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Lauren Krass is introduced to the stage at the Threshold Repertory Theatre, takes the microphone off the stand, and launches into faux frustration. “People are always introducing me as your first female comedian of the night. Woman! Female! It’s a girl! It’s like my damn birth announcement.”
And then the lights cut out. They flicker sporadically, almost hauntingly so. It is a small crowd—an open mic—but still, there are few things worse that could happen to a performer. A look of surprise, but not fear, strikes Lauren’s face. It only lasts for a moment before she shrugs, lets her head drop, and starts rising and rolling her arms to an imaginary tempo, as if she has just been possessed. It gets laughs because she is a crowd-pleasing stand-up comedian, but she thought to do it in the first place because she is also a company member at Theatre 99 as an improviser. The bit doesn’t last long, though.
“Okay tech guy. Seriously. This is scary. Okay, I’m sorry for calling you tech guy, but I’m seriously getting scared.” And the audience gets a glimpse of Lauren Krass, slightly out of sync with her usual stage presence, and we are all reminded that comedians are grown-ups who still have the hearts of children.
When I sat down with her for coffee, right in line with her child-like demeanor, she asked to hold my pen. “It’s like my security blanket.” She then starts flipping through her legal pad.
“I’ll be writing jokes while we do this,” she says, playing disinterested. I laugh, take a sip of coffee, and we dive into the heart and mind of Lauren Krass.
HG: So what came first, the improv or the stand-up?
LK: Improv, actually. I took improv about nine months after I graduated from college. I was just working, then going home and watching The Nanny and then back to work and back to The Nanny and then work. It was terrible, so I decided to take an improv class. The people in my Level One did open mics and invited me. It was kind of an experiment: I want to be a brave person and try everything!
HG: What’s your writing process like when you write jokes for stand-up?
LK: Past life experiences and observational stuff, sometimes headlines, writing sessions always help. A lot of my jokes—which makes me feel like a genius—are just from hanging out with friends. They’re like, “Oh, that’s funny!” And I think, “You know what, that is funny. Let me try that out.” But my process is really to just be a crazy person. I talk to myself and record myself talking. Then I discover a nuance, and try it out. And there’s my laptop. I’ll probably bring it out after we’re finished. I’ve got some ideas.
HG: Do you find yourself secretly trying out bits on people?
LK: Um—yes. I don’t do it too much, but if it happens to come up in conversation, I’ll be like, Let me sneak in this funny story about my gay ex-boyfriend. Isn’t that fun, though, when you try to do that and all they do is nod their head? No, it’s supposed to be funny!
HG: Do you remember the first joke that you ever wrote?
LK: For my seventh birthday I wrote a play for my family to perform and I was the princess. I made my grandfather the joker and I wrote jokes for him. And they were so clever. I gave him a bow [and arrow] and the pun was, Look at me, I’m a girl! I have a bow on my head! Genius seven-year-old comedy. I thought it was hilarious.
HG: What are some of your friend and family’s reactions when you tell them that you’re a comedian?
LK: My cousins are total buttheads about it. I think of them as eight-year-olds, but they’re 16, 17, 18 now. At Thanksgiving I’d say something vaguely funny and they’d be like, Oh, you think that’s funny? Cause you’re a comedian. Pass the biscuits, comedian! But it’s so adorable, my mom has never been so proud of me. She tells everyone that her daughter is a comedian. She always asks me when my next show is and she’s always there. Not all my jokes are 100% clean and my mom is pretty conservative, so the fact that she supports me is huge for a stand-up comedian. A lot of stand-ups have to deal with the fact that their families might not support what they’re doing—and I prepared myself for that—but I’m lucky that I don’t have to do that.
HG: You did some shows in North Carolina recently. Do you have any good road stories?
LK: Oh, God. That was the worst stand-up experience of my life. I did two twenty minute sets—which is a long freaking time! The first set was in the bar section, and nobody knew comedy was happening. I was on after a band. They had bands setting up and breaking down on the stage to the point where they took the mic stand out of my hand while I was up there. Then there was a really bad heckler, too. I almost wanted to cry. I didn’t even want to do the second show, but I knew I had to turn it around, to not let it be a failure. I spent the next two hours before the next show meeting every single person in that bar: introducing myself, telling them there’s going to be comedy, making them like me. They intro’ed me, I did my set and I killed it. It was awesome. It was the worst show and the best show in the same day, and I’m grateful for both of them.
HG: Having done comedy for almost a year and a half now, is there anything you look back on that you think, I have to iron that out a bit or I’m not totally proud of that, and now you’re doing it better?
LK: One of the things that I struggled with, and I still do, is that I do a lot of self-deprecating humor, and when I first started out it was really hard for me to find the line between Wheh, look at me, I’m fat. Womp, womp. and I’m powerful and I’m going to make fun of this stuff. It was hard, but I think I found a way to not point a stick at myself and instead point it at others without being a jerk about it.
HG: I remember you telling a story about your dad at the storytellers' night at Black Tap Coffee (and also at RISK! at Piccolo Spoleto). Do you feel like talking publically about those things has given you a new perspective—personal stuff in front of an audience?
LK: It helps prove that I’m not afraid to talk about personal things. Stand-up and storytelling aside, I think real entertainment should portray truth, which is what I’m trying to do. I don’t have anything to hide. I have kind of a hilarious past in life and I want to share it with other people. I think it can help other people. I’ve had people come up to me and say, I feel the same way. Thank you so much for talking about it. And it’s special. I like it. I’m so glad we did this, it’s reignited my romance for standup.
HG: Well, I just have a couple more questions…
LK: Okay, fine. I love talking about myself. Let’s keep going.
HG: Women in comedy is a big deal for you. Do you have a message for girls out there who might be thinking about doing stand up or improv?
LK: Just do it! Just try it. It’s normal. It’s normal to do comedy. God knows, girls have some weird shit that happens to them. I definitely think more women should try it out.
HG: Who are some of your comedy heroes?
LK: Tina Fey. I read her book Bossypants when I was taking my Level One class and it was life changing: Tina Fey is exactly where I was when I was her age, I could still be Tina Fey! Cause she had dated gay men! And she didn’t have the perfect job after college! So she took improv. I also really like Lucille Ball. She has this quote that I love: “I’m not funny, I’m brave” and I think that’s true for me. I don’t think of myself as an inherently hilarious person, I’m just not afraid to try stuff. Put myself out there, ya know?
I agree, and with the interview over, she begrudgingly hands me back my pen. Then, as promised, she pulls out her laptop and starts typing. She has some ideas.
Lauren Krass will be in "This Is Chucktown Standup Comedy Show" at Theatre 99 on August 23rd at 10 p.m. $8 admission. August 31st her three-person improv team, Two Musketeers and a Woman at Theatre 99 at 10pm. Pay what you can.