Comedienne Natasha Leggero is best known as a regular on Chelsea Lately and the Tonight Show, and also as a judge on the last season of Last Comic Standing. Leggero recently sat down with me while in Chicago for the Just for Laughs Chicago comedy festival to discuss coming back to Chicago, judging other comics on LCS, her comedic influences, and much more.
There's a sophisticated elegance with your act...
(Natasha starts cracking up because upon me saying the words "sophisticated" and "elegance," we both realize she is devouring a sandwich).
... where does that come from?
It came from first a reaction to the sh*t hole I grew up in, Rockford, Illinois, not far from here. Also, various people I've dated. I used to date this guy who was a con artist in Australia who would say he was from old money, and I lived there with him for like a year, and he was so ridiculous. After we broke up I just started doing an impression of him (laughs). And I love glamour.
Who were your influences?
My influences might not be comedians. When I was young I used to love Neil Simon. I'd say in middle school or high school I got into John Waters, I thought he was hilarious. I just loved the dark, edgy, absurd part of comedy. My comedy isn't really absurd, but I really do appreciate that and I'm influenced by it in a way... And I like May West.
What's it like for you to come back to Chicago and perform here?
I feel like the city is so big and everytime I come here I'm in a new part of it, and I'm just kind of rediscovering it like it's some new city. So I love staying in different parts. I lived in Wicker Park for a summer. I was very familar with that area, but we would never leave Wicker Park. Then I was staying by the lake last time I was here, I was opening for Chelsea Handler. There's so much here, it's such a rich city in that sense. I love it.
You and Greg Giraldo had a great chemistry on the last season of Last Comic Standing, can you talk about working with him on the show?
He was just one of those people that was extremely bright, hilarious, and also a super nice guy. I was nervous to do that show with Andy (Kindler) and Greg because they're both hilarious, and I would sometimes be focused on my own performance as a judge and really focused on what I was going to say so I would sound good and funny. I just feel it came very naturally to Greg and he was all about making sure that people had a fair chance. Sometimes I would say, "No," very off the cuff and Andy would say, "No," and Greg would say, "I have to see a little more."
He was very aware of how these people felt and how hard it was to be auditioning to an empty room, where no one thrives. If you thrive in that situation, you're probably a hack (laughs). You're just trying to make the crew laugh, or people are laughing at you. It's designed to be a challenge. It was great seeing all those things, his generosity, his natural comedy, and also how smart and insightful he is. It was great getting to know him and I think he's definitely missed, obviously.
Was it weird for you, being a comic, having to judge other comics?
It was hard. It was hard when I knew someone, and I also feel like I had to judge people based on what they were doing. It was awkward. Everyone I knew, who I'm friends with, is funny. I'm not friends with a lot of people who aren't funny.
Where do you go after Rockford?
I went to Illinois State University, which is in Bloomington, Normal and I hated it so much. The corn was everywhere. Every weekend I would drive to Chicago. The drive was three and a half hours. Then I figured out, second year of college there, that I could do study abroad programs. So then I went to England and Australia. Then I moved to New York when I was twenty for five years, then moved here.
I didn't start comedy till I moved out here when I was twenty-five or twenty-six. I didn't really undertsand that you could be a comedian and be glamourous and just be yourself. I just thought that you had to be a man in a suit talking about your wife. I didn't realize that you could talk about your true experiences no matter what they are, even if it's just reacting to how people are dressing in LA. I was never exposed to stand up as a genre. I was into theater and I was into music.
I think comedy has become bigger now and it's a little more in the forefront, and younger people are more attracted to it than they were ten years ago. Ten years ago it was a more mature crowd. It wasn't lots of hipsters into comedy.