The stand-up comedy world is in the throes of a sea change, as three of its marquee names–Aziz Ansari, Louis C.K . and T.J. Miller–stand accused of various degrees of sexual wrongdoing. Muddling things further is the largesse of streaming giant Netflix, whose lofty $20 million-per-hour paydays for male comics Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Dave Chappelle have caused much consternation among lesser-compensated ladies( and understandably so ).
As the so-called Bad Men dissolve from the pop-culture consciousness faster than the McFly family photo in Back to the Future , and as ladies across all industries reclaim their period, a self-confident new comedy voice has emerged from the maelstrom.
Her name is Michelle Wolf. And she is fucking amusing .
If you haven’t seen the 32 -year-old’s HBO comedy special, Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady , well, you are able to get on that immediately. It was, in this writer’s appraisal, the funniest stand-up special of 2017, packed with sidesplitting–and blessedly Trump-free–jokes on topics ranging from the fragile male ego (” A soft penis looks like the voice of sad “) and the feminism of naked selfies to pay equity and Caitlyn Jenner’s brave transition (” I still fucking abhor your personality “). Throughout the hour-long go, she is both cutting and ebullient, her piercing voice, bobbing red mane, and chortle accentuating each clever punch line.
The through-line is the outmoded hypothesi of the” nice dame ,” and how, in the immortal words of The Real World , it’s time for women to stop being polite and start getting real. Though the special was recorded in August, two months prior to the opening of the disturbing Harvey Weinstein discoveries, it’s a sentiment that aligns perfectly with the current #MeToo and #TimesUp motions.
” I don’t want to say’ serendipitous ,’ because so many awful things are happening to so many people, but it’s kind of serendipitous, I guess ,” offers Wolf.” It’s just a good time in comedy right now for women, because it’s a perspective that people are now more open to .”
Unlike her male peers who’ve fought with dealing with the epidemic of sexual-harassment charges, Wolf has proven to be more than up to the duty. In late October, just after the Weinstein tales fell, her Daily Show boss Trevor Noah tasked her with creating a humorous chip on the genuinely horrifying case–in just a few hours , nothing less.
” It’s a hard thing to establish jokes about–especially that soon ,” she remembers.” I struggled to find a take on it. It’s good to have emotion behind something, but sometimes your sensations can blind you comedically. You have to remain reasonably neutral, stand back from different situations, and think of the style it will actually work , not the mode it will shape your heart feel better .”
The result was both funny and spot-on:” My answer? Every time a guy gets caught sexually harassing person, you don’t only fire him. You have to supplant him with a woman. It’s a plan that I call,’ Pull out your dick, get replaced by a chick .'”
Wolf is also fearless. In addition to being able to skewing Caitlyn Jenner in Nice Lady , she takes a few clean shootings at Hillary Clinton, or rather the patriarchal system that built Hillary Hillary , from one so-called ” shrill” voice to another.
” I do have a theory to the reasons why Hillary lost: I think it’s cause no one likes her ,” says Wolf in the special.” You shouldn’t like Hillary. She’s a bitch. You have to be a bitch to be that powerful. We’re never going to have a nice lady run for chairwoman. Nice ladies aren’t in charge of things, and if you’re in charge of something and you think you’re a nice lady , no one else does .”
” That’s the balance you have to create ,” she says, explaining the chip.” I come from the train of thought that you can joke about anything as long as it’s funny enough. You have to anticipate what people’s arguments against you will be so that you can make a joke-rationale for it. That Hillary chip moves fairly aggressively at her but then it turns into a kudo. I’m not a solicitor but I think it’s similar to writing a good arguing where you have to cover all your bases .”
Wolf wasn’t always the self-assured comic you verify on HBO and The Daily Show . At the College of William& Mary–the same school Jon Stewart went to, strangely enough–she was a” real big nerd” who majored in kinesiology, working in a cardiovascular molecular physiology laboratory, and ran away track and battleground.
” I used to watch those old Gatorade commercials from the’ 90 s where the athletes are hooked up to wires on the treadmill and I wanted to be the doctor working on those people, because I knew I wasn’t a good enough athlete ,” she says.
After graduating from college in 2007, she took a position at Bear Stearns working in mutual funds and separately managed reports. Then came the financial collapse.
” I was the low person on the totem pole … but I experienced terrible for the people there who’d been there for their entire jobs and invested in the company. That was heartbreaking ,” says Wolf.” It would nearly have been better if everyone got fired on the working day, but it dragged on for years. You’d just hear about people get pushed to other departments and used to think, yeah, they’re get pushed out. It was pretty soul-crushing .”
