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How Naomi Ekperigin Put Together Her Late-Night Debut

Naomi Ekperigin Photo: Vulture and John Sciulli/Getty Images for Vulture Festival

Naomi Ekperigin, one of the 20 comedians on Vulture’s last list of comedians you will and should know, co-host of the Couples Therapy podcast, and a former writer on Broad City and Great News, is so very funny. She has an inviting, conversational style that makes you feel like you’re in on the joke and wish you had the same enemies, so you could talk behind their backs together. And she brings exactly that whether you’re actually having a conversation or she’s making her first late-night appearance.

Ekperigin’s late-night debut, on Late Night With Seth Meyers in fall 2016, and the jokes therein are the subject of this week’s episode of Good One, Vulture Comedy’s podcast about jokes and the people who write them. Listen to the episode and read a short excerpt of the discussion below. Tune in to Good One every Monday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

How did you get Late Night?
I had to submit a tape through my reps. It actually was really rushed. This was September 2016. I had just recorded my Comedy Central Half Hour in June of 2016 and it was coming out in October. I didn’t know what material they were using. So I had just really put all my good shit out. End of June, I was like, Okay I’m spent. I’m starting from scratch. I’m back to the beginning. So even this joke was something I’d probably been doing about a month, a month and a half. There was no way I wasn’t going to do it, though, especially with my Half Hour coming out two weeks later, because they always want to have a little something to promote, whether it’s your album, you’re performing in Anaheim, or whatever. But I really did rush to put it together.

Did you have to approach it differently than other stand-up sets?
It’s five minutes. I’m a long-winded person. How do you show people who you are in such a short amount of time, especially when that may not be your audience? The Comedy Central Half Hour comes on Friday at midnight. People who watch Broad City, a good chunk of them might be down. But the moms and dads — and I say that based on my own mother who stays up to watch the late-night shows — they may not be all here for you. I was conscious of taking a little bit of edges off of certain things. Even if you notice I say Old Navy jeans — when you and I talk, I say they’re made for a larger American. I didn’t say that in the Late Night set. Because I said, Honey, the larger Americans may be watching. I don’t want you shut down because you think I’ve called you fat, when there’s so much more for us to get into. I don’t have a lot of time to get into anything else, so I don’t want you to stuck on second 20.

It seems like your first goal was What are the jokes that represent me? as opposed to Let me think which is my most killer material. You were like, This is my introduction to people, I should introduce myself.
Exactly. Who is me? But then also, What’s the most concise of what I have? The work was What are bits and pieces that I can put together in five minutes that are strong jokes and let you know my personality? Because I was never someone who started stand-up to be a writer. When I get up onstage, it’s less about being like, “That was a well-constructed joke,” as much as like, “I like her.”

This set, I literally have 20 recordings of it. There was a time I probably had it down to four-and-a-half minutes. And then I got up there. I took a couple pauses. There’s a countdown clock right there in front of you. I kind of rushed a little bit, because it feels a little stiff and I can’t play with the audience. Then it was like, Okay, now I’m a minute and a half into what really should be the two-minute mark. Okay, now take your time here. I’m doing the set and so mindful of the time and trying to get everything to fit so tight.

You say you got it down to 4:30, but what does that mean? How does one get something down to 4:30?
You have to make the tape to begin with, so you can’t really give them a tape that’s superlong. It can be a little bit longer because they do have the option of saying, don’t do that joke or you can’t do that joke, for legal reasons, for verbiage reasons. I gave like a six-and-a-half-minute type joint, so then they can decide to pull something. It was like, “Oh yeah, we like that set. We’re going to have you, this is your date.” So now I just start getting up on as many shows as I can get up. This was in New York and I could do that. I could call in favors and be like, “Give me five, just give me five.” I was doing open mics! Some shows I would have a longer set I was already scheduled to do. I would do those five minutes, knock it out, and then I would add on other stuff I wanted to do.

It was just doing it over and over and timing it and timing it and just getting it very clear: Well, every time you do this, are the laughs coming in the exact same place? Are there moments where it feels like no one’s laughing? This line you thought was so funny, no one else is getting. Do I cut it?

Did you need to keep the Late Night producers updated?
You have to send in a transcript the week before. You have to type it all out. And then they send it off to their legal team. I remember being nervous because I was like, What if I don’t do exactly what I’ve written? I’m always switching up a word here and there. And it was like, As long as you don’t curse or go on a rant against big pharma, it’s fine.

What was your thinking the night of going into the set?
I wanted to really let myself have fun with it. Seth comes backstage and greets people. And I said, “Can I point to you during my set? Can I play with you?” And he was like, “Yeah, sure.” I got up there and I was like, You get one shot to do this and this is so done the same way every time. Do what you would do, which is you’ve got a fucking rich white boy sitting in the back, call him out! Call him out!

And you can’t practice that. You can’t go to a stand-up show and be like, “Just imagine Seth Meyers is over there.”
Exactly. I just had it in my head as, Ooh, that will be fun to do, if I have the strength to do it or the comfort to do it. And I said, If I can do it, I’ll do it. And I did. I got up there and it was not even that I was like, Oh, I got them, I’m feeling so great. It was more like, You do it once. Do your thing.

How did you feel afterwards?
It is so short. Five minutes is so fast. I was losing my mind for a month and then it’s over in five. I think when it was done, I was like, Okay. I was like, Oh, I wish I wasn’t so stiff. I wish I moved around. I definitely felt that in the moment. But I didn’t come off being like, I killed it. This is the greatest. It was like, I did what I had to do. I did what was asked of me.

You said the words you were planning on saying. You gave them the transcript. You followed it.
I followed the transcript. People laughed. I liked my outfit. Okay, you did it.

That’s being a professional comedian. It’s realizing every set does not have to be a celebration that you did stand-up. It’s doing a job.
I know. I’m not old by any means, but when I had dreams of being a comic, and then when I actually started comedy, those first few years, a late-night set was a big-ass deal. You know what I mean? I think I was more nervous, in a way, than I was for my Half Hour. One, with the late-night set, my mother was in the audience, so that always adds a little layer. But also, there’s something so institutional about it. We been seeing this since Carson. It’s like, I wore a fuckin’ black jumpsuit and some heels. It was just so much more a tradition.

Naomi Ekperigin Is Always So Funny