We reached out to stand up comedian Sarah Garner during the COVID Quarantine to interview her about stand up comedy and here is what she had to say.
What other jobs did you do before starting stand up comedy?
I was a preschool teacher. You’d be surprised how well the skillset transfers. Hosting a show is not that far off from a class of 20 3 year-olds. I was also a nanny and taught music and other stuff. I’ve worked in education for most of my career. Now, I still do some work in education. I have a Master’s degree in Special Education.
How did you know you wanted to be a comedian?
It actually took a long time for me to figure it out. It took me a while to see that what I wanted to do was comedy. I didn’t grow up watching standup comedy or anything; I didn’t understand it as an art form until I was an adult. My parents are both really funny, and I always knew I loved telling stories and making people laugh. So I actually started out writing comedic essays for dinky little online publications. I was also always a performer; in theatre and a singer and dancer. It wasn’t until my 20s that I realized you could be a performer and a writer. And that’s when I fell in love with standup.
If you weren’t doing comedy, what would you be doing?
I would be teaching full time. And I don’t know that I would be unhappy. But there would definitely be something missing in my life. Sometimes I get this flash of what life would look like without comedy, and I think I would be content, but there would be a hugely exciting thing missing.
Where are some of your favorite places to perform?
Everywhere (book me!). But seriously! I love performing, and I hope I never take a single second of the time I get on stage for granted. I talk to my friends back in Ohio and their minds are blown that I get to live in New York City and do comedy in front of people who actually listen to me. I think comics here get jaded and forget how amazing it is that we’re even here. I get that way! But I don’t want to be that way. I want to remember that even though there are thousands of comedians in this city, I get to be one of them, through whatever dumb twist of fate. But if I had to pick, I love Broadway Comedy Club, but my all-time favorite is performing at The Lantern in the Village. It’s where I started, so it has a nostalgic pull for me, but there’s also something thrilling about performing at a free show where people are often drunk. It means that every time you have to earn it. It reminds me that if I want an audience to listen to me, I have to earn it by being funny and building trust with them. I love that challenge.
Who are some of your favorite up-and-comers in the comedy world?
Ah so many!! How do I even pick? I love Madeleine Smith. I learned everything I know about crowd work from watching her. James Tison is brilliant and real. I love Christiana Jackson. She could say literally anything and make it funny. Onika McClean is a delight. I love Brittany Brave, Gus Constantellis, Jaron Young, Kim Dinaro, Jeena Bloom, Jen Lap, Maggie Lalley, Jenae Boston, Courtney Bledsoe, Drex Clemons, Sarah Hartshorne. I could fill thousands of lineups with the amazing people I get to hang out with here. Please don’t be mad if I left you out; you’re amazing and I love you.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
First, slow down. I’m a fast talker and fast thinker. I’ve always been that way. I would talk way too fast and step on my own punchlines. But the other best advice is to be authentic to who you are. It’s so easy to lose yourself in the pressures to fit a certain mold. Fuck that. Be who you are. It might take a while, but people will notice your authenticity, on stage and off. And you’ll feel so much better being who you are than being someone you’re not.
When did you feel like you were a pro comedian?
Haha, am I? I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like a pro. Because the more I grow, the more I realize how much further I have to go. There are fleeting moments of like, “you’re doing this! You’re a comedian,” but I always come back to reality pretty quickly. If I had to pick one defining characteristic of myself, it’s that I’m a perfectionist. No matter what I do, it’ll never be good enough. I could be selling out clubs all the time, and I still probably wouldn’t feel like it. I’m very fun to be around.
How often do you perform comedy per week?
Anywhere from 7-14 times per week. I wish it were more!
Which NYC Comedy Club do you perform at?
I perform anywhere that’ll take me! I mostly perform at Broadway Comedy Club and at The Lantern. I’ve been lucky enough to lots of places like New York Comedy Club, The Stand, Greenwich Village Comedy Club, and West Side Comedy Club. I run a standup and advice show at The Stand called Not a Therapist.
How do you deal with hecklers?
I was a preschool teacher, so pretty much exactly how I dealt with my students when they weren’t listening. There are also different kinds of hecklers. Like some people are mean; then I shut them down. But a lot of “hecklers” are actually just really excited audience members who might have had too much to drink and want to feel involved. In that case, I never shut them down. I try to gently guide them to a more appropriate show of their excitement. Like, don’t call out during the show, but you can laugh and clap at the end. We forget that people aren’t born knowing how to appropriately act at a comedy show. Not every city in America even has a club! So I think it’s our job to encourage people and show them how to be good audience members. That’s the teacher in me, I guess.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I did a lot of starting and then stopping in my 20s. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I really took the plunge. I would tell myself to stop getting intimidated by everyone else and that I have as much of a right to be here in this scene as any of them. I would tell myself that I can do this if I really try and to stop getting in my own way. I’ve always been pretty good at being on stage but felt like I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say, or that I couldn’t say it if it wasn’t perfect. I would tell myself that’s all bullshit. I often think about where my career would be now if I just went all in at 23 like I should have and it makes me really sad, that I stood in my own way for that long. But then again, who knows how it all affected my worldview, which affects my comedy.
