In order to get good at comedy, you have to start doing it and do it consistently. Every comic has gone through the ringer. Some even started in their college days. Others began when they were younger.
Liz Miele was 16 when she first took the stage. Over the past few years, she’s seen herself grown and continue to grow as a comedian and a person. Her new album, Mind Over Melee, released this past Tuesday in which she talks about hard topics like mental health and traveling alone while also mixing it up with jokes on dating a guy who invented a cat toy. She and I had a lot to discuss recently. Here is that conversation.
I can’t imagine the life of a touring comedian. All the cities start to blend together, especially the smaller ones that don’t really stand out.
Liz Miele: Yeah and you do get to a point where everything kind of looks the same. I think the one thing I do like about as much traveling as I’ve done is now, when I go to a place and it looks different, I’m like “COOL!” It makes an impact rather than being kinetic. It [could] look like New Jersey. It all starts to feel the same.
Have any of these smaller venues surprised you in any way? Like “Oh, they have a giant cow statue that actually spits out milk!”
Miele: I really like street art. That’s usually the kind of thing I look for. I like artistic displays in general. You know how New York City had -- this was like ten years ago -- but it had all of these cows that were painted?
Miele: When cities do stuff like that, I pay attention. Really, it’s just street art. I don’t know. Weird architecture and street art and anything that makes it stand out in that sense. It really does feel like the US is a giant shopping mall.
The painted statues were a thing we had in Atlanta too. Except we had turtles and a lot of it was UGA themed.
Miele: Do they still have the turtles? I was just in Atlanta a few weeks ago.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw at least one. I know where I live, they were eradicated. Do you have any new jokes ready to pump out [following the release of this new album]?
Miele: Yeah. Because [I’m at a festival right now] and there all showcase shows and I’m only doing twenty minutes...I would say all of my new stuff is about twenty to twenty five minutes. There might be a joke or two from the album but, for the most part, everything is new from this fall. Just because I was so tired of my material. [laughs]
That’s kind of cool that you’re able to have this drive and not perform the things you did on this album that’s coming out. Now that you have another twenty, you might even have another forty in you but you’re just trying to wean this thing out.
Miele: As soon as I’ve done an album, I already start writing the next one. This one, I didn’t start writing it right away because I was touring it a lot longer and I was doing The Fringe Festival. So I actually sat on this album and this material five or so months longer than I normally do. I came up with a bunch of tags for it that I was proud of. For the most part, I fell out of love with it faster.
Miele: I really did. I came back from doing it twenty-five times in Scotland and was like “I never want to have these words in my mouth again. Some of it’s the drive and some of it’s just extreme boredom.
I completely understand. I tried my hand at standup and I realized I’m better at talking to people. I wouldn’t be able to go out and do the things that actual standups do for a paying gig. Like you said, telling jokes twenty-five times in a row doesn’t seem appealing to me.
Miele: Especially something like in Scotland where it’s the hour; not much changes. Rather than on the road, you can play with it, you can talk to the audience, you can be silly. You have a little more room to experiment. [Scotland] was strictly the same jokes every time. Same order. I think that made it even more exhausting. I feel I have a lot more freedom in my usual set normally. No one has an expectation of it being consistent. It’s that consistency that makes it boring.
And it’s also good that you’ve had time away from the first album to -- not change who you are -- but learn from your experiences first time through. What’s something you took away from the first album?
Miele: Comedically, I learned I like telling stories and that I can tell them. I would say my average bit length on my first album is forty-five seconds. On my next album, most of them are a minute and a half. I mean I have a seven minute about not being able to get onto a flight going to Finland. I’ve started to learn how to write for myself. When you first start out you’re like “I hope I’m funny” or “How do I become funny?” And then you get to a point where you understand you’re funny but you don’t know exactly how you’re funny.
Now I’m at a point where I know my funny and seeing where I can take it. It’s less about “Am I funny?” and it’s more like “What can I make funny that I don’t think most people could? Or most people don’t talk about? What's a situation that needs more explanation, more detail? That’s going to be harder to get into and harder to get out of?” The challenge becomes deeper. I think the difference is that I talk about a wider range of things and things more depth in this album. Also, because of doing this so long and therapy, how I talk about things is changed. I’m always self-deprecating. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a lot of self-esteem.
But I definitely feel like I’ve changed. There was a lot of blaming myself for how things turned out in the first album. This is kind of -- I wouldn't say blaming others because I don’t think that’s a positive attribute either but -- being more aware of how things work and why they work and my reaction to them.
When I talk to comedians, I always makes sure to see how they evolved over the course of their careers. It seems like you already know the trajectory in which you’re heading. Like you said, you’re in therapy; you talk about it. The way that I’m looking at your album and you as a person is I’m seeing that you’re able to see yourself and step away from that while going into a third person view and become someone who’s a little bit more level headed.
Miele: Absolutely. I think when comedy is done right, even when you’re a character -- and I think you’re always a character even though I would say who I am on stage and what I write is very closely resembling [to] myself, you’re never fully yourself. There’s always some distance because you’re doing a joke over and over again. You have to be funny and you have to have a result. I think as I get better at that voice and stay true to it and talk about the things that I want to talk about and have confidence that I can talk about it, I think I become a stronger comic.
With the release of this new album and you shopping new jokes, are you going to be able to come away with a new, more mature special as opposed to these first two efforts?
Miele: I think so. I would like to think I’m becoming more mature. Some days, it feels like you transgress...is that the right word? Digress [laughs]. Especially as I get really tired, I’m like “Oh, I feel like a teenager right now.” In general, if you do life right and you continue to grow some awareness and not take things too seriously or personally, I think each album and each year I learn a little bit more about myself. I push myself in a way that helps me grow. I think I’m growing. It takes me about a year and a half to write an hour so I would say a year and a half, two years of my life has become a reflection of it.
When I’m able to sit down and listen to it and [react like] “Oh, this is pretty good. And these ideas are pretty thoughtful and interesting.” You start to pull back. I’m one of those people that loves quotes. There’s one that -- I’m going to butcher this quote -- but [it shares] the idea that at some point you have to give up who you used to be to be who you want to be. And I always remember that quote like “I don’t know how that works.” You start to see it. You start to shed bad habits and thought processes and grudges and bitterness. You start to be happy for people and start being enthusiastic for challenges, whether seeing them as barriers [or otherwise]. All these little things you start to see piece by piece, chip by chip your act and who you are as a person changing into -- hopefully -- something that you’re proud of.