INTERVIEW by REBEKAH ALLEN | PHOTOGRAPHY by EVAN SUNG
Even if you’ve never heard of Chelsea Peretti, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen her work. She’s made appearances on shows like Louie, Last Call with Carson Daly, Lopez Tonight, The Smoking Gun Presents: World’s Dumbest, and The Sarah Silverman Program (which she also wrote for). Now, in addition to being an acclaimed stand-up comedian, she is also a writer on NBC’s hit sitcom Parks and Recreation. And as if that wasn’t enough to keep anyone busy, she’s also created several web series and sites that are as hilarious as they are unique in subject matter. After talking to Chelsea about stand-up, Parks and Rec, and, er, prostitution, it’s safe to say that both the comedy scene and one of television’s best sitcoms are in good hands.
Chelsea Peretti, you are a comedian, a writer, an actress, and you’ve created several of your own online projects. Is there anything I’m forgetting?
No, I don’t think so.
Can you give us a quick mini-biography of your life up ’til now?
I grew up in the Bay Area in Oakland, California, and then moved to New York for college. I always did theatre as a young person, started doing improv in college, and as soon as I graduated, I started doing stand-up. Then I moved out here to Los Angeles two or three years ago to write for Sarah Silverman. That was kind of my big break, and I’ve been in L.A. ever since.
You’ve performed in several comedy festivals, and Variety declared you one of the Top 10 Comics to Watch for 2010. What’s it like now performing with such recognized positivity?
In the last few years I’ve felt like people like me, which I don’t think I’ve felt in eight years or something doing stand-up. I always had my supporters and people who encouraged me, but I think it’s only been recently that I felt, in terms of a “people who can hire me” level, that people supported me. It’s a change in life where some of that hard work has paid off.
I’m so curious because I spent a lot of time recently on your site blackpeopleloveus.com; how do you get the ideas for these projects and websites?
I don’t know how we thought of it. There’s certain people that you talk to, and you just wind up always having funny ideas and feeling inspired. My brother is one of those people. When he and I were hanging out in New York, we just would talk and be like, “What if we did this?” And the thing about the internet that’s so cool is that it’s so easy to say “what if” and build something, especially in that time a few years ago when the internet was so much less saturated and people were much more likely to be taken in by something.
When people go to see a set of yours, what are some topics they can expect to hear?
That’s something that ideally is evolving all the time. I frequently talk about family stuff, social anxiety, depression, or love. How to be an adult is a big theme — feeling like I don’t have the tools or know-how to do basic adult functions that other people seem to have. Some stuff is just mocking people I encounter or things that people say that strike me a certain way. It’s also important to me to have silliness. I tend to be pretty silly, so I think that’s something I want to have more in my stand-up.
Let’s talk about Parks and Recreation. I’m not going to say I’m creepily obsessed, but I have told many of my friends and family and strangers that their lives are unfulfilled unless they tune in. What has the experience of working on the show as a writer been like for you?
It’s been really cool. Parks and Rec is obviously a great job, and I’m also surrounded by incredibly intelligent people who have a whole variety of different backgrounds in writing and comedy. I really feel like I’ve soaked in a lot of their knowledge and humor and savvy about entertainment and things like that that I maybe didn’t have already.
What’s the process like for getting to know these characters and these plots so well that you’re able to write for them?
I definitely think that you have to get acclimated. I feel like when I first started writing there I didn’t have the same grasp as I do now. Everyone has different opinions on what a character would or wouldn’t say or do, but you talk through it and usually everyone winds up in agreement.
Can you give us any sort of look into what’s coming up on the show?
I actually don’t think I can. Obviously, everyone’s going to want to know what happens with the election and Ben and Leslie’s relationship. There’s definitely a lot of different sectors that are going at once right now, and they’re all going to develop as the season comes to an end.
Do you have time when you’re writing to still come up with material for sets?
I do. It’s definitely harder, but I try to perform at least once or twice a week and hopefully more frequently when I can. Doing stand-up is going to the gym. It’s definitely easiest when you’re doing it a lot, but I’ve been able to still do it.
I have a bonus question for you. I noticed that you voice a character on Grand Theft Auto IV, and I have to ask: what are the odds if someone beats up a prostitute that it sounds like you?
[laughs] It would be pure coincidence. As much as I would love to do the voice for a prostitute — and I think I would really nail that — I’m on the divorce court radio station.
You never know. It’s a goal to shoot for.
Another dream to add to the dream list.
Do you have any shows coming up?
I’m going to the Vancouver Comedy Fest, and I’m doing a David Cross and Bob Odenkirk show there. I also have a show at UCB that I do every month called “How to Live,” and that’s usually the first Thursday of every month. I perform frequently at UCB and the Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory, but usually I don’t advertise my shows, as I do them to work on stuff.
Other than coming to see your shows and watching Parks and Rec, what can Daily BR!NK readers do to support you?
Twitter is a place where I get really free. I’m potentially overly active on Twitter, but it’s just a great place to think of a joke and put it out there. I also have a YouTube channel, and I’m on different podcasts. If people are interested they can listen to Pete Holmes’ podcast “You Made it Weird” — I have an episode on that — or [fellow BR!NKer] Marc Maron’s podcast “WTF.” I also did an episode on Doug Benson’s movie podcast. There’s different stuff out there you can listen to.
Before we go, do you have any parting words for our readers?
What I always felt in the first years of my working life is just to go wherever there’s already authentic energy coming toward me. Some people really try to push through to places where there isn’t organic interest, and that was never my style. I always went where I felt wanted, and maybe that was slower in some ways, but I feel like I’m pretty happy with that journey.