What are you doing during the Corona Quartine?
Trying not to freak out and wishing I would have gotten a haircut before my salon shut down. Honestly, I’m just trying to get through it. Luckily, I have another income stream coming in, so I’m in a much better place than many. I’m staying grateful for that. I’m also learning guitar, which I’ve always wanted to learn. I’m writing some silly songs and poems. Writing some jokes, making memes. Trying to be creative every day, but also remove some of the pressure to constantly produce.
What do you do to stay sane during the Quartine?
See above! I have an anxiety disorder, so I feel like I’ve been training for this my whole life. I get really anxious often, so I’m pretty good at talking myself down from it (thanks, therapy!!). I’ve been trying to do something for myself every day like play guitar or stretch or cook myself good food. I’m a runner and luckily, I’ve still been able to get out to run or go for a long walk pretty much every day. Without that, I’d go nuts.
How would you describe your brand of comedy?
Your favorite kindergarten teacher, but with more swear words? I don’t know. I want my act to feel like a very fun brunch with your best friend, except I’m the only one that gets to talk, which is actually my ideal brunch scenario. I want it to feel very personal, like we’re all in on a secret together. I don’t know if “very fun brunch with your best friend’ is a brand but if it is, that’s my brand.
What do you talk about in your act?
I do mostly personal stuff. So I talk about my life and then make it relatable to what other people are potentially going through. I talk about everything from love and dating to my family and my own anxiety. I spend a lot of my life worrying about not being good enough and ruminating over the ways that I could and should be better. I think a lot of people feel that way, and I want to help people feel less alone. I also think a lot of the world is just weird and doesn’t make sense, so I like to talk about that too. Again, I think a lot of people feel that way and feel weird for feeling that way. I want them to feel less alone.
How did you develop your style of stand up? Who were your influences growing up; both from the world of comedy and elsewhere?
I didn’t grow up on standup, so a lot of my early influences came from elsewhere. Both my parents are therapists; they’re intellectual and analytical and funny. I think the way they talk and think influenced me a lot. It made me want to dissect human behavior, including my own. The first person that made me really fall in love with comedy was Carol Burnett. My mom and I used to watch reruns of her show every night while my mom would cook dinner. She was so funny, but also seemed really kind and generous, and I loved her. I also grew up loving musicals. When we would watch comedy, we wouldn’t watch standup, but we’d watch Steve Martin movies or The Naked Gun or Monty Python. Goofy stuff. Now, my comedy is pretty heavily influenced by other women. I love Joan Rivers and Kathy Griffin. They make you feel like you’re part of the weirdest dinner party ever. I also love Ellen, Wandy Sykes, Michelle Wolf, Tiffany Haddish, Amy Poehler, Maria Bamford; the list is way too long.
I love to interview comedians, Can I ask what happens when you are in front of a crowd, and no one laughs?
Ha, I used to just self-combust. But now I try to handle it more like an adult. When you bomb a bunch (which everyone does, but I’ve done especially often), you learn that you can take it. Like, you’ll survive. You learn to trust your own resilience. And then, eventually, you learn to trust your skills too. Even if people didn’t laugh at that joke, it doesn’t mean you can’t get them back. So I try to tell myself to stay calm and diagnose the problem. Was that not the right joke? Do they not feel connected to you? Are they tired? Are they paying attention? Were you too fast or too slow? Did you not invest them in what you were saying? Then, make a strategic choice to get them back. And if it doesn’t work, drink and cry yourself to sleep. You’ll be fine in the morning.
What made you decide to be a comedian? Were you born funny?
People ask this a lot and I actually have no idea. I’m not sure if I was born funny, but I was definitely born weird, introspective, and a lover of the spotlight. I’m a born observer and I learned at some point that you could win people over with humor. People like funny people and I wanted to be liked. I realized that you can easily make connections with humor. That’s why I fell in love with it. It feels like a superpower, being funny. I started recognizing the power of making people laugh and that I was good at it. From there, I realized that you could actually do it on a stage in front of a bunch of people.
When can people see it?
Right now, you can see me crying every night on my couch in sweatpants. But when comedy comes back, you can see me around the city almost every night. Follow me on Instagram @sarahmeowvelous for when the next show is and for lots of pictures of my cats and some funny tweets.
Is there anything else that you wish to promote?
Getting out of isolation?
If you could choose 4 comedians to perform with on a show what would your lineup be?
Do they have to be alive? Should they be famous? God, I wish I could have met Joan Rivers. This is a very hard question because I love so many comedians here in NYC. I think I would want Joan, Kathy Griffin, Tiffany Haddish, and Leslie Jones.