You can’t joke about something you don’t genuinely care about. That’s the epiphany I had whilst talking to one of the rawest yet most pleasant open mikers I know. She reveals to me the secret that has garnered her respect in the scene for telling what’s special about her own life, rather than sticking to the status quo. We also talk briefly about hecklers, self-promotion and the role someone’s faith plays when chasing their career. After a brief meal of hour-old fish and chips, Kayla Bernadette and I sat down for a chat about hustling in comedy to prove your worth.
Danny Archila: It’s very rare that people like you and I come together under daylight circumstances. We’re usually such night-walkers. I don’t know what it was like for you in Florida, but for me, “you gotta be back by eight am.” Did you feel a little constricted when you were there?
Kayla Bernadette: No, I was a total geek, so I wanted to be home. I never really left the house. All my friends were in the neighborhood. I never felt the need to say Oh let me just stay out for a bit. I was a good kid.
DA: You were a good little child over there.
KB: I still am. I don’t believe in rebellion. Because I’m in my twenties. It’s like, “what am I rebelling against?” We’re free spirits. We all have these needs and these wants. And some of them may be unconventional, but we’re not necessarily rebelling.
DA: Do you ever feel like when you’re writing your set, it’s best to keep your tone consistent?
KB: I try not to stick to an agenda. You should never do that unless you’re writing for something, like a TV Show or a Roast Battle. I think when you try to come up with something, you’re ignoring all this stuff that’s in your face you should be writing about. It’s kind of like when comics get on stage and they say “Okay, give me something! Give me something! I don’t have anything!” Your life… That is your something! Of course, who am I to give off advice; I can try to give you the best advice I can… But when I write, I write what’s in my heart. What’s in my life, what I’ve been through to a certain extent. You say, “What’s a joke? I’m going to try and write a joke.” When you’re first starting out you’re writing these stupid little popsicle jokes like “What do you get when you mix blah blah blah?” Because you’re still trying to figure out your voice. I’m basically taking all of my views. And just writing from those points of views. I don’t believe anyone is totally liberal or totally [conservative.] So, I am a Christian. “I’m going to write jokes about this.” But nobody’s perfect, so I could also write about drugs.
DA: You have to show people that you’re multi-faceted. By working this through comedy, your admitting humility through the changes in your life. On that note, the struggle you face in the comedy scene must be different from your Christian upbringing.
KB: But is it though? When I came into the comedy world, I didn’t feel that much shock because I felt like I was around everyday people. I felt like I couldn’t be judged. When you read the Bible, it’s not a bunch of perfect, angelic people living their lives. The only person that’s perfect in that book is Jesus. But when you look at his genealogy, I’m sure there are murderers, there are rapists, prostitutes. You have to remember, we have this side of ourselves that’s kind of living. [It] exists in this human form. We might be Christians and everything but we’re still humans. We still have thoughts, we still laugh, there are still people who are addicted to the stuff.
DA: You feel like you’ve been welcomed into a family. A congregation of acceptance.
KB: I’ve been to the Comedy Store, within the first couple days of moving to Los Angeles. It was my first time hearing dirty comedy right in front of me. I had never seriously in my life ever heard people say dirty jokes. That was all on the Internet. So I come to the Store, and I hear Joey “CoCo” Diaz doing a set like “When’s the last fucking time you fingered a chick?” And then I leave thinking, “Oh my gosh, I have to go to Church! They’re saying the most vulgar stuff!” (laughs) But we all have these thoughts! I’m sure Joel Osteen has some! I see stand-up as a way to get them out.
DA: It’s just lying to yourself if you say, “Oh no I don’t! I’m going to keep them for the whole time!”
KB: Exactly! I might be a Christian, but I’m still a person who goes through things. I still have sexual needs. If I don’t at least talk about it, then I’m going to be repressed. It’s going to cause all this internal drama. How do you feel about the whole thing? I don’t see a lot of spirit-driven comics. (laughs)
DA: It’s not even that I’m scared of the faith. I’m scared of the people who believe in the faith. If they hear me say release some of these repressed feelings, then they’re going to lose more faith in me when I’m talking smack. But I’m not the only one. I just say them on-stage.
KB: Those expectations go away. You can go to Church all you want. You can pray all you want. But what are you doing to [remedy] them? At some point, your parents see you at twenty, thirty years old and say “I don’t care what it is. Just do something. Be good at it.” I came out here to be a writer and a script supervisor in the film. Before that, I wanted to be a journalist. My family said, “we’re going to help you do this and do that.” But is this something I want to be doing?
