comedians you should know

Amy Miller Will Be Your Comedy Angel

Illustration: Franziska Barczyk

This week, we’re highlighting 24 talented writers and performers for Vulture’s annual list “Comedians You Should and Will Know.” Our goal is to introduce a wider audience to the talent that has the comedy community and industry buzzing. (You can read more about our methodology at the link above.) We asked the comedians on the list to answer a series of questions about their work, performing, goals for the future, and more. Next up is Amy Miller.

What would your Real Housewives tagline be?
“One man’s white trash … is another man’s white treasure.” Wait, that didn’t sound like I wanted it to.

What of your work do you think you’re best known for, and what of your work are you most proud of?
I seem to be known primarily for my stand-up, and a combination of regular podcast appearances: All Fantasy Everything, Doug Loves Movies, my own now-defunct podcast Who’s Your God?, and a couple of SiriusXM shows (based on the number of truck drivers who generously come to my shows around the country). I guess I have to agree with those fans! Of course I’d love to have a recurring role in a TV show or something that people know me for, but it’s also nice when I remember that I have fans just from talking. These people have heard all my values and my point of view and they like me enough to buy tickets to shows! That makes me feel really proud because I’ve always been 100 percent my authentic self onstage and in interviews, which is maybe one of the benefits of starting comedy relatively late in life. It’s really cool and generous when people are into who you actually are.

Tell us one story from your childhood you think explains why you ended up becoming a comedian.
Because I was the only kid in my family with red hair, my mom would joke that I was “from the milkman.” I repeated that to another adult when I was probably 3 years old, and it got a big laugh, so I started telling even more adults. And my mom didn’t really discourage me, because I was out there crushing. Then I found out when I was 30 that she really had cheated on our dad and gotten pregnant and that man had red hair. He was in marketing, though, not milk.

If a network green-lit a semi-autobiographical series for you to star in tomorrow, what would your character’s name and job be?
Well, the MAIN character’s name would be Patty Baker, and she would be a teen Christian girl living alone with her party-animal mom. This is a real series I’ve been pitching based on my life. MY character would be the teacher who supervises Patty’s Christian club. It’s very dark and funny, and I hope someone makes it.

If you had to come onstage to just one song for the rest of your life, what song would it be and why?
So far I mostly come out to “Blow the Whistle,” even though I understand that Too $hort is very problematic. But it reminds me of home and, frankly, it just starts hot. Once you really start to pay attention, you’ll notice that not THAT many songs are bangers within one or two seconds. And no disrespect to our hardworking sound people and comedy-club employees, but you can’t always guarantee someone at the board is gonna hit the hype spot you need in the song. Suddenly, you’re walking out all slow and weird trying to get to the good part. This has never been a problem with “Blow the Whistle.”

Tell us everything about your worst show ever.
I block out most bad shows, or they’re so bad they loop right back around to hilarious and therefore somehow good, or at minimum a learning experience. But one time at the San Francisco Punch Line, my home club, I cried onstage because this old white man in a pink cashmere sweater hated me so much. When I said I was wrapping up, he yelled, “FINALLY.” I went after him (while crying, very normal and not unhinged at all) and started yelling that his disapproval was especially hard because I didn’t have a dad. Somehow it got laughs, even though I felt insane. At the Punch Line, the bar is in the back of the room, and I will never forget the looks of concern from all the sweet staff.

After the show, his daughter came up and thanked me and said he was just a huge dickhead and had never approved of anything she’d done in her life, and she was a doctor! It was MY most embarrassing stage moment, but she was grateful I said everything she had always been thinking about her dickhead dad. So in a way, I am a comedy angel to her, which actually makes it a good show!

Nominate one comedian you don’t know personally who you think is overdue for wider recognition and why.
Detroit comedian COCO. She has the greatest Def Comedy Jam opening bit of all time. And then she follows up that opener with a set that continues to crush in a way that feels like it would be completely impossible. I have watched it approximately 150 times. She’s also a legendary radio host, but I want everyone to see her stand-up. I love that she never moved to New York or L.A. Also, there’s this interview where someone asked her, “What would you like your legacy to be?” and she said, “That she was honest and pure. She was fragile, but she was tough. She pulled no punches. She didn’t play no games. From six o’clock in the morning to six o’clock in the evening, she was the same person. She was approachable.” I love that so much. I wish people allowed women comedians to have all those human layers and liked us better for it, rather than trying to fit us into one specific box, which is usually just “young and small.”

When it comes to your comedy opinions — about material, performing, audience, the industry, etc. — what hill will you die on?
Comedians, tip the staff. Headliners, ask who your openers are and what they’re being paid. Audience members, please wear a whole shoe. I do not want to see your man sandal resting on my stage. You bought a ticket to an event and you are a grown-up; put on a whole shoe. Sorry, I was just in Colorado again.

Also, comics: Tell people you respect and love that you respect and love them now. We die young so often we might as well be professional fucking wrestlers. Encourage your friends who are doing a good job or being good people. I like to tell my friends I’m earnestly proud of them. You never know when someone will need that.

To the industry: Hire fat people and hire poor people. We live in a poor, fat country. If your writers’ room is all 22-year-old Ivy League kids with abs, that is not representation.

What’s an embarrassingly earnest goal you have?
Oh, I would just love to be IN something. Haha. Humiliating. A TV show, a movie, even a sketch. I want to be on set. I’m pretty successful at stand-up, but I’ve never been in anything and it’s a huge dream of mine. I like TV. It’s brought me a lot of joy. “I like TV” is already embarrassing to say out loud, but it’s true. I’d just love to show my mom, like, “Hey look, there’s me.” I want to be on set, and I want to eat craft services and post one of those “on set” photos. At this point, I’d love to be like an Alan Rickman kind of scenario. He got his first role at 42! It could be anything, too. I want some comedy-club host to have to say, “You know her from her small role on CSI: Las Vegas,” or whatever. It’ll happen! My other embarrassing goal was to be on a list — any comedy list of respected comedians — and here I am! So thanks!

What is the best comedy advice, and then the worst comedy advice, you’ve ever received, either when you were starting out or more recently?
The best and worst advice I received were exactly the same: to be your uncompromised self as a comedian. I wouldn’t change anything, but I wish whoever told me to be my fuckin’ self would have warned me how many opportunities I might lose by doing that. Comedians who rest firmly and confidently in their specific story and point of view will always be funnier in my opinion, but this is not an industry that rewards women for being outspoken. The lie we were sold to make it in comedy was to be yourself, be kind, work hard, and make people laugh on a regular basis and it would all be fine. Every comedy documentary is just 50 different male skulls talking about some dead guy who never pulled punches and didn’t play by the rules. But that comedy path works for one very specific group of people. For the rest of us, we have to accept that sometimes if you tell some gatekeeper or comedian to his face that he’s a creep, that dude might actively block you from opportunities, ban you from his club, tell people not to work with you for years to come, or send his scary fans after you.

I wouldn’t take any of those conversations back, but I wish I’d been more prepared for the consequences. Unfortunately, I believed the lie about how to succeed. But if I hadn’t, I don’t think I would be as proud of myself or my comedy. Work is great, cash is awesome, but ultimately you have to live with yourself, and I never want to go to sleep a coward.

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Amy Miller Will Be Your Comedy Angel