Photo by Phil Provencio
NYC based comedian Carmen Lynch is one of the most hard working comics around. In addition to touring the U.S. regularly, Lynch has performed overseas for the troops and in Spain, where she performs an all Spanish set. This year Lynch is gearing up for upcoming performances at the Edinburgh fringe festival. Most recently Lynch made an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in addition to having performed past sets for Letterman, Conan, and Craig Ferguson.
Recently Lynch collaborated with actress and director Chloë Sevigny on a short film based on Lynch's stand-up, entitled Carmen, as part of Miu Miu's Women's Tales series, in addition to recording and releasing her very first comedy album, Dance Like You Don't Need The Money, at The Punch Line in San Francisco. We caught up with Carmen to talk about the new album, how she got started in stand up and life on the road.
AHC: How did you first get into comedy, when did that light bulb sort of go off in your head that that was the direction you wanted to move in?
Carmen: I was in New York already and I was doing some acting, but I never realized that stand up could be a career. I grew up in Virginia and that wasn't really something you'd see out there. So I went to a show one day and I was like "wow, you can perform all the time if you're a comedian," in acting you kind of have to wait for someone to hire you, and that really interested me, that I could just go to open mics and do whatever, and once I tried it I just fell in love with it.
AHC: That must have been very freeing, having something that was more in your control as opposed to acting.
Carmen: Exactly. I can say whatever I want, I don't even have to put makeup on, if I wanted to I could even go up on stage in sweatpants, not that I did, you know, but it didn't matter.
AHC: You've done a lot of sets on Letterman, Conan, you were on Colbert recently, are those experiences more nerve wracking, on camera, as opposed to just being in a comedy club?
From the Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Carmen: They're so different, the t.v. gigs I try and look at as just a regular performance. Watching it on TV the next day I think is the harder part (for me). There's almost two parts to it, just doing the show and then wondering what it's going to look like on TV.
AHC: Is it surreal when you watch it back the next day?
Carmen: Oh of course, yeah. It's not something you get used to. But it's exciting. I'm not a big fan of watching myself, it kind of makes me anxious and uncomfortable, but doing it is something I love. When I do it on stage I don't have to look at myself.
AHC: Recently you made a short film "Carmen" with Chloë Sevigny, how did that project come about?
Carmen: She heard of me through someone at the UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) in New York, and approached me at a club called Eastville, and we went from there. We talked about a project that she wanted to work on, at that point it wasn't something for Miu Miu, we just chatted and went over some jokes, and then we got together and collaborated, my jokes together with the skeleton of what she was looking for, which became the structure of the film.
AHC: It's interesting, there's a real existential vibe, the loneliness that comes with being a comedian is portrayed really well in that film.
Carmen: Yeah, she captured that well, I really think she has a director's eye, and of course she has all of that acting experience, so I think she naturally found a great way to bring all of those elements out.
AHC: What is it like out on the road, is that an opportunity for you to observe and get more material for your stand up?
Carmen: Yeah, when I'm on the road I'm not usually in the Hotel room watching tv, I tend to walk around and observe the place I'm in and that often triggers ideas. Sometimes I just sit somewhere and write stuff down at a coffee shop, other times I just feel like I need fuel for my brain, and I try and generate new ideas by getting out and taking the city in.
AHC: Have you ever written something and felt like you needed to pull back from it, a joke that's too dark or that you feel goes too far?
Carmen: Not because it’s too dark, (I like to go down that path), usually it's because I don't know what the point of the joke is - but I like the idea. That's the challenge in stand up that I really love, coming up with new jokes, when something works really well of course it's so fun to do it in front of different crowds. If a joke is too dark I tend to shelve it for a while and then I bring it back because it’s funny to me but maybe the way I'm saying it still sounds too insensitive.
AHC: Have you ever experienced visceral reactions from the audience, where you could tell someone was taken aback?
Carmen: Totally. A lot of times it depends on the location. I'm so used to New York where people are so open to whatever you bring out on stage, sometimes I forget that New York is kind of like a bubble, and then you leave to play the Midwest and you say something that rattles people, and it's not that New York is better, I think that there's just more of a range of comedy here than there might be elsewhere. Maybe the humor somewhere else may not be something they're used to, but it's still what I want to do, so I probably shift it but I still do it. I just find a way to make it more approachable.
AHC: Do you ever play college campuses at all, what's that like?
Carmen: It's different because they're so young, and most of them haven't experienced real life yet, they're still in their own bubble of people their own age, so I try and do things that are more in their POV so they understand, which sometimes isn't that hard because I'm not a mom and I'm not like "hey, my baby did this and that".
I also like to talk to them besides just doing jokes because I'm so reminded of what life used to be like in college that sometimes comparing my experience to theirs is really interesting… you know, being that we are so focused on technology and social media.
AHC: Do you feel that comedians are on the front lines of political correctness, in the sense that comedy is what really pushes the envelope and tests our limits and maybe a lot of comedians have to pull back, do you think that's a bad thing or a good thing or neither?
Carmen: I don't think we should have to pull back. I think you have to kind of be careful with what you say in front of certain crowds maybe, like you know "please don't talk about drugs on our campus because we've had a lot of issues" - that kind of thing. In general, I think if you're there to see a comedy show I think you should be pretty open to hearing anything, you just don't have to agree with it. That’s the beauty of stand up comedy, some people love you and some people don’t. It happens to everyone, you finish a show and some people just walk out looking disappointed and other people go want to sign up for your mailing list. There's a beauty in that as well, finding your fan base. We're not out there to please everyone.
AHC: You just recorded your first comedy album, Dance Like You Don't Need The Money, www.cdbaby.com/cd/carmenlynch how long has that been something you wanted to do?
Carmen: I didn't want to do it for a long time. I tried it once a couple of years ago and I didn't like the way it went, so I stopped wanting to do it for a while. When I saw that I had a gig in San Francisco and I knew it was a really fun club [Punch Line San Francisco] I set it all up at the last minute. I'm glad it's done because it's been something I've wanted to do but at the same time I think I was avoiding the pressure of having to record a show.
Photo and art by Phil Provencio
AHC: When you go back to Spain I hear that you do shows in Spanish, is that completely different, do some of the jokes not work there that would work over here?
Carmen: The sense of humor is different. Dry, sarcastic jokes work a little better out here, whereas I feel like the direct joke seems to do better there. The grammar is different so naturally I have to flip the words around, so that too, has to make sense. Some material doesn't make sense after I've translated it. And sometimes I just come up with jokes while I'm there, organically, and then I go, "oh, maybe I can try this in America."
AHC: You're heading off to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is this your first year there or have you done it before?
Carmen: I went last year for 3 days because I was in London and my friend was performing and I wanted to support her, but this time I'm doing it myself, for the entire month - my own show and I'm really excited about it. It's going to be a lot of work, but I'm looking forward to it.
AHC: Do you have any advice for young comics or creative people in general who are trying to build confidence in what they're doing, when you were starting out what kinds of things did you tell yourself to help push you through?
Carmen: I was kind of obsessive about stand up because it was such a new and exciting thing, so I fell hard for it from day one. I think it’s important not to overthink your jokes. I think sometimes the younger comics are like, "I don't know if I should be angrier on stage or more relaxed…or this or that." I think it's okay to have those kinds of questions but you shouldn't worry too much about the persona. I think over time you just find your voice. There's really no shortcut to trying to find your voice because you’re constantly evolving so just enjoy the ride.
Dance Like You Don't Need The Money is available now on iTunes https://itun.es/us/SNgcib
and at CD Baby www.cdbaby.com/cd/carmenlynch
For tour dates and more visit www.carmenlynch.com/
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