Comedy Q+A: Sarah Colonna
The Comedians of Chelsea Lately perform at the Wilbur Theatre on Friday night with a lineup comprised of Sarah Colonna, Chris Franjola, Jen Kirkman, and Loni Love, all writers and regulars on E!’s Chelsea Lately. Comedian Chelsea Handler’s Chelsea Lately is one of the most-popular shows on cable TV, regularly outperforming Conan and other late-night offerings, and this month celebrated both its largest audience (over 1.8 million viewers) as well as its 800th episode.
I had the chance to talk to Colonna earlier this week. Colonna has been an actress and stand-up comedian on TV since 2001, a regular on Chelsea Lately since 2007, and a full-time staff writer for the show since 2009. In addition to Chelsea Lately, you can see Colonna on E!’s After Lately, which returns next month.
I know a group of the Comedians of Chelsea Lately have come through Boston and performed before, have you performed here yet?
Sarah Colonna: I knew that but no, you know, I’ve never performed in Boston before so I’m pretty excited. [Co-performer] Jen Kirkman has got it wired though, she knows that place up and down.
I’m a big fan of what you do on “Chelsea Lately” and the spin-off show “After Lately” which I think you’re shooting [the second season] now?
SC: Yes, we’re shooting it now, it’s fun. It’s so much fun.
You are part of a such a prolific group of people at “Chelsea Lately,” there doesn’t seem to be a similarly supportive organization out there in the world of comedy.
SC: It’s great – we’ve obviously got so many comedians coming through with different perspectives, people with different talents – Chelsea has given all these comics this opportunity to be on the roundtable, and the show is so popular that we get to be seen by that many more people which leads to more opportunities to do stand-up in other cities. We get to be here, writing every day, which is a great gig, and the show helps us so much, it really takes us to another level. So many members of the group are writing books, getting appearances on sitcoms, getting shows, hosting shows – it really is the best of all worlds.
What’s it like writing on “Chelsea Lately”? You have four shows a week, and sometimes, it seems like you are doing more than one show a day.
SC: It’s fun, we come in the morning and we’re looking at those ridiculous and fun websites full of celebrity gossip. We’ve also discovered all these sites with non-celebrity-driven news, for weird stuff to talk about on the show, like a man humping a park bench [laughs] – something that would be really entertaining for our audience. We scour these sites, get a list of topics together and then pitch them in the morning meeting and see which ones people start jumping on and coming up with jokes for. You work with your writing partner to write these topics up to give to Chelsea. She’s so off-the-cuff that there are sometimes these days that you don’t get a joke on the show but then there’s days that you get a bunch. She’s so quick, though, she’ll come up with stuff that wasn’t even on the page of topics that we wrote about.
It seems that for comics “Chelsea Lately” is a huge opportunity as they’re not limited to a five minute slot – it’s about 15 minutes of airtime and exposure.
SC: Performing on the talk shows can be great because you’re doing your stand-up material, but on our show, people get to see your personality and take on current events. It’s a great way for the audience to get a different perspective of you.
Did I see that NBC has optioned a script from you for a show based on your upcoming book?
SC: Yeah! It’s a script – I’m writing a pilot for them. Hopefully after that they’ll shoot it and after that it will go to series, there’s a process it has to go through. I’ve had to get over some hurdles to get this far so that’s good, I’m really excited about it. It’s based on my book which will be coming out February 7th called Life As I Blow It. The book is a collection of true stories about growing up and moving from Arkansas to California, the people I met while bar-tending for years after moving before becoming successful in comedy, and how different it is in California. It’s also about where I came from, how my family ran a volunteer fire department, how we would do pancake breakfasts to raise money, and stuff like that. That’s an interesting world that I don’t think people see on TV. I think that everyone can kind of relate to it even if you are from a bigger city – the idea for the TV show is to have it take place in a kind of non-descript southern or Midwestern town where everyone lives a little more traditionally than you, butting heads with them, judging each other, but everyone tries to make it work and get along.
It’s seems like “Chelsea Lately” is a talent farm for NBC, though: you have [former "Chelsea Lately" writer] Whitney Cummings’ “Whitney” and Chelsea Handler’s upcoming show ["Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea"], and the now-cancelled “Free Agents,” which had roundtable regulars Natasha Leggero and Mo Mandel.
SC: I really loved that “Free Agents,” it was really good, and those guys are so funny. I think that NBC, in general, seems to really be looking to get that great female voice out there, someone that people can relate to, something independent and fun. That’s what Whitney has, that’s what Chelsea has, and that’s what I’m hoping to get across. I think that they’re open to that kind of show – I know they’re developing projects with other people, too.
Congratulations on getting this far with your show and have a great time when you visit Boston.
SC: I’m really looking forward to our show in Boston, and I’m looking forward to letting Jen Kirkman tell me what to check out.
(The Wilbur Theatre, 246 Tremont St., Boston. Fri., Oct. 28, 10 p.m. Info: 617-931-2000, thewilbur.com.)