If you haven’t met Kelsie Huff, you’re in for a treat: A regular performer at Zanies, The Laugh UP Comedy Club, Mayne Stage, and Comedy on State, who has also appeared on Chicago’s daytime TV show, Windy City Live. She has played a variety of comedy festivals that include: New Orleans, North Carolina, Boston Women in Comedy, Bridgetown Comedy Festival, Chicago Funny Female Festival, and the Chicago Comedy Exposition. Aside from all that, she and Amy Sumter formed the two-women sketch comedy team Children of the Absurd, and together ran a show titled 10% Less Fat all over the Midwest.
Huff also has a couple of one-woman shows: Her first one titled Huffs was well acclaimed by Time Out Chicago and won the “Boulder Fringe Festival Encore Award” where she received the Camera Eye Award for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” for comedy. Huff’s second one-woman show, Bruiser: Tales From a Traumatized Tomboy received 4 out of 4 stars in the Chicago Stage Review as well as “Best Solo Performance of 2011”. On top of it all, Huff is a senior cast member of Comedy Sportz 100 Proof Comedy, she teaches a stand up class called Feminine Comique produced by Tight Five Productions, and she produces a monthly comedy showcase, The Kates. Oh, and she also does commercials, sketches & shorts, and voice-over work!
Kelsie Huff is hilariously amazing! She is truly gifted and a hard working talent that everybody can learn from. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!
Which comedians inspired you?
When I was a kid there was not a lot of exposure to stuff except for mainstream comedians so I LOVED Eddie Murphy even though I was WAY TOO YOUNG. I was watching Delirious on repeat! I didn’t even know Richard Pryor existed! [laughs] I would say the jokes at recess, and people would call me a slut because I said bad words, but I’m like, “No, that’s not how that works, I’m HILARIOUS!” [laughs]
[laughs] How did you get into comedy?
Well, when I was born, I had some problems...[laughs] I had to be pulled out, I had a squished ear, my legs were all fucked up, and as a kid and I had to wear braces...
You were THAT kid in school?
[laughs] Well, before school I got it fixed—I had to wear little tiny braces when I was a baby, so nothing too traumatizing. BUT, my mom was paranoid that my legs would be jacked up forever, so she put me in dance classes very early. I was doing jazz and modern dance, and I was in front of a crowd very early. And on top of that, I grew up in a home with an alcoholic, where you had to be like, “Heyyy! Everything’s OK!!” [laughs] So, I learned to dance and make people laugh.
Were you in theater growing up?
I actually played softball, but I was no star. [laughs] I was always the one who got the “Spirit Award” ya know?!
[moment of laughter]
I would just throw my body into everything. I was the only girl on my softball team who wasn’t afraid to bunt, and dive, and shit talk. [laughs] But, I tore my ACL, and I definitely think that pushed me to do performance stuff in school. I have this energy where I can’t sit still, and I just could not NOT do something. So, I started doing stuff with musical theater.
FROM IMPROV TO STAND UP
How long have you been in Chicago?
I came here in ’98 and went to Columbia, and that’s when shit got real. Originally, I went for radio because I thought it was going to be like Good Morning Vietnam...turns out that’s NOT true! [laughs] And, I really wanted to do improv, but I had no idea what improv was—I only knew improv from watching Who’s Line Is It Anyway on satelite. I didn’t realize that improv was what I wanted to do until I finally took an improv class, and then my life was ruined... [laughs]
What happened after that?
I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do, so I was like, “Well, I’ll just keep taking classes!” It was like my very own mini-masters. [laughs] After Columbia, I did Second City, and I did the Conservatory, and I was also writing my own solo shows. I started in the solo show world and the sketch world. What I loved about it is that I met Amy Sumter—who’s a girl I still produce stuff with—I met her there.
Improv and stand up don’t seem to mesh well. People rarely do both. As a stand up with an improv background, what are your thoughts on those separate worlds?