DA: They can’t compute the idea that it takes a little longer than a couple of years. It’s overrated to please the audience. Because they’re not the ones on-stage. You are. It’s scary for newcomers since they have to accept the idea that the audience has come to laugh.
KB: Yeah, and you know what it is? People have to remember, the audience is going [to your show] because they want to watch something. They’re not going because they want you to impress them. It’s like when you’re watching a movie, do you want Spike Jonze or Ava DuVernay to cater to you or do you want to see their vision? Their work? If everyone catered to what everyone wanted, we wouldn’t get certain styles. We wouldn’t get certain stories out there that we connect with. You just want different points of view to get out there. That’s how we get rid of bigotry and injustice. If you’re up on-stage and see a Muslim comic talk about 9/11, everyone does that. But if you see a Muslim comic talk about their everyday life or things that aren’t the typical stereotypes, people in different areas are going to see that and think “Maybe they aren’t all like that.”
DA: In my own experience, some bits I’ve worked out on-stage, have been deeply troubling to me, inside. But they’re me! They’re only something I go through!
KB: Here’s the thing about that; talking about it, you’ll meet people who say “I go through that too,” and that’s going to make it even more special. That’s how you’ll connect with more people. “Hey, we’ve all been through this together.” That’s how you establish fans in the community.
DA: Being yourself: The easiest and hardest thing to do in showbiz. There’s that shock that we need to get over in our own heads when we see other people reacting. For instance, when we see people seeing us bomb on-stage.
KB: That’s the fun!
DA: That’s the fun. You’re anticipating something even bigger for them to laugh at.
KB: You need to see where you lose them, where you get them. I love seeing people’s reactions. We’re in this generation where, we’re more used to posting, and talking but not seeing their reactions. For me, getting my validation from likes. So if I posted something and it got a lot of likes, I would get a happy feeling. If I posted something and I didn’t get any likes, I would kind of feel like shit. I would just delete it and that’s it. But with comedy, when you’re doing good, you can actually see people’s facial expressions change throughout the joke and with each word. That interaction. If something bombed, show it. Let me know.
DA: They’re engrossed. They’re caring about what your premise, set-up, and the punchline are. One of my favorite parts about going to the movies is just watching other people’s reactions. I would spend more time watching other people watching movies than watching the movies themselves.
KB: Just stare at them. Like a director during a screener. “Are they laughing?”
DA: I have my chair and popcorn. (laughs)
KB: Just sit the other way. (laughs)
DA: I figure a lot of comedians don’t think about that. That’s good to mention. When you’re seeing someone laugh at a joke, it’s firepower to bring you back to the drawing board to write a better tag. Give it a bigger punch.
KB: But people don’t realize that because they’re so in their head when they’re on-stage. Sometimes it’s not about the laugh. Some of them will bomb and think “That joke sucked.” No, no, no. Look at their faces. There are sometimes people will be leaning in and they’ll be nodding. They’ll be chuckling. Think, “I didn’t bomb. What I had was interesting. It’s great. It’s just not making them laugh out loud.” When they’re interested, that’s when you have the audience. That’s when you bomb. When you don’t even have the audience.
DA: If you have them on the literal edge of their seats, they’re rooting for you. They want to know why they’re interested in this.
KB: It lets you know as a writer. It’s there. “I just have something, where can I go from that.”
DA: But if a bunch of people has their phones on?
KB: Then you have nothing. That’s something people have to remember.
DA: When you go to the open mics, do you try to offer the same respect back?
KB: As attentive as I can. I try to say for the whole show. How else? It’s supporting people. You don’t really have any audience members. You have to use each other as test subjects. Especially, professionals… If you’re in the back, that’s one thing. But if you come up to the front and you text, sleep, talk, how are you going to know where you’re at? How are you going to know where the room is at? How are you going to know anything if you don’t watch your friends? Not just your friends, your peers. We’re all trying to do the same shit. How would you feel if you went on-stage and everyone just left?
DA: Maybe I’m following somebody that just killed and there would be some people that would just scurry on out. And that would be something I’d have to be okay with.
KB: Just do your material. “Oh, you’re leaving?!” It’s a room. Just do it.
DA: Somebody else is bound to come in eventually. Do you figure certain venues could’ve been designed better?
KB: (laughs) It’s California. Every building could be designed better. I think Next Stage should be exempt from that. They’re set up for theatrical lighting which is something totally different. In their performances, you’re not looking for a reaction. You don’t need to see their faces.
