Q&A: Comedian Lauren Weedman
Comedian, actor, and all around funny woman Lauren Weedman hit the national stage as a faux-correspondent for The Daily Show, and has gone on to recurring roles in Reno 911, Hung, and other shows, as well as movies like Date Night and The Five-Year Engagement. But she's also been charming more intimate audiences across the country with her series of one-woman shows. As anyone who saw her in Bust at Portland Center Stage last year can attest, she's a theatrical force to reckon with, blending self-deprecating humor with spot on characterizations.
She's been in town a bit of late conducting "research" for her new one-woman show, The People's Republic of Portland, to open at PCS in April. Up this weekend for one such trip and to teach a storytelling workshop (at last count, there were two spots open), she's also performing a three-night run of one of her most recent, most personal shows, No...You Shutup, at Disjecta (Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 7). [Ed. Note: Tickets must be selling like Voodoo Donuts, because they keep adding shows. Now not only is there the extra Sunday show, but there's a late night show on Saturday at 10:30. Bring your flask.]
We caught up with Weedman to talk about her one-woman shows, her raging exhibitionism, what's in store for No...You Shutup, and a sneak peak at The People's Republic of Portland.
Culturephile: Most of our readers will know you from your TV and movie appearance. When did you start doing one-woman theatrical shows, and why?
Lauren Weedman: I started back in the mid 90's because I was frustrated by the parts I was getting—and all the extra-martial affairs that were happening in the shows I was in. All those other people around me. Plus, I wanted to fully get my ya-ya's out and tell complicated stories that were funny and social and uncomfortable and had lots of wacky dancing in them. So it was easier just to create my own plays.
What’s different for you, and presumably appealing, about being in these shows versus doing something like standup or sketch comedy?
If I'd gone the stand-up route I would be so mired in self-hate and bloated with drugs and alcohol. Now I'm just bloated. I prefer theater because the expectation is story, and story is how we connect (not that we don't do that with humor—we do). But it's through our stories that we—oh you know—all that hero’s journey and such. I like some catharsis.
So much of your humor comes from a place of making fun of yourself and very frank personal revelation, such as talking in Bust about your story in Glamour detailing how you lied about being raped in college to get attention. Was there a time when it was uncomfortable and you had to push yourself to reveal personal details? Or have you always been a raging exhibitionist?
Any moment where I'm the hero makes me nauseous. And yes, I've always been an emotional exhibitionist. Somebody fricken told me at some point in my life that truth bonds—truth wins. I'm certainly not winning in the Charlie Sheen sense, but I can live with myself if I'm honest. Plus, I can't keep any experience to myself. Makes me gassy.
How did you respond the first time someone walked out or gave you a critical review?
It was during a show called Amsterdam, and it was so light compared to what I'll do now, but someone left because of foul language. But then again people left during Bust and the ticket office said it was due to profanity. So maybe that's just what the folks at the theater are trained to tell actor/performers who come racing up to them after shows—plowing through the groups of people who want to tell them positive things—to find out why groups of 90 year olds walked out. One of my husbands told me in the early days of my performing, 'thank god people walk out. What do you want...Disney?"
Now I have to stay away from message boards. Evil, evil message boards.
Is there anything that's off limits for you? Your son perhaps?
Everyone always asks me if my son is off limits, and I'm like, "why? Should he be?" I won't reveal things that will hurt other people unless I check with the person in question first. And I will not talk about anal sex. Because I'm better than that. Kind of.
What’re the biggest mistakes that people make when embarking on a solo show.
Collecting lots of hats and costumes.
No…You Shutup is your newest show—at least according to your bio. What’s it about? What can we expect?
It's not my newest show. That is yet another lie I've told. I have a new show in Seattle called SRO. But No…You Shutup is my most personal show. And I think it's my most flat out comedic. The whole thing could be turned into a stand-up comedy act—but with cancer foster kids and tortured lesbians.
All of those topics really thrive in the theater.
Why’re you bringing it to Portland? How’d you get connected with B. Frayn Masters, the mastermind behind Back Fence?
My new favorite city to perform in is Portland. It used to be Seattle, but I feel 'discovered' by Portland, and it's fantastic. B. Frayn—whatever her name is—back in the day we called her **** [Ed. Note: first name removed at the request of the enigmatic Masters]—she was a friend of mine in Seattle. We auditioned for all the low voiced Jeannenne Garafolo parts. I can't spell her name. And she's the reason I am connected to PCS because Back Fence produced Bust and PSC saw it and then commissioned another show from me—and brag brag brag. And the storytelling series she does [Back Fence PDX] has changed my life. The audiences are really the best, and she's an incredible producer. I feel very very lucky to work with her. The people that she attracts to her events are 'my people'. Or some of them are.
So performing Bust was your first significant chunk of time here?
Yes it was. The only other time I'd been there I went to an ice skate rink in a mall.
What was your experience of Portland? What did you do when you weren’t performing?
When I'm not performing I'm eating. It's a problem. My costume got tighter and tighter during the run of Bust. And I drink beers that taste like dirty pieces of chocolate dipped in stomach acid—and I love them. And I drink kombucha to settle my stomach. I love Portland. I know it's not a terribly unique sentiment. But there you are.
Chocolate, kombucha. What was your favorite thing about PDX?
Kombucha. Bikes. MAX. And drinking beer while I get my hair cut.
The rain. Again—not a unique sentiment–but it's a bummer.
What’s the thing you most make fun of when you’re back in LA?
You. Hmmmm...good question. I think it's how people talk about strip clubs there: "Oh my god—I go all the time. My book club meets there."
Whose idea was it to do People’s Republic of Portland? Was there a particular moment when it hit you, I’m doing a show about this rainy town of beer and strip clubs? Or did PCS approach you?
I think that it all came about because every time I'd walk into the theater, I’d say, "oh my god, you won't believe what I just saw..." I was deeply affected by the city all the time. Effected? Can you believe how dumb I am?
Have you ever thought: I’m going to do a show about Boise, or St Louis, or Denver? What’s so special about Portland?
Yes actually. I would love to do what Sufjan Steven set out to do, and write about all the states. I could. If I was given that task.
Take us through the show’s creative process. You’ve come on at least one “research trip,” right? What exactly did that involve?
Going to strip clubs.
Can you give a little preview of what the show will entail?
So we now have Portlandia making fun of us. We have the New York Times covering Portland with such devotion and excitement that it may as well be parody. Did you think twice before jumping on the poke-fun-of-Portland bandwagon?
When I was first touring solo shows, I was at a high school and doing a Q and A and this kid asked me, "what makes you think you're so interesting?" And he totally got me. I was like, "Oh man...I don't know. I don't think I'm that interesting, but the theater does, and they asked me. " That was my answer. And it's kind of my answer here. I loved spending time in Portland. Any excuse to get to spend more time—I’ll take it. I'm ready for the backlash of a LA based writer/performer coming to write about the city. But I wrote about everything in my life and right now my life has really been Portland. My take is not very Portlandia—though I love that show. It's about a pretty neurotic woman spending time alone in Portland with her two year old. And I'll be writing about what it was like to perform for some of the Portland audiences. The sincerity of the people...
What will you do to differentiate your Portland pillory?
I have to look that word up. I think I've established that I'm dumb.
Anything to add?
That I can't wait to perform this weekend. And I'm not just saying that.
Lauren Weedman performs No...You Shutup at Disjecta on Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 7. Tickets are available here.