Finding a voice in comedy can take years. The UCB Four didn’t know that their institution would pave the way for improv comedy. Dave Chappelle wasn’t always upfront. David Sedaris constantly writes and rewrites his work. But, when the voice is finally found, a good comedian can capitalize on it.
Selena Coppock knows what she sounds like. Her new album, Seen Better Days, is her essence in a neat, 44-minute package. It covers freshman album tropes like dating and living in New York yet there are sensational takes on making a hoodie for feminists and a Bob Seger song. I spoke with Coppock on the day of the album’s release about the Boston comedy scene, working a day job and how music influences her joke writing.
Christmas is twenty days away. Was last night turmoil for you sitting around and waiting for [the album] to release?
Selena Coppock: Yeah, kind of. It’s funny. Right before 11/11:30, friends were saying “Hey look! It’s fulfilling my order!” That was really neat to see that. I woke up this morning – usually, it’s hard for me to get out of bed – but I sprang out of bed and was like “Let’s go!”
You were ready! You woke up this morning…what was the first thing you checked? Did you check any numbers or did you actually go to see if the album was up? And then did you start listening to yourself?
Coppock: Yeah. All of the above. I went to my iTunes to see. I bought it too; just to step through the customer experience. I checked that it was on there and got ready for work (I have a normal nine to six job). I listened to it on the train on the way into work which was really weird. It was nice to listen to but you always feel like there were moments or beats where you’re like “Oh! I could’ve done that a teeny bit better.” But I am proud of it. It’s weird to listen to yourself on the train. I’m just glad I had earbuds in so nobody could hear me laugh at my own jokes. Talk about mass narcissism! [laughs] “Just listen to me!” Smiling along. “What a great day!”
I couldn’t imagine seeing something so big popping up. I’m looking at the album right now on Google Play and it’s crazy this thing is out and you’re a person seemingly nobody knows because you’re still grinding the nine to five. At some point, you’re going to become a comedian only and not just another office worker. That’s going to be a huge turnaround.
Coppock: I remember reading interviews with Gary Gulman who was just a gem of a human. He was working in finance for so long and then made the switch and transitioned [to full time standup]. It seemed like, at least for me, I tend to work a lot and really hard. I used to work seven days a week. I was also a tour guide on the weekends in addition to working Monday through Friday. I always wonder at what point will I be ready to jump and demand that my art pay for my life. I think that’s a tall order. But then you need to be free to be creative. I don’t mind having a normal job but I’m like “It does suck my energy” by the end of the day.
Definitely. I love to ask comedians about the first time they got their first big paycheck from doing a comedy job. If you create your own album, of course you’ve already gotten a decently sized check. What was it like receiving something that substantial in a monetary form?
Coppock: It is sort of remarkable. For so many years, you do it because you love to do it. You don’t demand that it pay. It’s such an odd phenomenon. It feels like found money. You remind yourself “No, it’s not!” I’ve put in so much work over the years. I started doing standup in ’05 in Boston. I was in Boston for over two years before I moved to New York. In some ways, you’re like “Oh wow! Look at this! Holy shit! Money falls from the sky!” And then it’s like “No it didn’t!” If you split it up by the amount of time you’ve been doing this, it’s a terrible waste! It is really neat. I did a headlining show two winters ago and got paid a bundle. It was the most I’d ever seen for headlining. I’m so irresponsible with money. I said “Let’s go to the steakhouse!”
When I really should’ve gone thrown it towards some credit cards. But I did take myself out.
How was Boston for comedy? I know when a lot of people when they refer to comedy, they only go to LA or New York. But a lot of the big time comedians like Conan [O’Brien], they go to Boston or Denver or sometimes Atlanta or Houston.
Coppock: I think the smaller cities are such great places to start. They’re such great communities. I’m so impressed by everything I’ve seen and heard as far as Austin, Cleveland, Atlanta and Boston similarly. It was such a wonderful place to start. I used to do improv all through college and after college for a little bit in Chicago. Doing improv in Boston, I made the switch to standup. It was really nice to figure out my voice somewhat. I figure I didn’t get my voice until I got to New York. It was nice to be terrible in a smaller place.
