Lizzie O'Leary: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Lizzie O'Leary in for Tanzina Vega. Last spring at the start of the pandemic, we checked in with different comedians to find out how they were dealing with the closure of live venues and whether the shift to virtual comedy shows was working for them. Now, roughly a year later, live indoor comedy shows are finally becoming a safer reality and that means that a lot of comics can once again hear how audiences respond to their jokes in person without having to decipher reactions over zoom.
Comedian and Saturday night live cast member Melissa Villaseñor has been performing in front of masked, socially distanced audiences for SNL since last October. Here she is speaking with Collin Joest about quarantining alone last year.
Melissa Villaseñor: I'll be honest. It wasn't super fun all the time. Like at first, all I wanted to do is watch silly, stupid stuff. I found that old show the little Rascals. Colin, I would laugh so hard. I couldn't make out a single word. They were saying they sounded like this. [unintelligible 00:01:02]
Collin Jost: All I understood was hamburger
Lizzie O'Leary: At the end of this month, Melissa is set to perform standup in multiple cities. She's here with me now to discuss getting back out on the road. Melissa, thank you so much for being here.
Melissa Villaseñor: Hey thank you for having me and thanks for sharing the little Rascals clip.
Lizzie O'Leary: You started performing again in front of the studio audiences for SNL last fall. What did it feel like to do it again after months of no live shows?
Melissa Villaseñor: First it was a shock to the system because suddenly, boom, you're around so many people especially in the floor that and then we had to go jump on stage with our masks. It was very little trippy for me but the muscle of that show came back quickly and it just felt really nice to have crowds again and laughing and life. That was just so cool. I think I've gotten used to the rhythm of COVID testing and the Oh, sorry, there's a motorcycle.
Lizzie O'Leary: It's okay.
Melissa Villaseñor: It's New York, baby. It was very strange but I'm just grateful to be back with crowds there and also now this tour in the summer.
Lizzie O'Leary: Does it make it harder to know if an audience is with you if they've got masks on can you tell if you're bringing them along?
Melissa Villaseñor: You got to look right in their eyes to really have some hope laughing. It is tough. I did a couple of outdoor shows when I was home in LA and the masks were on and it was outdoors. I honestly couldn't tell up there. I was like I don't know if they're having fun. It's hard. Now that they're the shows that I'll be doing will be inside. It'll help to have that cover of the roof for the laughs, that's everything. Maybe I really don't know to her like [laughter] [unintelligible 00:03:25]
Lizzie O'Leary: Do you feel more prepared since you have been doing SNL? Did it like warm up that muscle again?
Melissa Villaseñor: In that sense where SNL, yes. Being in front of audiences but in terms of standup, it's a whole other muscle to get back. That's why I'm doing so many shows just because I want to strengthen back that hour that I was working on. By the time I get to LA I'm going to tape it because I need a comedy special out there in the world? Sorry. My cat she keeps putting her butt on my face anyway. No it's a so hard
Lizzie O'Leary: Will she be joining you on tour.
Melissa Villaseñor: No, I was not. She's going to stay here in New York. My sister lives here too. Thankfully. There's a dog walker who takes care of my dog and they also take care of cats. Ella's is in good hands. Penny my dog will be joining me on the road which is awesome. That's the best.
Lizzie O'Leary: You told the AAV club that some of this standup material is stuff you've been working on for years. I wonder did you tailor anything to post pandemic times or do you think audiences are going to respond to before times jokes in a different way?
Melissa Villaseñor: No, I feel like a lot of the bits I have they're personal whether it's about family members or my own self just being alone at home. It's not really about COVID none of the stuff but there's some newer bits but everything's evergreen.
I'm going to use that word. Does that make sense?
Lizzie O'Leary: Yes.
Melissa Villaseñor: I feel especially with the impression bits they're based on being at SNL or just personal things like why I love Steve Buscemi. He soothes my soul. It doesn't really have anything to do with COVID and I think it flows well.
Lizzie O'Leary: Maybe people need that something that's not about COVID.
Melissa Villaseñor: Yes. I don't want to talk. It exhausts me to even think about. I feel like it's my place to heal. I like to say this. I heal myself with the silly thoughts and jokes and I heal the crowd at the same time. That's what I like to go up there.
Lizzie O'Leary: Does that feel like pressure?
Melissa Villaseñor: No, because my main goal is making my own self laugh and if they're on board, that's great. That's my goal. I feel like that's what the special is. All the bits are just how do I be my own best friend and how can I make myself laugh each day? I think my fans know that by now. They know that-- I don't know, I don't have any pressure.
Lizzie O'Leary: Is there anything specific like any bits that you've been working on that you're particularly excited to try out in front of a real crowd?
Melissa Villaseñor: I'm excited. Yes. I feel like my new boyfriend, I feel like he's exciting to talk about cause he's a violinist and sometimes I feel like I'm on the Titanic and it's sinking when he's playing. There's a lot of like personal things that I'm very excited to. The real bits about my life or those are the ones I really want to keep working on. I'm very excited to share with the crowd.
Lizzie O'Leary: Do you get nervous at all about being in front of people in terms of COVID?
Melissa Villaseñor: With that stuff? I think once I get my second dose Tuesday will all be calmer. I always make sure the mic is sanitized. There's no one in the direct front row. Then I feel okay. I feel like if I'm spaced out enough, I feel good and no meet and greet sadly. I know everyone wants a hug but unfortunately not right now.
Lizzie O'Leary: Melissa Villaseñor is a standup comedian and a cast member of Saturday Night live. Her multi-city standup tour kicks off at the end of the month. Melissa, thank you so much.
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