Lynne Koplitz, the Untouchable Beast

Talking to Lynne Koplitz is like talking to your own personal comedy aunt. Auntie Lynne, as she calls herself, will tell you wild tales of nights at the Cellar, recall hilarious and heartwarming stories of working with Joan Rivers, and give you advice that she learned in the trenches. In her new Netflix special, Hormonal Beast, Koplitz lays out what it’s like to be a menopausal woman in her 50s, and what everyone around her needs to know as well. She doles out truths, tips, and tricks with a filthy flair that makes you feel like you’re getting a true education. I talked to Koplitz about how a rough-and-tumble childhood shaped her standup, how not being considered a woman by her peers is actually a compliment, and how a successful run of shows with Louis C.K. led to her landing her own Netflix special.

[I had just told Koplitz a long, elaborate story about climbing the exterior walls of the West Virginia Penitentiary as a kid.]

We come from a time when kids used to do things that were dangerous for fun. I was talking to my nieces recently and I said, “Do y’all have any friends who ever burned the woods down?” They were like, “What is she talking about?” I said, “These kids are growing up soft.” My sister started laughing. I was like, “We always had at least one friend who burned something down.” They were like, “Mom, what is Aunt Lynne talking about?” There was always some kid who played with matches and burned something down.

Oh, yeah. I knew a kid who burned his whole house down. He used to sit in his attic and strike matches and watch them burn out. I guess one time he forgot one.

We had a game we called “Skateboard, Frank, and Dog.” One kid would get on a skateboard and tie a rope around their waist. It was tied to – ready for this? – a stray dog’s neck. Then another kid would run with a hot dog. The kid on the skateboard would get a ride while the dog chased the kid with the hot dog. I was the kid with the hot dog once, and someone let go of the stray and it came up and bit me. I was limping around for a week and my mom said, “What’s wrong with you?” I said, “Nothing.” She said, “Pull your skirt up.” I pulled my skirt up and I had lines running all down my leg. It was all infected.

We were talking earlier about childhood bullying and standing up for yourself. It’s beautiful how childhood honor and respect plays out sometimes.

Yeah, but it’s not like that now. When we were kids it was a prison yard. It was the same rules that they have in jail: watch your ass, try to get as much gum and candy that you can trade for shit, get a good friend in the yard, and try to stay alive. These kids don’t have it now. Everything is a safe space with no bullying. We didn’t have a safe space.

Exactly. I think I’m better for it. I don’t mean to sound like one of those old folks who thinks that kids should be bullied and knocked around. In some ways bullying now is scarier for kids because you can’t just go home and lock your door and have it go away because your bullies can haunt you 24 hours a day online. I think the mental bullying might be worse than the physical. But I definitely learned a lot from being bullied.

It’s so much worse now. I have to say, I know I’m better for it. I’m much more alert. My comedy came out of that. One day I was watching Cyrano de Bergerac on TV because I was weird like that. He was making fun of himself and I was like, “Oh, that’s what I’m going to do.” They would make fun of me and beat me up at the bus stop. I sat down and made a list of all the things that were funny about me, that everyone made fun of, that hurt my feelings. I thought if I could be mean and clever about it, what could they do? They can’t say it if I beat them to it. I went out to the bus stop and did ten minutes on “my hair is so frizzy” and “my butt is so big” and made the kids laugh. They’d say, “Hey Frankie” – I had one big eyebrow so they called me Frankie – “Come here and talk about your butt.” I basically entertained to keep myself from getting beat up.

You basically started comedy as your own roast writer.

Yeah, eventually when I started being known as the entertainment at the bus stop I began branching out and making fun of other kids. The kids that had been mean to me, I started writing mean things about them, handling them with crowd work basically. As comedians we’re amazing profilers. We see things that no one else sees because we’re up there every night looking at people, studying them when we’re in airports, rest areas…we’re alone a lot. We have nothing but time to contemplate behavior. I think we profile people better than some FBI agents.

When you were giving me advice on my career you said, “If you don’t fail. you can’t be great.” Is that your general outlook for most things in life?