I give my friends so much credit who used to come out to my shows when I was so nervous on stage I’d be shaking. Sometimes I’d sit in a chair to try to control my body because I would be so nervous. I’m glad I wasn’t doing that in New York or LA. I’m glad I was doing that in a smaller scene and working out some early, early kinks. After two years of that, I moved to New York and was still pretty terrible at first. New York [is where] I figured out my voice. The opportunity to perform regularly in New York is so wonderful as far as grinding every night. Things really came together. I was glad I started and had those early bad shows in Boston.
You said you found your voice years later in New York. Now you’ve been there for ten years. I think your voice can be described as…you’re a very direct joke teller. I was just listening to the album. There’s no dancing around the premise for you. When you have a topic, you go right into it. With the [hardcore] “Feminist Rock Band,” that really ties into the direct personality you have. Especially seeing that the album cover is you looking back out of the mirror, I think that ties into your personality.
Coppock: Yes! You’re so thoughtful. We wanted – for the whole concept – we wanted it to be a line from a joke that hit hard. “The title will reveal itself and we’ll figure that out.” Seen Better Days is from my joke about being cast in this role on this TV show. We played with the mirror stuff because of the idea of “seen better days.” I know what you mean. We were noodling on playing with different identities and how I consider myself half WASP/redneck by heritage and playing with that. I feel like most of my jokes are traditional structure; 1, 2, 3. Heighten, heighten, heighten. Or a punch in the face.
The feminist rock band one is a punch in the face. It’s really fun. Some audiences, when I lead off with that, are like “Whoa! Here we go.” But it’s fun and, yeah, it is direct. I’ve gotten more comfortable with “This is who I am. If you don’t like me, that’s okay. I don’t care.” It all came out very well. I’m proud of it. All of it.
You already mentioned the role in Red Oaks. It’s basically one of my favorite streaming shows. It’s so good! It sucks that it ended this year. Your role…correct me if I’m wrong but you were talking to Wheeler for the scene?
Coppock: Episode seven of season two! The character’s name is Rhonda. I’m in this pink dress with cut out sides and tall white boots. I’m with two hookers basically on my show. It’s called Late Night with Rhonda. Yes, I’m doing a call-in show and giving advice! It was really fun. I shot with John Hodgman. He’s in the scene directing the protagonist. It was super fun. It’s neat that so many more shows are shot in the New York area now. It used to be that everything was in LA. Now, so many great things are filming in New York. Orange is the New Black, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel which just came out, and Red Oaks also. It was such a fun experience. It’s kind of tricky to do a scene where your scene partner is a voice offscreen. I’m terrible at memorization. But that was a real blast to do.
I want to talk to you about one of my favorite jokes on [the album]: Track 8 “Pedicure.” “What won’t white women complain about?” It kind of reached Jeff Foxworthy levels (in a good way when he was good) with the redneck jokes.
Coppock: [laughs] Yeah!
It was so funny! That would be the track that I would have to sell my friends on. I’d say “Hey, if you want to listen to this comedian, go directly to “Pedicure” because that directly is who she is.”
Coppock: Thank you! I’m so glad you got that. I think that one has a fun, silly build. One thing I really like to do is make fun of myself. I think sometimes I can be a real dodo and I can also be very smart. The idea about “Would this be a subtle prank show?” This literally happened to me before I went on vacation to Puerto Rico. I truly thought that. I think the premise is so…I love absurd stuff like that. That’s why I love Maria Bamford. I love absurd premises where it’s so ridiculous and impossible and you spiral from there. That joke is one of favorite jokes. It’s fun to tell because you could always swap in different beats at the end. I feel like there’s so many minor inconveniences that a white woman would complain about.
You mentioned the Bob Seger reference in “Mainstreet” and you also have a joke about Guns n Roses. Does music affect your work at all? Since you’re working alone in a bar sometimes?
Coppock: It really does. I love music so much. I feel like my taste in music shut off in 1994. I like what I like. I think that every moment doing standup, you’re trying to give the audience a shorthand to who you are. When you’re young in standup, your friends really like your stuff because they know you. They know why this is funny. This is funny because you’re this way. You’re always trying to quickly get the audience to become your friends.
Music can connect to that so well. My joke about “Mainstreet” is not a very successful joke; it’s a pretty deep cut. When there are some Seger fans in the crowd, they’re like “No way!” I’ve played some random shows. Years ago in LA I told that joke and a friend years later was like “My friend still asks about the blond chick with the Seger joke.” It’s nice to have. Even if there’s one person who loves Seger as much as I do, it’s good for us to connect.