Episode 50: Laughing with Liz Glazer (Transcript)
Nahanni Rous: Hello! It’s Nahanni Rous. Welcome back to Can We Talk?, the podcast of the Jewish Women’s Archive, where gender, history, and Jewish culture meet. Listen to this—this is our 50th episode! We’ve been through two historic presidential elections, nearly four years of the Trump administration, and nine months of this global pandemic. It’s been hard, but we made it! And we’re still here. We’re going to mark this milestone with a series of episodes on creativity in this challenging and uncertain time. We’ll kick it off with someone whose goal in life is to help people laugh.
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Liz Glazer, in a Zoom stand-up clip: A lot of people say they’re Zoomed out or whatever. I love Zoom. I attended a funeral on Zoom, I do standup on Zoom, I got married on Zoom, I love Zoom. Here’s a question about Zoom that is not frequently asked enough I don’t think. Do we know for sure that it is pronounced Zoom? We haven’t seen each other-—what if it’s pronounced Zum?... First of all, during Quarentine, I can’t sleep, I take Benadryl. I take Melatonin. Absolutely nothing will work...
Nahanni: That’s stand-up comedian Liz Glazer. Six years ago, Liz left a successful career as a tenured law professor to pursue comedy full time. Lately, during the pandemic, she’s been doing her sets over Zoom. And she says that it’s actually been enlightening.
Nahanni: So how is doing Zoom stand-up different from real life stuff?
Liz: Oh, for me, it's the same. How does that work? Yes, audiences. Yeah, I'm very familiar with those. No, it's different. It’s different. I've done and I have scheduled shows where I won't see the audience at all. And so I think that what it's allowed me to kind of hone more is my trust in myself. My trust that even if someone isn't laughing, a) hopefully they are, and I can just trust that they are, but b), it's kind of like trusting that I have something to say and I've been doing comedy for long enough that it's not the case that every punchline lands and that I'm always funny, but I've gotten better at being funny over the past seven plus years. And so if I don't hear a specific laugh, can I trust that a joke that I've been working on and has worked in front of live audiences and Zoom audiences that I could see and hear is going to be working in a webinar where I can't see the audience? I think I can trust that.
Nahanni: Is it as much fun?
Liz: Ah, yeah. Like it's different fun, for sure. So, you know, I, I think that this time right now, quarantine, COVID, you know, there's a lot that's wrong and tragic and it's awful. And there are elements of this time that can be useful and helpful. And I think that I'm going to remember this time for the ways that it was different, rather than like my trying to make it the same. And so I'm not in a rush to get back on stage. I don't feel like I miss it so much and I can't live without it because I am comfortable with moving in this mode for right now, because that is the safest, most socially conscious thing.
Liz Glazer, in a Zoom stand-up clip: I heard in addition to the meat grinding, a couple of coughs on the Zoom. Coughing isn’t exactly an activity you want to do out loud these days. I feel like coughing during COVID, it’s like the new masturbation. You want to cough, you better make sure that you’re inside, door closed, nobody can hear that. And once you’re done, right away, wash your hands.
Nahanni: Do you think of your role any differently now?
Liz: Yeah, in a way that I think I should have before or I could have before. So specifically, if I'm doing a comedy show now, I realize that people need the laughter and I can give them laughter. And it's so much less about did I do good? Did I bomb or did I have a great set? But did I make these people's day better? And I think that that's really something that I can take with me beyond the pandemic, I hope. Um… into Joe Biden’s presidency. That is what it's about. And in the same way that it's been a goal of my comedy self and real self and to integrate those two, but also to be as kind as I possibly can be. So too, can I think about my comedy that way? Now I do, because the world is what it is now, but I think I could anyway.
Nahanni: So, Liz, let’s back up and talk about how you got into this in the first place. You left a successful career as a tenured law professor to pursue your comedy full time. How did you get started?
Liz: I took this improv class, had a crush on the instructor, and then three years later reconnected with her. She was no longer teaching improv classes, but I was like, would you do like one on one improv, which sounds like it might have some sort of innuendo and I don’t mean it that way. I really was just like, I think everything you do is amazing and I want to, like, be around you and learn from you. And she was like, have you ever thought of doing stand up comedy? And I said, no. And she said, well, would you do stand up comedy on my show? And I like if she was like, would you jump off of this bridge? I don't know that I would have done that exactly. But like, if she was at the bridge, I would definitely show up. And so when she asked me to do it, I was like, yeah, you're going to be there? Sure, I’ll come. And so and of course, the irony is like starting this, anything to do with comedy, which was supposed to be goal-less, then turns out to be the thing that I'm doing with my my whole life.
Liz Glazer, in a live stand-up clip: I was a law professor. That’s the typical route to stand-up comedy, by the way. Generally speaking, you go to law school for three years, practice for two, teach for nine, get tenure, give it all up and do stand-up comedy.
Nahanni: I mean, you must have always been kind of funny?