I mean, the way I see it, why not have as much on your tool belt as you can? Even if you choose stand up over improv, why not be skilled in both? Why not?! There’s just SO many options. That’s the wonderful part about being an artist. There is no corporate ladder. Everyone’s journey is unique.
How do you handle having a bad set?
Everybody has their own triggers and you just have to be aware of them. It shouldn’t eat you up inside. Unless it’s going to push you to be a better artist or human being, if you let it eat at you then you’re in trouble. I also think if you let the good shit make you think that that’s reality, you’re in trouble as well. And it’s tricky! Because, HOW are you NOT supposed to take it personally?
[laughs] Seriously! But seriously, how do you not take it personally?
[laughs] I know it’s a career, I know it’s exciting, but it’s a JOB! Ya know? And a job doesn’t have to be negative, right? Like, how lucky are we to be able to wake up, take some stupid shit that we wrote in a notebook, and force strangers to listen to it?!? AMERICA! [laughs] So, why beat yourself up? This is a fuckin’ DOPE DEAL! [laughs]
How do you balance comedy life with personal life?
I try not to connect comedy to who I am. This is not who you are as a successful human being. You HAVE to separate them a little, and I know people disagree with me like, “You CAN’T separate them! That’s NOT how you become successful!” But you have to have a balance, and have a human life. The comedians I’m drawn to have...lives! [laughs] And they have rich characters and stories and things to talk about. The people that I know who are having a rough time, ONLY live in the world of comedy.
How do you not let the really good sets get to your head?
I don’t know if this is a healthy attitude or a terrible attitude, but my dad always told me, “No matter how many people love ya, there’ll always be a couple pricks that hate ya!” [laughs] Which is a terrible thing! Because then, you’re never satisfied! I feel like all that shit just doesn’t matter. Do not get me wrong, when it is good, it is feeling GOOD! You feel like the crowd loves you, you feel like, “Hail Caesar! I got this! I’m gonna smooch everyone’s faces! Everyone is gonna buy me cake!!”
[moment of laughter]
But, it’s not real. It’s NOT! It’s very fleeting. You have to do the same thing tomorrow—AND you have to do it BETTER. AND...you have to write new jokes! I don’t want to lie and say that it isn’t GREAT, because it is. But, it’s not the whole picture. You have to love ALL aspects of comedy. You have to love sitting by yourself in your room and working on those jokes about your braces. You have to love those parts, because that’s more of your life than those moments of glory. It’s all about that balance.
This is good stuff, Huff!
Now, I haven’t had the glory that other people have had... I’m sure it’s much harder when all these people are telling you that you’re wonderful all the time, and you’re selling out ampitheaters... It’s not in my experience! [laughs] So, ask me if that ever happens to me, because who knows, maybe at that point I’ll just be like, “Wooo! Cocaine and strippers!!” [laughs] But right now I don’t have shit…
COMEDY & COLLEAGUES
How important is it to gain the respect of your peers in comedy?
It’s in our biology to want the herd to like us. We don’t want to be outside the herd because you could be left alone! You could die out there! So, of course you want respect. And you do need friends and people, but find the ones that YOU connect with, and hold on to those people. The rest will come. All of a sudden you will find yourself, that spine of yours will start to straighten out IF you find that community that helps you flourish rather than drag you down.
Becoming a comedian is not a normal path. I know you shouldn’t compare yourself to other comics, but how do you not when there isn’t a definite path to follow?
That’s the thing about being an artist—you just don’t know the path. It’s nothing but fog! You need to see something! So, you start looking at other people and go, “They’re getting father than I am!” It’s tricky, but you have to separate it and just learn from it. It’s okay to look around, but find what works for YOU. I could be wrong, but I’m sure Larry David knows his stuff when he said: “Most people don’t know dick about dick.” Most people don’t! Everybody’s just makin’ it up!
We’re all just full of shit?
[laughs] We’re all full of shit, and we’re all gonna die. So, settle down! [laughs] Have some fun. I don’t understand people who are Judgy McJudgertons—we’re all insecure assholes. Oh, you don’t feel good about yourself today? Well, I don’t feel good about myself sometimes either, so what! Let’s just hang out! We’ll have some brownies and just chill out! [laughs]
Word of advice for the frustrated comics who feel they’re not getting booked enough?
