Posted // 2012-11-27 -
Recently, there have been a few shifts in the local comedy scene, including some departures, which make way for new talent to entry the stage and take chances to step up and be recognized. It's a challenge that a lot of comics strive for, but it really becomes the turning point for many if they can take the opportunity in front of them and run with it, or if they'll shy away and fail to make an impact. One of the more recent names to make the rise has been Melissa Merlot, who has been making the rounds both on the main stages and the underground circuit. Today, I chat with Merlot about her career so far and her thoughts on local stand-up. (Photos courtesy of Melissa Merlot.
Gavin: Hey, Meliss.! First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.
Melissa: Hello, my name is Melissa and I am a comedian. I grew up in Salt Lake City, where I was the only non-Mormon and redhead in my elementary school. So, I got teased like crazy. Thankfully, I had a very loving and open-minded family, who taught me it was okay to be different. And they also taught me sarcasm, so that helped me get through growing up as an outcast. Being an outcast actually helps me write since most of my comedy is social commentary or observational humor. I have never fit in anywhere, so I am constantly fascinated by what it takes to fit in. But it is painful to feel excluded and like you don’t belong. The Charlie Chaplin quote, “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it” pretty much sums up why I do comedy.
Gavin: What first got you interested in stand-up comedy, and who were some of your favorite comedians growing up?
Melissa: I have always loved comedy. I used to watch stand-up on Evening At The Improv and MTVs Half Hour Comedy Hour on TV all the time when I was little. I really liked Denis Leary, Bill Hicks, and Adam Sandler. I listened to their CDs over and over again. My favorite comedian was Tracy Ullman, who had her own show on TV. It was a sketch-comedy show and she would play a lot of different characters. She is probably my biggest influence with comedy although I don’t really do characters on stage. Onstage, I am just an exaggerated version of myself.
Gavin: What officially brought on the decision for you to attempt it as a career?
Melissa: It was just something I had always wanted to do. The first time I ever did it at an open mic, I was so scared that I didn’t let any of my friends go with me. That way there would be no witnesses if it was terrible. It was something I had to actually try to get it out of my system. And I did it and I got laughs and I loved it instantly. And I still have yet to get it out of my system; it is in there for good now.
Gavin: How was it for you breaking into the local lineups and getting gigs?
Melissa: It has been a struggle and it still is. Most clubs are pretty cliquey, so it is hard to work your way in. Once I started doing more bar shows, I was a lot happier. They have more freedom as far as what you can say. And I am very against censorship so that is perfect for me. I like to be dirty. Don’t get me wrong -- of course, there is a time and a place for certain types of humor. I have done plenty of family-friendly shows and they were always a lot of fun. But I like being able to say whatever I want and just be myself.
Gavin: When you first started out, what were some of the lessons you learned about performing?
Melissa: Always engage the audience. When I first started writing comedy, I would write it like a script and read it word for word, just like a script. It seemed way too prepared; it is better to come off as spontaneous even if you have everything written out. And acknowledging the audience and interacting with them makes the show better for you and for them. I use a lot of improv onstage now; when I started I would have never been able to do that. And always believe in what you are saying -- people like it when you are real.
Gavin: What's it like for you personally coming up with material and deciding what works and doesn't?
Melissa: You have to learn how to take criticism if you are going to do comedy. And it actually can help you out a lot. I get really stuck on a joke sometimes because I love it so much and I want it to work. So, I keep pushing it and pushing it even when it constantly doesn’t work. But you just have to let some jokes go. Or save them for an off night when you are bombing horrifically. And those nights happen to the best comedians. You've just got to learn to roll with them and not take it personally.
Gavin: How is it for you interacting with other local comedians, both as friends and competitors?
Melissa: As friends it is great. Although, over the years I have been surprised to find out a lot of comedians don’t really have a good sense of humor. The funny business is a really tough business. Comedy doesn’t get as much respect as the other performing arts do. And stand-up comedy is a performing art. So, to a certain degree, you do have to take it seriously. Comedy is a lot of work and it mostly falls on the actual comedian to do it all. It is really important that we support each other to keep it going. And as competitors, it is always exciting to hear a comedian come up with a joke that you wish you would have written. I think competition is a great motivator, so I see it as a good thing.
Gavin: The stereotype that stand-up is harder for women to do has been around for decades, and it seems Utah doesn't have a lot of women comedians working the clubs. What's been your take on that here in Utah, and do you try to help each other or is there little contact with other women comedians?
