Interview with Tara Millette

10 Nov

Hello, dear readers. This is a bit of a departure from my usual style of blog post, but indulge me. When I auditioned for Stand-up for Diversity a couple of months ago, I met a comedian named Tara Millette, who’s from Montreal but recently moved to New York to pursue her dream. I always wanted a chance to learn about Canadian comedy and humor/culture in general, so I wanted to interview her. Unfortunately, our schedules just weren’t able to work out to get her on The A/A Meeting for an hour-long chat, but I figured maybe a text interview would work. It’s a good exercise for me, since my writing is taking this direction into “comedy journalist/critic” mode, whether I want it to or not.

My apologies if this ends up seeming a little reminiscent of Sean McCarthy’s “Meet Me In New York” segment, but you know what they say: imitation is the sincerest form of theft.

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What was the moment you decided to be a comedian? 

I’d love to say I was inspired one day and that being a comedian is something I break my back at. Truthfully, I was a third child of three daughters, and in an attempt to gain more attention I totally pulled the funny card. Not to give the impression I don’t work hard–I do–but being a comedian always felt like less of a choice and more of a logical decision. I didn’t think through the whole “starving artist” part, though. Damn details.

Where did you start out?

I started out in Montreal, my hometown. The English-speaking comedian world there is really small, so once you’re on the circuit, you’re on. There’s a pressure that comes with that, especially being a pale red-headed female. You were expected to have things polished way ahead of time, I feel, and certainly there was less room for error.

Why come to New York? Does Canada have any kind of sustainable comedy scene of its own, or do all comedians there aspire to move to America?

New York just felt like an unholy comedic Mecca to me. It always has. There’s certainly a thriving comedy scene in Canada, especially in Toronto with its Second City. It’s spun out some greats: John Candy, Jim Carrey, Kids in the Hall. Not to mention Ryan Gosling, but that’s less about comedy and more about abs. New York is such a strange, exciting, terrifying and ultimately chaotic city. It’s like a comedian’s playground. Ride the subway once without headphones and you’ve got a set.

What’s your favorite non-comedy related thing about NYC or America in general?

The non-comedic part of New York that I love is the people. I know, I know, Canadians are supposed to be friendly. But French-Canadians are not. I was shocked by how much eye contact people had here–a willingness to connect in an un-connectable city—but then quickly I learned too much eye contact lands you in a conversation with the guy who has a live cat sitting on his head. There’s something endearing about the crazies here. Yeah, I guess I got a soft spot for the local flavor.

A lot of Americans are ignorant or dismissive of any real cultural differences between them and Canadians. What are some you have noticed and how has that informed and shaped your comedy?

I do agree there’s certainly a difference between Canadian and American humor, and that it tends to go unnoticed. I feel we have a drier, quirkier sense of self. Americans have such a source of cultural unrest and dissatisfaction, I feel like they draw on that a lot. In the end, whatever is funny is funny, but I certainly feel that if people listened closely (and ignored the “‘eh’s”) you’d find Canadians to have a cheekiness that’s almost more British. Like Russel Peters, he’s got cultural commentary, certainly, but it’s always peppered with just weirdness, which makes it more Canadian.

What makes a gig enjoyable for you? Can you talk about an example?

I feel like a gig is great not when all of your jokes work, but when you really feel like you’re in a little gang all together with the audience. Deciding with the crowd what to enjoy on a basic level. It’s kind of why I prefer venues without raised stages–so you’re just standing there on the same floor, riffing and chatting. When people want to come up to you after a set and have a real chat, that’s when I feel at my best. I guess it all boils down to things feeling friendly, approachable, and universal.

God, I sound like a dirty hippie.

Now tell me about a bad gig. One where you bombed and how you dealt with it.

I bombed hardcore at a fundraiser. This is especially terrible, because it’s a freakin’ fundraiser and it’s sad to have to raise money for anything. People think “Hey, a comedian! Awesome! I get to stop feeling horrible that I’m not contributing enough. Make me laugh, funny lady!!” It was just so quiet after every punchline, and a big part of my act is the silences and awkwardness in between talking, so you can imagine how big my pit stains were. Thank god I wore black, that’s all I’ll say.

Who were your inspirations growing up? What kind of comedy do you tend to like consuming? Is it anything like the comedy you produce?

Oddly enough, no one I am a fanatic about seems to come in to my act. I get a lot of Mitch Hedberg comparisons, mostly because of my pacing and language. I always liked him, but I found myself drawn to people like Eddy Izzard, Chris Rock, George Carlin, Louis C.K, Russel Peters… Not that many women, I admit. Not out of any particular self-hate, I just dug how those guys devoured their stage. They just always seemed so in charge of their comedy, even their throwaways would seem meticulous. Then you have the actor comedians like Leslie Nielsen, Jon Cleese… They all have an element of the ridiculous, I suppose. I also grew up on Monty Python movies and episodes of the Flying Circus. They opened up my eyes to the idea of having weird, scary, and funny be all wrapped up together.

How has comedy affected your social life? Do you have much room for a life outside of comedy?

I find comedy is the most misleading of the arts. It seems to be wrapped up in socializing, which is why some audience members feel like they can talk back to a comic while they’re doing their set. It comes across as a conversation with a friend, someone who’s acting comfortable and mouthing off about what annoys them. It’s very personal. Even if you antagonize the crowd, it still feels like it’s one of your friends being a douchebag and mouthing off. It gives a false sense of permission, and people forget you’re not their friend, you’re a professional. It’s a difficult line to tread. Personally, outside of the open mics, I don’t find it tough having friends and keeping myself in check. I do have to be careful sometimes to not dive in to my little notebook when my friends say something that inspires me, or to neglect having real chat and not be “on.” It’s tempting to always try to be funny, but it’s good to remind yourself to be real. That’s where good jokes come from anyways.

What keeps you going when shit seems impossible to deal with?

I guess the idea that it’s not about getting somewhere specific, but feeling like I’m getting better. “Better” is a dangerous word, I realize, but what I mean is better able to expand, to be courageous, to try new things. When shit sucks and it feels like I’m just digging myself in to a bigger hole, I remind myself that I’m a college drop out who ran away from Canada and towards a wonderful country that’s falling apart. I’m trained for nothing else. And you know what? That suits me just fine. Feels like fate.

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If you want to learn more about Tara and her comedy, visit her web site here, add her on Facebook here, and/or follow her on twitter here!

 

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