Iliza Shlesinger: Aggressively Whimsical

Ask award-winning comedian, actor, writer, producer, author and podcast host Iliza Shlesinger how she’d describe her stand up at this point, and she sums it up in just two words: aggressively whimsical.

“I say strong things on behalf of women,” Shlesinger told Revue while on tour in Europe last month. “I pace a lot, and sometimes I act like a goblin, or a gorilla - so I felt aggressively whimsical was appropriate.”

Currently on her “Hard Feelings” Tour – coming to DeVos Performance Hall Sept. 9 – Shlesinger will bring her scathing blend of social commentary and physical comedy to the stage, following the release of her latest Netflix special, “Hot Forever,” last fall.

Her sixth special for the streaming service, “Hot Forever” marked a decade of collaboration, going all the way back to her first special, “War Paint,” in 2013. Her work with Netflix also includes five other standup specials, 2020’s “The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Comedy Show,” the romantic comedy “Good On Paper,” which she wrote and starred in, and the action-comedy “Spenser Confidential,” where she co-starred alongside Mark Wahlberg.

Shlesinger first broke out when she won the 2008 season of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” becoming the first woman and youngest winner on the popular standup competition reality show.

Earlier this year she launched “Iliza’s Locals,” a three-part comedy special featuring some of the best up-and-coming comics in Los Angeles, where she puts the spotlight on new voices in the ultra-competitive L.A. scene that helped make her.

“I just think it’s important to do for others what no one did for me,” Shlesinger said. “I think I came up in a very competitive time in comedy, and now that I’m at a certain level I want to use my platform to help people I think are funny.”

Having coined the term “Elder Millennial” in her 2018 special of the same name, Shlesinger concedes that the comedy world has changed, especially online, since she first started getting attention back on MySpace in the late 2000s, but adds that success still is, and has always been, about putting in the hard work.

“Take it or leave it, but anyone who is genuinely funny and works hard will get ahead,” Shlesinger said. “Everything else is just an excuse. Do the work. The work is a relentless pursuit of stage time. Without that, you can’t have an act, and without an act you have no point of view and without that… there is no product.”

While taking time out to help new comics and revisit her past, Shlesinger’s own career continues to hit new milestones, including performing in New Zealand just one week before coming to Grand Rapids this month.

“It never ceases to amaze me that the weird thought I wrote down on a napkin at The Comedy Store got me all the way to a show in places from Kuala Lumpur to Hungary to Iceland,” Shlesinger said. “I stick to what’s relatable between humans, with a dash of American flare, and it’s always a good time.”

During the pandemic, Shlesinger aimed to help flatten the curve by co-hosting “Don’t Panic Pantry,” with her husband, award-winning chef/author Noah Galuten. Streamed live on her Instagram and Facebook, the show had more than 250 episodes, landed on national morning shows like “Today” and “The Talk,” and resulted in “The Don’t Panic Pantry Cookbook” published earlier this year. 

“Look – I’m very proud to be an American, but it’s always good to be reminded that other people are living great lives in other countries and doing things differently,” Shlesinger said about getting back out on tour internationally after the pandemic. “It’s nice to get perspective on how other people live, other people’s struggles and how other countries see the United States. Because sometimes Americans are just number one – at saying we’re number one. But no matter where I go, I’m always happy to come home.”

When she’s back home Iliza spends her time raising her new daughter Sierra Mae, and currently hosts her hit advice podcast, “Ask Iliza Anything!” where she dispenses her blunt, honest feedback to fans’ questions on life, love and lots more.

As a union member she’s also supporting the big,  ongoing strikes  for SAG-AFTRA and WGA, and while she’s still working on the standup stage, she supports the cause 100 percent.

“I stand with both of my unions, and this fight is important, and the results of it will shape the industry forever,” Shlesinger said. “I’m part of many projects at various stages we had to halt, but solidarity will be what wins this battle.”

Iliza: Hard Feelings Tour
DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW
Sept. 9, 7 p.m., $39.50+, (616) 742-6500