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.
I last saw Anna Roisman in Montreal last summer at Just For Laughs, where she and her friend Gabi Conti pitched TV executives on their series, “This One Time at Camp” as part of the “From Set to Screen” competition. Roisman and Conti didn’t win the JFL contest, but upon their return to NYC, they regrouped and have launched a new webseries this month on Elite Daily called “There’s No Place Like Home,” in which the duo keeps meaning to hit the party scene but never quite makes it out of their apartment. Or will they? In real life, Roisman is hustling on many different fronts of both comedy and music, whether it’s sketch, improv, stand-up, storytelling, webseries or singing. You can see her in another webseries currently online in its second season called “Beauty Shots,” onstage at Joe’s Pub with the Losers Lounge singing standards, and starting tonight, Roisman is co-hosting “The Shower Hour” showcase at Sid Gold’s Request Room. She met up with me on her lunch break in Madison Square Park to fill me in on all the details.
Name: Anna Roisman
Arrival Date: May 2008. “It was the day after my college graduation…I wasted no time. I literally graduated and then the next day, my parents drove me to New York to move here.” Did you have a place lined up already? “Yeah. My ex-boyfriend’s uncle died. We lived in his apartment for free. And I was like, ‘I love New York. It’s free!’ I didn’t realize yet how much rent was.”
Arrived From: Boston/Philadelphia “I went to school in Boston, so I came straight from Boston down to New York, and I lived in Soho. This is like the dream story! I lived in Soho and I was like, ‘Great!’ I had a restaurant job already…because I had worked there the summer before, so I came back.”
When and where did you start performing comedy?
“It was probably at UCB, because I started taking classes there when I first moved here.” OK, so you hadn’t performed anywhere before? “I did theater my whole life, so I did a lot of theater in college. And I would do funny cabaret and stuff, but I’d never done a stand-up show in college. Because when I moved here, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go the musical theater route or the comedy route.” What tipped the balance toward comedy? “I just fucking hated those open-call musical auditions. Yeah, open calls for musicals, just because, I don’t know, after a while I was like, ‘I don’t think I belong here.’ I don’t dance. I can sing, and I always did like musical comedy stuff, and I just liked the community at UCB. They were people I really admired and I thought were funny, and I thought, oh, I could still sing. And like do comedy for real, so after a couple of years, I thought, I don’t need to do this to fulfill my life.”
What was your best credit before moving here? But I guess you didn’t have any, outside of a college degree?
“No, well I did a movie in high school. I’d acted my whole life.” So you did have credits! “There was a movie called Little Manhattan with Cynthia Nixon and Bradley Whitford. And in high school, this casting person in Philadelphia — because I grew up in Philadelphia — was looking for teenagers for a summer camp flashback scene for the movie, and I was to play Cynthia Nixon’s best friend at camp when we were younger. It was so fun. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m a movie star!’ I didn’t even have lines. I was a glorified extra! But I went to Staten Island with my mom, and they gave me wardrobe for three scenes, and I was there for I don’t know, I was on set for 20 hours. It was really cool. We shot into the night, and I was like, I missed school because I’m filming a movie.”
“Other than that, college theater credits. And I made videos in college.”
So what do you remember about your first time onstage at UCB? “It was my 101 class show for improv, and it was the best class ever. Gil Ozeri was our teacher. It’s funny because I still keep in touch with a couple of the comedians. One of them became my video partner who I make stuff with, Robbie Sokolowsky. And we met in our 101 class. I just remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m good at improv, but our show was the best improv show I ever did.’ I left thinking I’ve got this. I’m great. We just had so much fun onstage. I don’t think I’ve ever had an improv show that fun after.”
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here?
“I remember a couple of years after — well, five, six years after — I started doing storytelling a lot more. Comedy storytelling, not Moth storytelling. And I did a couple of gigs in Philadelphia that paid me. Oh! This is great! They didn’t pay me much. They paid like nothing, I think I got $25 for a show, and I was so excited.”
“Even if I made $25, I left feeling like, cool, this is something better than what I was doing before.”
At what point did you start doing stand-up? “I started stand-up like three-and-a-half years ago. Three years ago? I’d started storytelling, and just because I felt more comfortable getting onstage and telling a funny story, I think then trusting myself with jokes. I started to realize in the storytelling world, there are the ones who do stand-up, too, and are really funny, and then there are ones who are great at doing Moth stories. And I went to The Moth. I never got picked. But I went there once or twice, and every story was like, cancer, death. I just remember my friend was like, ‘I hope you don’t get picked. Isn’t your story about working in a jean store?’ I was like, ‘Shit, you’re right!’ So I just started doing stand-up. And my stand-up is more story-based. I don’t like joke-joke-joke.”
