Lili Michelle (@lilsmichelle) is an Iranian stand-up, writer, and actor originally from Toronto but now based out of Brooklyn. She has been featured on BuzzFeed, HuffPost, Elite Daily, and Sirius XM.
This week, Lili and I talked immigrant households, annoying body hair, and watching mafia movies with your dad.
What made you pursue comedy?
I was always a fan of stand-up, but I didn’t realize it could be a career until I moved to New York for college and started hanging around comics. I lived with two comics who inspired me so much and helped me overcome my fears of actually doing what I wanted to do. I was around comedy for two years before I actually bit the bullet and started going to mics, but it really was a secret where only a select few knew I really wanted to do it before I actually did it. Then I came out of the comedy closet and I’ve never regretted it.
Since I was very young, I was always a huge fan of mafia movies. My dad and I would watch them together, while my mom and brother never understood the fascination we had. So when The Irishman came out, it was obvious we would watch it together. And and when we did, the pattern of all these mafia movies just sort of clicked in my head. I started drafting this tweet for a couple minutes during the film, read it to my dad, and we cried laughing, because we’ve essentially been watching the same movie over and over again. Which explains why my mom and brother got so sick of it. To this day, it’s one of my favorite tweets because it reminds me of every mafia movie I’ve watched with my dad and how much fun we’ve had obsessing over the same plot line for decades. I mean, what would we do if Uncle Tony didn’t teach us the ropes?
Has Twitter impacted the way you write or tell jokes? Has social media changed your sense of humor at all?
Twitter has definitely impacted the way I write jokes and think about comedy. I wouldn’t say tweets are jokes, but they can be embedded into jokes to make them stronger. Twitter also made me realize what people relate to and how to summarize or get to the point quickly. Everything is online and nothing is private, so for me personally, of course my sense of humor became more raunchy and blunt. But I think it was always there, and social media just got me there quicker.
My family is very foreign, and there are certain things that they don’t fully understand or even know of, like a Hitachi magic wand. So when my mom saw my vibrator over the holidays and thought it was a back massager, I lost my mind. It was truly so terrifying and hilarious, I couldn’t keep it to myself. So while it’s my most popular tweet, it’s also the most traumatic. In addition to the younger generation dealing with their older parents not understanding things, I think a lot of kids who grew up in immigrant households had similar experiences with different items, which maybe is why this tweet did well. There’s truly something for everybody. In my family’s case, it’s my vibrator.
You tweet about your family a lot. Do you incorporate your family life into your stand-up at all? Is your family supportive of your comedy?
I’m obsessed with talking about my family and how absolutely insane they are. I love them to death, but they live a different life than me where they’re very private and aren’t on social media and they don’t have any desire to be public. Which has been great for me, because I don’t want them to see my tweets or stand-up.
My parents are immigrants, and my brother and I moved from Canada to the U.S. when we were young, so that resulted in a lot of very funny stories that can’t not be told onstage. It shaped who I am. And my stand-up is all about my life, so of course I incorporate them into my comedy. They’re supportive of my comedy in the way that you’re supportive of your favorite band when they experiment on their latest album: They’ll still buy it and love you, but they would definitely prefer if I went back to my roots.
What is your dream career trajectory? What do you ultimately want to do in the comedy realm?
My dream is to write for TV and eventually create my own show, while constantly doing stand-up and going on the road. I’d also love to live half in New York and half in L.A., just because I do love both comedy scenes and hate winter. Ideally, I would want to be known for my stand-up and writing more than anything. Ultimately, I do think working in comedy is a privilege that I would be really lucky to do for the rest of my life. Any opportunity that comes my way is something I’d be honored to do. And with that being said, please give me a job.
As a Middle Eastern woman with a lot of body hair, I grew up very ashamed that I had to constantly wax and shave my entire body just to feel feminine. But as I got older, I realized that it doesn’t make me less feminine, it just makes me human. When I realized that I wasn’t alone in this and that most women have a lot of body hair, I let it bring me closer to the community rather than letting something like a mustache bring me down. Because at the end of the day, it’s so much more fun to make light of it in a fun way than to feel alone: Like, you wax my mustache and I’ll wax yours.
Anything else we should do for you in case of coma? Need your search history wiped or something?
The only thing that needs to be erased from my search history is how many times I look at my own Twitter and the content of my tweets. But honestly, please just take care of my facial hair. Thread my eyebrows, wax my mustache, and pluck the one stingy chin hair that shows up every couple weeks because if that baby grows? Oh boy, I’ll be pissed when I wake up.
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