In March 2008, right around the time Bear Stearns was falling apart, a few high-school pals came to New York City to visit, and they all went to a taping of Saturday Night Live . Afterward, she considered,” How did they get to do this ?” So she Googled the casting members and discovered that each and every one of them had done improv.
She immediately signed up for a beginner’s improv class–level 1 at The PIT, or People’s Improv Theater–and discovered it exhilarating. She had, after all, been growing idolizing Carol Burnett. Wolf would go directly from Bear Stearns( and later JPMorgan) to The PIT.
” I used to go to improv grades in my skirt-suit from run, wearing heels ,” she remembers with a laugh.” I finally started delivering gasps and sneakers to wear and thought,’ Oh yeah, you can move !'”
At one of her improv class, she befriended someone who worked in a computational biochemistry research lab as a recruiter. And so, after three-and-a-half years in finance she took a job there, because it provided her with greater flexibility to explore slapstick. She soon got into stand-up, and worked on it all day, day in day out, writing gags, performing establishes, and tweeting.
” It gave me one tonne of time to sit at my computer and tweet the working day, that are actually assists with my joke-writing ,” shares Wolf.” I would just speak the news and tweet gags about the report. It teaches you an economy of words .”
Wolf eventually began doing “less and less” work on the lab, devoting more and more time to comedy, and got fired. But she’d saved up enough fund, along with her severance, to last-place a year:” I tripled down with so much better fright inside of me because I was like: This is it. I have a year to make it .”
She was fired in January 2013. In January 2014, she got hired on the brand-new reveal Late Night With Seth Meyers , where she worked in the writers’ room and participated in the occasional sketch. Then, experiencing the itch to perform more on-camera, she joined The Daily Show with Trevor Noah in April 2016.
Nice Lady is no accident. It’s a late December evening and Wolf has, with the assistance of” an entire French press ,” operated from 9 a. m. to 7 p. m. writing gags( a process they call “gangs”) all day at The Daily Show before gratifying me for more coffee. After our chat, she’ll chief downtown to perform three stand-up determines, including at the famed Comedy Cellar.
” I did 21 displays last week ,” she says, and that’s on top of her Daily Show chore.” I have a brand-new hour I’m working on. I wanted to go on tour after the special “re coming out”, and I didn’t want to do the same stuff. So I’m workin’ on it. It’s great < em> and frightening to work on new jokes .”
She intervals, indicating on her regimen.” It’s a lifestyle that’s not necessarily conducive to women most of the time, because touring and doing stand-up a lot is not easy when you have a newborn. It’s easy for a person because the babe can stay home, but Ali[ Wong] brings her child with her all the time, which is a very tough thing to do, and she has a great support system around her. But that’s not standards and norms .”
Wolf’s well-received Comedy Cellar decides soon caught the eye of high-profile stand-up comedians, including Hannibal Buress. When host Chris Rock was recruiting joke columnists for the 2016 Academy Awards, Buress recommended Wolf. She vividly remembers running into Seth Meyers’ role and furiously yelling,” I just got a voicemail from Chris Rock telling me to bellow him back. What should I do ?!”” You should call him back ,” said Meyers.
Several of Wolf’s gags made it into the Oscars’ telecast–including a great “sorority racist” bit–and Wolf eventually opened for Rock on several European dates.
” He’s become a friend and a mentor, which is crazy. There’s no past me that would ever have envisioned this would happen ,” she says.
Another of her mentors is Louis C.K ., who’s been accused of–and professed to–serial sexual misbehaviour. Wolf’s guest-starred on Louis’ web serial Horace and Pete , opened for him on tour, and spent many nighttimes killing the shit with him at the Comedy Cellar.
When I mention the Louis scandal, she says matter-of-factly:” He’s always been very supportive and generous, and my experience with him is very different than others, I believe. But, in this kind of big-hearted instant in my career, I don’t really want to talk about material that a humankind did .”
Fair enough . After all, it wasn’t Louis C.K. who performed thousands of stand-up situateds or spent years in a pair of late-night columnists’ rooms meticulously sharpening her craftsmanship, transforming from a nerdy scientist into the stage-commanding badass in Nike Hi’s you insure before you today. It was Michelle Wolf.
” To do stand-up, you have to have a strong point of view, and doing stand-up gave me that strong point of view ,” she says, cracking a smile.” It built me a person .”
Michelle Wolf’s The Not Nice Comedy Tour kicks off Feb. 1 in Philadelphia. She’ll be performing March 8-10 at Caroline’s in Manhattan.