Melissa: Well, I don’t really think Utah is comfortable with a woman getting on stage and truly expressing herself anyway, but tough; it’s 2012, time to get uncomfortable, Utah. And I will always help a comedian of either gender if I can. I do think it is harder for women to do comedy, but there are still a lot who come out and do it, even here in Utah. They say comedy is a boys’ club, but it really is just a boys’ club that behaves like a teenage girls’ club, so once women see that it is easy to feel at home. Remember, I said it was cliquey.
Gavin: Are there any plans down the road for you to tour, or are you sticking to home for now?
Melissa: Yes, actually I am lining up some out-of-state shows for next year. The dates will be posted on my website soon.
Gavin: Going local for a bit, what's your take on the stand-up scene, both good and bad?
Melissa: This last year, I have seen a lot of really funny new comedians pop up here. It has been great and makes the open mics a lot of fun. I am so glad so many people are coming out and trying comedy, and it is even better when they are actually funny. I think the scene here is great -- we have so many open mics and local shows there are lots of opportunities to get onstage, way more than when I started. The only bad thing is there is a lot of rivalry between the comedians, but that just goes along with the competition aspect of it. Lumpy’s South is having a comedy competition every Friday night now. Turning rivalry into an actual show with prizes is great for entertainment value.
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?
Melissa: A lot of people still don’t realize Utah has a comedy scene. I think we need better advertising. Maybe we need a good old-fashioned chili cookoff to raise awareness of the Utah comedy scene. I say that because I love chili, and the number of fart jokes at that event would probably put us in the Guinness Book of World Records. Speaking of records, on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at The Complex, I will be hosting The Biggest Tour Ever Ever. It features comedians Kristine Levine of Portlandia, Morgan Preston and Andrew Ouellette, and they are going for the world record of the biggest tour in the shortest amount of time.
Gavin: Aside from yourself, who are some of your favorites you like to check out around town?
Melissa: Oh, there are so many hilarious people here, please refer to my #FF every Friday on Twitter. I’m joking, of course; sometimes I do that. I always like seeing Christopher J. Stephenson, Andy Farnsworth, Steve McInelly who runs the K-Town Komedy show at Club DJs, and Cody Eden is very funny; I opened for him recently. Some of my favorite new comedians Natashia Mower, Jason Harvey, Jonny Brandin, Collen Waters and Brian Pope are doing the show Comedy With A Complex, Dec. 7, at The Complex.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the clubs that provide comedians a forum to perform and the work they do to help bring in audiences?
Melissa: I love all the clubs that are generous enough to give us stage time; especially The Complex -- they have been great to us. I am now running Comedy Roadkill, which is their open mic every Tuesday night. Mo’s Grill on Sunday nights is another great open mic. As far as bringing in an audience, being a comedian I want giant flashing lights advertising our shows all week long, and giant balloon animals like at used-car lots, or a guy spinning around a sign out front. But for now, I am happy with the flyers.
Gavin: Whats your opinion of national stand-up comedians coming through town and what that does for the local scene?
Melissa: I think it is wonderful. It is a perfect opportunity for us local comedians to open for the big-name comedians. And it is great exposure for the local comedy scene because people start to notice the shows when a comedian they have heard of comes through.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year and going into next?
Melissa: I will be at Comedy Roadkill at The Complex every Tuesday night. And you can listen to me on UtahFM
as the co-host of Brian Staker’s The Awkward Hour
every Thursday night from 9 p.m.-midnight. We play punk rock music and discuss all things awkward. And I have some exciting projects lined up for 2013 -- that is, if the world doesn’t end on Dec. 21. Follow me on Twitter
or add me on Facebook
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Melissa: Why, of course there is! The Biggest Tour Ever Ever, Tuesday Nov. 27, at The Complex; tickets are $10 and it starts at 8 p.m. with comedians Kristine Levine of Portlandia
, Morgan Preston, Andrew Ouellette and local favorite Steve McInelly, hosted by me. Comedy With A Complex: The Brian Pope Birthday Extravaganza Show on Friday Dec. 7, tickets are $5 in advance. This show features a lot of the hot new comedians Salt Lake has to offer. And K-Town Komedy is doing two special fundraiser shows for the Utah Food Bank. The dates are Dec. 8 and 15; each show will have 12 of Utah’s best comedians. Starts at 7 p.m. and admission is the low price of nonperishable food. And catch me at Comedy Roadkill at The Complex every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. It’s a free show, so come out and try some comedy or just have some laughs. Tune in for The Awkward Hour
every Thursday night on UtahFM, and, of course, visit my website
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