Comedy is one of the hardest talents to come by naturally. It’s an impossible skill to master without being comfortable with the art of self-deprecation.
Comedian Selena Coppock has taken a long journey through life’s funny and awkward stages to share her farcical life lessons with the masses.
Salute recently spoke with Coppock about her new audiobook Seen Better Days, life and the realization that stand-up is a career cornerstone.
Salute: I listened to your album, and you had me cracking up. Not many people understand that irony is the biggest part of comedy. We all get into our own heads so much; I think you make a good play at exploring that.
SC: I think its fun to play with expectations, both on how I might be perceived by the audience or on where the joke might be going, or what the point might be. It is so fun to turn that on its head.
Like the joke about handicapped-accessible porta potties. Some audiences do not get it, and they do not understand.
They think I am making fun of handicapped people, but in reality, I am making fun of the universal phenomenon of being cheap and wanting your money’s worth! It is so important that people understand what is going on there, and values the concept of irony.
Salute: I think that people have a problem sometimes in today’s climate in understanding comedy because of the way we are disconnected in the way that we communicate.
Speaking of your mom, you grew up with your family in Boston. Were you always the family “funny girl” or did you have to come out of your shell?
SC: I was always involved in theater, and sort of a cuckoo kiddo. I am one of three and my middle sister Laurel she is an actress and comedian in Los Angeles. She has been Jan in all of the Toyota commercials.
Salute: Oh, that is cool. So you have an industry type of family? Everyone has their own niche?
SC: Kind of. Laurel and I when we were kids we would write our own musicals, and dance numbers, we were very expressive and active. We were really into Saturday Night Live and things like that so no I never I had to come out of my shell at all.
Sometimes I wish I would have gone into it a little bit more as a kid (laughs). I was just an expressive and loud joking kiddo.
I appreciate my parents for not trying to squash that and allowing us to be as crazy as we needed to be. I started focusing it in high school and college as I started getting into real theater.
More so in college, and as I did so I got into improv comedy, through that I started doing stand-up and realized that I liked working alone.
Improv is great, and it is wonderful to have in your tool belt, but once the show is over, you have nothing there.
You cannot do an entire album of improv. So improv led me to stand up.
Sometimes I would think ‘oh what a waste of so many years’ but it led me to realize that I am a writer too and helped me combine my writing with my performing.
I grew up in the suburbs in Boston and lived in South Boston in my twenties. I love Boston so much, and it was a great place to grow up. It was very ordinary, you know I did field hockey and plays and things like that.
My parents are very different and raised us in a place that they met. But it was very interesting being able to go to Missouri and Arkansas and visit my dad’s relatives; he’s very conservative, and then go to New York City and visit my mom’s relatives, and she’s very liberal.
It was great to grow up like that and be able to see both sides of every issue and be unable to make decisions (laughs).
Salute: You joke but that’s great though because your parents let you be who you wanted to be and let you evolve naturally. There are a lot of families where the dynamic is “you have to be this way!” and that dampens things that you might want to do. So it’s great that you had that type of support.
SC: You’re right, you know. That freedom where they say ‘okay, go figure it out.’
Like for me right after college I decided to move to Chicago, and my parents said ‘try it out and see what happens.’
It was not a fit for me, and ten months later, I was like (makes crying noise). It just was not my spot, but I appreciated that they were like ‘yeah go ahead and try it out.’
They didn’t try to make me go to medical school or something that definitely would not have been a fit for me certainly (chuckles).
Salute: It’s not for everyone. Many people in my family tried to steer me in that direction when I was a child, and it just was not my thing either.
SC: That is the wonderful thing about adulthood, you can choose what you want to do. People often say ‘aww don’t you miss being a kid when you didn’t have a care in the world?’
But when you were a kid, you couldn’t control your life. You haven’t walked your pathway to figure out what makes sense for you. I often say to my standup pals ‘once I started doing standup comedy, my entire life made sense.’
I really feel that way. I feel like me being a wack-a-doodle kid all made sense when I started doing standup comedy. I figured it out. It can be a long journey in adulthood though to figure out [what’s] your thing.
Salute: I think what a lot of people mean when they say they want to be a “kid” again, is that they want to be a kid again with the knowledge that they have now.
SC: Exactly, but then you would be in a weird Rom-Com. But, I get it you would want all the confidence that you have now, the sense of identity and self that you would achieve only in adulthood.
Salute: Who are your biggest influences?
SC: I started watching SNL at a really young age. I am so inspired by these comedians. So, one of the first instances would have to be Ellen Cleghorn back in the day.
That was back in the era of Adam Sandler and Chris Farley who I really loved. Then Years later Conan O’Brien is someone I really liked because of his silly sensibility.
He’s very playful and cuckoo and by the same token Maria Bamford is that way. Her show Lady Dynamite is so beautifully done.
