Born from packs of sugar and pure, molten kindness, Katina Corrao is one of the nicest people you’d ever meet (or in my case talk to over the phone). Don’t be fooled by her jovial behavior though. Like most comedians, she also pulls double duty as an actress appearing on shows like The Pete Holmes Show and Broad City. She pretty much seems up for anything with her get up and go attitude and a drive to match.
Her new album, Hot Date, explores her cheerful personality with heavy doses of anecdotes about Weight Watchers, brunch, and she even gives some unsolicited shout outs. Corrao tunes her on stage persona to be bigger and bolder than her but, through it all, she manages to keep a smiling disposition. I recently had the honor of speaking with her about Hot Date, her career, and what keeps her going.
It’s amazing, isn’t it? Your album has a picture of you on the front. You titled it and you have your own jokes. Not many people get to this level.
Katina: I know. It was really…it was something that just felt – let me just preface everything I say with I can sound extremely corny [laughs] – but it truly was something I felt that needed to happen. And it just…I guess when things are supposed to happen they’re just effortless. I mean, there were a few bumps in the road along the way like with getting the album done and everything but, ultimately, it just felt so right. The timing was right and the right people were helping me. It was just such a beautiful thing. It was just really, really nice.
How long had you been working on the album?
Katina: I’d started doing standup consistently in 2005. So for ten years, I’ve been doing standup. But I would say, probably in the past three years I felt like I really evolved into the comedian I wanted to be. I felt the most comfortable on stage. I felt like I was able to be who I’m supposed to be on stage after all that time. And you don’t think like that. In the beginning when I first started I was like “Oh my God! I’m the next Jerry Seinfeld!” You think that you’re like that!
[Laughs] And then you’ll do ten great shows and then you'll have one show that’ll trip you up a little bit. Or you’ll have ten terrible shows and one great show and still think like that. So I just think that it really takes a lot of time to hone who you are. I would say, for whatever reason in the past three years, I felt like “okay, this is something to work towards.”
With those missteps and successes, how did you work your way past messing up on stage or having a bad crowd and to keep striving for the crowds that are cheering for you and the jokes that kill?
Katina: That’s a really great question. I think by doing standup -- and I’m also an actor so by auditioning there also comes so much rejection with acting -- that ultimately helps me in my standup. Because, as an actor when you get rejected, especially at the point that I was getting…I was booking things certainly but there’s a lot of rejection in it. You really become numb to it. It’s just like when people say “I’m so sad I’m rejected.” I’m like “I get rejected ten times a day! Blow it off!”
So I think that hardens you and allows you to be a little more determined when it comes to standup. It almost forces you to keep going and figure it out. So you have a bad show? Just get right back on stage and keep doing it, keep writing and keep meeting new audiences. Do the colleges, do nursing homes, do 10 AM, do comedy at midnight. Don’t feel safe. Just go out there and do it. And if you’re feeling raw and scared, that’s the way -- at times -- you should be. Sometimes you have to go really far out in order to get into that safe space.
When you’re doing stand up and you have to transition over to acting like when you were in Broad City or VH1’s shows, how does that figure into your act of doing standup or just being a general person?
Katina: That’s also a great question because my standup persona is just a heightened version of who I am. It’s tremendously animated, really over the top. And you’re right; when I have to do something like Broad City or acting, you have to bring it back a thousand steps. Even though, I feel, as a standup you’re really intimate as an audience, the stage allows me to be over the top and intimate.
When you’re in front of the camera, you have to be intimate and if you are at all over the top, you have to bring it back and do it in a way that’s not screaming. And that took a lot of practice because, when I started auditioning it was like “It’s such and such commercial” and I’m like “OH MY GOD I LOVE KLEENEX TISSUES” and they’re like “bring it back so far.”
“You cannot do this.” So it’s sort of like [knowing] when you can be over the top. But that is the beauty of standup; that you can be able to be animated and flail your arms and talk. And then the audience is really with you.
As I’m talking to you right now, you’re very open and expressive. I can actually see your movements right across the phone lines. It’s great! I’ve never had an interview that’s this engaging. That’s your personality I get right now, hopefully. Is that how you are on stage? Are you able to go to improv and act with other people or are you just a singular comic who just wants to focus on standup?
Katina: No, I love improv. Just the other night at the release party, I had a few jokes I was going to do but, to me, that’s another beauty to standup. I started talking to a guy in the audience and we were talking about In N Out burgers and you’re sort of, at that point, the voice for the rest of the crowd. [They’re] with you and you’re all against the one poor guy that interviewing or talking with. But it makes it fun and spontaneous and I think that makes it one of the beautiful aspects of standup.
It’s very different from being in a play. You’re still on stage in a play and you can be a bit more animated but you can’t break and just go in a different direction. With standup, you can do that. I love that aspect of it. I love talking about Weight Watchers and then asking someone in the front row “what do you do? You look skinny. What’s your secret?” And just kind of going off on that.
