Liz Miele, Stand-Up Comic

Editor’s Note:

Liz Miele is cool for so many reasons.  First, and most notably, she’s hilarious.  She’s also to a fault nice, a magnetic, natural beauty, thoughtful beyond measure and a genuinely good person.  She’s the type of person you want leading your squad, she’s the Taylor Swift to my Haim Sisters.  I’m proud of her tenaciousness, her willingness to work, if necessary, from paycheck to paycheck if it ensures that she’s able to pursue the career that she loves.  I’m excited to watch her continued success, and laugh with her along the way.  Rock on sister, you’re a star.

"Me on TV" photo by Maria Shehata / Photo Courtesy Liz Miele

"Me on TV" photo by Maria Shehata / Photo Courtesy Liz Miele

Liz Miele grew up in central New Jersey, the second oldest of five children to two highly-ambitious parents.  Her household was strict, no TV allowed and a lot of responsibility placed on the oldest children to do their homework, help with housework, and care for their younger siblings.

In a household filled with so many kids, I admittedly wasn’t getting all the attention I wanted, and I think that’s really why people become actors and comics and singers in the first place. You find the vessel of where you want attention to come from. My parents and siblings were always really funny and humor was, for me, the most positive attention I got from people.
"Me and my little sister, Emily Miele use to do a monthly variety show called 'The Miele Sisters' Variety Show' at SideWalk Cafe in NYC. We ended it in July cause she moved to LA. Loved doing this with her." / Picture by Phil Provencio / Courtesy of Liz Miele

"Me and my little sister, Emily Miele use to do a monthly variety show called 'The Miele Sisters' Variety Show' at SideWalk Cafe in NYC. We ended it in July cause she moved to LA. Loved doing this with her." / Picture by Phil Provencio / Courtesy of Liz Miele

At age 14, she started writing.  Pushed by her friends to pursue this newfound interest in comedy, she started spending every second of her free time crafting jokes and passing them out to her classmates, having them star and underline the ones they thought were good enough to hold onto.

I would be at these parties, sitting on my friend’s computers typing up jokes while they were getting high and making out. I had been self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, desperately wanting a boy to pay attention to me, but as soon as I discovered standup I realized ‘oh, I like this attention too!’ and started going down this much healthier path.
"Pic my friend and fellow comic, Maria Shehata took of me in a weird coffee shop in London. I have really big expressive eyes. My sister calls them 'Frozen eyes' cause they are cartoon big and I can't hide my emotions and its kinda what I like about this pic." / PHoto Courtesy Liz miele

"Pic my friend and fellow comic, Maria Shehata took of me in a weird coffee shop in London. I have really big expressive eyes. My sister calls them 'Frozen eyes' cause they are cartoon big and I can't hide my emotions and its kinda what I like about this pic." / PHoto Courtesy Liz miele

Realizing how serious she was about comedy, Liz’s dad sat her down and gave her some sage advice—if you really want to pursue this as a career, you should seek out the masters of comedy and find out the path they took to achieve success.

I made a list of 40 of my favorite comics, and I wrote to every single one of them. All I asked for was advice, and only two people got back to me; Judd Apatow and George Carlin. Judd emailed me and told me I should go to college for writing, stay in school, and just keep at it. George Carlin actually called me. Keep in mind, there’s a lot of mental illness in my family, and when George Carlin called me on the phone I thought ‘well, this might be my first delusion.’
 "this pic was taken outside of London in a Yurt cause I'm big time!" / photo courtesy liz miele

 "this pic was taken outside of London in a Yurt cause I'm big time!" / photo courtesy liz miele

A few days later, George sent her a signed headshot that read “Go Do It”, and she did.  She was 16 at the time, and signed up for what’s known as a “bringer show” at the Comedy Cellar in New York City.  A bringer show is when a comedian brings paying guests in exchange for stage time.

I could not have imagined ever being so nervous in my life because this moment was SO IMPORTANT TO ME. I loved it so much and I wanted to be good at it so badly, and in hindsight I laugh about how ignorant I was of how poorly it could go!
"This is one of my fav pics of me and my cat Pasta who I talk a lot about in my act and take too many pictures of on instagram" / photo courtesy liz miele

"This is one of my fav pics of me and my cat Pasta who I talk a lot about in my act and take too many pictures of on instagram" / photo courtesy liz miele

The show at the Comedy Cellar created a domino effect.  Liz started performing at open mics and “barking” for stage time, which means she handed out fliers for a show in exchange for stage time, nearly every weekend.  Once a weekend turned into twice a weekend… then four times a week…until she eventually found herself doing her homework at the bar of the club in between sets.  Finally, she moved into the city for good, this time as a student as the prestigious Eugene Lang College at The New School.

