Emily Heller is trying out new material at Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth this week.
Emily Heller is trying out new material at Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth this week.
Mindy Tucker

Between Fort Worth Shows, Comedian Emily Heller Talks New Material

Emily Heller had her entire career to write her first comedy album, Good For Her. On that album, she's single and, she says, immature. Now she has a boyfriend, and she wants her comedy to reflect life in a relationship and what she thinks about being in one — even if she feels the need to run the jokes by her boyfriend before taking them onstage.

Heller, whom you'll recognize from her half-hour Comedy Central special and numerous appearances on late-night talks shows such as Conan and Late Night with Seth Meyers, is in Fort Worth this week workshopping new material.

This tour you're performing things that are not on your album. Why did you make that choice?
Well, I wanted to work on new material. The stuff that's on my album is stuff that I worked on for years and years, and by the time I put it on my album, it felt done. I'm in a really different place in my life right now than I was when I put the album out.

I want my work to reflect that, and kind of the reason I wanted to come here is because Baron Vaughn told me that [Amphibian Stage] was a great theater to work on new material and that they were really committed to making it kind of a workshop-y space. That's kind of what I've been yearning for anyway, creatively. I'm trying to work on as much new stuff as I can.

What has changed in your life to put you in this different frame of mind?
Well, when I recorded my album, I did a lot of material about being single, and that's not the case anymore. Also, I just feel like I've grown up a little bit. I have almost a combination of all of my favorite jokes from the first seven years of my career, and things have changed a lot for me since then. It's hard to articulate all of it, I guess.

Do you find it easier or harder to write about being single, as opposed to being in a relationship? Or is it all the same?
It's definitely easier to write about being single. Just because you don't have to run your jokes by anyone. I kind of bring my own perspective to all of it. I feel like I try to stay true to the things that I said before when I was single. I like to talk a lot about how I enjoy being single and I don't want the jokes that I'm doing about being in a relationship to feel like I'm saying, "Never mind!" Because I stand by it — the pressure that we put on people to be in a relationship is wrong and unfair.

What is your writing process like? Do you sit down? What is it? And do you run it by your significant other?
If I'm telling a joke that's about him, I try and run it by him before I do it on stage.

Yeah, that's nice.
In the spirit of fairness, I do that with everyone that I write jokes about. My writing process kind of varies. Sometimes there will be something that's really on my mind that I really need to write about. ... I'll do writing exercises, and I'll get together with other comics a lot and run my jokes by them. I think — I don't know if this is true for other comics, but for me personally, I kind of have to try and write to make someone specific laugh. Because if I'm just trying to make myself laugh, it won't be funny to anyone else because I have a very weird sense of humor.

When you run your jokes by the people that you are talking about, do you ever get a, "No, that's not OK to say."
Yes, I have. I wish I could tell you the circumstances, but they told me I'm not supposed to talk about it.

So, it's that serious and bad?
Well, no, nothing bad, but every so often there'll be something that I think is really funny that someone will say, "I think that's a little too personal." And that makes sense, and sometimes it'll happen where you and another comedian will be doing something together and something will happen to both of you, and you'll have to decide: "OK, who gets to write the joke about this?"

Are there any topics that are off limits for you as a comic?
I like talking about racism and sexism, but I try very hard not to commit either of those things onstage. For me, personally, it's about being true to myself and what I believe. ... Sometimes I fall short of that, and I try and fix things later. Sometimes I err a little bit too much on the side of self-deprecation, and it'll feel inauthentic to me and I'll kind of change things around. There's no topic, specifically, that is off limits to me, but there's definitely stuff that I don't think is funny.

Do you feel it's harder to be a comic today than it used to be? Do you think audiences are too sensitive?
No, absolutely not. If anything I feel like ... I think a lot of times when people say, "Audiences are too sensitive these days," what they're really responding to is that more and more different kinds of people are coming to comedy shows than they're used to. I think it used to be the comedy wasn't very appealing to people who didn't necessarily want to be offended. Now what we've seen with this big comedy boom is that there are all kinds of different comedians out there performing now for all kinds of different audiences. It's just sort of a matter of finding your audience or, if you're an audience member, finding your comedian.

You've performed at the Amphibian Stage for the past few nights. Do you find that it's a good venue for working on new material?
Absolutely. Yeah. It felt like a very — pardon me using this term — safe space for working on new stuff because the audiences have been really, really supportive and excited to be there. I think that's what you need to work on new things. Because when you're worried that the audience isn't having a good time, I tend to default to my older jokes that I know will work, and it's harder to take a risk on something new that you haven't tried yet. I'm really happy to say that both shows that we've done so far have been just really fun.

Emily Heller, 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, and Saturday, Aug. 26, Amphibian Stage Productions, 120 S. Main St., Fort Worth, $14 to $25, amphibianstage.com.

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