I am a firm believer of “Don’t wait.” So, if you feel like you’re not getting enough stage time, you can always create your own. And, you’re in a good spot because if you have other people that are also frustrated, you guys are gonna make a thing. That’s what makes Chicago big—people get PISSED OFF—and they start doing their own thing. People are like, “I’m not getting booked! Fuck this guy! I’m gonna do my own shit! And take over the world!!” [laughs] Let it fuel you.
You performed a character known as Tammy Transit. Where did she come from?
[laughs] I did it at a show called Don’t Drink The Water, which was a fun show that let me do weird things like that. [laughs] I love doing a character show because I’m somebody that needs an assignment and a deadline as opposed to just going out and randomly trying out a character.
How do you feel about comedy shows that incorporate games?
I love that stuff! Because I love audience work, too. I get more material from stuff like that. Plus, I like to be pushed out of my comfort zone, so I really like it. I can see how other comedians might feel uncomfortable, and that’s fine. But my question is how are you going to get better? You’re under the radar here. It’s not like you’re established with a TV show where people expect you to have a certain voice or whatever. No one expects dick from us! You can go up tomorrow and be a whole different character! You could do whatever you want! This is a great, exciting time!
FAMILY & FRIENDSHIPS
Word of advice for the “new kid” on the scene?
I remember when I first started, it seemed like nobody wanted to talk to me, but these comics were just in their notebooks trying to work on their jokes. For some reason, I took it personally feeling like, “Nobody wants to talk to me!” But really, nobody gives a shit about you, they’re writing their material, so settle down! Just go in there with the attitude of, “This is JUST the thing I love, no one’s gonna stop me, maybe I’ll make some friends, but I’m gonna get better—which is the reason I’m here!”
What about people in your life who only care about your art if it relates to money?
That’s more reflective on them than you. THAT is what they value and those are the choices that they’ve made. And if they’re not making those same choices, they tend to feel like it reflects on them. But it really has nothing to do with you. My mom will say things like, “Just get on Oprah! Oprah helps everybody!” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?! Oprah doesn’t give a fuck about me, mom! She doesn’t care about my jokes!” [laughs]
[laughs] My mom has said the exact same thing.
Moms LOVE Oprah! [laughs] They all want you to be on Oprah!! [laughs]
Words of wisdom for the younger comics?
Perform any time of day, any place. Perform outside of the city - I’ve performed at retirement homes, bachelorette parties, burlesque shows, shows in peoples’ houses - the weirder the venue the better! You gotta have all that material in the bank. You know you’re working with a fuckin pro when they show up and you’ve never heard this material because you’ve only seen them at one place, and all of a sudden you’re looking at them like, “Wow, who the fuck is this guy?!” [laughs] You know what I mean? And you’re not changing your voice or becoming a whole different person, you just have to have all that material to pull from. Why not be able to try to perform anywhere? What’s the harm? Why limit yourself when you can learn more?
And it’s wonderful to feel at home—whether it’s a stage or a state or whatever. But that doesn’t mean you don’t leave home every now and then. You have to jump out of the nest or you’re gonna be a shitty comedian! [laughs] You gotta keep going, you gotta keep pushing.
What are your future goals?
Right now, my goal is to be a better comedian, write another solo show, I’m working on a book of essays...and just make a living. I don’t need 20 billion Twitter followers and all that - I mean but a lake house would be nice, don’t get me wrong, are you kidding me?!
[moment of laughter]
But, do you know what I mean? I come from a small town. I never had an example of people who made a living as an artist. That seemed so foreign to me. That to me is such a struggle, and THAT is the goal. I just want to be able to feel like I’m doing good work and I’m in control and I’m creating my own art—AND still able to pay my bills and go to the dentist and go on vacation. I wanna live, I wanna be better, and I wanna create stuff! Whether it’s stand up, web series, voice-over, commercials - I just want to be an artist.