Liz: I guess I was always deeply interested in the details of my own life specifically. And I think that I was found funny by people who were like, well you're weird. And so, I had that. And then, you know, I grew up in a family with... I mean, my dad was very funny because he wasn't trying to be. My dad was of Latvian descent and had an accent that like, I don't know, he sounded like he arrived in the country minutes before you ever spoke to him. And he was like always, like he had elements of him that were funny. But it was more just like this guy, you know? And I think that that kind of looking around the dinner table at my brother and my mother to some degree being like, isn't daddy just hilarious, was a feature of the way that I was funny. You just sort of like being inside of a situation and sort of looking for someone in the room to make eyes with. Not, I mean, I guess that is to some degree at the expense of someone, but like lovingly at someone's expense, in the sense that they’re just being ridiculous or weird or whatever. And then my mother has terrific comedic timing. And I think that any joke that I write or land a punch line, like my mother is not a comedian by trade. She's a retired teacher, but she is the funniest.
Liz Glazer, in a live stand-up clip: And I pick up the phone, and I’m like, “Mommy, I’m going to leave my job. I’m going to be a stand-up comedian forever.” And she was not thrilled. She was like, “Elizabeth.” And my name is Liz, but my parents are Jews, and it’s like they paid for every letter. And vowels are expensive. She was like, “Elizabeth, Stand up comedy? What are you going to do for money?” And I didn’t like that, so I just fired right back, I was like, “Well, mommy. Mommy, I could prostitute... “ And she didn’t like that, so she went next. She was like, “Oh Elizabeth, I’m sure that would work.” Yeah, I know. And I was like, my mommy doesn’t think I could prostitute?! I would be an excellent prostitute! What does my mommy know from how I am in these streets? I have tenure! Do you know how many people want that in a prostitute!
Nahanni: You were really on your way and you invested a lot. How did your... I mean, first of all, how did you feel about walking away from all that? And then and then also how did your parents feel? I know that's something you've talked about.
Liz: It was a combination of very sure and very afraid, which is a space that is not wholly unfamiliar to me, certainly now. But I think that that's that's a space that I don't know, like whenever I've made a decision, like coming out as a lesbian, as another example where I'm kind of like, yeah, I get the sense that this goes against the grain in some way. And for me, that was my parents and school because I went to Orthodox Jewish Day School from first until twelfth grade and, you know, continue to remain friends with people from that time in my life. And so there were a lot of signals around me that were like, this is the way, do the way. And then I departed from that way. Yeah, I don’t know for sure what my life is going to look like. Like when I came out as a lesbian, I didn't know that I would meet an amazing woman and get to become a rebbetzin. Like, if you had told me that, I would never have been straight, you know? And similarly, it's like, OK, if you had told me when I was applying to law school or going to college, thinking about what I want to study, like you could just be a comedian. Yeah, you could be on television. Like, what? Yeah, of course I'm going to do that. But I started with a sort of rough approximation or like what I've heard in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, like a shadow career or whatever. And it's like, yeah, of course, I was like setting up this punchline maybe, but I didn't know that at the time. And so yeah, it seems to be becoming more of a reality. And so in both the professional and the personal realms, for me, I've had moments where it was pretty OK. And then as a result of that, I dreamt bigger and left in order to do something else.
Nahanni: Which was harder?
Liz: I mean, I guess probably the sexual orientation piece was harder. I felt like I was really rocking the world of my parents and disappointing them. And certainly I mean, I think my parents, in wanting me to have a profession and a career like law… You know, I'm a descendant of Holocaust survivors on both sides. And I feel like that trauma was inherited by my parents such that they thought the Nazis were going to come for them directly if I didn't go to law school. And so I really think that leaving the job and the world was a rocking of the world in a way. But I don't think in kind of a core way as, you know, hey, I'm a lesbian was.
Liz Glazer, in a live stand-up clip: She’s like, you used to date men. And I should just tell you guys this, ok. I did kind of used to date men. I had a boyfriend in college. Three and a half years, we dated. It was a long time ago, but it happened, ok? Which as a side note, sometimes people ask me about that relationship, they’re like, were you faking it? And I’m like, it was three and a half years long! What do you think, I’m like the Daniel Day Lewis of heterosexuality? Yes, I was faking it. Anyway...
Liz: I've been at this point pursuing comedy as a goal, as a career, as a thing that I do on purpose for seven plus years. And then when you start, or at least, my experience has been when I've started trying to be intentionally funny, yeah, I've gotten better at it, but I've also gotten further away in some moments from the root of what made me funny in the first place. And I feel like especially in these times, I've been reconnecting with that.
Nahanni: How do you describe that? What do you feel like you’ve reconnected with during these times?
