Natasha Vaynblat (@natashavaynblat) is a stand-up comedian based in NYC. She currently works as a creator for Comedy Central Digital and does improv at UCB with her team What I Did for Love. She has two dogs that she kisses on the mouth.
This week, Natasha and I talked ’90s Nickelodeon shows, mosquito abstinence, and thrifting clothes from your neighbor’s porch.
I started as a character performer, so my brain naturally processes the news through characters. When I saw the internet freaking out about how Toy Story 4’s Andy looked younger, my first thought was, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a plastic surgeon for cartoons?”
Do you think being funny on Twitter has benefited your IRL comedy in any way? Do you ever try out material on Twitter before doing it onstage?
Totally. I think it pushes me to have more one-liners. When I’m onstage I rarely do one-liners, so it’s a great muscle to work online. So I try one-liners on Twitter and then if they do well, I put them in my stand-up. I’ve also found that doing characters is much more fun online than onstage. Recently, I’ve been doing topical characters inspired by whatever news story is trending that day. And it feels so liberating to throw up a one-minute character on Twitter that speaks to whatever is happening. There was an article a little while ago about how scientists discovered that playing Skrillex for mosquitos caused them to stop having sex. And I immediately wanted to hear from those scientists: What were the other experiments?!?! What do bugs like to have sex to? So I made a quick Twitter video about a scientist going through the songs that make various bugs get horny. Some Skrillex fans found it and posted about it, which was a delight. Which was perfect because I don’t know any Skrillex fans IRL.
So, your day job is at Comedy Central and you perform comedy after-hours. Do you ever find time for hobbies that aren’t comedy-related?
My days are pretty packed, so most nights I come home and immediately go to bed. But I think as a comedian it’s really important to do things outside of comedy. You have to have experiences to write about, and seeing comedy is too limited of an experience. So I say yes to a lot of random events or hangouts because I might get material from it. I recently went to a dessert party in a warehouse in Queens. Yeah, I know. It was super odd, and now I’m working on a bit about it. I also have a sewing machine and have taken a few classes. I love clothes and have a lot of opinions about them. I get most of my clothes from thrift stores and from this woman who is the same size as me and lives on my street who keeps purging clothes. I keep meaning to leave a note saying thank you because I’m pretty sure I’m the only one taking her clothes.
Every morning I’m on the subway during rush hour in a packed subway car, and I find it so odd to be in such tight quarters with absolute strangers. I spend a lot of time thinking about how intimate it is to spend my mornings and evenings nudged next to complete strangers.
What got you into doing stand-up, even though you started out as a character performer?
I’d always wanted to do stand-up and honestly kept putting it off because it felt like the most intimidating. Stand-up is by far the most vulnerable, so it took me a long time to feel comfortable being so personal onstage. I started out doing improv and, once I started feeling more confident, I wrote sketch and naturally gravitated toward character sketches because I would always write these kind of absurd or oddball women. And once I felt comfortable doing that, I finally tried stand-up. Mind you, the reason I started doing comedy was because I loved stand-up. I started watching it in high school and was hooked. But when I first started doing stand-up, I tried doing it as a character. And it bombed, oh did it bomb. So then I would do characters without wigs and costumes, closer to me, and that went a bit better. And finally I got the courage to speak as myself.
You were brought up in a very Russian family. Does that inform your sense of humor at all?
Completely! I think we all come from different perspectives, but being someone who still remembers her childhood in Russia, I find I can step back and observe American behavior pretty well. As a kid I had to actively study how American kids were behaving to fit in. So I learned to smile and nod a lot and to talk with my hands. All of these things I learned. They feel natural now, but for a while I felt like someone “playing” American. And I still find myself being perplexed at American small talk and how quickly people agree in conversations. A large chunk of my stand-up currently is about how I come off as American but deep down feel very Russian. As a kid I was desperate to hide the fact that I was an immigrant; all I wanted to do was fit in. But now I’m so grateful for it. That perspective is a gift.
I’m absolutely a dog person in the true sense of the word. I have two dogs. But I also love the TV show The Secret World of Alex Mack that aired on Nickelodeon in the ’90s. I think about my dogs and that show all the time, definitely several times a day. This was my way of trying to unite those two thoughts.
Tell us about your dogs! Please, I need to know about your sweet baby dogs!!
THANK YOU FOR ASKING! I try not to force dog conversations on people because I don’t want to be that pet owner who won’t stop showing you photos of their pets. But since you asked, THEY ARE THE LOVES OF MY LIFE!!!! We got the first dog about six years ago and we are his third owner. His name is Clarence and he’s an incredibly high-energy terrier. His first two owners thought he was too insane, so we took him in. And then we got the second dog, Harvey, as a buddy for Clarence. They are buddies, but Harvey is the opposite of Clarence. Harvey wants nothing more than to sleep on the couch while Clarence wants to take apart the couch and put it back together. I honestly think he is smart enough to do it; he just needs thumbs. Side note: I want to know what dogs are dreaming. If I were a scientist, that would be my only research: dog dreams. What’s the deal? Do they also have stress dreams where they show up naked to work, but it’s more about not having teeth to eat their delicious bone or something? This is the greatest mystery of our lifetime and it’s shocking to me we aren’t throwing all the MacArthur Genius Grant money at it.
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