When you’re talking with someone on stage – or in the audience – are you able to read who that person is and what they’re all about? Do you like to express what makes them laugh?
Katina: You get different kinds of people. I love the people who don’t want to talk. Certainly the people who raise their hand and want to talk, they want to share and they’re like “I’m right there with you.” But, to me, it’s really exciting when you get someone who’s like painfully shy and they’re like “get away from me” – those are the people you want to stay with because they have so much to bring. [laughs] And maybe secretly they do want to be bothered but they’re just like “I don’t know how to react. And that’s just funny. It’s that fish out of water kind of element.
Are you doing any work behind the scenes like writing or producing?
Katina: I am! [Shonali Bhowmik], who is 50% of the brains behind the label that I’m with, is one of my dear friends. She and I started collaborating probably two years ago and have since written some sketch shows. Right now, we’re working on a scripted show we hope to see on Comedy Central; stuff for truTV. And I’m working on developing my one person show into a pilot. I act like I’m the only comedian that’s doing that -- “Just so you know, I’m writing a sitcom pilot.” So is like every other comedian! But my point is the beauty of doing that now is, for me, I don’t think it’s easer but I feel more confident in my writing because I feel more confident as a comedian.
Whereas, when I first started comedy, you think you know what to put out there but you’re not really quite sure who you are as a performer. You haven’t really honed that stage persona yet in my opinion. So now I feel like I still have a lot more to go and a lot more to evolve but it’s almost more exciting now to create out of something that has already been a bit more established character.
What is your one woman show about? What kind of elements are you trying to transfer over from that show into the pilot?
Katina: Really what my goal is with that is to sort of make it okay not to be the perfect person. My persona on stage is I’m bringing the audience in with “We’re not perfect, right? Let’s laugh at that because that’s hilarious.” As many times as I’ve tried to date, as many times as I tried to do my Weight Watchers, we’re all failing and that is the funniest thing because we get up every day and we continuously try to do it.
Ideally, by bringing that to a sitcom pilot, it’s like “Maybe I’m surrounded by the perfect people. Maybe I’m the fish out of water that’s like ‘how do I get by in this world?’” That’s how acting is; you’re sort of surrounded by perfect people. And I’m constantly in an audition room thinking “This is the movie. People can’t really be this perfect.” Just exploring that idea of “how do I get there?” I’m always trying to get somewhere. No matter whether I’m sitting at a wedding by myself and I’m seeing the other people with the dates; how do I get where they’re sitting? I’m watching TV; how do I get to be in a sitcom? But then taking who I am and exploring “who am I? Why am I this person always trying to get to another place?” And I think it’s funny for people because I think you can be in any profession and feel like you’re not quite there yet. And maybe that’ll be relatable to other people hopefully.
That seems like a better premise than other sitcoms that are out today that are just a young lady or a young man in his late 30’s or early 20’s trying to make it in the world of New York and California.
Katina: Right! So let me take this advertising job!
Exactly! You mentioned truTV in passing. I think it’s interesting how a network that used to air Cops reruns and The Worlds Greatest Escapes reruns and all that stuff is going into these scripted and unscripted mostly comedy bits with Hack My Life with Brooke Van Poppelen.
Katina: Yes! And Adam Conover (Adam Ruins Everything). If I can just say this, all of these people are my dear friends. So it is so beautiful and inspiring. I think that, this is another point that I will say, to all these people who totally inspire me and I love as performers – to see them on TV is awesome. I think it really inspires you. I think when I first started in comedy, even in the business world in general, you think that it’s going to be full of people who are going to be cut throat that all this crazy competition.
Yeah, it does exist; I don’t want to sound like I live in this fairytale (I do) but, you know what? I’ve been so lucky to surround myself with people who are not only talented but who do inspire me. When you’re all confident and support what you do, you can be each other’s cheerleaders. I really believe that and I really believe that other comedians think that. There’s a huge support and love system among the community. I think it’s awesome because we’re all kind of rooting for each other. And truTV especially because a lot of my friends are on that so it’s kind of nice to aspire to be there and to know what can happen because you’ve seen them go through everything that we’re all going through.
Right. I think it’s great to see you up and coming comedians doing as much as you can with Twitter and the Vines and YouTube and so on to not just be single minded. I understand the web is exploding and people love streaming and all that stuff but there’s still that classic thought of “I’m going to go to basic cable or network TV” and that’s one of the bigger goals.
Katina: That’s right. I think that it’s also just great to feel, in an industry that maybe can be a little hard, you realize the people who are successful are nine times out of ten the people who are talented too. They’re not only good people. They want to see you succeed. To me, that’s success. If you’re successful and you’re at the point where you’re like “I’m okay with someone else succeeding. I’m confident where I am.” What a great place to be.