DA: When actors perform, they’re looking for the prompts that will give them their next line. If they’re looking at the audience, “why am I looking at you?”
KB: It’s kind of like studios, you have your big venues. The Improv. The Laugh Factory. The [Comedy] Store. And then you have all these smaller venues. But it’s an old city and most of these venues aren’t designed for certain things? Over time people will be more considerate with lighting. Maybe there will be more comedy clubs like that. Out of every venue, the Laugh Factory is one of the clearest. That was always the most comfortable. You can see that audience. You can see all the way from that back wall. You can see everyone.
DA: It’s on purpose too. Whenever I see clips online, the Factory has the best lighting.
DA: It’s very clear. Hardly any shadows to begin with.
KB: It shouldn’t be blinding. You can light people. Make them look good. Because there are moments where I will just step off-stage and I don’t have to do that. (laughs) I remember one time I went to Silverlake Lounge. I will never forget this. There are some venues where you’ll have to perform with your hand in front of your face. And of course, the host being in her Eastside attitude came up and say, “If you’re being blinded by the lights, then that means you’re really doing stand-up.” Excuse me? If you waited until someone got off to say that, why am I doing this one? (laughs) Don’t wait until someone gets off-stage to say something.
DA: I felt like that when I performed at the Hooters mic. When the hosts at that show were serious when they would bark at new people, that helped me get over the whole thing of “the lights are so bright!” Maybe that helped me handle my approach to a horrible problem of not staring into the sky, but lower my head, narrow my eyes and stare them down.
KB: Look at them like they’re your victims.
DA: Sorry that that happened at Silverlake.
KB: I went back once since. I try to avoid the Eastside pics.
DA: Certainly, there were some good ones. I tried to go to Karma Lounge… I liked going to Hollywood Hotel. I heard there’s been some [angst] but I personally enjoyed it.
KB: Building off on the Eastside, how comedy changes with different scenes. Because within the LA scene, there are all these other sub-scenes. There’s the Eastside if you listen to their comedy, it’s like listening to a bunch of valedictorians making up jokes. There are certain areas where the comedy will be more real.
DA: The people that frequent there, sometimes stay in those pockets. Right now, we’re in Santa Monica. And the comedians that come to these mics, only go there. They hardly ever travel out to Hollywood or Pasadena, regardless of transportation.
KB: I do try to go to a lot of different miss, but there are certain areas I try to stay away from because they are too cliquey. They are too much like walking into high school.
DA: Just more recently, I’ve been trying to go more often to Echoes on Pico. [Before,] I wouldn’t go there because they’d charge $5.
KB: What are you paying five dollars for?
DA: Some of these mics do that, and I say, “I got to respect that.”
KB: That’s one thing, but five dollars? That’s like a show. People do that but they forget that can be kind of classist. Because a venue ends up only getting certain kinds of people at a mic that have money, and a lot of people that have money aren’t a fucking comic. (laughs) I’ve been at paid mics; it has a certain vibe. It doesn’t feel fun. I don’t like socialite miss.
DA: Most comics take advantage of certain mics as a means to a network instead of an opportunity to sit, watch and work on the specifics of their showmanship for that moment when actual civilians will show up.
KB: There needs to be some emotional distance to really, really, really succeed in stand-up. Not just in stand-up but in general. I’ve got to be honest. I’m not friends with anybody here, at all. (laughs) I don’t get close to people here. We’re coworkers. That’s what we have to remember. When I show up for a mic, I just want to keep it professional. If I’m really talking to someone at a mic, that means I really respect that person. You can have some friends on the scene but it can be distracting. There are some friendships, but I guess not everyone can put up with this business. Because there are moments where you can help people. Help them write jokes. This and that. That’s why you shouldn’t expect something back. But sometimes when you hang out with another comic and they come out with a secret of yours. You still have to go back to these rooms and become distant. Start cutting people off.
DA: The underlying truth is that you never really know who’s going to succeed in this business. With someone you’ve had a spat with if either one of you succeeds, and years from now, some agent or publicist asks who should we use—
KB: It’s not even a “years from now” thing. It’s a “now” thing. I literally recommend people to other people all the time. (laughs) Behind people’s backs and they have no idea. People that I don’t even talk to. Yeah, we’ve all slept with each other and yeah we’ve all dated each other but, can we keep our mouths shut? Another great piece of advice. Can we keep our mouths shut? (laughs) And be forward with that? Because they’ll know. Then that person’s trying to get you a part in something and then “That’s what they think?” Bye-bye. It won’t be the end-all, be-all of that person’s career.
