In Conversation: Nikki Glaser on Trump, Catharsis, and Comedy

The stand-up comedian talks about the possibilities for comedy under the new administration ahead of her appearance at Riot LA.
Art & CultureIn Conversation
In Conversation: Nikki Glaser on Trump, Catharsis, and Comedy

The stand-up comedian talks about the possibilities for comedy under the new administration ahead of her appearance at Riot LA.

Words: Mike Spry

January 20, 2017

Nikki Glaser doesn’t have any secrets. The comedian, now in her second decade as a comic, is well known for her honesty and openness on stage. No subject is off limits, but Glaser is more of a storyteller than a pundit. Hers is an act of personal experiences, about the trying and the trivial, about the darker corners of ourselves and our psyches that we may be afraid to discuss outside the safety of our therapists’ offices. Relationships, sex, self-doubt, and self-realization are the hallmarks of her work, and in finding the humor in those subjects Glaser is able to get her audience to find comfort in the investigation of difficult conversations.

Watching Glaser perform is an experience unlike any other. It’s one part self-help guide, one part therapy voyeurism, and two parts comedy. The revealing and revelatory nature of her act is the craft at its best, and evidence of a comedian who has found her voice and is not afraid to use it.

Glaser is performing alongside Eugene Mirman and Kyle Kinane this Sunday in Los Angeles as part of the Riot LA Comedy Festival. In conversation she is affable and kind, and just as forthcoming as she is on stage.

You’ll be performing on Sunday as part of  Riot LA, just two days into the Trump administration. Is this a difficult time to be funny?

No it isn’t. I think that November 10 was a hard day, and now [that] the reality has kind of set in that it’s happening, it stirred up a lot of anger and despair in me, which is always good for comedy. I just don’t have anything funny to say about him because it is so upsetting. I’m a little more depressed because of it, and overall that makes everything else I’m talking about funnier.

You lived a lot of people’s fantasy in being given the opportunity to take shots at Ann Coulter at the Roast of Rob Lowe. Can comedy be a useful weapon in Trump’s America or does it further separate left from right?  

I think it probably further splits them, but I don’t really care. It’s just such a coping mechanism, obviously, for those of us who laugh about what a fucking jackass he is. Humor has been helpful for me on social media—I’ve been pretty outspoken about my hatred of him. It’s not helpful, it just makes the right even angrier and meaner; you’re always preaching to the choir. No one’s reading my fucking tweets about Trump and being like, “Well I see what she’s saying, I’m going to go to the fucking Women’s March.” When people say, “Oh Trump, at least he’s good for comedy!” it’s like no. No one needs this. It’s like making a parody of a movie that’s already a comedy. No one does that because it’s comedy on comedy. Maybe at the beginning it was funny, but now it’s just sad.

You mentioned social media. You’re fortunate that you have a pulpit: 100,000 on Instagram, 200,000 on Twitter…. You have a voice a lot of people don’t have. Is that a responsibility or privilege you relish?

Yes. It’s nice that you get to put something out there. And now on Instagram you can choose whether or not people can comment on it. That’s the greatest power. To be able to say, “Nope,  you just have to look at it.”

“No one’s reading my fucking tweets about Trump and being like, ‘Well I see what she’s saying, I’m going to go to the fucking Women’s March.'”

On stage I don’t like to get too political. It stops being funny: I get too angry. I’ll go on a rant and it won’t make sense, and I’m a little bit insecure if I [don’t] know what I’m talking about. I think that Trump has lowered the bar of intelligence so that we can all get behind it even though I don’t read the Wall Street Journal. I know that whatever he is saying is ridiculous. I think that on social media I’m able to make a statement, kind of think about it, and send it out and it’s done. I try not to read comments and get into arguments and stuff like that. Then people unfollow you because of it, and like I said, that’s great! If you make someone angry enough that they have to click “unfollow,” then they’re gonna miss out on cute pictures of my dog.

Your public persona, be it on stage or on talk shows, is very honest, very frank. Is that you privately?

