Elise Cole is an Iranian-Jew and a native St. Paulite who is a wife, mother, grad student waitress and a very funny comedian. Elise joins us on the first podcast of 2019 to talk about her brief, but successful, comedy career, all the places she finds inspiration, and opening up for Ophira Eisenberg on January 19 at the opening night of the 10th Annual Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival.
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You are the opening act for the opening nights of this year’s Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival; what’s it like to be that first person on stage to kick off this year’s festival?
It’s a little bit surreal. I haven’t been performing stand-up comedy that long. It has been a lifelong dream of mine but I never actually got up the courage to get on stage and try to get to an open mic until about a year ago. So when Claire (Avitable) contacted me a couple months ago and said ‘Hey how would you like to open for Ophira Eisenberg I said ‘Are you kidding? I would love to do that!’ So this is huge for me.
What is it about comedy that got you interested in it in the first place that you wanted to pursue this?
I was raised on stand-up comedy. I think that’s the year mark of a good Jewish home. It was the 80s and we had a like a vinyl record collection of Bill Cosby and Steve Martin and Steven Wright and I mean all these guys that’s what I grew up with. I’ve always loved storytelling and storytellers and that era of comedy of the late 70s and early 80s and that’s what those guys did.
What was it that you finally said ‘OK, I’ve got I got to go do this, I gotta go stand in front of a room full of people I don’t know and see what see help see what happens’?
It actually was The Moth. Every month they do a Moth StorySlam at the Amsterdam Bar the third or fourth Wednesday of every month. I had a writing partner, and my friend and I used to meet once a week to do writing exercises for an hour and he was going to do it and he said what we should do it together. So in I think September or October of 2017, I went to The Moth and I had prepared this story and I had somebody kind of help me put the building blocks the foundation of that story, and I went up there and did it It was a mostly memorized, partially adlib story and people were cracking up and it was a full house – it was like 300 people. And I got off stage and I was like ‘oh my God this is what I was meant to do.’ I started going open mics.
How hard is it to put yourself out there and tell very personal stories?
I don’t understand people who have a fear of public speaking. I’ve never been scared of it. I think that’s bizarre, and I think it might be because I’m the youngest and I’ve always sort of been the entertainer. It doesn’t bother me to get up on stage and talk about myself. I kind I can’t wait to do it like it’s really more for me than for them. I just need to get this off my chest is kind of what it’s about for me.
What’s the biggest audience you’ve played in front of?
I think probably a couple hundred people there in a few different venues where it’s been 200 people give or take.
That’s a lot of people.
I want a bigger. I want a stadium. If this hits at 200, I want to hear with that sounds like at a thousand.
One of the things you did mention before we started was that you have a big family and your bio points out that you’re an Iranian-Jew. But your mother comes from an Irish-Catholic background so how have you taken these Iranian-Jew and Irish-Catholic convert family and turned it into material?
The opening joke for the very first polished, three-minute set I ever had came from a date that I was on like 15 years ago. He said ‘Your dad’s Iranian?’ and I said yeah. And he said ‘I thought you were Jewish’ and I said I am. He said ‘You’re an Iranian Jew?’ and I go ‘Yeah so people don’t know whether to hate me or hate’ me he goes ‘That’s funny you should do stand up.’ and I was like yeah yeah right. Then kind of what that turned into is you know in this storytelling, I’m also honest to a fault. I started and then I started on the Iranian Jewish material that I was like ‘oh wait I’ve well I should tell you guys my mom is Irish Catholic’ and people usually laugh because they’re shocked at that and I say ‘Yeah I sent a cheek swab to 23 and Me, and I just got a note that said you’re screwed.’ And they’re also, of course, the potential for guilt jokes: I have a Catholic mom who turned into a Jewish mom so I feel bad about everything.
How long of a set do you get opening for Ophira?
I think 15 minutes. I’ve been working at about 20 to 25, so I think that doing 15 will give me an opportunity to really do my best 15. Performing comedy is like constantly editing an article is being given the opportunity to go back and say ‘I should have said that instead’ and I can actually go back and change it. I did a 20-minute set a New Year’s Eve and I think it was 21:47, so I’ll go back and listen to that recording and just crop and cut out everything that wasn’t hitting or try to come up with a better tagline and just kind of whittle it down to 15.
That sounds both awesome and fascinating and frightening all at the same.
It is weird you can say the exact same thing the exact same way with two different audiences and in one place it’ll be an applause break – like people are holding on to the floor they’re laughing so hard – and in another room, you’ll get maybe a chuckle and no one else responds
How do you decide who you’re talking to in the audience?
If somebody is laughing really hard I will talk to that person. I had a lady on New Year’s Eve who was sitting at the table directly in front of the stage and she did not laugh or even crack a smile for like 7 straight minutes, and some comedians will go that person who isn’t responding, but just I just pretended she wasn’t there.
It sounds like you got really good really quick at this given that you haven’t been doing it that long.
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