Last month, Nikki Glaser made headlines with her phenomenal set at The Comedy Central Roast of Alec Baldwin. It was the third time the comedian had appeared on the network’s celebrity roast series, and much like her performances at Bruce Willis and Rob Lowe’s roasts in previous years, she killed.
This should come as no surprise, of course, as Glaser has been performing stand-up since the early 2000s. Between frequent appearances on most of the major late night television programs, hosting her own television shows and recording half-hour and hour-long comedy specials, the comic clearly knows what she’s doing. And in her latest special Bangin’, her first hour on Netflix, Glaser’s talents are on full display.
So is her evolution. Ahead of Bangin’s streaming premiere today, I spoke with Glaser about her comedic progression, her attempts at a more narrative style of comedy, and her struggles with feminism.
Andrew Husband: Your dream of being a guest on The Howard Stern Show came true. How’d that go?
Nikki Glaser: It was the greatest experience of my life. I literally could quit everything right now and be satisfied that I accomplished all my goals. Final goal. It was awesome.
AH: You went on the show last year for Ronnie the Limo Driver’s roast, but this was different, right?
NG: Yeah. As a guest, it’s a totally fresh experience. It’s a totally different thing to be sitting on the couch, being interviewed by him. That was my ultimate goal. It was awesome to go on the roast, but it was all about eventually doing a sit-down interview. That and being a regular on Conan were my two main goals, back when I was first getting into this business. I also wanted to meet Dave Matthews. I did that, though I didn’t really get enough face time with him. He didn’t really know who I was. My last goal is to become friends with Jennifer Aniston. Also, I want Dave Matthews to become a fan of mine. Then I can quit.
AH: The last time we spoke, you mentioned something about sending a new hour to Netflix. Was that hour Bangin’?
NG: I think so. They picked up my hour last year at some point. I sent them versions of it but they were pretty hands-off. I worked really hard on this special. I tried to shape it and say something with it. Generally, when I go on tour, I just go up there and start talking. I don’t really have a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s kind of free-flowing. It’s whatever I feel like talking about it in the moment. I just kind of comes out of me. But for this hour, I had to really buckle down and shape it. I got a lot of help from other comedians and writers, and put a lot of effort into this special. So, yeah, I’m really proud of it.
AH: You mentioned sending Netflix “versions” of Bangin’. Were you doing test tapings?
NG: No, I just was on the road every single weekend, five shows every weekend, in a different market for months and months leading up to it. So, if I had waited to tape it a month later, it would’ve been a different hour than the one I put down. It just so happened to be like what Bangin’ is now when I taped it. That’s what I was doing at that point.
I work towards it. I picked the jokes I was going to do and worked hard at those jokes for a couple of weeks before the taping. It was a lot of material to comb through. I taped two sets that night and had about an hour and 45 minutes of material to sift through, just to make this one hour. It was a lot of work choosing what went into it, but it was exciting because I had so much to choose from. And whatever didn’t go in, I’m saving for my next special, which is already coming together.
AH: Talk about that editing process. I’ve had comics tell me they love it or they hate it, but never anything in between. How do you feel about it?
NG: It was the worst. I hate watching myself. I hate it. It’s not so much watching myself, it’s listening to myself. I can watch myself on mute because, honestly, I’m grateful that the lighting was good. I like the way I look in it, which is a huge feat for me. If I like the way I look in something, it’s a success. But it’s hard for me to listen to the jokes again, because as soon as I was done taping it, I went on the road. I was in San Diego that weekend. I taped it on Thursday and I was in San Diego on Friday, doing shows again. The jokes started flowing out of me as soon as I was relaxed, and I was like, “Oh my God, I didn’t do that tag!” Or, I would come up with new things that, if I had put it in my special, it would have been so much better. I immediately start second-guessing everything.
AH: That doesn’t sound fun.
NG: I struggled to sit through the material, watching it and editing it together. I was putting it off so much that Netflix was getting slightly annoyed with me. I could tell. They were very nice about it, but they were like, “We need this delivered.” It was crunch time and I just couldn’t do it. I was paralyzed with fear, watching myself. Fear of feeling like I said the wrong thing when I should’ve said it another way.
As a stand-up, you perform, you leave and then there’s nothing. That’s what I love about it. There’s no editing process. There’s no looking back. It just happens and it’s done. And I hate going back and reassessing things. I hate rehearsing. I’m just a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. I don’t like any kind of preparation. I don’t like sitting down and writing or going over my set. I record every set of mine, but I’ve never once listened to a single recording.