Yeah, that’s me! People stare at me in restaurants because they overhear me talking about something disgusting. It’s just something I’ve always been comfortable with I don’t know how you wouldn’t. It’s like I have some sort of superpower—the No Boundaries superpower. I don’t care about saying whatever on stage.

The only risk in that is that people think they can talk like that to you after a show. I get a lot of, like, “My wife’s a whore, too, you should be best friends!” First of all, I have a problem with everything you’re saying and your wife is not a whore, and yes, I said I was a whore but not in the way you are talking about it. I get a lot of, “You’re so disgusting! I love you!” It doesn’t feel good to be called disgusting.

Does that honesty provide challenges to your personal life? In your [Comedy Central] special, Perfect, you make a joke about your grandmother, and then remark, “I shouldn’t do these jokes until she’s dead.” Is there a place of honesty that you won’t go? Are there things you won’t reveal?

I was waiting for my therapist to die before I made fun of her, but it seems like she isn’t going to go, so I just fired her instead. Stuff with my boyfriend: We broke up and got back together, then we broke up right before the election, and we’re getting back together now. I really lucked out with him because he has a rule that you can talk about anything as long as you’re funny about it.

But with my family, my mom’s been drunk and said, “Oh, you made a joke and it really hurt me,” and she’d never say it sober. But I’ll be like, “Your behavior hurt me, so this is what you get.” I don’t like hurting people by any means, but if you hurt me, you’re open to [the possibility of being] talked about on stage.

Do you find a measure of catharsis in revealing yourself to audiences? Is it therapeutic?

Yes, absolutely. I don’t know what people do when they have something on their mind and they can’t tell a crowd about it. It’s all I want to do. I remember one time I got a letter in the mail that I had HPV, and I was really traumatized by it. My first thought was like, “I will never talk about this on stage.” I was a little overwhelmed even though everyone has it. That night, I was going on stage at an open mic in St. Louis, and there was a girl there who I was absolutely terrified of—kind of the mean girl of comedy—she was trying to ruin my life by spreading lies about me. So I was going up and I was certainly not going to talk about it on stage because she’d have that against me. And two seconds into my set I was like, “So I found out I have HPV today” and I broke down crying on stage which was a little much.

“I was waiting for my therapist to die before I made fun of her, but it seems like she isn’t going to go, so I just fired her instead.”

But being able to say bad things about yourself, things you’re insecure about, it takes the power away from others to talk shit about you. That girl I was scared of, what is she going to be able to say about me? I’ve gone through every breakup on stage, and every death in my family on stage. And whether it’s funny or not—which a lot of times it’s not—you’re just getting it out.

I read where you’re going to be taping a special for Netflix in February. How does the new material differ from Perfect?

Well, I got a dog in between. I went through a break-up in between. I think, honestly—and this will sound weird—but I think I get more open about sexual stuff I was even too scared to say on Perfect, stuff I thought that was maybe too much. I was like, OK, I need to share this because I want people to feel less alone with their things, because the reason I didn’t share them was because I felt weird about it.

I’m never going to try and shock people. I talk a lot about anal sex in my act right now, but it is not to entice, not to titillate or to shock, it’s just like, “Hey I think it’s pretty great and you should try it too, and here’s why.” I feel like I have to constantly give a little. Like, I have to say every so often in my act: “I’m not trying to be sexy!” Maybe I judge myself from an outsider’s perspective. I don’t want anyone to get boners—I mean if you get a boner that’s fine, but I don’t want people to think I’m a sex god ’cause I’m not. I’m very awkward about it. It’s hard to talk about anal and not have guys say, “What?” I still have an opinion about it whether or not you’re turned on by that idea. And I try to make it as disgusting as possible to take them out of it.

Also on the bill at Riot LA is Mel Brooks, so I was wondering if sharing the marquee with someone like him—who has been part of comedy for seventy years—forces some kind of perspective.

It’s awesome that it’s just something you can do for your whole fucking life. It’s cool to know I’ll be doing this til the day I die. He’s just as relevant and just as funny. It makes me excited about the future—not that it’s gonna last much longer because of the Trump presidency, but like, the future that was available to me before. Now, not so sure. FL