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Karen Kilgariff has been involved in comedy since the mid ’90s, although, she traces her stand up beginnings back to the 6th grade, where she crushed with her killer Facts of Life impersonation. She is perhaps best known for her work on the comedy touchstone/juggernaut Mr. Show. She also worked as head writer for The Ellen Show, and as part of Girls Guitar Club, a guitar duo with Mary Lynn Rajskub.
While stand-up is her first love, she also incorporates music into her act — combining a sweet singing voice and acoustic guitar with lyrics about hating Tina Fey and how Jesus will smash you. Correspondent Aaron Abrams had a chance to ask Karen some questions about her comedy beginnings, her work as a writer and stand up, and the need to be careful with your drugs.
AARON ABRAMS: How did you get your start in comedy? Was a career in comedy something you were always aiming for?
KAREN KILGARIFF: I knew I wanted to be a comic since the 6th grade, when I stood on a playground bench and did my impression of Blair’s cousin Geri from The Facts of Life. AND I DESTROYED. Kids were actually gathering around and laughing like crazy. Then I got sent to the principal’s office for making fun of someone with cerebral palsy. Let me tell you, nuns do not take kindly to that particular brand of humor.
ABRAMS: Many of our audience would know you from Mr. Show — how did you get involved with the show?
KILGARIFF: I met Bob (Odenkirk) and David (Cross) when I moved from San Francisco to LA in the mid ’90s. There was a big group of us who did stand-up and hung out and got shit faced together every night. So I’m sure they immediately thought of me when they wrote the role of the dead ventriloquist’s drunk wife, since they’d already seen me play her so many times in real life.
ABRAMS: You have also worked as head writer for The Ellen show, among other credits — is it difficult to juggle writing for others and working on your own material?
KILGARIFF: I could do it when I was a staff writer, but the job on Ellen was so demanding, I never had the time or energy to do anything else, so I had nothing to write jokes about. The problem was less about the writing and more about priorities and time management. I actually stopped doing stand-up for the entire five years I was on that show, which was a huge mistake. I was so miserable, I think because I’d abandoned the part of myself I liked the most. That’s heavy, right? I know. Are you crying? I’m totally crying.
KILGARIFF: I think I’ll be playing all of them at some point. I have no choice, they’re my whole act now. Although, I won’t be doing the Christmas song. That’d be creepy in April.
ABRAMS: How do you work on your music compared to your stand-up? Is it much different to try out new songs versus trying out new stand-up material?
KILGARIFF: It usually takes a couple of shows to hone a new stand-up bit, but a song has to be a finished product the first time you play it. I never know if a new song is actually gonna work until about the second verse. And even if it’s not, I still have to finish it. In stand-up, you can bail on a bit and make a joke about it and still seem funny. If you just stop playing a song in the middle, you seem insane. So it’s basically all or nothing with songs. I’ve tried testing them on a friend beforehand, but it doesn’t work. There’s nothing more awkward than singing at someone in your kitchen for three minutes while they try to figure out what to do with their face. It’s just torture for everyone involved. And they have to say they like it when you’re done- what else can they say? “That was really dumb. Let’s go to dinner?”
ABRAMS: Do you have any advice for Bridgetown Festival goers?
KILGARIFF: I’d say pace yourself with the drugs. Laughter is very intoxicating, so if you smoke or snort or shoot up before a show, the combination could have a speedball effect and you might OD. Or it could make you so high, you do one of those loud weird laughs when no one else is laughing, which is a different kind of death.
Also, if you see a comic on the street, tell them you love them. You don’t have to mean it. Think of it as a sort of environmental action. You see, comics are a lot like old growth forest- they might look strong and majestic on the outside, but inside they’re very threatened and brittle and filled with squirrels. Do your part, Portland!
So there you have it. Make sure you go see Karen Kilgariff while she’s here. She’s brittle and full of squirrels.
Karen Kilgariff BCF Schedule
Lance Bangs Presents: Come Laugh With Us
$25.00 – Thursday, April 18, 2013, 10:00 pm @ Bagdad Theater
Bagdad Early Show
$20.00 – Friday, April 19, 2013, 7:00 pm @ Bagdad Theater
Best of the Bay
$20.00 – Friday, April 19, 2013, 11:00 pm @ Pandora Stage at Hawthorne Theatre
Mental Illness Happy Hour
$15.00 – Saturday, April 20, 2013, 2:00 pm @ Mailchimp Stage at Mt. Tabor Theater
Imaginary Radio Program with Drennon Davis
$25.00 – Saturday, April 20, 2013, 11:00 pm @ Pandora Stage at Hawthorne Theatre
The JV Club
$15.00 – Sunday, April 21, 2013, 6:00 pm @ Bagdad Theater
Put Your Hands Together
$25.00 – Sunday, April 21, 2013, 10:00 pm @ Mailchimp Stage at Mt. Tabor Theater