INTERVIEW by GARY GOLDMAN | PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of SARA SCHAEFER
The only common thread between Sara Schaefer’s myriad projects might very well be that they all happen to be hilarious. Since she first set foot in New York more than ten years ago, the eclectic Virginia native has done it all: starting the podcast You Had To Be There, doing stand-up, creating a Tumblr phenomenon (Faces of the Last Season of Oprah, anyone?), filming viral videos, and writing for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and Who Wants to be a Millionaire. She also used to work as a financial analyst, speaks twenty-two languages, invented Cirque du Soleil, and happens to be the President of a small island in the Pacific (all right, those are lies — except for the financial analyst part). Now that she just finished a pilot for MTV, it only made sense to include Sara as one of the comedians who will definitely make a splash in 2012. And that is our final answer.
Where are you right now?
I’m all over the place! I’ve been on the road for a few weeks and doing shows in different cities. It’s been great.
I mostly wanted to do this interview to talk about your career as a financial analyst in an NYC law firm.
But seriously, though! You were there from 2001 to 2006 before devoting yourself fully to comedy. What was that like?
I came to New York wanting to be a comedian and ended up getting this job at a law firm through a reference. I started working there the same week Enron collapsed, and the firm’s job was to sue big companies on behalf of shareholders. Before I knew it, I was calculating damages for these big cases. I have no idea why I was good at that, but I could do it. At that time, I was trying to make ends meet while starting this comedy thing. Looking back, even though I realize that this huge day job really slowed me down, it made me good at business.
Congratulations on choosing to pursue a stand-up career full-time. You often hear about how hard it is to be on that stage…
It’s super challenging to do stand-up. Just you at a microphone. And every night is different: sometimes you’ll feel like a million bucks and other times you’ll feel awful. If I’m getting too many laughs, I think I must be a fraud. If I’m not getting enough laughs, then the material isn’t good enough.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I think my sense of humor comes from my upbringing: being part of a big family with a lot of personalities. You had to get attention in some way! Same goes with school: I was never the popular girl and rode in the middle…
Hey, the middle is a pretty great place to be in high school!
You’re right, but I was able to deflect teasing and get positive attention by being funny. Self-deprecation is huge for me, because if I say it first then no one else can.
How do the jokes come to you?
I’m a storyteller. I love telling funny stories to my family and friends, and sometimes I don’t even realize that I’m building material for my shows. It’ll sometimes be a story I’ve been telling for years, and once I’m on stage relaxed, I’ll tell it and suddenly realize that it works. Those moments are magical.
Anyone can Google or YouTube you. What are the two videos/links that you’d like people to discover you with?
I did a Justin Timberlake PSA with Nikki (Glaser, partner-in-crime and podcast buddy) that I’m very proud of. I like doing things that aren’t just funny, but that ring true. We had talked many times about the fact that JT wasn’t doing music anymore, and how much we wished that he did. It all came together beautifully:
Did Mr. Timberlake see the video?
He did! He loved it. Which, in my eyes, made him even funnier. He tweeted about the video and I nearly crapped my pants.
[laughs] Give me another one, maybe your favorite podcast you did?
One of our recent podcast episodes got very personal. I usually talk a lot about my life, so I thought, “How much deeper can I go?” But I discussed something I had never talked about before, and Nikki did the same.
You’re currently working on a pilot for MTV with Nikki. What can you tell us about that?
I can’t talk very much about it. It’s not exactly like our podcast, but its me and Nikki’s chemistry and our vibe being turned into a TV show. It’s all I can say. We’re done with it, turned it in, and everyone seems enthusiastic.
So are you actually acting in it?
Yes, we’re both in front of the camera co-hosting the show. It’s based around pop culture.
Last year, you left Late Night to write for Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Are you still there?
I wrote for the last season. They have a very concentrated production schedule, so they can tape up to five episodes a day for a few months. I finished up last season in November and don’t know if I’ll be back next year.
This may sound stupid, but what do you do as a writer there? Do you actually write the questions that the candidates have to answer?
Yes! I write the questions.
Is it the best job in the world?
It’s pretty great, but very challenging. The show has been on for a very long time and they don’t want you asking questions that have already been asked.
How many have there been, would you say?
Something like 100,000! You have to get creative. I felt pretty smart working there.
Was it easier to write those really easy or really hard questions?
They’re both difficult in their own way. As a writer, it’s hard to tell what a hard question is, since you already know the answer. One thing they will ask us about our questions is, “Who cares?” You need to find questions that are actually relevant to the viewers, even if they are really hard.
I have to ask. How do you feel about the whole, “Wow, females are actually funny!” phenomenon?
Honestly, I hate that we keep having articles about it because that is still a form of marginalization. Sometimes I get disappointed when I see an article about “Women in Comedy.” It’s like they save one article a year to write about female comics. They pack us all into one. Then individual men will get their own profiles, and it will be about their comedy, never about their gender.
Therefore, who are your favorite comedians, both male and female?
I love Louis C.K. His entire manner of carrying himself is spectacular, and I feel like the audience has really gotten to watch him evolve. Of course, Tina Fey and Amy Poelher. And then… Gosh, there are so many: Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, even Rosie O’Donnell. My exposure to stand-up was on television. I had never seen a live show until I moved to New York. Also, a few of my peers that I really love to watch are Nikki Glaser, Brooke Van Poppelen, Kurt Braunohler, and Rory Scovel.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Right now, I have no financial portal for people to support me. Nikki and I have been lazy about monetizing. I would say: check out my website for show dates because I’ve started touring. This month, I’m in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New Orleans, and Wisconsin. When I’m not on the road, you can usually find me somewhere in New York.