Interview Date: 06/22/2011
Run Date: 07/12/2011
Natasha Leggero has spent the last several years trying to make as much of an impact on comedy fans as possible, whether it’s as a guest star on sitcoms (you may have seen her on “Reno 911,” or perhaps “Samantha Who?”), as a judge on “Last Comic Standing,” or as a stand-up herself. You won’t actually see her on Comedy Central’s animated series “Ugly Americans,” but you can hear her as the voice of Callie, and when the fall TV season rolls around, you’ll also find her as part of the ensemble of “Free Agents,” one of NBC’s newest sitcoms. Bullz-Eye chatted with Leggero about all of these things and more, including her decision to be so unabashedly feminine with her act. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Bullz-Eye: I understand you’re actually in New York at the moment.
Natasha Leggero: Yes, I’m doing a show in Central Park tonight, and…the weather has red lightning bolts and clouds if you look online, but it looks okay so far.
BE: Have you performed under those conditions before? Red lightning bolts?
NL: (Laughs) Uh, no. It kind of sounds exciting!
BE: Well, since we’re ostensibly here to talk about “Ugly Americans,” I guess the best first question would be to ask how you found your way onto the show in the first place. Had they already had you under consideration, or was it a standard audition situation?
NL: I think that the show was being picked up, and I think a few components weren’t working with some of the characters, and so they brought in some other people to read, and…they had already designed Callie, and I think they liked my voice with her. I mean, they knew me, of course, from my stand-up, so I think they thought of me, and then I did just did my audition in…my brother’s a rapper, so I did it in his recording studio. (Laughs) And I sent it, and they said, “That’s Callie!” So that was exciting.
BE: I know you’d done a little bit of voiceover work before this, but this was your first full-time gig as a voice actor, correct?
NL: Yeah, I’d done “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” and I just did something on “The Life and Times of Tim.” I like to stay with the hip cartoons.
BE: What’s the experience been like for you?
NL: You know, “The Life and Times of Tim” is actually interesting because the whole cast comes in, and you improvise. Unfortunately, since I’m in Los Angeles, I can’t do that with “Ugly Americans,” but they direct me on the phone, and they do let me try different stuff here and there, so we do still get to have a little bit of an improvisational element to it. But, you know, they’re great writers.
BE: Obligatory question: how did you first find your way into comedy?
NL: Well, I lived in New York, and I went to acting school there, and then I moved out to L.A., and I just saw this girl I know doing stand-up, and…I didn’t realize you could just be a young girl and stand on stage and just kind of react to your surroundings. The people I was encountering in L.A., ‘cause I was a cocktail waitress, were really stupid and didn’t really know much about anything…as opposed to the people in New York. So I just got on stage and started talking about that. I always thought if you wanted to be a stand-up, you had to be an old man in a suit, talking about your wife. So it was refreshing to me that I could just be myself and that people were into it.
BE: You almost never hear stories of people getting into stand-up that way. It always seems to be a lifelong dream for people, but it seems like you pretty much stumbled into it.
NL: Honestly, I feel like, for most comedians, it’s always their Plan B. (Laughs) I know, like, one person whose lifelong dream was to be a comedian, and they’re not that funny. It’s mostly something that you kind of stumble into after things don’t work out, or…there’s kind of a damaged element to a lot of comedians, and I think that’s why we all kind of connect with each other in a subculture.
BE: How did you get the gig on Spike TV’s “The Joe Schmo Show”?
NL: I found my way onto that because I auditioned for it, but, actually, what happened with that show is that I was supposed to audition for one of the other parts, and the casting director came out and she just looked at me and…I think I just always looked slightly disheveled, but she said, “You audition for Rita, the drunk.” And I was, like, “Okay…” And I did it, and then I think since then I’ve been cast almost exclusively as drunk sluts.
BE: Hey, if you’ve got a go-to role, why not use it?
NL: Yeah! Well, I mean, it’s either that or the sassy bitch. Sassy bitch or drunk slut. It’s always good to have two extremes. On “Reno 911,” I don’t think…I’ve been on the show about six times, and I don’t think I was wearing pants for any of them.
BE: Since you brought up that show, I’m disappointed that neither the “The Strip” nor “Alabama” made it past the pilot stage to be picked up as series.
NL: (Sadly) I know, it was a bit disheartening. But, you know, those guys (Tom Lennon and Ben Garant) are making, like, three movies right now. So I think they’re going to be okay.
