When most of us think of the name Chelsea — at least in a comedy context — we think of Chelsea Handler, the stand-up who turned a bawdy late-night show into an multimedia entertainment empire.
But there’s another Chelsea chipping away at the comedy big-time, and while she mines a similarly self-deprecating vein of humor, she has also carved out her own fiercely loyal audience. It just happens to be a lot smaller.
“I never felt beloved by industry straight out of the gate,” said Chelsea Peretti, a 34-year-old Oakland, Calif., native who came up in the bustling New York scene. “But I’m now realizing that those people are just regular people, and I’m starting to feel more support across the board.”
A longtime crush for comedy nerds and critics, Peretti is breaking into the mainstream with spots on FX’s acclaimed “Louie” as well as Comedy Central’s “Tosh .0” and TruTV’s “World’s Dumbest …” She’s also chalked up stints as a writer for TV shows such as “The Sarah Silverman Program” and “Parks and Recreation” and publications from the Village Voice to Details and Playgirl.
We caught up with her over the phone in advance of her headlining shows at Comedy Works on Larimer Square on Friday and Saturday.
After years of being “The Next Big Thing” on critics’ lists, do you feel like you’re starting to get some mainstream traction?
Since I moved to L.A. about three years ago, I felt like a pretty significant shift in my life. But I think that from the outside looking in — and I was just talking with (comedian) Nick Kroll about it — the things that used to feel like this huge thing, we just do them in passing now. I was really excited the other night because I did this Hurricane Sandy benefit, and Will Ferrell and Beck and Sarah Silverman and Aziz Ansari and Adam Scott were all there. It did feel like, “Oh, I’m doing my dreams now.” Like, people I really admire were there, and I’m alongside them, and it was really exciting and cool. Then, on a totally different note, I started this podcast and I’ve been doing it 10 weeks now. That was just like something that was so satisfying because there’s no real middle man. I get to do whatever I want and I don’t have to pitch it and sell people on it.
With so many comedy podcasts out there, do you think they’re a trend or here to stay?
Obviously listeners have to like it, but when I started years ago in college, me and my brother made web projects that went viral and the podcast experience reminds me of that. You can just have an idea and just execute it instantly and there’s not any waiting around.
You’ve found a lot of of success on the web in general. Beyond the podcast, are there plans for any new web series or projects?
I’m in talks about a couple of related things that I think are cool. I started going to NBA games here in L.A., like Clippers and Lakers games, and I love them. After I moved out here I just got more interested in the drama of the floor and it’s obviously inspiring as a performer to watch people perform under that kind of pressure.
You also seem to be branching out into bigger markets with your stand-up touring, no doubt thanks to your podcast audience and TV gigs.
This is really the first time in my life where I’m traveling all over the country and there’s people that are really excited at shows. When I first started headlining it was like, “Someone canceled, so OK, yeah, we’ll give you a shot,” and you go there and no one knows who you are. But now, when you walk out you can instantly feel people are specifically there for you.
What do you think has been most helpful to your career lately?
It’s not clear, but I think it’s a combination of things. The “Louie” pilot re-aired recently, and I think people are fans of the podcast or follow me on Twitter. Or doing Jeff Ross’ show “The Burn,” or Whitney (Cummings’) show, or Nick Kroll’s sketch show on Comedy Central. I almost wanted to use the word “cross-pollination” there, but then I would have had to jump off the edge of a bridge. So for me, it’s been combined persistence, a slow burn — unlike a lot of friends who had huge successes early on. Sarah (Silverman) gave me a big break writing for her show, and Mike Schur hired me for “Parks and Rec,” which were both great.
I’m sure that writing for “Parks and Rec” is the thing many people associate you with these days, even though you’ve been a comedy-nerd favorite for years.
I’m amazed how many “Parks and Rec” fans follow the writers. But I wasn’t able to do any stand-up, and I really felt like I was growing with my stand-up, so it was a hard decision to leave. I loved that job. It was probably the most scary decision I have made. When you’re starting out you’re just so bursting to do everything, but I feel like as you get older you start to have a sense of, “I have to make choices.” And I’m choosing stand-up right now.
OK, I’ve gotta ask one of my standard “Why So Serious?” questions: What was your first time on stage like — and what made you want to come back?
It was horrible. I was temping and this other temp was doing open mics and was like, “Come do this open mic!” It was in New York at the Parkside Lounge, this bar that has a backroom with a stage, and these guys Joey Day and Darian St. Marco had a show they hosted called the Train Wreck. Greg Wilson was there — he ruled the roost at that show. So my jokes were garbage and not well received, and someone hit on me while I was in the back room. I smoked pot with this guy and then he tried to kiss me. So, weirdly, my motivation to go back was to make a joke about that, so I went back and made fun of it. It wasn’t one of those, “I went up on stage and felt like I was finally a part of the world!” I was just like, “I’m gonna get this fucker.”
When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
I know this happened to me recently and I’m trying to remember what was going on… I have the worst memory! Actually, I do remember laughing really hard recently. I was doing a funny thing with Adam Scott after we were leaving that (Hurricane Sandy) benefit. We were both leaving the parking lot at same time — he was getting his car at a valet and I stood there with my car and stared at him — and as he tried to leave I was like following him and blocking his away out. It was really funny but if he thought it was real it would be kind of scary. Like, “Is she insane?!”