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Comedian Iliza Shlesinger ’05 Tells Students, ‘Be Undeniable’

Comedian Iliza Shlesinger ’05 talks to Comedic Arts students on Saturday, September 22.

Comedian and writer Iliza Shlesinger ’05 shared career advice and her experiences as a woman working in stand-up with an Emerson classroom full of comedy hopefuls in an intimate Q&A on Saturday.

In 2008, Shlesinger became the first woman to win NBC’s stand-up comedy competition Last Comic Standing. Since then, her Netflix comedy specials, including the popular Elder Millennial, have gained traction and made her one of the most relevant names in stand-up.

Shlesinger’s interest in comedy began on the Emerson campus, where she studied film and was a member of campus comedy group Jimmy’s Traveling All-Stars. She developed an interest in sketch comedy, which she narrowed to stand-up during her semester at sea.

The comedian encouraged current students to forge as many connections as possible during their undergraduate years.

“Emerson is unmatched in terms of the presence we have in every office, on every production team, and in every network,” she said.

Shlesinger also warned of the potential setbacks a comedy career can bring.

“Other people’s egos, especially in Hollywood, can definitely be roadblocks,” she said. “But you just have to rise above it.”

In an industry as male-dominated as comedy, being a woman has certainly played a large role in Shlesinger’s career. She spoke openly about the subject on Saturday, saying that although she had been spared a “Harvey Weinstein experience” during her career, she knew many women who had gone through “horrible things” in the stand-up world.

Shlesinger went on to share that after her success on Last Comic Standing, many credited the historic win to her boyfriend at the time, who was also a comedian.

“People will try to take it away from you in any way they can,” she said. “And by the way, someone should let my boyfriend know that he has that much power over NBC executives,” Shlesinger joked.

The comedian’s openness about sexism in the industry resonated with comedy major Bobbie Pierce ’21.

“The climate for women is not so great in stand-up, especially once you leave the Emerson campus,” said Pierce. “You’re surrounded by men who say really offensive things toward women, and sometimes they’ll say really offensive things toward you.”

However daunting it may feel to be a woman in the comedy industry, Shlesinger’s success can serve as an inspiration to female comedians everywhere.

“I love female comics, and I’m proud to be one,” said Alyssa DeVries ’21. “Seeing Iliza up there encourages me to work even more on my stand-up. It encourages me to give myself and my friends who are women the funny roles in sketches.”

Shlesinger also spoke about her upcoming projects, including a Paramount Pictures film in which she appears alongside Mark Wahlburg and Octavia Spencer. Instant Family tells the story of an un-orthodox adoption, and will be in theatres November 16.

Additionally, her book, Girl Logic: The Genius and the Absurdity, will be released in paperback next month.

For all of the obstacles she has faced, Shlesinger closed with some candid advice for the comedy hopefuls in the room:

“Go forward. Be nice to people. Be funny. And be undeniable.”

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