You've definitely seen Elayne Boosler before. No, really. You have. Unless you hate comedy (you wouldn't be reading this) or you were just born (you couldn't be reading this), you've seen her. Maybe it was one of her stand-up comedy specials, or her appearances on late-night shows, or clips on the internet. Over the decades you might have seen her perform live as well. Few comedians have enjoyed her longevity in stand-up comedy, and that's despite being told by cable executives that nobody would want to see a female comedian for the length of an entire special.
That was back in the 80s. Nobody knows where those guys are today, but Boosler is still entertaining fans on stage. And they'll get to see her this coming Thursday at Ruth Eckerd Hall's Murray Theatre, where she'll bring new jokes delivered with the same wit and comic timing that's created decades of laughter.
Boosler told us about what topics still remain funny over the years, how she feels about influencing a new generation of comedians and what you can do to help furry friends in your community.
You've been performing for more than 40 years. We know that the comedy scene has changed in that time, but has comedy itself changed? Do audiences still find the same things funny? Are some topics more or less funny now? Have your own tastes changed?
I’ve always loved original comedy and creative thinking. Comedy styles come and go, but basically people have the same concerns throughout their lives: Love, food, sex, money, keeping up, sports, men and women. Those subjects probably won’t change unless they start to make robots really, really attractive.
You produced your own cable special when executives wouldn't give that kind of air time to a female comedian. If you were coming up today, with social media and the internet and people shooting high-definition video on their phones, what path would you take to make a name for yourself?
One thing about success is that, even with all the new bells and whistles available to promote your career today, the basics don’t change. Great writing and an original point of view will eventually take you where you want to go. Luckily, there are so many outlets now, you don’t have to be held prisoner or held back if one powerful person in show business doesn’t care for your work.
At this stage of your career, we don't envision you huddling in a dark corner of a dive bar's open mic waiting for your four minutes of stage time. So how do you work on new material? Do you sprinkle it into your existing set, or are there places you can go to work out new jokes? Do you bounce ideas off of friends or do you rely on your own instinct?
All of the above. Years ago Woody Allen said, “The best place to try new material is in the middle of a great show on a Saturday night in front of a full house”. Well, I cannot tell you how many shows he’s ruined for me. Just kidding. I try material all the time, everywhere and anywhere. And I love a live, feisty and fun audience. So if they want to engage, I love that, and people love when you can be funny on the spot.
Animal rescue and advocacy are important issues to you. What are a couple of simple things people can do in their hometowns to help animals?
That is the best question ever! I founded Tails of Joy 20 years ago. We help the smallest, neediest rescue groups all across the country, and we help individuals with emergencies as well.
People always say to me, “If I ever get money I am going to help animals.” Don’t wait! Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. In your own hometown, volunteer with rescue groups to walk, brush and interact with animals when you have free time. This helps get them even more adoptable and socializes them, relieves stress for them and for you, and is a great way to have pets if you don’t have any. Bring your old bedding and towels to your local rescues; they always need those. Donate what you can in time and/or items (cleaning supplies, old kennels, money). It all makes a big difference. And speak up if you see abuse. Animal abuse leads to abuse of humans, so people should care.
Another one of your passions is baseball. Please use your expert insight to give Tampa Bay Rays fans some optimism for the upcoming season.
I’m a Mets fan. I ran out of optimism in 1875.
Anyone who follows comedy has either seen your specials or television appearances, or at least seen many clips of your stand-up over the years. Is there anything about your live show that fans might not expect if they've only seen you on a screen?
There is never any comparison between a live show and anything you might see on a TV or computer. People always say to me, “You‘re so much better in person!” I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but a live show has energy, always includes new material and the unexpected, and is a one-time thing that fades like skywriting as you leave the theater. You all shared it together, and that exact same thing will never happen again. And there is so much energy when people are all laughing together. It’s like going to the movies instead of watching Netflix. My whole goal is to make people leave feeling better than when they came in. I love it when they say their cheeks hurt from laughing.
How is performing in a theater setting different for you than a comedy club? How is it different for the audience?
I think a theater has more focus than a comedy club. Drinks aren’t being served and people are not going in and out. In a theater, everyone is waiting for the show to begin and the energy is focused. It’s a groundswell of laughter that builds (hopefully) and people really feel they are all in it together. I love playing small theaters.
At some point, you went from being "Elayne Boosler, working comedian" to being "Elayne Boosler, comedy influence" on a new generation of performers. Is it gratifying to hear about comedians watching you when they were young, and your success making them want to try stand-up?
I am happy that I got to open the door for a new generation of young women in comedy, all doing comedy their own way and being who they want to be. What a happy surprise to find that all of my struggles led to something good.
How is seeing you live in 2017 different than 20 years ago, or even five years ago? What can fans expect from the upcoming show?
My comedy has always been about where we find ourselves at the moment. I write all the time, and my show now is about all of us right now, from what we are going through in life to what is going on around us. If you saw me for two nights in a row right now, the show would be different on the second night.
For me, comedy is as up to the minute as you can make it, because for me it’s a reflection of life.
Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen Booth Rd., Clearwater.
Mar. 9, 7 p.m. $30. 727-791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.