Comedian Iliza Shlesinger is returning to the stage, and her show at Ruth Eckerd Hall on May 15 will be one of her first in a theater in more than a year.
Though she was home for much of the last year, she was awfully busy. “Fortune favors the creative,” she said in a phone interview from California, where she was doing a series of outdoor comedy shows.
She and her husband, chef and author Noah Galuten, launched Don’t Panic Pantry, their at-home cooking show that encourages people to stay home and use the ingredients they have on hand. They are now up to 200 episodes. She also did a tour of drive-in comedy shows. Shlesinger continued her podcast, Ask Iliza Anything, where she dispenses insight to listener-submitted questions. And she secured a book deal for All Things Aside, a followup book to Girl Logic.
She has a distinctly feminist, fearless style of delivering her point of view, explaining that women aren’t crazy, because “there’s a method to our madness.” And her method is to hilariously emote as she acts out the logic behind women’s deepest fears and phobias, while also ripping into men without alienating them.
“This isn’t a bra, it’s body armor. And this isn’t makeup, it’s war paint,” she ranted in one of her specials. “They say men are hunters and women are gatherers. Well, sort of. We gather information about you, and then we hunt you.”
She was also one of the highlights of the recent Netflix documentary Hysterical, which looked at the hard road that women comics face. Shlesinger bluntly explained the ongoing misogyny that has risen alongside her unquestionable success. “I will never forget pitching a show to a network and them saying to me, ‘We already have like a blond funny woman,’” Shlesinger says. “And I was just like, ‘Okay, I’ll dye my hair red. Like what are you talking about?’”
Now she’s ready to return to the theaters with Back in Action. It kicks off in Florida “and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Shlesinger said. She has a soft spot in her heart for this strange state. The feeling is mutual, as her last several visits here were sold-out spectacles.
It was recently announced that on June 23, Netflix will release Good on Paper, a movie Shlesinger wrote and stars in based on her own experience of dating someone who turned out to have been lying all along.
We talked to her about her pandemic year and what’s coming up.
You’ve certainly kept yourself busy during the pandemic. But what does it feel like to be back on stage with a live audience?
It feels incredible. It’s the best feeling in the world that I didn’t get to do for a big chunk of the pandemic. I did a drive-in comedy show and it was hard being outside, and sometimes you are cold and it’s raining. I could feel the audience, but it will never be the same as the theater. I think everyone in this country is excited to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I’m super excited to get back to the Tampa Bay area. I’ve always loved it. Can’t wait.
What’s been the feedback on your cooking show, Don’t Panic Pantry?
This was really a labor of love. We thought we can help people flatten the curve by encouraging them to stay home and cook with what they have. Because at the time, people were running out every day for groceries. This wasn’t about having a show and being on TV. This was about giving people information and comfort. It was born out of a desire to help people.
In that Netflix documentary Hysterical, it was especially touching to see how much female comedians are supporting each other. Is that new as a result of #MeToo or was it always there?
What do you think the answer to that is? Of course it’s always been there. But this documentary does a great job of threading the needle in terms of what bonds us. But I do think people like to separate the boys from the girls. In actuality I do plenty of lineups with plenty of men, many of whom I get paid a lot more than. So I’ve never felt the need to separate myself from the boys, because I am just as good if not better than them.
Everyone had a harrowing story, and they are succeeding despite that, so it is pretty inspiring.
Everybody has that, and some stories are more harrowing than others. This is the best job in the world and it’s not going to be an easy one. But everyone in every field no matter who you are, what color or gender, has their version of a harrowing story. I became a headliner very young, so I didn’t have to go through the emotional boot camp a lot of my compatriots did, but that doesn’t mean I don’t support them and want to make it a better industry for everyone.
Tell me about this movie coming out on Netflix next month.
I wrote and starred in this movie called Good on Paper. Margaret Cho plays my best friend. We are calling it a non-rom-com. It feels like a rom-com at first and then it takes a twist. It’s a mostly true story, based on a lie that I actually lived. It’s about a girl who ends up dating a sociopath. Once I shared my story I started learning how many people, men and women, have been through a similar thing, where from the beginning they were lied to about everything and you have no idea. So I took that and made it into something I hope is painless and funny and super relatable.
What do you expect we’ll have all learned from this year?
I think people are a little shell-shocked, but being back on stage is a group effort between the audience and the venue and the entertainer. We all know we are very lucky to be there. I never take it lightly that people spend their disposable income with me.
I think none of us will ever look at blowing out birthday cakes the same again. But I think we are all dying to get back to normalcy. We’ve all come out of this a little battered and bruised, but whether it’s good or bad only time will tell. I’m willing to make the best of it for as long as I can.
If you go
The comedian makes her debut at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth, Clearwater, on May 15 at 7 p.m. Audience capacity is reduced to 50 percent. Face coverings are required, and there will be temperature screenings. Tickets cost $43.25 to $68.75 at rutheckerdhall.com.