But doing this forced me to write stuff down and plan things. It was a struggle, but I did it and I did it well. I read this book called The Tools, and one of the tools it talks about is facing your fears. I kept saying this mantra. Something about whenever you’re scared, you’re supposed to say, “I love fear. Fear sets me free. Fear makes me stronger.” It’s all about telling yourself that you should embrace whatever frightens you. That you should actually enjoy the process of being fearful. And that’s what I did, honestly. I used a self-help book in order to get through my special.
AH: It worked out in the end.
NG: I also realized comedians who don’t edit their own sh*t aren’t going to be successful. You should do everything you can to make everything you do as great as possible, and if you don’t, your work will not be as good as it can be. I knew that I could hand the reins over to someone else. It would look good and no one would know the difference. But if I didn’t force myself to do it myself since I know my comedy best, it wasn’t going to be as good as it could be.
AH: You mentioned getting help from others for putting Bangin’ together. Other comedians?
NG: Stand-up comedy can be so isolating. I asked my friends who are storytellers, like Elna Baker at This American Life. She’s been a producer there for about a decade at this point. She’s incredible at shaping stories and I’d never done that with my stand-up, so I asked her for help doing just that. She came on the road with me to help me turn it into a piece, something that had a beginning, a middle and an end. I also asked a lot of my comedian friends to watch or listen to the hour before I taped it. That really helped me to punch things up.
Bangin’ was a really collaborative effort and I have no problem saying that. A lot of comedians pride themselves on doing everything by themselves. I did what I needed to do by myself, but I know from working in TV that you have to be able to work with others. Not only that, but it’s better to work with others. I have so many funny friends, so why wouldn’t I ask them to tag a joke of mine? There are so many jokes in my special that, when I watch it, I’m like, “That’s from my one friend! That’s from my other friend!” It reminds me of them. It will always remind me of them. It was really fun to do because I got to work with so many people I love.
AH: Switching gears, you’ve been getting a lot of praise for your set at The Comedy Central of Roast of Alec Baldwin. Roast jokes are quick, they’re often “joke” jokes and they don’t always work in traditional stand-up. That being said, I get the feeling that those kinds of jokes – one-liners and the like – are more present in Bangin’ than in your previous half-hours or the hour Perfect. Is that accurate?
NG: Thank you! That is exactly what I wanted. I thought you were going to say there were fewer jokes this time, and I was going to cry silently in the elevator to my therapist.
AH: Not at all! If anything, there are more jokes. There are so many jokes packed into this hour.
NG: My goal for this special was to prove… You know, I have this thing about needing to prove that I’m a great joke writer. As a stand-up, I want other stand-ups to look at me and be like, “Wow, she’s a great joke writer!” That’s what I want stand-ups to say about me. Plus, with Bangin’, I wanted to get a specific message across to young girls. Something that would have really benefited me as a young girl.
So, I’m trying to get that through while I’m also trying to make guys laugh. I’m trying to convince guys that women are funny. I’m trying to do a lot of things, but you made me feel great just now when you said there were a lot of jokes packed into this, because that was my apprehension about moving towards a more narrative style with a beginning, a middle and an end. I worried it was going to lose the joke-joke-joke factor. I just love that machine gun-style of joke writing.
AH: Speaking of getting a message across to young girls, there’s a moment toward the end of Bangin’ when you say you “stumbled” into feminism. Obviously, this is very different from a special like Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. Even so, there are a lot of bits in Bangin’ that are definitely directed toward women in an empowering way. It’s also directed at men and, like you said, you’re also trying to reach them. You even go so far as to stress that you’re not “anti-men.”
NG: The second you come across as “too feminist,” men tune out. But I want men to watch this special. So, at the end, in that closing bit about stumbling into feminism, that was actually only the second time I’d ever said that line on stage. It was something that came out right before I taped it. I think that’s the theme of this. I’m trying to covertly get a feminist point of view across, in the most palatable way possible.
I struggle with being a feminist and also wanting guys to like me. I want to be f*ckable while also being like, “I can do anything!” I don’t need a man, but also, I do need men to like me. I’m constantly grappling with that. In the special, I’m not claiming to have anything completely figured out. If anything, I’m more confused than I was when I started. But I do have some wisdom to bestow, and it’s not like I’m going on a soap box. It’s just, these are my experiences, and maybe they’re not everyone else’s, but the laughter I’m getting from talking about being fingered when I’m dry convinces me that I’m not alone.
Nikki Glaser: Bangin’ is now streaming on Netflix.
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