Aisha Tyler, she’s amazing. Her show Talk Soup was so fun, and she’s so likable, and you know she’s smart as a whip, she went to Dartmouth.
Another person who I love is someone I consider a friend is Michelle Collins who I think is so funny, witty, and great with pop culture.
SC: You know, my sister Laurel. She and I have done family bits, and when we’re together, we often do this bit where I pretend to punch her in the stomach, and she jumps back really hard.
So we do a lot of little playful bits like that. So she has inspired a lot of comedic bits because when we are together, we have a lot of fun.
And of course, there are a lot of comedians in the New York scene that I sort of run around with that I think are so funny and lovely.
Giulia Rozzi is absolutely hilarious, and Anna Drezen who writes for SNL is so talented.
Salute: Life inspires art, what life experiences do you feel provide you with the best content?
SC: Ooooh. Good question. You know, I love it when someone takes it on the chin so the more degrading, the better.
By that I mean when I take it on the chin, like hell gigs. Everyone loves a story when you get booed off the stage. I guess that’s why slapstick is so funny. I am just a sucker for stories where elaborate plans are being made, then ruined.
For instance, one time I was doing a show in upstate New York and my producer said ‘you have to be really clean, can’t be dirty at all.’
I was the first host, so I didn’t really want to the push the boundaries. I go out there, and I’m clean as a whistle, and the audience hates me, and I eat shit for twenty minutes.
I walk off the stage, and I was in a relationship with a guy, and I knew he was going to break up with me. As I was walking off the stage and into the bar, as I do, I slipped and fell right on the floor. I popped back up and yelled ‘I AM NOT DRUNK!’ [I] walked outside and cried.
I love stories like that, which are tough at the time but really funny when you look back on them. Degrading stories where everything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Salute: I was listening to your album, and “Lonely Hearts” is my favorite joke.
SC: Thank you, I love that one too. Everyone that I know, whenever someone has lost some weight, and people ask them why it’s because of a huge heartbreak.
Salute: Or when you’re near the end, and you don’t care, so you say fuck it, I’m going to get fine.
SC: (laughs) Exactly. That’s a fun one it’s fun to deliver and very active. I like changing up some of the songs I play as the DJ or class “Teacher” I’ll slide in different songs like Kelly Clarkson. It’s fun you can slide in new and different songs just to keep things fresh.
Salute: That was another reason that bit was my favorite, I love your taste in music. What music inspires you to write? When you’re sitting around in your house or when you’re out writing at a bar, what type of music or specific band inspires you?
SC: That is a great question. I love Arcade Fire is one of my favorite bands. I was writing a book a few years ago, and I would play Arcade Fire albums in another room so it wasn’t in my face but I love them.
When I go to bars, I like listening to classic rock when I write there or country. I find that I like country because of the storytelling it inspires different thoughts or reflections on your own thoughts.
I like Sturgill Simpson or Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves. Arcade Fire is just my general background music.
Salute: You’ve been working on Red Oaks, tell me about that.
SC: Yes I was in season two. Red Oaks is a sitcom on Amazon, and they film it here in New York. It was great; it was neat they really wanted a lot of comedians on the show. It was so exciting I don’t know how they found me but God bless em. There were quite a few comedians on the show there were also comedians; Ann Carr, Sean Crespo, Beth Stelling which were all hilarious.
I was only in one scene but it was so exciting and they were very sweet to me in how they coordinated everything. The scene I was in was with John Hodgeman and I also worked with Richard Kind. In the scene, I’m a late night sex talk show host, like the call in Donahue-style.
Salute: Now that your album is out, what are you working on next?
SC: I definitely want to do more traveling shows. So I think in 2018 I want to do more roadwork and visit more towns and see their comedy. I have a parody Twitter account where I pretend to be the NYT wedding section, and I have a literary agent for that. I want to turn it into a small book, maybe a page a day. Overall, I want to do more writing and traveling.
Salute: What do you want your legacy to be?
SC: I want people to remember me as someone who was very funny, but also very kind. I also want people to remember me as someone who reached out to young female comedians.
It can be very intimidating and very unwelcoming typically for young female standups. My friend and I used to run a Facebook group for new young female standups.
I learned this when I was young. I grew up as a Methodist, and my dad would always introduce himself to anyone new and make them feel welcome. So, when I’m at an open-mic show, I try to do the same with other female comedians.
If all the guys are telling gross jokes about dicks and masturbation, I go over and introduce myself to the other women and make them feel more comfortable. Also if I know another person who’s writing a good show that someone else would be good on, I try to recommend them, things like that. I just try to be a good person and a good friend.
After listening and speaking with this headstrong and hilarious woman, her craft is a split between labor of love and natural talent. It takes a brave and intelligent person to be able to bare their soul and their flaws in a way that makes others laugh while healing self. Selena manages to do that and then some.
For more information and to follow Selena visit her website www.selenacoppock.com