What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they’re comedians? No, that’s not it. It is a fact, though, that America’s biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York’s vibrant comedy scene. It’s called Meet Me In New York.
Sometimes a comedian will show up on the scene and feel like they’ve been a part of it forever. Sometimes comedians will arrive in NYC in waves, offering each other support as they bring their other city’s sensibilities here. And sometimes you’re Emily Heller. Photographed above by Mindy Tucker, Heller will joke about the place she came from (San Francisco), while making herself quite at home here in New York, where she’s part of the third season of John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show — her episode airs this Friday on Comedy Central. Before you see her there, learn more about her here!
Name: Emily Heller
Arrival date: August 21, 2011, at around 6 am.
Arrived from: San Francisco, CA
When and where did you start performing comedy? I was in a sketch troupe in college at UC Santa Cruz called SheBam. As far as I know, it’s still going and is wildly popular on campus. While I was still living in Santa Cruz, I started driving the hour-and-a-half up to San Francisco to do the open mic at Annie’s Social Club (RIP). I started doing this about once a month at the end of 2007. I didn’t feel like I really started, though, until I moved there in summer of ’08.
What was your best credit before moving here? Before moving here, probably my best credit was Rooftop Comedy’s Silver Nail Award. I also won “First Speaker – Junior Varsity Lincoln Douglas Division” at the Glenbrooks Invitational Debate Tournament in 2001. I have a plexiglass trophy in the shape of Illinois to prove it.
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? Oh, lotsa reasons. Primarily: My sister and my best friend Allison both lived here. I had been visiting for years, so even though LA was closer, I had done more comedy here. And I really just wanted to get better (I still do). This is a better place for that. Also pizza. And additionally: Pizza.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? I guess a month? But hearing that melodious Staten Island accent wherever I go is payment enough.
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from? It’s bigger and better here, but it has a lot of things going for it that I loved about San Francisco, too. Talented people, lots of women, supportive vibe, creative folks doing funky stuff. It’s a lot more ambitious here though. Everyone is doing so much, it really pushes you. Plus, there’s industry here. In San Francisco, you’re lucky if someone sees you once a year. The only industry in San Francisco is the tech industry. One time Steve Wozniak came to a show I did and gave me his business card. It’s made out of metal. It did not help my comedy career.
Do you already have an “only in New York City” moment yet? The first time a Hasidic dude stared at my boobs for way too long. I can honestly say that had never happened to me before, and I’ve been to Israel.
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? Don’t let the fact that it takes an hour to get home keep you from doing fun stuff. When you first get here, do your A material, even at open mics. Keep writing new stuff, of course, but take the opportunity when you first get here to show people what you can do. No one will know you’re telling old jokes and it’ll help you avoid getting stuck in the open mic circuit forever.
Also: find me when you get here and give me a five dollar bill. It’s considered good luck to do this. You will prosper.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? Peeing into a makeshift filtration system and drinking it. Growing a small lime and freaking out when someone steals it. Possibly I will have grown gills behind my ears. Those are the only details I remember from Waterworld and I’m sure they will be crucial to my survival.
Ideally I’m still doing stand-up, still getting better. I hope to have at least 20 more followers on Twitter, if it’s still a thing.
You can see Emily Heller on your cable TVs this coming Friday when she appears on John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show on Comedy Central. In person in NYC, Heller also hosts The Afterlife at the Sidewalk Cafe on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., and Fresh Out at UCBeast on Thursdays at 9 p.m.
In the meantime, here is a clip of Heller performing in 2011 at The Purple Onion in San Francisco. Roll it!
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com