BE: How often have you had to deal with the pilot process? Have you been in a few over the course of time?
NL: I would say…I don’t know if you consider 11 “a few.”
BE: Sure, that’s a few.
NL: And none of them got picked up. Yeah, it’s definitely been…I’d say it’s somewhere between nine and 11 that did not get picked up, and this one I’m doing for NBC now (“Free Agents”) is the first pilot I’ve done, I think, that has gone. So that’s exciting.
BE: So did it reach a point for you after a certain amount of those where you said, “Okay, I’m going to go into this with the presumption that it’s not going to series and just be pleasantly surprised if it does”?
NL: Yeah, unfortunately, that’s kind of the attitude you have to have, because even if something does go, it could only go for a single season. You just have to constantly be out there and, most importantly, be creating your own ideas. Some of the nine to 11 cases that I’m talking about were my own ideas as well. You just have to kind of keep putting them out there and hope that one of them sticks.
BE: So how would you say that you’re like the character of Callie?
NL: I think I’ve been very heartless and mean to the opposite sex for most of my adult life. (Laughs) So I think in that sense I’m able to connect with her.
BE: In other words, you stepped into the role without any problem.
NL: Yes, exactly.
BE: Is there anywhere you’d like to see Callie go in the upcoming season? Actually, scratch that: I forgot I was talking about an animated series. You clearly know where she goes in Season 2. But can you speak to the evolution of the character this season?
NL: Well, actually, we haven’t finished them all. But I don’t want to give anything away, so I don’t know what I can say about that. Maybe I’ll talk to the writers, and we’ll see if I can give you a sense of some of the stuff that’s going to happen. (Writer’s note: As of this writing, we haven’t gotten anything back from Ms. Leggero. But it’s okay. We didn’t really want any spoilers, anyway.)
BE: By the way, when I write the intro for this piece, I may just borrow the intro from your website wholesale.
NL: No problem. Did you see the new website, by the way? Is that what you’re talking about?
BE: I think so. It opens, “For those of you who don’t know, Natasha is a glamorous comedian who used to answer phones in a brothel…”
NL: (Laughs) Oh, yeah. That’s not really true. Well, actually, I did do that one. (Laughs) But it was in Australia, so it was legal.
BE: Do you find that your online presence – website, Facebook, Twitter, what have you – has helped bring more people to your live shows?
NL: Oh, totally. And I’ve had a lot of people come up to me afterward, saying they’re fans of “Ugly Americans.” You know, once people find one thing that they like that you do, then they start watching your other things as well. So, you know, if they’re fans of “Chelsea Lately,” they might come out to the show, and then they might find out about “Ugly Americans,” and then they become a fan of that show. So, yeah, it all kind of connects.
BE: Did you enjoy the experience of being a judge on “Last Comic Standing”?
NL: Yeah, it was a really fun time, and to be able to be sandwiched between Andy Kindler and Greg Giraldo…I was just laughing hysterically all day long, because not only are they hilarious, but they’re hilarious off the cuff, just improvisationally. I like to improvise, especially if I’m working with such great improvisers as Tom and Ben from “Reno 911,” but in terms of joke-writing, I really like to think of a premise and then sit with it and try it out and, y’know, just keep developing it. Not that Andy and Greg don’t always do that, but one of their great skills is just being off the cuff. And they’re hilarious. So when these people would come in, I was just dying basically the entire time we were shooting. And, of course, it’s very sad that Greg isn’t around anymore. (Pauses) Bringing the interview down…
BE: Sorry. Well, I don’t know if this will bring it up any, but is there anyone from the show that you would’ve liked to have seen go farther?
BE: See, I tried to bring it back up, but…
NL: (Laughs) But I would have liked to see Greg Giraldo go farther. So that’s my answer.
BE: Fair enough. Now, I know you’ve got the upcoming gig on “Free Agents,” so can I presume that you’ve enjoyed the occasional one-off appearances you’ve made on other sitcoms, like “Worst Week” and “Samantha Who?”
NL: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know how many of those I’ll be able to do now, but that stuff’s always fun. It’s always fun to come in to this sort of well-oiled machine that’s already established and kind of match the tone and work with stars. I just remember Christina Applegate in particular. She was so cool. I mean, you can be a fan of someone and not really get how they are, and then you see them on the set and you can tell if they’re a diva or whatever, but Christina was just super-cool. Everyone loved her. She wanted me to…after we were all done shooting, she was, like, “Once more, just for Natasha!” So I got to do my own kind of take on the scene. Not everyone’s that generous.
