Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Emily Singer: A Comedian Who Laughs Out Loud!

Emily Singer does not laugh like an ordinary person. Her laugh is such an off-beat chortle that one can only speculate about its origin. Singer, like her laugh, is an original. She is a live-wire, and one can not be quite sure when she is going to subvert your conversation with a verbal whoopee-cushion. Singer is a local comedian, and a spokesperson for Jimmy Tingle’s Off-Broadway Theatre in Davis Square, Somerville. Singer, who writers her own material has been doing stand up since 1997, gravitating to it from acting. She has performed at the Comedy Connection in Boston, The Comedy Studio in Cambridge, at various venues in NYC, and spaces around the country. She also had a part in a documentary about the poet Emily Dickinson. I talked with Emily on my show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer,” on Somerville Community Access TV.

Doug Holder: Why did you switch to comedy from acting?

Emily Singer: I don’t think I ever gave up acting. It is the same thing in some ways. You are out there on stage interacting with the audience. I got into comedy mainly because of a friend who was a comedian. She was in her mid-40’s and she was hysterically funny. I didn’t know a lot of female comedians at that time. She actually had a terminal illness. We went to a grocery store once and she had her oxygen tank with her. But she had everyone laughing in spite of being very sick. That was an incredible gift. When she died I was very sad. I thought a way to honor her was to try to do comedy.

DH: Are comedians inherently sad people as the cliché goes?

ES: Some of my best jokes are written as a way of healing. For instance: if I break up with someone am I going to cry about it? No. I am going to turn it into my best material. Actually the guy I broke up with wanted to get back with me, I said: “I don’t know…I’ve written so many good jokes about you.” (Laughs) No, I really didn’t say that.

DH: You write your own material is that unusual?

ES: We live in an era where most comedians do write their own stuff. Obviously the bigger names have comedy writers. In the past I think it was more acceptable to go into a joke book. But now it is frowned on if you do. So you are performing and writing.

DH: Are writers like Woody Allen, Fran Leibowitz, Wallace Shawn, inspirations to you?

ES: Woody Allen is obviously an inspiration. Some of the people who inspire me are the local comedians who perform right here at Jimmy Tingle’s and in Boston. I see them over and over again…like Jimmy Tingle for instance. D.J. Hazard, Steven Wright, Lily Tomlin, are great comics. When I teach I tell people to be “who they are,” and in doing so they find their own brand of humor. Everybody’s got a sense of humor.

DH: Can you talk about your training?

ES: I went to Brown University for Studio Art. I always focused on art in college. Then I took acting classes after college in the Boston-area. I studied at the American Repertory Theatre. In fact I will be a teaching-assistant in acting at Harvard this summer. Later, I went to L.A. for three years to study acting with various teachers. I just went where the good teachers were.

DH: How did you support yourself?

ES: I did computer graphics. I went into Public Relations in the mid to late 90’s.

DH: Where do you find your material? Describe your creative process.

ES: I am a very organized person. Everything has to be written down. I’ll come back to it later and read it. If something odd happens I’ll take it and twist it. I get my best jokes when I am in motion. In an airplane, running or walking. I hear little conversations in my head. (Laughs)

DH: I know in the poetry/writing world a lot of folks have skeletons: drug abuse, mental illness, etc… How about comedians?

ES: It depends on the comedian. Some comedians are the most logical people you can meet and others are just piecing it together in a very scary way. The more mature of a comedian I become, the more I am able to use stuff that I can’t stand about myself. I am willing to put myself out there.

DH: How does your PR writing fit with your comedy?

ES: I am doing P. R. about people who are doing comedy. A lot of comedians come through Jimmy Tingle’s that I respect. So this helps me write passionately. I am able to get to the heart of what I am writing be it music or theatre. I try to experience the piece before I write about it.

DH: You said in an interview that comedy is very addictive. Explain.

ES: An incredible thing happens to you when you are laughing at a joke. You are transported and you can’t think about anything else. You don’t know why you are laughing. I am always getting paid in laughter. It is addictive to get out there and make people laugh and get out of their everyday life. The most mysterious things make people laugh. They are so variable. The addiction part is trying to figure it out.

DH: I remember the writer Norman Cousins claimed he cured himself from a terminal illness by watching Marx Brother movies. Can you talk about Comedy as a healing art?

ES: I perform comedy in Rehab. Centers. If you have a bad day, and then put yourself in front of comedy, you are not going to be thinking about your problems. You are going to be transferred somewhere else.

DH: How is it for a woman in comedy? Is it still a man’s game?

ES: I think it varies from region to region, city to city. Different cities have more female comedians than others. I did a women’s comedy event in East Hampton and it was completely sold out. In terms of me being out there as a woman, 9 times out of 10 I don’t pay attention to the sex of a person who is on stage with me. If I know they are funny, good people—I don’t care if they are a man or a woman.

…To find out more about Emily go to:

Doug Holder