2006_07_laukilmartin.jpgComedian Laurie Kilmartinhas been on Comedy Central, wrote for The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and is a nationally touring headlining comedian.

What sort of role did comedy play in your life growing up?
I wasn't aware of stand up comedy growing up. I watched a lot of Carol Burnett with my mom. My mom was very funny. I wasn't a class clown. I was pretty shy.

Are you able to think of one of the earliest times that you were aware of your ability to make other people laugh?
I wrote this short story in sixth grade that I read out loud and it made this girl Jackie Snyder laugh. She hated me and was really popular. She laughed and then stopped herself and got mad at me. After that, I wasn't as upset that she hated me. I felt like I had her for a second.

And what were you like in school?
Nerdy and self-conscious. Sometimes, if I had riffs I'd whisper them to a friend who would say them out loud and get a laugh. I was always sure that it wasn't that funny. I was funny around a couple of friends, but I wasn't loud funny.

What sort of aspirations did you have growing up?
I just wanted to be an Olympic swimmer.

What sort of creative outlets did you have?
I just swam. That's all I remember doing growing up. I wasn't in the drama club or anything like that.

So, that time that you wrote the story was not something that happened often?
Every once in a while we had assignments for class, but it wasn't like I was at home writing books. I went to school and did decently, but swimmer was my identity.

What did you do after high school?
I went to college for about a year. I was a swimmer and then I dropped out. I was sort of lost and then I started seeing stand up shows in San Francisco. That was the first thing that made me feel as excited as swimming ever had. I decided to try it and it took me a year and a half before I actually did because I was so terrified.

And how did that first open mic go?
Great. I killed. I think it was new comedy energy because I went back the same week, did the same material, and bombed. After that, I was hooked. All I could think was, " Why did that happen?" You spend a lot of time thinking, "Why did this work this night and not this night," and then you tinker. A big part of comedy is tinkering.

How does your early material compare to what you're doing now?
I didn't have an idea of what I wanted to talk about when I first started. I just wanted to perform without throwing up. I was so nervous. Any joke I could complete without my voice shaking thrilled me. I just wanted to speak it out without the audience seeing how terrified I was. I didn't really care what I was talking about as long as I looked like I knew what I was doing.

How many open mics were you doing at the time?
I started in San Francisco and there were a ton of open mics. I'd do about one a night, but I had to drive all over the place. I'd drive up to an hour. There was always an open mic every night.

Did you meet any crazies at the open mics?
There's tons of crazies at open mics. There was this woman who was so awful that she was very compelling to watch. She might have been autistic. She had no facial expression. She just did this one tampon string joke, which was kind of an old road joke. I used to work at the Holy City Zoo in San Francisco. Five times a week there was an open mic with up to forty comics a night. It drew a lot of bizarre people. People that should never do comedy ever. A lot of great comics started there.

What were the next several years like?
Really fun. Learning how to be relaxed onstage and meeting all of these fun comedians. I had been a competitive swimmer, so I hung out with jocks my whole life. Comics were a really odd breed. Hooking up with those minds was a lot of fun.

What were you doing at the time to support yourself financially?
I was in telephone sales for a while and sold Rainbow vacuum cleaners door to door, which are really great, by the way. It was mostly telephone sales. I did that for two years. I set appointments for a management consultant company.

How long were you doing stand up before you noticed a difference?
Probably three years. I wasn't a natural at it at all. I wasn't used to making people laugh, so it took a while for me to get comfortable. Other people moved on a lot people because they were probably class clowns in high school or naturally loud, and I wasn't.

How long was it before you moved up to emceeing and middling?
About three years to emcee in the bay area and five or six years before I was featuring on the road. Then I had a really good time. I bought a Chevy Blazer and put at least 450,000 miles on it over the next ten years. I just drove all over the country doing shows, but not too much in the northeast. All over Montana, the Dakotas, Idaho, and Washington. I felt like a little cowgirl. This guy would book one nighters. It would go Tuesday through Saturday and the gigs would be at least six hours apart. I think now it would be drudgery, but at the time I couldn't believe I was doing it. Nobody I had grown up with was doing anything like that.

What was your first road gig?
I can't remember my first road gig. Those years are just a haze of driving, one-nighters, bars, and stages in the back of restaurants.

How do you deal with the downtime?
I'm lazy, so I don't consider it downtime. Everyone should have eight or ten hours a day to do whatever they want. I go online, read, look at dirty pictures, write, workout, go to movies, and visit tourist areas. Things every person should have the time to do.

What have you learned from the road?
No matter where you are, jokes about race and politics are hit and miss, but dick jokes always work. They're the universal language.

What was the strangest road experience you've had?
I had two and a half days to drive from Chicago to Sacramento. I left Chicago on Sunday night with a case of Mountain Dew. I needed to drive straight through, so I drank the entire case during the first eight hours. Somewhere around Wyoming, a large grasshopper appeared in the backseat of my Blazer. It would perch itself on my headrest and when I would reach for it, it would hop away. It crawled all over my bags and nibbled on crumbs. I kept my eye on it. Fear of the grasshopper kept me paranoid and awake through Utah and eastern Nevada. When I pulled over to sleep near Lovelock NV, I searched the Blazer and there was no grasshopper.

When did you move to New York?
I moved to New York in 1998. I was just going to stay for a year and was then going to move to LA, but I've been here ever since. I lived in LA for about ten months when I had a writing job out there. I love New York City. It's a great place for comedy.