I think failure often feeds…when you want to do something that’s worth doing that everybody in the status quo can’t just get up and do, you have to steady yourself and have great faith to persevere no matter what happens. If you don’t have faith and you don’t really believe and desire that you can do this, it’s going to break your spirit. It’s going to break something in you badly. Not a lot shakes me other than the idea of not reaching my own potential. But words don’t hurt me. I say it all the time, but if you’re going to swing at me you want to connect. There’s a famous musician who comes into the Comedy Cellar. He was in there one night, joking around, and he made fun of me. This was before I knew who he was. He was with one of the guys and they turned around and said, “Oh my God, no! That’s Lynne. She’s not a woman.” He was like, “What?” They said, “She’s a comic.” I turned around and said, “Who is this motherfucker?” and just ripped into him. Everybody was like, “Oh, man,” and they told me who he was. I was like, “I don’t care.” The other comics told him, “You have to be careful. Some of these women aren’t women. She may look like a woman, but she’s not a woman. She’s a vampire like the rest of us. Be careful or she’ll bite you.”

That’s hilarious, but how does it make you feel? There’s something very flattering about it, but it also could be potentially terrible to not be considered a woman.

I find it flattering when comedians are saying it because it means they’re not seeing me as a “female comic.” They’re just seeing me as a comic: “She’s a beast.” That’s what we all strive to be – untouchable beasts that can go out and be funny in any situation with any person.

You have a reputation of being a comic’s comic and you’ve earned that without releasing a lot of specials over your career. Why did you feel that now was the right time and that Netflix was the right place?

Netflix just kind of found me. It was a blessing. Weirdly enough, I’m kind of religious. I mean I talk about blowjobs onstage, but I actually pray a lot. Louis [C.K.] called me and asked me to open for him at Madison Square Garden. First he asked me to be on Horace and Pete. I didn’t have to audition. He wrote me a part. I know Louis from the Comedy Cellar, but I don’t have his number or anything. I was like, “Wow, you wrote this for me? Alan Alda, Jessica Lange, all these people are in this and you wrote me a part?” He was like, “You’re a rockstar. Kid. I wrote you a part.” Then I get the call to do Madison Square Garden. I’m thinking, “Oh my God, am I ready to do this? Well, I have to be because I need the money and it’s Louis.” I went home after the show and thought, “That was fun,” and scratched it off my bucket list. Three weeks later I get a call: “Can you be at the borough airport in four hours to go to Chicago with Louis?” I said yeah, but meanwhile I’ve got this elderly dog and I’m asking my friends for help. Everyone was like, “Go! Go! We’ve got you.” Next thing I know I start getting calls to do the tour more.

I was in DC with Louis and he was doing his Netflix special there. Robbie [Praw, Director of Comedy Programming at Netflix] was in the audience, who I’ve known for years through Just For Laughs. We get a call from Netflix saying, “Does Lynn want to do a comedy special and does she have a problem doing it around menopause?” I was already doing jokes around menopause. I guess they were trying to reach another demographic. I said, “Listen, you can call it Chick with a Dick if you’re going to pay me. I don’t care. I just want to do an hour.” I’d wanted to do one for ten years. They said, “We have a couple weeks. Why don’t you put something together and show it to us.” I called everyone I knew and said, “Will you please come see me at Gotham Comedy Club??” I put together an hour and two days after sending it we got the call that said, “Okay, great.” I was like, “If we’re going to make this about menopause, let’s really do it.” My mom always said, “If you’re going to be a bear be a grizzly.” I said, “Can you get me industrial fans? I want this to be my dream rehearsal space. I like to drink, so let’s put a bar onstage. Let’s get beautiful decanters. I want to be comedy Beyonce. I want to be comedy Adele. If I had a comedy rehearsal space and a rider what would it look like?”

I watched a lot of Designing Women and Golden Girls as a kid, so I’ve always enjoyed seeing a mature, put-together woman get a little loose when she’s boozing. That’s the feeling I got from your special. You were like a boozy sage who was telling me things that no one else would be able to tell me.

She’s a woman who has been around the bend. She’s not trash. She’s just your auntie – your saucy, classy, boozy auntie who tells it like it is. I’m Barbie years later after she’s seen some things. Ken is gay and she’s got cankles, but she’s still got the fancy dresses.

Photo by Cara Howe.

Lynne Koplitz, the Untouchable Beast