12 Questions with Comedian Maddy Smith at The New York Comedy Club East Village
By Joseph Santiago
Maddy Smith is an NYC-based stand-up comedian and writer. She regularly appears as both an MC and comic throughout the city.
Maddy has performed at the Rochester Fringe Festival and Hoboken Comedy Festival, was a finalist in both the Finger Lakes Comedy Festival (Ithaca) and the Stand Up NY Festival (Manhattan), and a semi-finalist in the New York Comedy Club competition.
We met up with her on a Friday night at a packed sold out comedy shows at the
How did you get your start in comedy?
I moved to New York City in July 2015, a year after graduating from college. My first apartment was in Red Hook, Brooklyn, an isolated neighborhood a mile away from the closest train stop, where the air smells like garbage when the temperature gets over 60 degrees, and Michelle Williams lives in a lofted apartment over a Fairway. My apartment was not like Michelle’s: My roommate was a retired mime named Luciano who overcharged me for a screened-in porch where I slept on a twin cot for three months until he came home from a trip to Italy and found the apartment in disarray and I moved out a week later. This is all to say, that in the midst of an existential crisis, I signed up for an open mic because anything was better than being in Red Hook, staring at the Statue of Liberty, wondering why none of my friends ever wanted to take the IKEA ferry that runs every 45 minutes to visit me in my stinky neighborhood. After my first open mic, I kept going every day, because it gave me an outlet to talk about my weirdo life.
When and where did you start performing comedy? What was your first time on stage like?
My first set ever was at Stand Up NY in Manhattan in December 2015. I performed for 5 people, very last at an open mic. Many shows I do now are sadly similar to this first open mic – begging people to listen as they slowly put their coats on, signaling their disinterest. I got one big laugh during my set and it felt really good. I thought my voice sounded weird in the mic but turns out I’m just a white girl with vocal fry. Who knew? When I left, the mic host pointed at me with a finger gun and said, “Amy Schumer?” It’s been a blur of similar disappointments since.
Why did you pick NYC instead of LA or anywhere else?
There wasn’t really a picking. I already lived here for non-comedy purposes and then got started a la question #1. Luckily for me, I just happened to live in the most intense world in the place to do comedy and was just thrust into the chaos. It would be like if my new step-dad sent me to George Washington Military Academy where he is now the Commandant – and in this situation I’m Hilary Duff – and I butt heads with my Cadet Captain Christy Carlson-Romano who knows I’ve never done a push-up in my life, but we ultimately grow strong together due to the extremity of the situation. Wait, did I just describe the plot of Cadet Kelly? Ugh, this always happens!
How long did it take you to get paid work in comedy?
Lol! Define “paid work” and “comedy.” I remember the first time I made $2 off a tip jar was in 2016. I hung that shit on my wall because it was more meaningful to me than my stupid college diploma which cries itself to sleep every night in my closet. But really, only as of last year did money start coming in a bit more consistently. I host and go on the road more which is where the real cash flow comes in. I’ll also do roast gigs for old people that can pay quite a bit, and I truly still don’t know my worth. I remember one time this guy was like, “What will it take you to come out to New Jersey?” And I was all timid, like, “umm $40? Is that too much??” and he was like, “How’s $500?” My jaw dropped and hit the ground like a cartoon who just saw a hot girl or Lola Bunny from Space Jam. A headliner would think that’s pocket change. It takes a while, and some months are better than others, which is why I supplement my comedy income with my real passion: being an administrative coordinator at an investment firm.
What tip would you give any comedian who moves here?
Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Don’t complain. I meet a lot of people who move here and are like, “Man I just can’t get booked on shows. What the hell is that about? Who do I gotta know??” Then I’m like well what have you been doing and they’re like, “I’m getting up like 3 times a week!!” It takes a while to get into a groove in this scene: Focus on getting funnier, meeting as many people as possible, and letting things unfold accordingly. A million comedians book shows and every time you get on stage, you expand your reach.
Given your feelings about the state of our culture, how do you avoid despair?
I talk to my friends and family a lot who offer perspective. They’re like, “sorry I can’t console you right now I’m going through a divorce” and I’m like, ok I guess I should stop being annoying about a tag that didn’t work tonight.
What most important lesson you learned in comedy?
The first thing you write isn’t gonna be gold and nothing, not even your current set is final. Always room for improvement and tweaks and remember in 20 years you’re not gonna be doing this material and actually you’ll probably be dead due to the swiftness with which the oceans are heating up! That’s always comforting to keep in mind. Also, don’t yell at crowds please if you can help it!! They don’t know they’re bad!! It’s a rough look!
How do you come up with Material?
I light some patchouli incense, rip a fat bong, play Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” on vinyl, and then drop acid until a dick joke comes to me in a forest clearing. Just kidding. I jot down funny stuff and expand them and incorporate into my current set. I use twitter (@somaddysmith, thank you!) to try out premises and stuff and write while I’m at work, on the train, in Ubers, in funerals, etc. If something strikes me as funny I jot it down. A lot of my material is personal experiences and my reactions to things so if I have a stupid thought – like the other day I was in an uber looking up at a high rise apartment, debating internally whether I’d want to live in a high rise or a classic brownstone and I was like haha you’re so fucking dumb you have literally negative $40,000 and you’ll never have a choice, you’re gonna have roommates forever you fat piece of shit! I’ll laugh at myself when I’m dumb and make those things funny for wider audiences.
Why is there so much sadness—depression, addiction—in the comedy world?
Because success is based on your entire personality and people liking you.
Who are your influences?
I don’t know, because when I started Stand-up I had barely watched anything. So I’m not sure who influences me, but as I do more comedy, I have people who I consistently find hilarious and inspirational because of it like Gary Gulman, Jessica Kirson, Lenny Marcus, Yamaneika Saunders, Big Jay Oakerson, Bonnie McFarlane, Andrew Schulz, Matt Richards, Mike Vecchione, Gina Yashere. I just worked with Stavros Halkias and he’s funny and fun!
What would you say troubles you the most about the world today?
The fact that we’re ignoring scientists screaming at us about climate change. I’m here complaining about performing for two people at a bar show while the scientists are in every publication like “LOOK AT THIS. LOOK. PLEASE. WE ARE BEGGING YOU. LOOK. AT. THIS. INFORMATION. WE ARE GOING TO DIE. DON’T YOU SEE?!?!?” and I just ignore that so I can take another Buzzfeed quiz telling me which breakfast cereal is my spirit animal.
Which comedy clubs do you typically perform at?
New York Comedy Club is my #1 – they have two locations now and I fucking love being there! There is some secret sauce to those clubs that makes performing feel like eating a Big Mac without getting fat. I’m there a few nights a week. Also Stand Up NY, Carolines, QED, Creek and the Cave, and a million bars throughout the city. More regional clubs, like the Heliums and Funny Bones (great buff chick sandwich) – I’ve had good experiences at most professional comedy clubs. Oh! I’ll be in Chicago in April and the Laugh Factory there is another incredible place!
Who are some of your favorite up-and-comers in the comedy world?
Since I’ve only been at it a few years I feel weird to call people up and comers, you know? But people who I see on shows that I’m on regularly include my roommate Caitlin Peluffo (hi!), Jeff Scheen, Usama Siddique, Peter Revello, Bret Raybould, Andrew Schiavone, Melissa Diaz, Ja-ron Young, Luke Mones, Steven Rogers, Pedro Gonzalez, Isabel Hagen, and Connor Creagan. Is that too many? All good people.
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