Yaari Tal on Finding Comedy Within His Feelings

Yaari Tal. Photo: Kristina Stefanelli/Courtesy of Yaari Tal

Yaari Tal (@yaaaaaaaaari) is a Queens-born, Brooklyn-based comedian, improviser, pianist, and podcaster. His podcast Influenca, in which he interviews creative people about four songs that influence their artistic point of view, starts its second season this September. His other podcast Obnoxious Laughter, co-hosted with Spencer Moravek, will start again later in the fall. If you’re interested in seeing his other work or catching him in a show, you can subscribe to his mailing list here.

I wrote this one when I saw a big jacked guy on the train reading Sartre, and I thought it was silly because it feels so perfectionist — like he has to have a sculpted body and a perfect mind and show it off to everyone? I can be really hard on myself about my looks and my intelligence, so I think it was cathartic for me to turn something about this guy that I’m maybe jealous of (who is absolutely not perfect, because no one is perfect) into something that I am confident that I’m good at, which is dumb silliness.

Do you get most of your comedy ideas by noticing what’s happening around you, or do you sit down and brainstorm new ideas?
I get most of my comedy ideas from a dissonance in my feelings versus what I wish I were feeling. Like I feel something, then I judge myself for it not being the correct feeling. When I’m like a week past that dissonance, I figure out exactly where the lapse in logic is and heighten it as much as possible. Once I’ve kind of established whatever the funny thing I’m trying to say is, I rewrite lots of different joke structures, and I’ll mutter them under my breath on the train or while I’m walking around outside so that I know exactly how I’d want to say it. So I guess it’s a mix of brainstorming ideas that come from me noticing my own feelings.

I love low-effort memes, and I love the way that social media makes us feel connected and committed to people we don’t actually know anything about. I write a lot about loving and supporting my mutual followers because we all grew up learning that people may not be what they seem online (especially now in the days of everyone wanting to have their own personal brand online), and this feels like a purposeful subversion of that — like I will love and support these people whose relationship with me is defined by something that obscures the truth. Also, so many people online are openly depressed and feel lonely, and a reminder that someone notices and likes you feels nice, especially if you know that it’s couched in silliness.

A lot of comedians engage heavily with the news. What’s your ideal balance of jokes versus serious content?
I have such a hard time with political and topical humor because I get too caught up in my feelings around it and I can’t process until weeks later. (That’s also why I’m not great at capitalizing on memes.) I also think it’s really almost impossible to do political comedy in this day and age because there’s nowhere to heighten. Anything you might think of as an absurd joke is actually probably happening. Like there’s some game show now where people compete to pay off their student debt … that’s just obscene and upsetting to me because it’s not even a full step away from some Hunger Games type scenario (I haven’t seen The Hunger Games so idk if that’s a good metaphor haha). The political comedy that I like nowadays is the stuff that’s rooted in anger because it feels real.

I really like this because I really hate the intersection of brands and “wokeness” — like the CEO of Dr. Pepper doesn’t give a fuck about the plight of women at all, but he would totally say that Dr. Pepper was a woman if it meant that he would sell a couple more cans. But also, this is dumb because it’s from the point of view of someone who believes the brand.

What does your Twitter feed look like (i.e. comedians, news, etc.)?
My Twitter feed is a lot of my pals I’ve made online and comedians that I know. I also follow the major news outlets and some political organizations I’m a fan of, like IfNotNow. It also tends to be a lot of irony and absurdism. I get bummed out by a lot of stuff online, because I do think that there’s something to be said for the idea that people are way more hateful, hurtful, and cruel online than they would be in real life. And I also wish I didn’t get caught up in the moment-to-moment anger about whatever the hell some guy I don’t care about’s opinions are — like if I never heard a single thing about Alan Dershowitz again my life wouldn’t be any different, but I got invested in whatever dumb shit he said about being ostracized from Martha’s Vineyard, as if that matters for anything I actually care about. I follow a lot of leftist people and activists on Twitter also, and they fill me with hope about actions that are going on, but also can tend to get bogged down in the same inconsequential shit I do.

This is something that I guess is more of a critique of myself than anything else? I get frustrated with myself by my need to broadcast my feelings, because I wish I could just process this stuff quietly by myself, but I can’t. When I talk about my feelings with my friends, I can end up apologizing for not being able to do it on my own, and I guess couching this stuff in silliness is a way for me to feel stuff, then let myself feel weird about it, and then make it dumb as a breath of air to get out of it (I think Neal Brennan said something similar in his most recent special Three Mics, which is one of my favorite comedy specials of all time).

What kind of comedy do you do in addition to joking online?
I’ve been doing stand-up since 2014 and improv for 2015 — I’m currently on two great indie teams, Hot Cousin and Vaughn. I host three shows a month with my comedy partners, play piano for some musical improv groups, and DJ my old friend Yotam Tubul’s monthly charity show. I also have two podcasts, which are both currently on hiatus because of a very tough year personally I’ve had, where I couldn’t continue doing them.

How has the way you tweet changed over time, if at all?
I guess the way I’ve tweeted has changed over time because I am starting to learn my own voice, as opposed to emulating others. I went through a phase where I tried to write ironic political humor like the Chapo Trap House guys, but that style really doesn’t work for me because I don’t think I can sell irony with my voice. I think what works for me now is writing a joke or a tweet that I can hear myself say out loud. I feel like other people can tell when I’m following a trend versus when I’m doing something of my own thought process, so I try to be as authentic as possible in my voice, even when I’m talking about dumb stuff.

Karen Chee is a Brooklyn-based comedian who writes for The New Yorker, McSweeney’sand Shondaland, among other cool websites.

Yaari Tal on Finding Comedy Within His Feelings