Comedian Liza Treyger knows what it’s like to handle rejection and even public scorn. Setbacks include the end of a TV project she worked on for years and enduring the wrath of Twitter after giving her unfavorable thoughts on another Bernie Sanders presidential bid. Through it all, she has a new perspective about herself and those who have gone through the social media wringer.
Now living in Brooklyn, the Midwest-raised comedian plays a number of the city’s top shows and venues. This past fall, she took part in a Netflix six-part comedy special The Degenerates to go along with her debut album, GLITTERCHEESE. PRØHBTD spoke to Treyger about her feelings on life after being cancelled as well as her fondness for a certain Top Chef judge.
It sounds like living in the Midwest was never going to be for you. When did you realize that New York and comedy was more your speed?
I visited for the New York Comedy Festival, and then I came back for my cousin's wedding. I was there for 10 days and did some shows, and it was just so much fun. I got to do so many shows, and everyone was nice and cool and loved to party. Everyone was doing shots, and I was like, "This is where I need to be." Then my friend Megan thought she was going to LA, but she said, “I'll go to New York with you.” Our friends had an extra hallway room in their basement. We thought, “That's it, we'll live there,” and we just decided to go for it. I definitely left before I thought I was ready, but it was just everything I wanted.
How was the move?
Well, the problem was that we were going to live in a basement hallway on an air mattress, and the place flooded, so we couldn't stay in the basement. We just slept upstairs on the couch and on the floor, and we soon thought, “We can't live with these men.”
We hopped around and couch surfed and stayed with different friends. We ended up finding a one-bedroom place in Hell's Kitchen, near the railroad with no doors anywhere, one sink, and you had to step over the toilet seat to get into the bathtub. Me and Megan shared a bed for eight months until our building creeper climbed through our bedroom window on a ladder and spied on us. Then we moved to East Williamsburg. I was there for three and a half years, and now I am in Crown Heights.
How long were you doing comedy in Chicago before you made the move?
Like, five and a half years.
You've talked about partying. How much does cannabis work into the equation?
Well, New York has weed delivery and everything, plus I was going out and meeting new people, so I just started smoking every day. I had roommates who wanted to get high, and friends who wanted to come over and smoke, and everyone's together. So, the moment I hit New York I just started smoking joints every day, constantly.
In Chicago, I would smoke bowls, but it was casual. I didn't really buy weed, I would just smoke when I was out with people. In New York, I was thinking, "Oh, they're going to deliver it to my house?'"
Do you have any favorites?
I always want a sativa. I like having energy for creative writing, thinking, chatting. I really don't do indicas. Even at night when I do want to chill, they make me feel like Jello, and I can't move. I feel like a couch potato. I prefer being creative. I like Blue Dream, and I love Sour Diesel and Gorilla Glue. I'm embarrassed if any of these are hybrids, though, and I don't know what I'm talking about.
I also like the names that are on the sticker packages. I'll try something with a Hawaiian Punch. There was one with Barack Obama's head as the lump of weed. I like the stickers. I wish I was cooler.
Speaking of being creative, we hear you're developing a show based on your 20s. Is that something you can talk about?
Sorry about that.
It's okay. You have to experience all these things to learn and get better.
One time, one of my people I used to work with creatively told me that the people who created Modern Family didn't just wake up and do it. They've been in the industry for 20 years. And for Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amy Sherman-Palladino has been writing for, like, three decades. You just have to keep going and learning and take everything, and then one day, hopefully, I'll have a cool-ass masterpiece.
I'm very "go with the flow," so this wasn't the joke to be made. I learned from that, and it took me four years to develop it. Now I'm writing new scripts. Creating new things comes a lot easier. I can give myself this compliment. I'm very good at handling rejection or disappointment. I'm pretty chill about that.
You've been doing a lot of other work, too. You just did The Degenerates. How was doing that?
It was awesome, it was really fun. I loved my outfit. I liked my set. Right after, to be honest, was pretty miserable, though. I didn’t think I did a good job, and again, lessons. I don't think I was in the moment enough, and I was upset for about a month and a half, in a bummer mood. Once I got thoughtful feedback from people I respect, I thought, “Okay, I just need to get over whatever nitpicking things that I don't like about it and just take the compliments.”
