Retta plays a lively diva on Parks and Recreation, but freed from the stodgy bureaucracy of Pawnee, Ind., she can still bring the funny.
As you'll see Saturday (10/9c on TV Guide Network), when Retta takes the stage on StandUp in Stilettos, a comedy hour that proves — despite what Adam Carolla says — that females can be funny. Retta tells us about her involvement in the comedy series, her fear of performing standup and why Parks' infamous catchphrase "Treat yo' self!" has paid off in the long run.
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What made you want to do StandUp in Stilettos?
Retta: I'm going to do a one-woman show and I need stage time, practice in front of an audience doing standup. I need to feel more comfortable doing new stuff and I really have a hard time with it. So, I tried to scare myself into doing it. The material that I did on here is not for my one-woman show, but I wanted that fear of shooting something and seeing how it goes and I had it. I sure had it.
Is it hard to do female comedy without just doing stereotypical material about periods and purses?
Retta: Right? That's the thing; I normally don't. At least I don't think I do. I specifically chose these bits for the show because they said they wanted to gear it toward women. So actually I was going through my notebook and I'd see the bits that I'd never done because I've always been afraid of being called the girl who only does girl material. I prefer to tell stories. If it's funny, then I want to do it on stage. It's a little bit harder for me to actually try to gear it toward a certain thing.
What do you worry about most when you do standup?
Retta: Silence. Deafening silence. And forgetting, because I'm very scripted. A lot of comics fly by the seat of their pants and they pride themselves on being witty, quick and off-the-cuff. That's not my show. I wrote a show and I want to do the show I wrote. I'm not interested in what the audience has to say. I will, every once in a while, ask a question, but I don't want an answer. I just want to continue with my bit.
Have you ever gone up and just bombed?
Retta: I feel like I just did. [Laughs] I did in the beginning when I first started standup. I think the reason why I have panic about forgetting is because I went up, I had a five-minute set to do and 30 seconds in I forget. A complete blank, staring into the audience about to vomit. They had to go find the emcee because he was out smoking and he was like, "It's been not even a minute. You have five minutes!"
When I first started doing the colleges, which was my second year doing standup, I had a show. I don't know so much that I bombed, I just felt like they didn't care. I was in an eatery and they came in for smoothies and chicken strips. I'm on stage and they're like, "Really?!" They were over it. They were not interested, and that's horrifying, especially when you're new.
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What's the worst joke you've ever told?
Retta: I mean, mine are all pretty much gems. [Laughs] I used to do a bit about people just being stupid, which I feel like all my bits are about people being stupid. I stopped doing it because I was like, "This is so corny."
Have you ever been heckled by a crowd?
Retta: No. I usually get the friendly heckle. I do a bit called, "You go, girl!" where I say, "Don't tell me 'You go, girl!' I get it. I don't need you encourage me." And nine times out of 10 after I finish the bit, some guy in the back will yell "You go, girl!" I get a lot of that or "I hear ya!" I don't generally — knock on fake wood — get mean heckling. I get heckling like they think we're buddies and so they want to act like it's just the two of us in their living room. I'm like, "I wrote this show and I'm going to perform so if you could shut the f--- up, that'd be great."
Are there any stories you wouldn't tell?
Retta: Yeah, I probably wouldn't tell about some of my hilarious sexual adventures just because there's a chance my father might run upon the material. [Laughs] I actually have a bit about sex, but it's very benign. It's not graphic. It's just silly and stupid. But I have felt as I've gotten older that I may get to a point where I may start including that in my performance. We'll see.
Do you still get nervous?
Retta: Oh my God, yeah. I thought I was going to throw up before I went up tonight. I totally get nervous, especially if it's a room that I've never performed in before. I get kind of sick and that's why I didn't eat before I came because I don't want to feel queasy, but then my stomach starts growling and you're like, "Oh, I hope they didn't catch that on the mic." Every time.
The only time I don't get nervous is if I'm doing a home club in L.A. and I know all of my friends there because then I play to my friends. When I first started doing comedy, I hated it when my friends came, it made me more nervous. Now I just try to make them laugh.
Does anyone ever yell out "Treat yo' self!"?
Retta: Not in a standup show. But I get it. I get it five times a day, whether it be a tweet or someone saying it to me. Usually it's at a bar. I used to play with a game with a friend. If you go on Twitter and search #treatyoself, the longest it has been since someone has tweeted it was six minutes. I'm serious. I would make bets at lunch. You know how many free lunches I got? [Laughs]
Watch Retta do stand-up Saturday night on StandUp in Stilettos at 10/9c on TV Guide Network.