By cool I mean someone cool I didn’t already know. I’m not talking about that dude who promises 5,000 Twitter followers for $50. No, I mean a singer or an athlete or an actress or a comedienne. That would be Erica Rhodes.
I took one look at the one-liners, the inward-facing zings and self-deprecation and knew I’d connected with someone cut from the same downtrodden cloth.
When she was little – like, Grace’s age – Erica appeared on the NPR show “A Prairie Home Companion,” with the legendary Garrison Keillor. Holy hell, the girl has her own Imdb page! It’s an honor to have her here today for a #GirlsRock interview. And she most certainly rocks. You’ll see what I’m talking about. Please give her a warm CD welcome, and be sure to check out her site, too.
CD: Hey Erica. When you were little, what did you think you’d grow up to be?
ER: I thought I would be a ballerina, then a cellist, then an actress. Had no idea those added together plus crushed dreams equaled “stand-up comedian.
CD: It’s kind of like The Da Vinci Code you’ve unlocked here. You really do play cello, right?
ER: Yes I was a cello major at Boston University when I went there. So I am classically trained. My mother is a professional violinist with the Boston Pops, so music is a big part of my family. I was just really bad at music theory and reading music, and I soon realized, it just wasn’t meant to be my path. I wanted to be a soloist and I wasn’t good enough for that. And I didn’t want to play in the back of an orchestra for the rest of my life.
CD: What would you say is the biggest difference between performing as a soloist and as a standup comedienne?
ER: Hmmm that’s a really interesting question. Well, as a solo classical musician you are usually not performing your own material. So I would compare stand up to more rock n’ roll. It’s more your own words and in your own voice. But it might even be harder, because you don’t have a band backing you up. So it’s like trying to be singer without a guitar or band. And you’ve written all your words. Oh yeah and the laughing part. You’re also supposed to get laughs. Damn. No wonder people say it’s so hard.
CD: So as a comedienne, you try to be Bill Haley, without The Comets, oh, but also Don Rickles? But as a girl?
ER: More like Mitch Hedberg but still alive and Woody Allen without the molestation allegations. And Steven Wright but a girl. Yes.
CD: Jesus Jones, that *is* a tough act. What’s it like, being a girl in the biz?
ER: Ummm….I wish I could say it’s just like being a guy in the biz, but that’s not really true. In comedy, there is a lot of male energy, which in some ways I actually like. Yes you get hit on, but you also make great friends and if you work hard, you get respected for the right reasons. For me, the most important thing was finding where I felt comfortable in the business, which is in comedy.
Before I found comedy, I was a lot more caught up with my looks and my body and all the things that make women so insecure. Now, I’m just like, “No I’m funny. Whatever, I’ll have those fries.” Nobody ever thinks of me as a comic and when I arrive at shows people are often like, “Who are you here to see?” Sometimes I wanna say, “I wanna see you feel ashamed when you realize you’re seeing me, you idiot.” But I don’t. I try to keep it classy.
I think there are a lot of great things about being a woman in comedy right now. It’s an exciting time when men are finally like “Yeah fine. Women are funny too….We get it.” And they have to take us seriously. But you know, whether you’re a man or a woman, you have to do the work. It’s all about the work in the end. I think when I first showed up on the comedy scene guys were like, “Ugh another actress trying to get attention through stand up.”
But then they realized I kept showing up and doing the work and improving and writing and doing all the stuff that real comics do. And now they’re like, “What’s up dude?” And I like that. The other night I did an open mic and three guys asked me advice on their acts and it was a real turning point for me. It made me feel like, “Wow. They really respect me now. I’ve really earned their respect.” I felt really great about that.
CD: We guys should feel really great about recognizing you for your hard work and talent. You’re just funny as hell, and seem to have worked your butt off to get here. At what point in life did you realize you were funny?
ER: Aww thank you so much! It’s actually interesting, because I have always wanted to be “taken seriously” and went most of my life feeling frustrated by the fact that people would laugh at me when I was saying or doing something which I thought was “serious.” I think the first time I realized I could make people laugh BECAUSE I was so genuine and earnest was when I gave a speech at my sister’s wedding. And I had written all this heartfelt stuff that I thought was just genuine and sweet and people were in hysterics, which quite frankly really surprised me, and after that everyone came up to me and said “You should do stand up.”
And it wasn’t until about two years later that I actually did. But something about the fact that I DO think of myself as serious actually makes me funny. There was a turning point when I realized, “Oh if I embrace these things about myself I don’t like, they become assets instead of weaknesses.”
My vulnerability can turn into strength if I use it to make people laugh. So, that’s what I’ve done. And I think I had to do a lot of work on accepting myself first before I could do that.
CD: That’s a more relevant code you’ve cracked there, Erica. If only more of us could do that. Or at least me. I’d be good with that. Before we let you go, what advice would you give young girls who find themselves searching for that acceptance in their own lives?
ER: Don’t do stand-up! Just kidding. I think self-acceptance comes first before getting it from others. So learning to just accept yourself, flaws and all and see yourself from inside out instead of the reverse. Also read. Books. Educate yourself. Figure out your values, your beliefs.
Spend less time on Facebook and more time out in the world learning and experiencing stuff. (I’m talking to myself now too). Oh and therapy helps too. Totally. And don’t try to find love until you love yourself first. I know that sounds a little corny and trite, but it’s so true. Don’t try to fill your needs with another person. Do it for yourself first. Okay now I sound like a preacher. I have no idea.