How would you compare the New York and La comedy scenes?
It's not even close. You can do like twenty spots a week in New York City and work out a chunk, but, in LA, if you have one or two chunks a week that's good. Rarely are they in front of genuine audiences of non-industry people. It's hard to get a reading on a joke. A lot of comic's in LA tend to talk about show business and it's hard to relate to that outside of Los Angeles.

When do you think someone should move out to New York to pursue comedy?
Probably five years before I did. Move out when you know what you're doing but still have a lot to learn. Don't wait to long. No matter how far along you are, when you move to New York you have to start over from scratch and it's really painful. I think it's less painful if you're a feature than if you're headlining. It's really humbling. If you're a good feature in your hometown, it's time to move to New York.

What's your opinion on bringer shows?
Thankfully, I skipped that when I moved to New York. I think they're horrific. I guess it brings income to the clubs, but for the comics it's awful. I don't think it makes you funnier; it makes you worry about if your friends will show up.

What do you think of stand up courses?
I took a few in San Francisco. One of them was great. It was stuff like how to hold a mic. When you're up onstage, you can get so terrified that you forget everything. It was rudimentary skills like, "Take the mic out of the stand and move the mic stand out of the way." I took another course with a guy who was awful. It took me about a year to undo the damage he did to my act. For the most part, other comedians are helpful. If you're a comic, you can ask another comic to watch your set to give you feedback. You learn the most from bombing. I watch comics and notice a lot of things, but I won't go up and tell them, "Hey, you're doing this wrong," because they didn't ask. Unless it's glaring, I'd feel uncomfortable. But if someone asked me to watch their set and offer feedback, I'd be happy to.

What are some things that you know about stand up know that you would have liked to have known when you were starting out?
Killing isn't as important as it seems. It is to a certain degree. At a Saturday night show, you need to get the job done, but it's really okay to bomb and try stuff out. If I were talking to my twenty-two year old self I would say that the odds are so against you being famous that instead of trying to be famous you're better off trying to be funny. You might get famous, but you probably won't. There's so many comics in New York City that no one will ever hear of. Just try to be as funny as possible.

Are you noticing that comedian is a career that young people aspire to have?
I don't know if anyone considers it a career. It's just something you do that takes over your life. It's like a spider web that keeps growing an enveloping your entire life. There's lots of young comics and it's great that people still see it as the only way they can communicate and express themselves. It never feels like a career and more like an obsession.

What do you think of comedians that start out young, like fourteen or sixteen?
I always wish I started out that young, but I think I was so naïve. It depends on your personality. I was really dumb and naïve for a long time. I don't think starting at fourteen would have made me any savvier. I wouldn't recommend it for most people. You need to get banged up a little bit so that you can have something to talk about.

What do you think of the term alternative comedy?
I remember when that started. It was a reaction to really hacky road comedy, but it turned into this clique that felt that they were cleverer than the rest of us. It felt very exclusive. I see some alternative comedy and think, "If you just edit your set up it'll be a real joke." It's a lot of rambling. Tape record yourself and cut four sentences out of that joke and it'll be really tight. It seems like there's self-consciousness about trying too hard. It's annoying. Just be funny.

Does it seem like there's another comedy boom slowly building?
Yeah, there's a lot of clubs in New York and there's another one opening in the meatpacking district. I don't know how it's going to all be sustained unless people start coming out more. Maybe because of Last Comic Standing people want to come out and see more.

What do you think of Last Comic Standing?
I did not audition for it. You can't treat comedy like singing. Some amateur can go up and sing very well, but no amateur can get up and be really funny. It's something that takes years. You can be an amateur and have a great set, but you just don't have the chops. To treat comedy like American Idol is wrong. You're going to have amateurs who suck and make stand up look bad going up against professionals. I don't like the whole grading process. Obviously, it's a television show, so they pick people that they think are going to antagonize each other and not necessarily the best comics. It does help the ones who do well in it. It brings their road money up and helps their careers. I can completely understand why someone would do it.

What was your experience with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
I did that in 2004. It was awesome. There's an ungodly number of shows where you just can't believe it. The entire town of Edinburgh is taken over by comedy from all over the world. I got to do a week in a venue that guy named Brian Hennigan put together. I didn't have to do any work, which is even better. You're competing with all these shows to get people to come to your show and this guy Brian did all the promo for it. It’s just you for an hour and it's great. I was called racist for making Muslim jokes and I had other people that loved it. I had never been reviewed before and there were people from The Guardian and Independent writing about me like I was important and have something to say. They were breaking down jokes. I wish people in America took to comedy so passionately and were that interested in it.

What are some projects that you're currently involved in?
I have two show ideas that I'm trying to get on the air. I've been pitching those for the last two months. I've been working for a website called Dailycomedy.com, but it's not launching till the end of July. I wrote for a few shows. The last show I wrote for ended in March, so I've just been working on a spec script to get another writing job. And doing a lot of roadwork.

Can you tell me more about Daily Comedy?
It's in the beta process right now. They're looking over technical aspects right now. Comics can post a joke or video and it goes up immediately. Ideally, it'll be a place for comics to put stuff online really quickly.

And who's putting all of this together?
A guy named Charlie Warner, who used to work for Time Warner and AOL.

What do you like to do after a performance?
Sulk. In New York, you just stay out a couple of extra hours talking with other comics. Then I usually go home and go online for seven more hours. I can't seem to get away from the computer. It's really disgusting on the road. You're usually done by ten o'clock at night. Some comics love it. I'm in San Antonio this week. What am I going to do in San Antonio at ten o'clock at night? There's nothing to do.

You can also find Laurie online on Kilmartin.com.