"I was doing improv and eventually switched over to standup because I didn't like how after an improv show you were just done with it. It was just over. So I'm going to start creating something I can keep working on. So I started getting into standup."
– Michelle Wolf
Guy MacPherson: Hello, Michelle.
Michelle Wolf: Hi, how are you?
GM: I'm good. How are you?
MW: I'm good, thank you.
GM: Are you in New York City?
MW: I am.
GM: That's where you live, correct?
MW: That is where I live.
GM: Have you ever been to Vancouver?
MW: I haven't. I've been to Montreal and Toronto, but never out that far west.
GM: Yeah, that's nowhere near us.
MW: Yeah (laughs). It's a pretty big country.
GM: Do you know how big?
MW: Um... very big (laughs).
GM: We have five time zones, that's how big we are.
MW: Really?! You guys are killin' it.
GM: I saw you for the first time just a few weeks ago.
MW: Oh, yeah?
GM: You haven't been at it that long, I know. I saw a clip on Facebook of you doing a desk bit on The Daily Show and I was blown away. I was telling friends about it. The very next day I was looking at the festival website and saw you were coming here. What are the odds?
MW: Oh yeah, look at that. That's great. I'm glad it was that way instead of, Oh, she's awful and now she's coming here. (laughs)
GM: There's no way you could be awful with the rise you've had in such a short time, I wouldn't think. You've only been doing it for six years. That's crazy.
MW: Yeah, it's been a very quick journey. It's been a lot of fun. I'm very fortunate.
GM: I read that you were an athlete in college.
GM: What sport?
MW: Track. I was a high-, long-, and triple-jumper. But then I got hurt the day before my very first meet. I sprained my right ankle, which is also my take-off foot, and I never really fully recovered.
GM: So comedy was just nothing to you then?
MW: Yeah, it wasn't even... I mean, I loved comedy but it never crossed my mind that that was a thing you could do for money.
GM: Were you the funny girl on the team?
MW: I don't necessarily think so. I was very quiet in college because I studied all the time. I wanted to even get my Ph.D or go to medical school so I was just constantly studying.
GM: Wow, an athlete who studies.
MW: Yeah, that seems to be the thing with track athletes. I think most of the people on my team ended up being doctors or some sort of scientist. We tend to be sort of nerdy.
GM: And then you went from that to banking, right?
MW: Right, yeah. I needed some time off from school because I was a little burnt out. A lot of my roommates had gotten jobs on Wall Street. So they were like, Just get a job on Wall Street while I live in New York for a couple of years. So I did that instead. I had no business experience but it's one of the things where they like athletes because they're competitive so I got hired at Bear Stearns in the summer of 2007, which was the first bank to collapse in March of 2008.
GM: Oh, congratulations! That must have been weird being right there when that was going down.
MW: Yeah, it was crazy. There were parts of it that were very sad, because you saw people that had worked there for their entire professional career, and then there were parts of it that were just like, Oh, this is how companies work. It wasn't a quick thing; it was over the next two years. We were bought by JP Morgan. You saw things get slowly dismantled and moved around. I was essentially cheap labour because I was young. I got to watch all of it happen and saw people from my work get fired and moved to corners of the company that would make them want to quit. Things like that. Really fun stuff.
GM: You joined at a really junior position because you didn't have a lot of experience?
MW: I started as the assistant and then I became an analyst in the private client services after a couple months.
GM: Were you starting to come out of your shell from college and be the funny one at work?
MW: Not really. At work, I was at work. There was nothing fun about work. It was just like, Hey, do this, and then people would yell at you, and then you would do whatever they wanted. But I started doing improv in March of 2008.
GM: Is work fun now?
MW: Oh yeah, I love my job now. Because my job is comedy.
GM: But you could still get in a grind being on a daily show, I imagine. They say do what you love, but then often that makes it not as fun because now there's a lot of pressure on you.
MW: I don't agree with that. First of all, I love pressure. I've had shitty jobs so to just get to go to work, a job you like, doing a thing that you want to do, is great. In comedy you spend a lot of time at first not getting paid for it, and when you finally do you're like, Oh, this is great, I'm getting to do everything I wanted and it's also giving me money. It's kinda crazy.
GM: You're not really the person to say you spent a lot of time not getting paid for comedy, though. There are people that do it for a decade or longer who don't get paid.
MW: Yeah, but I did work at a job where I was working twelve to fourteen hours a day, six to seven days a week and doing comedy at night. It's not like I was just given something.
GM: No, no, I'm not suggesting that. It's more amazing that you earned it. How did you get from doing improv and standup to pretty quickly getting a job writing on a network show?
MW: I was doing improv and eventually switched over to standup because I didn't like how after an improv show you were just done with it. It was just over. So I'm going to start creating something I can keep working on. So I started getting into standup. I really liked that. Then after a couple years of that, I got hired at Late Night with Seth Meyers. I think it was a combination based on my standup and my Twitter. That was just good timing more than anything, I think.
