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Iliza Shlesinger lives for comedy club stages, but more's in store

Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- She finishes a set at the Improv, grabs Blanche, her Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, and rushes out the door to an Uber. She hops out at the Comedy Store on Sunset, whisking through the kitchen and mentioning that the place was once a mob hangout. She plunks Blanche in a seat and darts to the stage, where she edges into a bit about how coy women can be at attracting men, those poor, unaware, testosterone-cursed creatures.

Applause.

Iliza Shlesinger is gone before it fades, finding Blanche, jumping into another Uber and tracking back to the Improv for a new 20-minute show before heading home, popping a melatonin ("If I don't catch my sleep wave just right it's like, 'When's my dog gonna die, what if L.A. catches on fire?'") and thinking how much there is to do, how unfinished it all is, this career, its skits and voices, its clever stories about who we are when stripped to our magical, exasperating essences.

"I don't like to waste anyone's time," Shlesinger, 34, said a few minutes before her first Improv set. "People paid money. They bought tickets."

A gifted stand-up comic, Shlesinger has the work ethic of a centrifuge and the enticing flair -- blond ponytail, denim and black T-shirt with biceps ready -- of a cheerleader who could tame a Harley. She's starred in three Netflix specials, hosted a late-night show, "Truth & Iliza," on Freeform (formerly ABC Family), and is the only woman to win NBC's "Last Comic Standing." Between gigs and entertaining U.S. troops abroad, she auditions for films and shops screenplays, asking: "Where's the girls' 'Pineapple Express?'"

Her book, "Girl Logic," released Tuesday, is the latest turn in a brand of comedy that has sharpened its focus on women's empowerment and how girlfriends, wives and daughters should navigate a male-dominated world through a sisterhood of shared mission. She is a nuanced feminist and a comic with the instincts and sensibility to address women's rights while inviting men -- who in her humor can be monosyllabic and imposing but are mostly well-meaning if misguided -- inside the tent.

 

"My career is a love letter to women," she said. "But without men listening you can't have feminism. If there are no men participating in this thing we call feminism, it's just a bunch of women yelling at each other. In order to be heard, you have to say it in a digestible way, and that's what makes people open to hearing it. I'm a big fan of looking at things analytically, and the jokes kind of ooze out of that."

On stage at the Improv, where she's been a paid regular for years, she poses the question that if men are predators and women are prey, "What's the predator if he's hungry most likely to go after? The gazelle running at 90 mph unencumbered by self-esteem issues, like 'I have a PhD and own my own home.' Hahaha. 'I know my self-worth, and I actually like my dad.' Hahaha. Or the hot little broke rabbit that caught its foot in a trap and is like, 'Help, how does basketball work?'"

The joke treads on gender roles and stereotypes but avoids sermonizing. Shlesinger, who bristles with confidence and does not abide posers, can be merciless when she spots an overzealous, agenda-driven comic.

"I almost threw up the other night at a show," she said. "Some guy gets on stage. If you're going to lecture me on politics, you better be smarter than me. He was liberal and we all agreed we didn't like Donald Trump, but he gets up there and he just starts ranting. He's preaching to a choir. He's like here's the thing about our society. And I'm like you pulled up here on a bicycle and not for environmental purposes, so I don't want to hear this. You don't have the right to lecture me."

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