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Good One Podcast: How Natasha Leggero Found Her Muse at Burning Man

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Burning Man is not only for VCs and Rosario Dawson. It also attracts people who spend the year looking forward to doing drugs while covered in dirt. It’s a place completely at odds with comedian Natasha Leggero and, especially, the version of Natasha Leggero she performs onstage. But after marrying fellow comic Moshe Kasher, the real-world Leggero, whose Comedy Central show Another Period has its third-season premiere on January 23, found herself wedded into the Burner subculture. And she had to write a joke.

That bit is the subject of this week’s episode of Good One, Vulture’s podcast about jokes and the people who tell them. Listen to the episode and read an excerpt from the transcript of the discussion below. Tune in to Good One every Monday on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

What made you want to do a joke about Burning Man?
Because it’s so counter to my character and my being. Unfortunately I married into Burning Man. It’s part of my marriage that I go. This will be my third time coming up, and my friend was like, “You’re officially a Burner.” I’m reluctant. The thing about comedy is, anywhere you can put yourself that doesn’t feel comfortable, that’s where jokes come.

Where did you begin when writing the joke?
It was the girl who Moshe introduced me to. And when I do that joke I still think, Did she really say that to me? She did, because she was just being a bitch. It was like when someone just says something to you and at the time you’re annoyed and pissed off and in a bad mood. You slowly process it. You bring it up a few more times, until you’re like, Oh wait, I can just totally get revenge on her and make fun of it onstage. Some of it I made up. Her name isn’t really Flapjack, but there are people at Burning Man named Flapjack, and I thought that was the stupidest name.

Do you have one?
Mine is “Moshe’s girlfriend.”

Do you feel that your comedy has an agenda?
If I had one, it would be to bring glamour and intelligence and sophistication back a little bit. People like Moshe are always like, “Oh sophistication is out,” but I feel like there’ll always be people who are drawn to that.

It’s interesting, because “highbrow” isn’t really a thing that most people are anymore. The highest art is basically prestige TV shows. Your act is like, “No, there’s painting!”
It’s hard when you go to college for so long. I was in acting school forever. It took me nine years to graduate college and I majored in theater criticism, so I was constantly seeing theater and critiquing it! Then you move to L.A. and nobody knows what vaudeville is! Then you have like, the Kardashians, and it just keeps happening.

Do you think of your onstage persona as a character?
I did this one-person show called Love Is for Poor People. I was like five years into comedy. I watched it, and I was talking with a British accent! I was like, “What!?” I didn’t realize it! It’s so hard to find the right tone for it. Because I want to do a little bit of a persona, but then I read some reviews for my album Coke Money that said, “It’s really great except for the first track where she’s channeling Thurston Howell III,” the rich man from Gilligan’s Island. But then some people are like, It’s so much better when you play a persona. It’s hard, because everybody has an opinion where you should go with it, and how into it you should be.

If you pay attention, you are subtly going in and out.
Right, well, when I do it at the top [of a set] it gets people ready, in a way, to not just think I’m some Silver Lake bitch who’s going to start making fun of stuff. That’s another step in my comedy that I figured out: Dressing up really helped, because then I could get away with a little more.

Doing a joke fully in character is your way of addressing that you know how you look and then you can be just be a version of it that is both yourself and this thing.
Yes. I do think that the cool thing about being a comedian is the best ones change over time. If you look at Sarah Silverman, she’s changed so much, and it’s very natural to her. For me, I spent so much of my stand-up not wanting to be married or have kids, and now I’m married and trying to have kids. You have to address that and it’s hard, because you can’t just go onstage and do old jokes that don’t reflect who you are anymore.

In your act, you often nod to your not-so-great upbringing, which is in contrast to your persona. Why is that important?
The main reason is because I need more stuff to talk about, and that’s a part of me, too! If you were to analyze it, it does fill out more of who I am, in a way — that I didn’t go to Harvard and I’m still this way. It’s also inspiring. Like, “You too can reinvent yourself, if you’re from the dregs of the country.”

You have taken that a step further with Another Period. It’s this show where you get to dress in these Gilded Age costumes, but then everything is the antithesis of what you’d expect from a person who dressed that way. What attracts you to that sort of contrast?
I’ve always been obsessed with high-status and low-status. In acting school we’d talk about it a lot. Some people can only play high-status or only play low-status. I’ve always been secretly fascinated by that. I like playing them both the same, and in Another Period we get to incorporate both. We’re very high-status people, but we have terrible morals. We’re from new, new money, so we don’t have class, we just have all the trappings of wealth. It’s a great encapsulation of being able to do both at the same time.

The Best Joke About Burning Man, From a Reluctant Burner