BE: How do you enjoy doing the roundtable on “Chelsea Lately”?
NL: It’s really fun. I mean, Chelsea, especially now, she’s gotten so comfortable, and we’ve all gotten so comfortable. I mean, we’ve all known each other forever at this point, but Chelsea’s constantly going off the prompter and kind of riffing. Y’know, we used to kind of go over everything we were going to say, and now it’s just kind of this free-for-all, and I think it makes it more funny.
BE: So is it weird painting yourself as a hot comic? And by “hot,” I mean “hyper-attractive.” I mean, it’s kind of unique to put yourself out there as a sexy comedienne.
NL: I mean, I feel like as a comic you’re just kind of reacting to… (Hesitates) I mean, I’m 4’11”, so for my part, I feel practically handicapped. But I guess people can’t tell I’m that small. (Laughs) I think people are becoming more interested in the feminine perspective in stand-up. I think that we’re experiencing a time right now that I like to call “The Death of the Bro.” And by “Bro,” I mean that whole cologne-wearing, buffed misogynistic thing. I think people are getting sick of that. I think they’re interested in the feminine perspective. Not just, like, a lesbian feminine perspective – although that’s interesting, too – but women in general who are going through life and reacting to what they see and what they experience. And I think women are changing right now. That’s why it’s such a great time for women in comedy: because they’re not having babies and they aren’t even getting married, they all have jobs, and they’re all expected to be almost just like men in every way except giving birth. So I just think it’s an interesting time. Most women I know don’t really want to be involved in the traditional roles anymore.
BE: When you’re onstage, do you still have to deal with the typical drunken dickhead who screams out, “Get off the stage, women aren’t funny”?
NL: That doesn’t really happen, doesn’t it? (Laughs)
BE: I feel like I’ve heard it more than a few times.
NL: A guy standing up and telling women, “You’re not funny, get off the stage?” Are you serious? You need to go to better comedy clubs.
BE: That, or we need to be more selective about who we let into audiences around here.
NL: (Laughs) Well, once you’ve been doing it for awhile, people don’t say stuff like that. I do remember once when I first started comedy, I was at the Comedy Store in La Jolla at, like, one in the morning, and somebody said to me, “You should be ironing my shirts,” or something like that. He was very hostile, anyway. But I also wasn’t a very good comedian at that point, either.
BE: How did you battle back from that? Or did you?
NL: I think I just stuttered through the rest of my jokes. (Laughs)
BE: Lastly, I’m curious about the release of your album, Coke Money. What’s it like releasing a comedy album in 2011? I mean, certainly it’s not the most spectacular environment for comedy albums, at least in CD format, but do you find a decent result from downloads, at least?
NL: Well, you know, the thing is that everyone’s really interested in, like, podcasts or whatever right now, which is essentially talk radio without advertisements. But I think people are into downloading comedy albums, yeah, and listening to them when they travel or clean house or whatever. So, yeah, I think comedy albums are pretty safe right now. And it was great to be able to record the jokes that I’d been working on for the past four years, but in, like, the most optimal setting. Like, I was at the Comedy Works in Denver, and they always have the most amazing crowds. Plus, I was able to get fans out to the recording. So it’s really the best versions of those jokes. And it also helps, because once you have the album out there and people love it, then it’s, like, “Okay, they’ve all heard this, now it’s time to start writing new jokes.” So that’s kind of what I’m doing now.
BE: So you’re happy with the performance, then?
NL: (Uncertainly) Uh, yeah. Weren’t you? (Laughs)
BE: (Laughs) Yeah, the reason I asked that was because when I interviewed Norm MacDonald and asked about his most recent comedy special, he said it didn’t necessarily capture the live Norm MacDonald experience, but “it’s still good compared to other stand-up specials.”NL: Well, I mean, nothing beats seeing a comedian live. But I prefer an album to a special because an album has no restrictions. You can talk about whatever you want. You can talk about music, you can say the word “Doritos,” you can say “pussy”…you can say whatever you want. So to me, it’s more indicative of the actual performance. And for what it’s worth, my album has been doing quite well in iTunes’ comedy section. Just sayin’. (Laughs)