“One of my first big stand-up shows I got booked at Gotham, through a friend. And it was great. I killed. And I was like, oh, I should do this every day. You get lucky, you get a good one at the beginning and then you’re like, wow.”
How would you compare the scenes of stand-up and storytelling and improv?
“I think they’re all very different. They really are different. I don’t know. Storytelling is probably the most supportive community, because I think people genuinely — audience members and storytellers both want to be a part of your life. Stand-up’s a little more cutthroat. I love it, but there’s an expectation of, make me laugh, give me the jokes. Storytelling, you can have a whole story until the end where you have a really great punchline, and then you get your laughs. So as a performer, you have to remember what audience you’re in front of. Improv is just like, I think crazy and fun. I don’t know. I like improv-out during the Del Close Marathon. But other than that, I don’t do it that much anymore.”
Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here?
“It’s funny, because I’ve read this on all of your other interviews, and I was like, ‘Get a good Only In New York story!’ And I can’t fucking think of one.”
Well, your moving to New York story is… “That is pretty hilarious. I literally moved here, and my ex-boyfriend, we were together a very long time, but we lived in this tiny studio. Less than 300 square feet. In Soho, on Mott and Prince. And I was like, ‘I’m the coolest person in the world.’ And then like three months after that, his parents were getting rid of it, and I thought, I’ll just stay here in Soho. How much could rent be?” She laughs thinking of it. “Like a fucking moron! It was like six grand a month, for like a room that fits a single bed, like nothing. We lived on a couch that opened up. We opened it up into a bed at night. You couldn’t walk in the room if it was open. So you had to make it up, and make it into a couch during the day. I literally had to fold my bed up so I could put on a pair of jeans. So sad.” So where’d you end up moving? “To a sixth-floor walk-up in Hell’s Kitchen. I say Hell’s Kitchen, but it was really like right above the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel on 36th Street. I was close enough to Hell’s Kitchen. Yeah. We’ll just say that. People always say a better area to live in, right?” So what’s the better area now? “I live in Gramercy.” Fancy! “I just don’t pay any credit cards, and I just pay my rent, so don’t tell Bank of America.”
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here?
“I would say you have to have thick skin. Because I feel like so many days just, I feel poor, I feel tired, I feel like I’m doing everything I can and nothing’s working out. But at the end of the day, if I have a show to do, I just gotta get up and do it. And you’ll feel better at the end. As long as you keep working toward your goal, you’ll feel better — even on the days you want to fucking cry in the middle of the street. Which I do, sometimes. I would say just meet as many people as you can, in all different areas. Some of my friends who I’ve met through storytelling or stand-up, if I didn’t go to shows and see a lot of comedy, I wouldn’t have met these people and gotten on their shows or podcasts. There are so many avenues you can go down, and I think you can’t just move to New York with one. To be an improviser. To be a stand-up. You have to be open to making content or doing different kinds of comedy. I have a podcast coming out, and I never thought I’d have a podcast! I don’t even listen to podcasts!”
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
“Really rich. On a beach. Retired.” She laughs at the thought. “Five years from now, I don’t know. Lately I feel like I’ve had the most success making my own content. Writing shows. Making as many videos or webseries as I can, that I’m passionate about. And I feel like if I can keep doing that, hopefully in five years, someone will buy a pilot or a TV show of mine. So I can have my own kind of project. It’s happening for a lot of comedians who are just making what they want to do. I mean, if not, I’m not opposed to being cast in someone else’s. I feel like you have to collaborate and I love some of the stuff my friends are doing. So, hey! If they make it before me and want to put me in their show, cool! I’ll sign on. But yeah, I want to have my own show at some point.”
Anna Roisman hosts a monthly stand-up show at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg called “The All-Stars of Comedy,” has a regular show at The PIT called “Movie Buffs” where she reviews movies based on a theme, and performs regularly on the UCB storytelling series, “The Nights of Our Lives.” She sings with the Losers Lounge at Joe’s Pub.
This week, Roisman also co-hosts The Shower Hour, a new showcase of songs comedians only would sing in the shower, debuting tonight at Sid Gold’s Request Room. And on March 23 she’ll take part in Mara Wilson’s “What Are You Afraid Of?” showcase at Over the Eight in Brooklyn.
You can see Anna Roisman in two different webseries out now, drunk makeup tutorial spoof “Beauty Shots,” and the aforementioned “There’s No Place Like Home.”
Here’s Roisman’s sketch reel:
More recently, here’s Roisman with the Losers Lounge crew at Joe’s Pub with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”
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