The Evolution of Iliza Shlesinger

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Iliza Shlesinger is changing. In the past year the 33-year-old comedian and only woman to win Last Comic Standing has evolved comedically, professionally, and personally. In her newest Netflix special Confirmed Kills Iliza makes a conscious effort to create a digestible course on feminism that elevates women while simultaneously is inclusive to men. “I felt a responsibility to say something first and foremost funny, but also on the side of women. It has nothing to do with man-bashing. Guys find this funny too.” Career-wise, Iliza is expanding her reach with her ABCd series Forever 31, a recently-greenlit late-night show on Freeform, and a new book called Girl Logic, due out in 2017. She’s also watching her language (no more calling women “whores”) and dropping her last name. I talked to Iliza about her growth as a comedian and human, the problem with mermaids, and why she has the best fans in all of comedy.

How long have you been working on the material for Confirmed Kills?

It’s funny you ask that. You know how Facebook does those memories things where it shows you, “Here’s something random you did eight years ago,” and it pops up with a picture? This one popped up with a mini-tour that I did last year. It was an absolute 14-day gauntlet, 12 cities in 14 days. I remember working on this material then and that was a year ago.

As you’ve developed as a comic you’ve gotten more and more into the issues of gender, sexuality, and feminism. Have there been specific things that have happened over the last year that shaped this new material?

For me it was more of an evolution of my own thought process. I’m known for being this girl whisperer and making fun of girls, while still being right there with them. This material evolved naturally, but I also decided at a certain point that if you’re just making fun of people – even with love and good intention – you almost become part of the problem. I felt a responsibility to say something first and foremost funny, but also on the side of women. It has nothing to do with man-bashing. Guys find this funny too. But I wanted to let girls know, “Hey, you don’t have to call yourself a slut. You don’t have to accept things the way they are.” I know what it feels like to be catcalled and treated unfairly. I think it’s important that women have other women they can rely on…as long as they’re funny.

Can you think of a specific example in your comedy where you have changed your opinion or point of view on a subject?

When you’re in your twenties you’re not fully equipped to comment on a ton of things. There are plenty of very smart people in their twenties, but as a comic everything is about honesty and talking about your reality. Whatever I was talking about then is what I was going through and that’s very valid. I have a joke – I want to say it was in War Paint – where I talk about how women look when we walk through a club and all hold hands. I said when we all hold hands it’s a “chain of whores.” The word whores is very funny. It gets a laugh and women laugh at it. Nobody ever came down on me for it. But in examining my word choice – while I don’t apologize for it – it’s not a word I would choose to use now. There’s an example of being part of the problem. I’m assigning a label to a group of women and that doesn’t help the conversation. It only helps promote bad stereotypes. I won’t do that again. I’ll make other mistakes, but I won’t make that one again.

I was amused by your stance on mermaids in the new special.

People are like, “Who are you to tell women they can’t be mermaids?” I think it’s very innocent, but I’m looking at it as a sociologist without a degree and I’m saying that what you’re propagating is that a mermaid is a creature that was created because sailors were horny and wanted to fantasize about something: a woman who has no mobility on land. The Little Mermaid was pretty helpless. She was a hoarder. You’re kind of saying, “I want to be helpless, pretty, and kind of an object.” For some women that’s fine. It’s fun to be an object once in awhile. I like wearing short skirts. Whatever. You’re allowed to enjoy your own sexuality, but I think we can do a little bit better than mermaids. Maybe sirens.

Yeah, something that has the power to wreck men’s lives.

Exactly! That’s hysterical. It was just a joke and just my take on it, but the more I thought about it I realize there are so many women trying to be whimsical and creepy like, “I’m a mermaid.” It’s like, “You’ve got to get back to work. You work in HR.”

Your dog Blanche makes an appearance in the special. That was a great intro to your set.

Yes! We had a dress made for her. I like how I’m like, “Mermaids are idiots,” but I had a dress made for my dog.

When you were introduced in this special you were only introduced by your first name. Are you…

Finally, somebody picked up on that. Yes, I’m dropping Shlesinger.

Really?

I’m dropping it as best I can. People know me as Iliza Shlesinger. Both names are pretty unique. I would have dropped Shlesinger a long time ago if I had become famous quicker. It’s not that I’m like, “I’m Cher now.” It’s just a really long last name. I’m tired of it being mangled and it isn’t as if there’s another Iliza doing comedy that I’m going to get confused with. We’ll see if it stands on its own. It also always gave me a pain when somebody misspelled it. I don’t think anyone will be sad to see it go. I may have hurt my father’s feelings. He’s got a lot of mileage out of that last name. But I’m looking to get rid of it in any way possible. I thought I would marry a nice non-Jewish man and have a last name like Smith, but I don’t know if that’s in the cards.

I saw that you’re working on a pilot with Ellen DeGeneres’s production company. Do you have any news on that project?

No, I don’t have any news on that. We’re still waiting. But I just struck a late-night deal with Freeform, which is who bought the script from me and Ellen DeGeneres.

You have an amazing connection with your fans. One of the most interesting things is the amount of DIY merch that your fans create and wear to your shows. What’s your favorite piece of homemade fan merch that you’ve seen?

Let me start by saying this: I’m very lucky and I guess unique in that regard. I don’t know of any other comics that have that type of a fan base. It’s all so personal and touching. I’ve had people make oil paintings of Blanche, which to me is touching. Inside jokes are always nice, but the fact that people bring things for my dog…like somebody knit her a scarf so she wouldn’t be cold in Canada the other week. I do this thing called Day’s Wages where I give her one grain of rice a day as her payment. Someone gave me a jar of 365 grains of rice and said it’s her year’s wages. The fact that anybody would take the time to consume my art, interpret it, then make me a gift about it is so beyond touching.

The Evolution of Iliza Shlesinger