Comedian Erica Rhodes grew up in Newton, MA, a city known for producing comics such as Louis C.K., Jonathan Katz and B.J. Novak. But she wasn't originally thinking she'd become a comedian. Rather, she thought she’d become an actress, and she even formally studied acting.
But because of her “funny unique voice,” she gravitated to comedy instead.
She’s had some success, too, and has performed at the Just for Laughs Festival, San Francisco Sketchfest, the Moontower Comedy Festival, the Blue Whale Comedy Festival, the Boston Comedy Festival and RIOT L.A. Fest. She also just released a live comedy album, Sad Lemon
Next week, she headlines Hilarities
on Wednesday and Sunday and opens for Tom Papa, who's at the club on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
In a recent phone call, she talks about her career.
What was it like to grow up in Massachusetts?
A lot of comics are from Newton. It’s some weird outlier thing. My mom is a musician, and I started with acting, and I did ballet. I grew up doing Prairie Home Companion
since I was 10 years old. I was trying to be an actress and went to acting school and studied the David Mamet technique. I took it really seriously, and I did Shakespeare. I always had a funny unique voice. Teachers said I needed to fix my voice, or I wasn’t going to have a career in acting. I worked on it a little and did vocal warmups [to try to change it]. It used to be really high, but overall, I realized this is my voice. I gravitated to comedy because people told me I was funny, but it wasn’t initially what I thought I would do.
Do you remember what your first standup show was like?
I had a false start. My first open mic was a date. I went out with this comic. I told him I always wanted to try an open mic. He wrote a couple of jokes for me that weren’t in my voice at all. I bombed so bad. I got nothing. I didn’t do it again for a year, and it went much better after that. When I did it on my own, I vented about a bad audition. I had auditioned for Parks and Recreation
, and I had to do a song, and I could tell I bombed. I reenacted that during my routine and had someone play the casting director. It was like I was trying to nail it that time. Then, of course, it was still really bad. I had other things going on in my life at that time too. My car had just got towed, and my boyfriend had just broken up with me. I was a total mess. I was so proud I did it that I posted the video, and my manager called me and asked what I was thinking. It’s like posting your first cello lesson. You just don’t do that. I went from feeling really proud to feeling really embarrassed. My manager told me I had to write jokes. I didn’t know how to do that. Some comics are born to write jokes. They come out of the womb writing jokes. I’m not that kind of person. I don’t think in joke format all the time.
You’ve built up a remarkable resume in what seems like a pretty short amount of time. Was there one guest appearance that served as a gateway?
I honestly don’t feel like I’ve had a breakthrough yet. I don’t feel like I’ve had that one big role. I got New Faces in Montreal two years ago, and it’s not like I got a show out of it, but I got a lot of club dates out of it. My road work really took off after that.
What was it like to do Bring the Funny on NBC?
It was exposure. It made an impression for turnout, and more people have come out to see my shows from that.
It’s a competition, right?
Yeah. It is.
I would think that would be unnerving.
Looking back, I think I got really stressed about it. I was in denial that it was a competition. Then, I got there, and I was like, “Wait. What?” I got anxious. I admire some comics like Michael Longfellow. I was like, “How are you so chill?” I was a wreck and not good at hiding it. I would tell everyone about how nervous I was. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone was so stressed about it. I made it to the semifinals. The experience overall was really good for me. You learn faster under pressure. Looking back, I would have tried to relax more and be more myself. This is a funny thing, but I also regret almost every outfit I wore. They didn’t convey who I am. They were too prissy. I looked at myself and thought, “That doesn’t capture my essence. I’m not exactly sure who that girl is.”
I was surprised by all your different outfits in your press photos too.
To be honest, once I get enough money, I want to hire a stylist. I don’t know how to dress myself. I have a very strange, eclectic wardrobe. Maybe my style is not having a style.
You broke up with a guy, who said you don’t love yourself enough, but it turned out he loved himself too much. It’s become one of your bits. Is that a true story?
Oh yeah. It’s totally autobiographic. He’s a comic, and he said it with a tiny bit of irony. He would say horrible things and then say he was joking, but he was still being mean. He really said that. I added the part about how we both need to love him less, and that’s the problem. We were both loving him, and nobody was loving me.
And what about the “Struggle is Real” guy. Is that also a true story?
That guy is totally real. I changed the name of his book a little bit, but the essence is the same. “The struggle is real” is the essence of the book. He is quite a successful guy who has a popular radio show and is a published author. He did kind of ghost me. My feelings did get kind of get hurt.
Talk about making your new comedy album Sad Lemon.
I’m pretty proud of it. I lucked out because I only had done one night in Portland, OR, and I had a great show. The next day, I told my manager I wanted to record my comedy album. Once I booked the shows, I started to worry that I might have only had one good night there by accident. I also didn’t know anyone in Portland and thought maybe nobody would come. But it wound up being the perfect place to do it. The sound is really good, and I used the take from one show even though I did five.
I like how you kept some of the audience interaction.
I felt like it was good to keep it an organic take. You feel like you’re at the show. That’s what I like about some of the Netflix specials I've seen. Bill Burr did that and I think Gary Gulman might have. It makes you feel like you’re at the show, which is really cool.
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