By this point I was doing standup nearly every night and people started paying attention to me. I started getting paid spots at Gotham Comedy Club, Caroline’s and Comic Strip. Most of the time they only paid me $25 dollars, not even enough to buy groceries, but it was the first time someone was saying my voice was valid enough to give me money, which I’m not sure I ever thought was going to happen.
"Screen shot from my video made by Upworthy.com of me acting out my 'Feminist Sex Positions' joke" / Photo courtesy liz miele

"Screen shot from my video made by Upworthy.com of me acting out my 'Feminist Sex Positions' joke" / Photo courtesy liz miele

Liz says that every comic has a moment where one gig ends up putting them on the map.  At age 22, Liz was  booked on “Live at Gotham”, a show on Comedy Central.  This was a network that she had watched her entire life, and now she was the one being featured.  After that, more and more gigs started pouring in.  She did shows on the road and booked a commercial, all the while doing “every shitty day job you can imagine” in between.

I became my own booker. I would literally send out hundreds of emails to everyone I knew in the industry. I realized that every step of this process to becoming a full-time comic was more profound than I thought it was at the time. It’s all a bunch of layers, and you don’t realize how important each layer is until much, much later on
Liz onstage at Sidewalk cafe in new york city / photo courtesy liz miele

Liz onstage at Sidewalk cafe in new york city / photo courtesy liz miele

Between a web series, a stand-up tour, a viral joke, podcasts, her own personal album and her usual shows at clubs, Liz hasn’t struggled finding work since.  She says she finally feels OKAY, knowing that her hard work and incredible talent as a comedienne have worked together in a very serendipitous way.

"Maria Shehata took this of me in LA in Echo Park. These people were moving to Portland and couldn't bring their furniture so they were dumping it behind this bookstore but decided to set it up like a living room." / Photo Courtesy Liz Miele

"Maria Shehata took this of me in LA in Echo Park. These people were moving to Portland and couldn't bring their furniture so they were dumping it behind this bookstore but decided to set it up like a living room." / Photo Courtesy Liz Miele

What’s the hardest thing about pursuing a career as a stand-up comic?

Rejection. It hurts both on and off stage, and I feel like I deal with it hourly both on and off the stage. Comics get into comedy because they want to be seen, heard, validated and appreciated, and oftentimes those things don’t come together in the way that you like. It’s been a huge experiment and learning curve into understanding myself and finding ways to deal with constant rejection.

I would imagine you’ve had some really bizarre moments onstage.

God, there are too many to tell. You meet a lot of weird drunk people and people that overshare because they feel like because I have been vulnerable onstage they’re entitled to tell me their own issues. I’ll tell you my most recent strange moment. I was performing at a club in London and the host was about to announce my name to perform. A very, very drunk dude got up, tripped on the stage, jumped ON the host’s back, was torn off by security, and finally picked up and dragged out. This caused the show to run late so the host brought me on to start telling jokes and keep things moving. It was fine and fun to joke about, but I forget that this job sometimes feels like adult babysitting.

For someone looking to become a stand-up comic, what sort of advice would you give them?

Write about experiences that caused deep emotion; extreme frustration, deep depression, unbelievable anger, impossible joy and then dig deep into why you felt that way and you’ll find what’s interesting and humorous there. Don’t try to look for what’s funny from the outside. Dig inside and pull it out and show people. That’s where you will find your true perspective and no one else’s. And then when you’re onstage be your own coach. Be honest with yourself about what connected with the audience and what didn’t and make tweaks. Joke writing is a slow, annoying process. It’s a puzzle. Don’t start from scratch every night, keep adjusting and use the audience as a focus group of how to explain your ideas…but don’t let the audience bully you. You just gotta find how to connect, sometimes one word at a time.

If you were to have the opportunity to go down this career path all over again, would you?

Ha! I think about that a lot. Yes, I would, but I’m glad I started early. I don’t know if I would have had the strength to do this later in life. The ignorance of being a teenager shielded me from a lot of the pain in the beginning, and the beginning is that hardest part. I breezed through this time because it was all so new and different and everything in my life was confusing and difficult at that point so I wasn’t scared of difficult things. The tiny moments of acceptance were so rare to me then that I could focus on that and less about what wasn’t going well or working. Clearly I would have done a lot of things differently, but I think I’d still do it all over again.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

It’s not personal. It feels like it is because they are your ideas and you are saying them and people are mean or aloof to you when they don’t like them. But as soon as you stop taking people’s reactions personally the better you’ll be as a writer and performer. I think about a lot. It’s true but hard to remember sometimes.

To learn more about Liz, and book her for future shows, visit LizMiele.com.

To watch her (NSFW) joke that went viral, click here!

Up next week on DRIVEN for Women, Meet Shannon Escoto, she's the girl you need to impress if you think your child is destined to become a star!

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