GM: Was it easy to transition into that job?
MW: I think the hardest thing at first was balancing writing during the day and still doing spots at night. I essentially would go to work at 9 and end around 7 or 8, and then I would do spots until midnight or one. That was adjusting my brain so I could work on stuff for the show and then stuff for me and not be exhausted. That was the hardest part, I think. But you get used to it. It's sort of just like training for a race.
GM: Do you have a regular spot on The Daily Show?
MW: What do you mean, like as a contributor?
MW: Just whenever there's a topic I think would be funny to joke about.
GM: And you'll come and do a desk bit rather than a field piece.
MW: Oh, yeah, yeah, I don't do field pieces.
GM: There are a lot of great women comics coming to the festival. Women are doing pretty well in comedy; not so well in presidential politics. I see you talk a lot about Trump on Twitter.
MW: I had a bunch of Clinton jokes. Anything for Twitter is just jokes, but in my set if I'm doing political stuff, I try to write jokes where it doesn't matter who you support or voted for, you would still find funny. Because if you go too far in one direction, you've alienated potentially half your audience. I wouldn't want to do that.
GM: You wouldn't want to alienate Trump supporters?
MW: No, because you never know why someone voted for Trump. There's a good portion of people that voted for Trump because it was a Hail Mary pass. They might not have had jobs for years and they need food on the table and they thought, This is different and I'm desperate. So you can't blame those people for wanting something to change.
GM: Do you think comedy is going to get more political?
MW: I think it's going to go one of two ways: I think there's people that will get more political, and I think there's people that will kind of be anti-political, like a relief from politics. I think there's some people that'll be like, Hey, this can be our little vacation away from any of that nonsense.
GM: And with so much ripe, topical stuff out there, the odds of stepping over and doing something other people are doing is greater.
MW: Yeah. To get a really good Trump joke, you have to be very unique. If Twitter hasn't already done it, there's probably another comic who has. If it's coming from your very specific point of view, you can probably get one that works, but it's a tall order.
GM: You must be pinching yourself. You're living the dream.
MW: Yeah. I mean, I'm terrified every day that it's going to all fall out from under me or I'll get hit by a bus or something. But it really, really is, to do a job I love during the day and at night I get to go all over the country and the world. I feel very, very lucky. Because I know plenty of people that are incredibly funny that have not been as fortunate as me and I can find no reason why. There's a bunch of really good joke writers and really standups out there. I really hope everyone gets the opportunity.
GM: Do you just live in the moment of what you're doing or do you have long-term goals and aspirations?
MW: Kind of a combination of both. I always just want to be getting better and becoming a better standup and a better joke writer. Maybe someday have my own show. But you never know what's going to happen. If you had told me when I was working in a bank that I was going to be a comedian, I would have said you're a liar.
GM: What will you be talking about in Vancouver?
MW: I'd say a lot of broad social issues. The show goes from kinda broad social issues to more and more personal. Near the end it's more about me. We'll cover a lot of fun stuff. Some politics, some terrorism stuff, some dating stuff. You know, the whole gamut.
GM: Is it the same show you took to Edinburgh?
MW: It's a version of that show. It's definitely ordered differently and has a bunch of new jokes since then and some I've taken out. And a lot of the Clinton stuff I was doing I don't do anymore because, you know, she didn't win.
GM: That would be piling on.
MW: (laughs) Yeah. Let the lady have some time.
GM: That was a pretty successful run, I hear, in Scotland.
MW: Yeah, it was great. I was very, very pleasantly surprised. I have heard a lot of horror stories about that festival, mostly because it's so long and you're away from home. But I was very, very happy. It was a really wonderful time.
GM: When was that exactly?
GM: Oh, so just this past August.
MW: Yeah. It was a great experience. And Scotland is so beautiful. I had no idea.
GM: I know. I wanna go back.
MW: I know, me too. It's great.
GM: Have you travelled elsewhere in the world?
MW: Yeah, I just did a run of shows in London. Hopefully I'll get to do a bunch more.
GM: Your name is getting out there so people will come.
MW: Yeah, that's what I'm hoping. I always worry – and I don't know if it'll ever go away – will people come to the show?
GM: Just perform for those who do come. There'll be people at the show here, I'm sure. At least me. I'll be there. So you might be performing to one person, but that's okay.
MW: (laughs) As long as you're a good laugher, that's fine.
GM: Ooh, I'm not. I'm sorry. But in my head I'm going, 'That's really funny.'
MW: Oh great. Well, that's not necessarily helpful in the moment but... (laughs)
GM: It'll make you sweat but it'll probably make you better.
MW: Yeah, yeah.
GM: Okay, Michelle, thanks a lot.
MW: Thank you. Have a good day.