Michelle Wolf riled up the right wing (and a portion of liberal media) when she hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2018. After that, she got a Netflix series, and most recently, in December of 2019, she released her latest stand-up comedy special, Joke Show (hey, that would be a good name for this podcast!) on Netflix. Since the Correspondents’ Dinner in particular, Wolf has made a comedic practice of toying with and defying audience expectations. As we put it on this episode, she’s “more silly than what we think of as really pointed comedians but definitely more pointed than what we think of when we think of silly comedians.”
For her appearance on the new, improved, and weekly Good One — Vulture’s podcast about jokes and the people who tell them — Wolf talks about being told by a fan that otters rape baby seals, how women can be gross, and what “cancel culture” means to her. You can read some excerpts from the transcript below or listen to the full episode right here. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.
On her new post-White House Correspondents’ Dinner fans:
My biggest goal was to convert the people that were coming to see me from the Correspondents’ Dinner to just fans of my stand-up. Because there was a lot of people that were like, “Oh, she’s going to yell about how bad Trump is.” And I’m like, “That’s not what I do.” Hopefully I was able to hold on to as many of them as I could, just being like, “No, no, this is just funny. I’m just trying to be funny.”
A lot of them aren’t necessarily stand-up fans. My biggest issue with the audiences had been, I’ll get a lot of … particularly women, white women, that will go “Woo!” at premises throughout the show in a way where, first of all, I have to be like, “Okay, your woo!-ing is stepping on the punchlines.” But also, how have you not gotten the pattern yet that I’m almost definitely going to undercut it with the punchline? And it comes from a good place. It’s one of the worst heckles you can get, because they mean well. They’re trying to enjoy the show. And by woo!-ing, they’re trying to show you that they’re enjoying the show. And I’m like, Stop it! Listen. Stop and listen, and wait for the punchline so you’re not woo!-ing at a thing I just debunked, essentially.
It’s like they know laughing happens at a comedy show. But the part where they’re not laughing, they’re like, What do I do with my hands?
Yeah. How do I let her know that I’m still on board? Well, wait five seconds.
On when audiences go quiet:
My biggest thing has been letting there be quiet. For the longest time, it was like, Well, if the audience is quiet, they’ll figure out I’m not funny. And it’s like, No, they’re listening. They’re engaged.
Hopefully not — no more woo!-ing. I think I did it a little bit better in Joke Show, and hopefully I can continue to get better at it, where it’s like, Let them be quiet. Let them listen to you for a second and trust that they’ll stay on board. Because they do. It’s just my own insecurities.
On being seen as a “crazy liberal” comedian:
You have this idea of who I am because of the Correspondents’ Dinner. But I’m a joke writer. I love jokes. I will write the harshest, best joke I can. I would sacrifice any one of my values for a good joke. Like, I’ll flip on an issue if the joke’s good enough, yeah.
On having a “Muppety” voice:
Some people, when they hear me on podcasts or just talking in normal life, they’re like, “Oh, that’s not your stage voice. Is that a fake voice you do onstage, then?” I’m like, “No.” When you get excited, or you’re performing, your voice changes when you’re projecting. The idea that they think that the way you talk onstage is the exact same as how you talk in real life, it’s crazy — that, you know, you don’t have some sort of modulation in there. And there’s definitely times in stand-up where you can tell it goes up and down. But yeah, I get excited, and it gets loud and shrill and crazy. It sounds Muppety.
Do you remember doing it early on? Because I imagine when you start stand-up, you’re not starting yelling.
I realized my voice did it way before I started doing stand-up. When I would get excited about something, I’d be like, “Oh my God!!” And people would be like, “Wow, okay. Your voice really goes crazy.” So I knew that was part of how it worked. It wasn’t ever like I was like, “Oh, now my voice needs to get high.” There are times I hear back, especially when you’re editing the special, and I was listening. I was like, “How do people listen to this? This is abrasive!”
So you’re like, Oh, I need to not do it all the time.
But it’s literally not even a conscious choice I make when I’m performing. This is just what it is.
What “cancel culture” means to her:
There’s people that, quote-unquote, they’re “canceled” but are still making money and continue about their jobs. But I take it as you’re canceled from quote-unquote “polite society,” where it’s like once something happens on social media and they’re like “This person’s bad,” it doesn’t matter what you do from then on out.
People are always gonna be like, “No, they’re a bad person.” But the social-media world isn’t the real world. You know, as much as people on Twitter don’t want to believe it, a lot of people have no idea what you’re talking about. My one friend has the “mom test,” where if his mom doesn’t know it’s a story, it’s not a story. Because she’s not on Twitter.
But a lot of these people live on Twitter. So it’s like, “Did you see what this person said?” And then they’ll get canceled on Twitter where all these people are like, “They should never work again.” And then maybe a news outlet picks it up. Maybe their job was like, “Oh, we can’t publicly be seen with you.” It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to do things privately. It just means that in the public eye, no one’s gonna be able to say, “We love this person.”
You’re kind of a pariah now for a [portion of the social media world]. Like, it’s not just liberals canceling people who say something offensive. It’s also right-wing people canceling people that, I don’t know, they think made a smoky-eye joke that made fun of some lady’s looks that definitely didn’t. [Laughs.] Off the top of my head.