Liz: I think that, like in constructing for myself a stage persona, to the extent that one does such a thing on purpose, I've tried to remain connected to that kindness and also to remember that, like, I was getting up in front of people and saying stuff before. You know, it just happened to be about very hilarious topics like the rule against perpetuities or adverse possession. But like now, you know, I can just say whatever I want. I can talk about myself. And if I'm going to do that, I want to make that be as close to the person who I am amongst my closest friends and family as I can be.
Nahanni: Do you find that’s hard?
Liz: Oh, yeah, it's deeply hard and there's an irony that it's hard because there's the thing of just like be yourself, as though that's an easy thing to be. And I'm certainly not the first person to muse on the difficulty of being that, especially in situations that are high stakes. I think maybe that's the core of how I'm funny or why I want to be funny is like, I've always had gaffes and mishaps and things that I've been embarrassed of and afraid to talk about. And I think I love comedy because it gives those moments a place and me a voice to talk about things that I otherwise would have been ashamed about.
Liz Glazer, in a live stand-up clip: I don’t think that I’m very good at being a lesbian. Like I’m like not a typical lesbian. I guess in some ways I am. I have cats. I have two-hundred thousand. We live in a U-haul together in my ex-girlfriend’s driveway where she lives with her other ex-girlfriend.
Nahanni: I want to go back to what you were saying about your comedy being kind, because that's just so different from most of the comedy world. Joan Rivers is one of your heroes. And we did two episodes about her comedy, too. And we get the name of our show from her classic punch line. But Joan Rivers was sort of like anything but kind in her... at least in her public facing persona. So how do you kind of like what do you like so much about her comedy and what inspires you about her?
Liz: You know, I'm not here to speak for Joan Rivers or to act as her lawyer. And I find, by the way, that like the fact that I'm a lawyer, like I still say things like allegedly, you know, it doesn't leave your body. But certainly Joan Rivers does not need me to advocate on her behalf. But one thing I think is possible in terms of her legacy is that she might have been understood to be meaner than she actually was. But leaving that to one side, again, a thing a lawyer might say, I think that I... I was attracted to Joan Rivers, which... that happened after I did comedy. I did comedy and I loved it so much. I told my therapist after I did comedy for the first time, I was like I felt like I had a professional orgasm, which was basically a regular orgasm, but I was a hundred percent sure that it happened. And I was like, I have to pursue this thing. And then I'm a student and I'm good at being an academic. So I was like, OK, I'm going to have to study. I need a mentor. That's something that would be good. And so I, I remember Joan Rivers from the Muppets and so I was like, great. And I started listening to her comedy and I was like, she is truthful. And yes, of course she's funny. But what I resonated the most with was that she was desirous of being the most honest, the most truthful on stage. And it felt to me like that was the thing about her comedy that I notice the most. And so at the time, I was also into Amy Schumer a lot for the same reason, just that those were people who were really doing stuff that was the most honest and they were both blond, which is not something that matters, but it does occur to me in the moment and as a lawyer, I need to state all of the reasons that the people in the examples I've just given are similar.
Nahanni: Is there something about her also being a Jewish woman comic that resonates for you?
Liz: I think so. I think it—and that was another—thank you for also picking up on the other some of those women. But I, yeah, I think so. And I don't know if that's an unconscious subconscious thing that I was picking up on or whether it was more direct. But certainly, I identify as a Jewish woman and am very proud of that. I think it informs my life, my truth telling, my comedy. So sure.
Liz Glazer, in a Zoom stand-up clip: I married a rabbi. Ok, lesbian, I married a rabbi… I know what you’re thinking… I do, I braid her long beard every night before bed. Just kidding, she’s Reform, it’s just a mustache. No, but when I came out my parents were really upset. Then I start dating a rabbi, and they’re like, hold on, we’re proud. So everybody’s happy, they’re like, we can show off about you at Temple, this is why we’re Jews. And I found out recently one of the perks of marrying a rabbi, it’s totally stereotypical, on the nose, but it’s true. We get free graves! Free graves! Like I asked my wife, do we have graves. She’s like, we get them for free. I’m like, free rent for all of eternity!?
Nahanni: Liz Glazer is a writer, comedian, and actor. She is working on a television series documenting her life and comedy career. You can find her online at dearlizglazer.com. Thank you for joining us for Can We Talk?, the podcast of the Jewish Women’s Archive. This episode was produced by Ariella Markowitz and me. Thanks also to Ariele Mortkowitz—different person, really! Our team also includes Judith Rosenbaum and Becky Long. Our theme music is by Girls in Trouble. Join us for the next in our series on creativity in pandemic times. And if you didn’t catch our episodes on Joan Rivers, you can find them along with all of our previous episodes, at jwa.org/canwetalk, and anywhere you get your podcasts. Please take a moment to review us on iTunes, and share your favorite episodes with your friends so that others can find us. I’m your host, Nahanni Rous. Until next time.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Episode 50: Laughing with Liz Glazer (Transcript)." (Viewed on December 3, 2023) <https://jwa.org/podcasts/canwetalk/episode-50-laughing-liz-glazer/transcript>.