoyed doing a tiny cameo with Rob Corddry and Julie Klausner on The Daily Show and performing for over 500 folks with Wendy Liebman, Judy Gold, and Jackie Hoffman. Comedy wise, I am still a yearling, which is probably why I fawn

J: You began doing comedy without having watched live stand-up all your life, or having a background in it or acting.
CL: Yeah, heading "Take Back the Night" at my limousine liberal college wasn't a hotbed of laughs. Somehow I assumed I would be a comic and a shrink, but I also dumped my actual boyfriend in eighth grade because I had a crush on The Who's Roger Daltrey. I guess, being a comedian is who I am, the special snowflake on the inside and out.

Seriously, comedy is about listening, so I have a capacity for it and a desire to. It's also about creating. You add what you see and hear and ideally offer a little bit more. Oy. Analyzing comedy is about as exciting as sitting through a dinner with my parents fiercely debating the size of a pothole on some side street and how it slowed down rush hour traffic. Not that I am anti-urban planning reform. Go Urban Planning Go!

J: How did you get started then?
CL: In the midst of my doctorate, I started sleeping with my laptop. Sounds tantalizing I know, but I started waking up in the middle of night to just write. This website the would kindly put up my drivel. At the end of that semester I took a leave of absence because I felt it was unethical to see patients and pursue a public and silly career. I moved back to Nuevo York in June.

Two months later this comedy producer who I randomly met in a journalism class and had read my drivel suggested I perform at Stand Up NY and just 'do my thing.' I said yes having no idea what my 'thing' was.

Before I performed for the first time, I had only seen stand-up once about nine years before that at the Ice House in Pasadena, California. Jerry Seinfeld, Norman MacDonald, and some other guy who I did not know the name of performed. Seinfeld bombed, Norm McDonald was flirting with me and my girl friends during his set and gave me his number after the show (even though I was barely legal). The younger comic killed. Before performing, I remembered that night and thought about how one could be famous and still have a bad set, the business is full of horny man-boys, and that I didn't have to be famous to deliver.

So I got up on a 9:00 p.m. sold out show and just didn't realize how big a deal it was for what was basically my first time on stage telling yolks. I killed and won some contest I hadn't even entered. The New York Resident put me on the cover of their paper and I won an all-expense paid trip to San Francisco. But I quickly learned that stand up isn't the most regulated biz.

When I went to collect my prize, the paper said the trip did not include airfare. In fact, an Editor said, "I am sorry if the meaning of the word trip was ambiguous." I guess the paper expected me to snow shoe across the country.

I am still waiting for The New York Resident to cover my trip, but after that night I got on stage as much as I could. Since then, I've been on the Daily Show, AMC, NPR, WOR, a bunch of comedy films and, of course, Fox News. I have not scored a tampon commercial or a sitcom where I play the asexual best friend yet, or amazing writing gig, but I work full time as a writer and comedian.

Around nine months after I started doing stand up, I published my first piece -- a fake wedding announcement, like the ones they have in The New York Times. Mine was in the Forward. I still get letters about it. Someone in New Haven translated it into Yiddish and did a play based on it which I'm sure was a real treat for all negative three Yiddish theater goers in Connecticut.

I soon began writing for the Forward often enough -- fake dating profile, a fake co-op board, and a letter to Oprah about James Frey, different satirical pieces and ones reporting on comedy as well. Soon after I became an editor at Heeb for a couple years and wrote for a bunch of places like The New York Post, Time Out NY, The Jerusalem Report and published in several anthologies.

Now I am mainly focused on my show Doctor Lazarus and in the midst of writing a novel, Me Inc.




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