DA: It does feel good where if you vibe well enough with somebody off-stage, you get that opportunity to work with them but maybe for a booked show. I’ve made great friends, doing stand-up, but only talk to them when I’m doing stand-up. I don’t talk to them at any point of the day except when seeing them at the mics. Then, when we’re at a booked show, I see them and I say “Oh, you are my friend! This is going to be so much fun. Because even if I bomb, I get to laugh about it with you afterward.” That’s always enriching.
KB: It’s always fun to succeed with other people. Especially people you bomb with. “You’re on the show too?” When you’re moving up with someone, you can recognize the same problems. But when someone’s down here and you’re here, and that person’s trying to get your advice and it can be awkward. There’s a moment when it was a year into me moving here, out of work, sleeping on a couch. (laughs) All this bullshit, and then out of nowhere I got a casting director job. And I’m a casting director for a movie! (laughs) I’m working with everyone, actors are coming in. People that I’ve seen on T.V. Never fan girl in front of them. But of course, actors are coming in… And along comes some comics. Here to audition for me! You walk into the room and… “Oh, hello! You know the camera is here and I’ll be reading with you.” That can be so funny. I’m talking about comics who are way above me and they audition for me. I have to go and turn to the director and go like “This person would be great because of their work ethic, they’re fantastic, they keep their mouth shut.” (laughs) That’s something that I can’t stress [enough.] Comedians will get on set or a show, and they’ll start taking pictures of “I’m on set! Hollywood! Hashtag this! Hashtag that!” And, dude, we’re all just here to work. Let’s just be professional.
DA: Don’t gloat.
KB: People that do that will never get work. You have to be quiet.
DA: Maybe just instead of posting the work-in-progress? Post the completed project. My friend who’s a comic, that also works in animation, posted a picture of a credit in a well-known film and that’s fine! The shit’s already over with. People who want to show their friends the work they’re doing, show them it when it’s done!
KB: It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not done. You’re giving away details. When you’re on set and you take a picture of a costume and say “I’m on set for this show,” then you could be literally giving away the plot.
DA: One of my guilty pleasures is to watch arguments between people of noteworthy mention on YouTube. I like to watch problems happen. At the Comedy Store, Brody Stevens was bringing up Tony Hinchcliffe for a show. Brody likes to stream things. Tony took notice of his man filming him during the Periscope, for streaming purposes. Tony took umbrage to that because he was working on new material before going on the road and he explained later to Brody that he doesn’t understand why Brody needs to expose Tony’s material to all these fans that kind of ruin the experience for the fans in the towns Tony performs in. It’s almost better to promote what you’re going to be doing and where you’re going to be doing that at instead of actually having to have some indication that you’re doing that right now.
KB: It shows insecurity in your work. When some people are too readily anxious to show what they’re doing, it shows you’re not worried about the product. You’re worried about the notoriety. Or what people are going to say. It’s popularity. You’re not really worried about the craft. Showing off an unfinished painting. Why would you show that? It’s not done yet.
DA: That’s not to bash self-promotion. There’s a level of it where it seems like you’re trying too hard. All these movements for what, to impress your friends? To get them to work with you? If they like working with you. That’ll be based on your work ethic and based off how much of a not-dick you are.
KB: That’s so important.
DA: That’s very important. That’s something I learned being here in LA myself for three years. Just don’t be a dick. Don’t be rude to people. And maybe something good will come your way. If not? It’s not because people hate you, I can assure you.
KB: Or you’re just not right. If Jerry Seinfeld played Jules in Pulp Fiction, it just wouldn’t work! (laughs) Everyone’s meant for their own thing.
DA: Moving on to hecklers, do you have a heckler story?
KB: I do. There was some drunk guy talking in the audience. He just stumbled in. I said something about my mother and he was just like, (parrot-voice) “Yeah, your mother!” Okay… I just kept going. And he just kept talking. “Oh, really? Cool.” And I kept going in my set. Eventually, some people said, “alright, Sir, you have to chill.”
DA: That’s cool that you handled that with class. Some comedians blow up.
