Wendy Steiner is a Brooklyn-based Jewish-Japanese comic. While the Los Angeles suburbs raised her, living in San Francisco and New York really aged her. Her comedic style can be described as dry warmth, which would really make more sense if she was from Arizona. She’s a set-up-punchline kind of gal with a Berkeley-educated sense of privilege and half-white guilt. Wendy’s got a pretty sweet day job at Refinery29, and she runs Weird But Nice Comedy Show at Halyards in Gowanus, where she tries to make free shows fun again, and brings snacks for everyone.
This week, Wendy talked to me about lotsa things, including overanalyzing things and writing fun wordplay!
I love bagels, and I love assigning meaning where there ultimately is none! I am that friend who always thinks something’s going on when there is probably nothing going on. I think I get bored, so I look for intrigue!
Do you overanalyze things regularly? Does this ever lead to mishaps/misinterpretations online?
YES! So much! Was that too much enthusiasm? I ask a lot of questions like that anddd I overcommunicate. I use a lot of variations on words like “anddd” or ALL CAPS, because my biggest fear is for my tone to come across wrong or to be misunderstood. I used to feel bad about how much I overthink but now I think it’s part of what makes me sensitive and aware of other people’s feelings, so I’m working on curbing it a little but I don’t want to get rid of it altogether. I also think I overthink jokes and try and find the perfect wording because I care, and I want to make excellent work. Was that too earnest?
Sometimes I just use Twitter to speak truth to power OR I float things to see if other people hold opinions I’m not sure are popular, but feel really true to me.
Are there any topics that you especially love to joke about?
I love joking about bagels and confidence. Bagels, because I love them, and confidence, kind of by accident! I had a friend come to a show recently and say, “I like how you’re doing a ‘confident woman’ persona!” I was pretty taken aback, but upon further review, I know what they mean. I noticed I like joking about being a confident woman with moments of deep, intense insecurity, because it’s honestly how I feel but also because I think it’s not what people are expecting. A great misdirection is to be like, SURPRISE! I do tend to overthink things, but that’s not always coupled with insecurity or nebbishness!
Sometimes I think I’m being clever, but there is no natural way to bring the topic up in convo and it wouldn’t even really work in standup. I’m fascinated with what thoughts resonate more in text than spoken out loud. Sometimes I get embarrassed or shy to do a joke in my set, so I’ll try it on Twitter, bc it requires less bravery.
Have you ever tweeted anything that you felt crossed a line? What topics, if any, feel off-limits to you?
I worry about lines a lot. I subtweeted a coworker once and deleted it. She noticed it, and then I felt bad. I was making fun of people saying “let’s circle back,” which I thought enough people say besides her that it was like I was making fun of a group of faceless people and not singling her out, but I think she felt singled out. I never want to make anyone feel bad, and does the world need one more riff on “circling back” that badly? If I feel I’m in the right, or I’m punching up, I will go for it. But I don’t want my jokes to have victims, I more want them to have survivors! I don’t think anything is off-limits as a rule, but some things are WAY harder to make funny. Occasionally, I try out some new jokes about my dead dad and they’re just so challenging to make funny. I get it! People worry about you when you tell those ones, so it takes really artful performers to land those.
I’ve noticed I like to use some tweets as like fan fic for my own life. I’m a daydreamer and I love puns, so sometimes I write a pun and then just sort of trail off, almost like I’m apologizing for having made the pun in the first place.
You tweet a lot of fun wordplay. Are they your favorite kind of jokes?
They are! I like that some people think they’re “uncool” or that they’re easy to come up with. Good ones are actually hard to craft (or they’re hard for me!) and they’re rare. I think the fact that they seem underappreciated AND allow me to make my life harder make them so delicious to me.
Karen Chee is a is a writer/performer who contributes regularly to The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.