You got some blowback on social media for your appearance on The Beat with Ari Melber. How have things been since then?
I don't even know where to start. I'm not a political person. I don't owe anyone anything, I'm a comic. I was given four stories or topics to choose from. [Bernie Sanders] was one of them, and I was like, “I don't like him. I'll say stuff.”
I didn't realize how my Twitter was set up, so I don't get notifications from people who don’t follow me. I had no idea I was getting blowback. Then I got a text from my friend while I was having a fun dinner with one of my best friends, and it said, “Don't panic, but they saw racist tweets.” I was like, “What?”
I've been told by my manager I should scrub my Twitter, to just go through it and make sure nothing is there. I said, “I've got nothing. You don't have to worry. I'm a great person.” I was like, “I'm such a good person. I was a sociology major. I'm not racist at all. There's no way I have bad views.” Then when I saw them, my heart sank. It was humiliating. They're awful. I was so ashamed. I wish I could even remember what I was thinking when I was writing them.
I do not stand by any of this. This is truly humiliating. I'm horrified. I know better than all of these things. I didn't at the time, but some of them aren't even that old. It was really screwed up. Panic set in because I thought I was going to lose friends. I was really upset. I was depressed. Then a bunch of my friends messaged me, and that made me feel really good. Obviously, they just said, “Please don't write that again.” Once my friends reached out, there was a sense I could chill a bit.
I wasn't told to apologize for anything. I wanted to because I was sorry, and it was humiliating. People don't think your apology is sincere, and they think you're being forced to do it. Then I thought, "Okay, if there's nothing I can do, I'll log off Twitter for a month." I felt I was not going to convince anybody who thinks I'm bad that I'm not. If I found someone with those tweets, I would also not like them. Though I'm really not in the business of convincing anyone of anything because if I start defending myself, or start to talk about my friends of color, or whatever, then I'm no better than a Paula Deen [type]. I don't need to prove anything to anybody, and the people who know me know that I'm not bad in that way. So, that's all I can do. I can't change the minds of people.
I'm glad it happened because I also learned the other point of view because I was really quick to judge people. It was nice to also learn that lesson of not being so quick to judge everyone based on a tweet, or maybe there's more to it, or more going on. That was a lesson.
Switching gears to something lighter, you're a fan of '90s and early 2000s pop. Can you give some deep cuts that might help us relive the era?
Dream’s “He Loves You Not,” that is pop-y goodness. I would say Samantha Mumba’s “Gotta Tell You,” too. All of Jessica Simpson's songs are pretty jammy. I would get into that. I'm trying to think of Britney and Backstreet Boys… oh, Christina Aguilera’s “Come On Over.” But the whole Stripped album is so fucking good. I love it so much, and then I would say Pink's first big hit "There You Go." That was super fun. I just love all the boy band songs, but I was a Backstreet Boys fan, so I didn't like *NSYNC. Then, when I grew up, I was like, "No, 'Tearing Up My Heart' is so good."
What about your fondness for Tom Colicchio?
He's truly magical to me. Even when we were planning [The Beat], all I wanted was to get in with Tom Colicchio. [Before the show] my friend came over to braid my hair. Her and her boyfriend are Top Chef fans. We all went together, and she was there when I asked, “What topic should I do? Yeah, Bernie sucks.” It was all about Tom, and that's why it's not funny, but it was funny that he was tagged in all of it. My true hero.
I love him because he cares so much about food, and he's excellent. He’s such a good mentor and judge. He has such integrity for food, and he's the one in the first season of Top Chef—that was done unfairly, but sometimes they would have to eat dishes cold—and he was the one who said, “This is not okay.” He makes sure they all have their shot to get hot food and the best plate from everybody, which is really cool.
He's a fucking chef, and I love that. He also was doing farm-to-table before it was a thing. He's just really revolutionary in that way. He does a lot for school lunches and underprivileged people with meals and shelter. He's just really caring. I love that he's cool, and I also love that he drinks.
For more information on Liza Treyger and upcoming shows, visit her Instagram.