Female Comedic Powerhouse (and Emerson Alum): Iliza Shlesinger

There is nothing more intimidating than a woman who can make people laugh. Even worse is a woman who is good at it, and knows how to get political and discuss social standards while making people laugh. Able to make the uncomfortable hilarious, Iliza Shlesinger sets the stage for strong, funny women to follow in her steps. Born in New York, but raised in Dallas, Texas, Iliza has been known as the funny girl her entire life. When in school, Iliza was a member of her school’s improv team as well as a member of the Dallas section of ComedySportz––an improv comedy organization that hosts annual events where “players” compete in various improv games and scenes while the audience members judge and rank the performances.

After graduating high school in 2001, Iliza went to University of Kansas for a year before transferring to Emerson College (shoutout!) in Boston, MA where she studied visual media arts. It was here that Iliza worked on her writing and editing, as well as joined a sketch comedy troupe, Jimmy’s Traveling All-Stars. It was during her time at Emerson that Iliza was able to grow and discover herself as a comedian. At Emerson Iliza’s comedy began to focus on femininity and women of all kinds. Before graduating, she performed a one-woman show solely about the female experience. Immediately after leaving Emerson, Iliza moved to Los Angeles where she hoped to make it big in stand-up comedy.

In Los Angeles, Iliza became a member of Whiteboy Comedy––a group of stand-up comedians in LA. From performances, Iliza quickly grew to be one of the most popular members of the group. Whiteboy Comedy is the reason why Iliza eventually took stage at The Improv, a famous comedy club chain, in Hollywood.

In 2007, Iliza won a comedy contest on MySpace and went on to be featured on G4 for it. This was only the beginning of Iliza’s stand-up career, as in 2008, Iliza became not only the youngest, but the first (and only) female winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Twice within the show, Iliza was selected to participate in a head-to-head elimination and won both times. After touring for her Last Comic Standing win, Iliza went on to host Excused, a syndicated reality TV show about dating. The show ran from 2011-2013. In 2013, Iliza released her first comedy special, War Paint. Also in that year, Iliza was in the movie Paradise, starring Julianne Hough and written by Diablo Cody, the Academy Award-winning writer of Juno.

A year later, Iliza started a podcast, Truth and Iliza, which would later be adapted into a late-night talk show on Freeform in 2017. In 2015, Iliza released another comedy special, Freezing Hot. In 2016, she worked with ABC to create a short-form digital comedy series called Forever 31. The show had one season and it discussed the absurdity of modern adulthood through experiences of dead-end jobs, break-ups, hangovers, and more. During this time, Iliza released her third comedy special, Confirmed Kills. In 2017, Iliza had a book published-- Girl Logic: The Genius and the Absurdity. The book isn’t a memoir, but instead talks about the idea of “girl logic” and the reasons behind why girls act and react in certain ways. The book talks about Iliza’s childhood briefly, but mostly focuses on her experiences as a young woman in the working comedic world. It is very inspiring, and worth a read (there is a long holds list for it at the Boston Public Library).

In 2018, Iliza released her most recent comedy special, Elder Millennial. Iliza also got married in 2018 to a long-term boyfriend who appreciates her trademark goat noises and feminist attitude.

Throughout her career, Iliza has made some big steps. However, I personally think the most amazing and inspiring part about her comes straight out of her book. In the final chapter and the afterword, Iliza discusses her drive and some experiences she had with being a woman in her field. She talks about how everyone around her expected less and how they wanted her to fail based simply on her gender. Iliza saw this, and instead of backing down, she accepted their challenge. Most of the afterword in Girl Logic is about how Iliza never gives up. She has had so many scripts, pilots, and gigs that didn’t get picked or weren’t received well-- but she didn’t let that stop her. Iliza was always the funny girl; she was one of the lucky few who just knows what they are meant for. She was meant to make people laugh, and as long as someone was laughing-- even if it was herself-- Iliza kept going.

In today’s society, there is so much backlash to being a working women, especially in comedy. I believe that all women have the power to succeed like Iliza as long as we adapt her attitude. Life isn’t about rejection, it’s about learning and growing and working hard to make sure that the next time, we won’t be rejected.

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