KB: Why? Let someone make a fool out of themselves. Why bring yourself down? If you want to be drunk, do that. I came here to do comedy. I’m going to keep doing that. I remember I was at Mel’s, I got heckled by another female comic. I was doing a joke about Trump, this was around the time of the Election, and the joke starts off sounding “pro-Trump” and she didn’t even give me a chance. She just goes like, “Oh, Reality! Lah-lah-lah-lah!” In a Shrillary voice! I look at her straight in the face and keep going, she’s getting up to leave. It takes her forty-five minutes to leave. Total liberal, total mindless snowflake. It’s one thing if you have views. You can separate from that. But if you’re trying to get your views across while another comic is on-stage, that’s something I won’t appreciate. Anyway, she starts yelling and I say “Are you serious? We’re both comics! This is all free-speech! Who are you to look at someone else who has a different political view and say they’re wrong? If she had heard the punchline, it wasn’t all that “pro-Trump.” It was me skewing him in a neutral way. If she had heard it she wouldn’t’ve been so angry. She was one of those comics. who argue.
KB: It’s not even that. It’s these Eastside comics who get into the whole P.C. thing. “Don’t say this because it’s anti-that!” This is America! I can say whatever I want!
DA: There are worse things happening. The fact that we as comedians take the stage as a platform to speak out about this injustice and use our U.S. right… That’s something they should be grateful for honestly. If you want to debate about it, take it off-stage. Go into a parking lot or a dinner at four in the morning. But not while people are trying to enjoy the act because that’s also unfair to them.
KB: The fact that it came from another comic? That was weird. You’re going to yell at another person for doing the same thing that you’re trying to do? That’s why I don’t understand why there’s any sort of hate in the community. We’re all trying to do the same shit. We’re all trying to do it—
DA: With different material.
KB: Exactly! But we’re just different people. We’re all doing different things. But we’re essentially the same people. We should all just be kind to each other. A lot of us have been bullied, have been through shit, have committed suicide in the comedy community. We should be lifting each other, not tearing each other down on-stage. When people say shit that I don’t even agree with, they’re exercising their right. Just let them get it out.
DA: Let it be in their own guilt. Their own conscience.
KB: I remember seeing Preacher Lawson every Wednesday, a year ago. And then the next thing you know, he’s on top of the world. He’s ready for it.
DA: He’s been ready for it. He was one of the first people I met in comedy. This was back in Florida, in Orlando, there’s this mic at Austin’s Film & Coffee.
KB: (singsongy) That’s where I started. First time ever.
DA: Are you serious?
KB: If you really want to get into it, the first time I ever did stand-up was at Church Camp. And they were “Yeah, just write something!” First film lesson I ever learned was in Church Camp. They looked at us and said “widescreen is the only screen.” I guess.
DA: It’s always interesting remembering your first time doing stand-up.
KB: Some people think there’s a specific timeline. Sometimes you don’t know. You should never lean on your own understanding. People can see things in you. But when you are [ready] people will come tell you. That’s how you know. When people say, “Hey, I like you. I want to put you in something. I want to use you for a thing.”
DA: It’s also a sense of maturity.
KB: It’s not about bad stuff. It’s about what are you doing to grow from the bad stuff. That’s what it is.
DA: You can interact with more people. But are you getting enough sleep?
KB: That’s a little more important. If you’re not getting enough sleep, if you’re not right with yourself, if you don’t have inner peace, you won’t be good at anything. You won’t be focused. That’s what matters the most. There are moments when I first started where I would hit up five, six mics a day, but I was suffering. Yeah, I was getting better and writing better. But I was barely eating and you can’t forget your basic personal needs. You’re not going to be able to be where you need to be. I don’t care if I just do one mic a week. As long as I’m well-fed and well-rested, that’s all that matters.
DA: Your best material can come out of a body that works properly.
KB: And you can do things. There are a lot of people that only do comedy. You have to spread out, sustain yourself, be healthy.
DA: But also give yourself some personal variety. Some people are foodies, some people like hiking or going to the beach, some people like sports or cooking. If you can find that, that’ll add more of a third-dimensionality to you on-stage. What you say is true. There needs to be a balance.
KB: You write your life. If you’re out living your life and doing a lot of things, you’re going to have a lot of material. It’s like editing. The more footage you have, the more you have to work with. Living your life is important. Especially when you’re living in LA.
DA: It’s a great town to live in!
KB: There’s so much. This town has got so much to do. Homeless people fighting. Going to the beach. Take a bus ride. Go somewhere.
DA: Go eat some Korean Tofu.
KB: Sure. (laughs) Go live.
DA: I love Korean Tofu.
KB: When I first lived here, I would take a bus somewhere and walk around, take notes, and keep track of all the funny things that would happen. And it also increases your perspective and your worldview. That’s an important thing to have in comedy.
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