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 first saw Kate Willett (photographed by Mindy Tucker) last October at the All Jane Comedy Festival in Portland, Ore., where her fearlessness and tenacity won me over as much as the cleverness of her jokes did. Willett is a fierce young woman learning how to live sexually amid a generation of horrible millennial men. Not to mention the rest of us, too. She has joked about this on TV, via Comedy Central’s This Is Not Happening, on podcasting, via Risk! And you’ve seen the living conditions she put up with in the past in the San Francisco episode of Viceland’s Flophouse. But after performing at other comedy festivals from SF SketchFest to RIOT L.A. to Just For Laughs Montreal, Willett is ready to release her debut comedy album, “Glass Gutter,” this Friday, from Audible.
She’s also got a new podcast in the works, tentatively titled “Why Are You Crying?” with Greg Behrendt, with whom she sometimes tours on the road, when she’s not featuring for other headliners or headlining her own dates.
And she’s newly relocated from San Francisco to Los Angeles to New York City — “I moved here, kind of on a whim, in February” — so let’s get to know her!
Name: Kate Willett
Arrival Date: February 2017
Arrived From: San Francisco via Los Angeles
When and where was the first time you performed comedy?
“I started in San Francisco. First place I ever got onstage was in Chicago. I was in theater school there, and I did an open mic in Chicago. Couple of open mics in Chicago. And ended up moving back to San Francisco after then. But I feel like I didn’t start comedy in Chicago because I don’t think you can count two or three open mics as starting comedy somewhere.”
I mean, it still counts! “I guess, but if I said I was a Chicago comic, people would be like, ‘Who?’”
What was your best credit when you moved to NYC?
“Probably Comedy Central’s This Is Not Happening. I also did Viceland’s Flophouse with Lance Bangs, and that was really fun.” Was that in Los Angeles or San Francisco? “That was in San Francisco, yeah, when I still lived there. I lived in a hippie co-op, and Lance shot a comedy show in the hippie co-op where I was living.”
How long did it take you to get paid work in comedy after you moved to NYC?
“A couple weeks. I lucked out! I got booked on Night Train for Seeso in a couple of weeks after moving here, so that was great. But that was a weird, fluke, luck thing.”
Why did you pick Los Angeles first instead of New York City when you moved from San Francisco?
“I picked L.A. because everyone I knew lived down there. Everybody from San Francisco goes there. I lived there for a year, and always kind of wanted to move to New York. I’d just been dreaming about it, and then I had a couple of friends move here, and then, because somebody offered me a cheap room, I was like, ‘You know what? Why not?’ There’s so much comedy, and great pizza, weird boys, all kinds of things.” So you didn’t feel too tied to L.A.? “No. It seems like so many people are back and forth that it felt fine to come here.”
How would you compare the three different comedy scenes, NYC vs LA vs San Francisco?
“San Francisco is an amazing scene. There’s a ton of stage time. I think there’s some really great comedy that comes out of there, because there’s such an emphasis on originality and people working from their personal experience that I think creates really great stuff. L.A. is, some of the best comedians in the whole country live in L.A., and in that way, it’s amazing. You can see incredible people perform every single night. But a lot of what’s going on there is focused on acting roles and writing, and I think that is all great stuff. But in New York, one thing that’s nice and kind of different about it is that there seems to be a huge focus on stand-up, and a lot of people who do stand-up here are here because they really love stand-up and they want it to be their main thing. And I end up getting in conversations with people all the time, just about jokes. I mean, they’re all three really great places to do comedy, and I’m definitely glad that I’ve gotten to experience it all.”
Did you have a strategy when you moved to New York?
“Just to get on as many shows as possible, and just do as much stand-up as I possibly can. I’m also working on some other projects, too, but the main thing is trying to get up two or three times a night and meet everyone that way.”
Is that the advice would you give any comedian who’s thinking of moving here?
“Yeah, I think that is the advice I would give. To reach out to all the comics that you know and find out what shows they like doing. Go to as many open mics as you can. Reach out to everyone that you’ve met through a festival, and see if they’re running any shows. Just get out and about as much as you can.”
Do you have any experiences that you’d describe as “only in New York” to your friends and family elsewhere?
“I don’t know about comedy-wise, but life-wise, when I moved here, several of my friends told me, ‘You’re going to have a day where you end up crying on the train.’ And I was like, yeah, right. I love it here. This is the greatest. But then, a couple of weeks later, I did find myself crying on the train. And you know what? It wasn’t so bad! There was actually something kind of great about it, because it just feels like, it’s ok to feel however you feel here, and everyone’s sort of in it together. It’s really hard sometimes, but also really great. You know?”
I describe the city as relentless.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m kind of open-minded about it. I’m going to apply for jobs both in New York and L.A., and if it works to stay in New York, I’d love to, because I love living in a city. I love everything about it here. But I also don’t want to be closed-off to something happening in L.A., because there’s a lot of people doing neat stuff there, too.” Did you have a five-year plan when you started in San Francisco? “You know, I had goals, but I wouldn’t say that. It feels good to have goals that you set out to accomplish, but it’s also good to have a certain level of detachment, because sometimes, different good things happen. You want to be working hard, but also open minded about what form things are going to take.” Does that make you more open-minded about what to expect in the coming years? “Yeah, I think so. There’s also so many new formats people are doing stuff in…so many ways to get your stuff out there, so many different types of collaborations that people are doing. I try to have some things that I really want to get done, and also just listen and be open-minded about what feels fun, and what seems like a lot of creative energy…or opportunity.”
You can check out the title track to “Glass Gutter” now…
And purchase the full CD via Amazon or iTunes:
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