Q&A: Sarah Colonna talks her new book, wedding plans and vacationing with her mom
Sarah Colonna’s stand-up career and personal life are both at an all-time high. The day before her birthday in December Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan popped the question, her Off The Rails With Josh & Sarah podcast takes up the slack left in the wake of her final season as a writer for Chelsea Lately, and her current tour supports the release of her second book, Has Anyone Seen My Pants? Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen caught up with her by phone from Los Angeles, the day before its publication.
Your book is released tomorrow. Is this week and month going to be a blur of activity related to the book?
Yeah, it’s been pretty good. They just had me doing different Sirius shows here at the Sirius headquarters, doing The Talk, doing a bunch of stuff. Then I have shows this weekend at Gotham in New York. I’m ready for it.
What specifically do you have planned tomorrow for the day of release?
Tomorrow I’m just going to try and enjoy it. My publisher’s sending me to bookstores in town like all the Barnes & Nobles and different ones that are carrying it, so I’m going to go to those bookstores and sign the copies that they have, so that anyone who goes and buys it, they’ll have a signed copy, which I think will be kind of fun. My fiancé’s going to go with me. We figured we’d do that, then after each bookstore maybe have a mimosa, toast and do something to celebrate my signing all the books at the stores around the city.
Is it a little bit easier to handle this time since you did the whole promotional whirl before for the first book? Does it sap your strength or is it a little dizzying?
Yeah, it’s always a strength thing. In New York we have shows every night, and then it’s just early crap. No complaints about that, but I haven’t been sleeping very well, so I feel a little zapped that way. Other than that, I’m excited. I’m nervous. I don’t think that part gets any easier, because you’re still nervous. You want people to read it, want them to enjoy it. I’m excited to hear what people think because I think it’s very different. I think the book is going to be a kind of a surprise to people. There’s more to it than people expect. Physically I feel real tired but that’s just like makes you feel. I have the rest of the afternoon off after this, so I’m probably just going to take a little nap, maybe watch some bad TV and enjoy it.
Waking up on the day of your book release must be one of the most apprehensive mornings of the year.
Yeah, I’m excited but then you go, “Now what? Is there any way we could see how it’s doing?” It’s cool, because I actually got to sell copies of the book at my shows in New York already even though it wasn’t out yet, so I’ve already had people that bought it this weekend writing me saying they’re reading it. Then it’s like, “Oh my God, people are already reading it.” That when it sinks in: “Oh yeah, people are going to read this,” and they’re going to tell you what they think.
Are you going to have to continuously restrain yourself from checking to see how it’s doing, or are you going to maybe have your fiancé funneling that information to you at intervals so you can handle it a little better?
No, the good thing is you can’t really tell. My book agent and my publisher, they’ll know. You don’t know anything about making the lists for another week because they don’t tell you. It’s like they count the first week as sales, so I won’t even know until next Wednesday, so there’s not really anyway for us to tell how its doing. That’s kind of good. If I knew every day I’d kind of drive myself insane.
Yeah, that’s a little bit of a comfort zone. How does it compare with the memoir style of the first book?
SC: With my first book, I loved writing it. I got really good feedback from it. What I loved the most was when people said, “Oh, I related to it. I related to this part of it, I related to the struggle to figure out your life.” It’s still in that vein for sure. This one covers what it was like in my mid- to late-30s, being single, kind of feeling like, “OK, I’ve got one aspect of my life together, my professional life. Now, my personal life seems to be suffering because all I’ve been focusing on is my professional life.” And not just dating: with friendships, with family. So I feel like I was a little more emotionally connected to the stories in this one because they were so recent and raw. I wrote a story about putting a pet down that I had for 16 years. Definitely the most single I’ve felt in years because when you have to do something like that yourself you’re like, “What is happening?” Obviously that’s not really a funny story. I found ways to write funny things about it and to write in a humorous way, but at the same time at the end of the day it’s kind of a sadder story. So there’s a little bit of that aspect to the book that has a little more heart. I think my first book did, too, but this book has a little more heart to it than people expect from a comedian. Usually it’s like, “Oh, it’s going to be short stories that are unconnected,” but they’re all kind of connected and they all lead to one thing.
I got an indication of how you found humor in that because I was listening to your podcast, and I think you recalled Jon’s reaction after your cat had to be put down.
Yeah, I told him I think I’m going to get another cat and he said, “But you had one.” His reaction was so funny because I could see the panic in his eyes: “We’re not doing that, right?” I think he loves animals, but with what he does for a living and being gone all the time, which I am, too, he just really settled into a lifestyle of you don’t really get to take care of a pet, therefore it doesn’t really seem fair to have one. But I was like, “No, cats are easier. You can leave them food and people can come by and check on them.” It’s not like a dog, where he needs to be walked and all this. He was definitely like, “No, remember the one you had? That was great. Then you had to murder it and that was sad? You don’t want to have to go through that again.”
I’ve only had limited exposure to his sense of humor, but he seems like he’d be pretty funny.
You know, he is. He’s very funny. Sometimes I’m actually like, “I think he maybe funnier than me.” Sometimes it catches me off guard because I know him pretty well, but I understand other people don’t and they’re not used to that, especially from an NFL player. You’re not used to them having a light sense of humor. In a situation just like this, you saying that, it reminds me that he is funny and people don’t really realize it. I think that he’s just more comfortable now, too, to put it out there a little bit. I’ve sort of encouraged him: “That’s funny! You should say that on Twitter.” Or whatever it is, when he’s thinking or gets to be on a podcast. Not about sports. He loves sports, he loves football, but he really loves when he gets to do something where he doesn’t have to talk about that. I think that people aren’t used to see that side of athletes that much.
Did he strike you that way when you first met him? Was there fairly evident to where you started to go, “Oh, I see now why he’s attracted to me.”
Yeah, right away. When he started being flirtatious, he started making jokes and made me laugh. I thought, “Oh, this guy … he seems funny. He makes me laugh, he seems interesting, and yeah, he definitely has a good sense of humor.” I definitely saw it right away.
He doesn’t come off as if he’s trying to be funny. He just seems naturally like that.
Yeah, which is so appreciated, you know? Especially dating a comedian, I’ve experienced it in the past, where I’ve gone out with people. I’m funny onstage— hopefully, because that’s what I do—and I write, but I’m not always “on.” And I definitely want to be able to have a normal conversation, but I’ve gone on dates with people in the past, and they immediately are just “on,” trying to make me laugh, being all jokey. I’m like, “You don’t have to do that now. We’re just on personal time. We can just have a normal conversation. We don’t have to be one-upping each other.”
It sounds like he’s really empathetic to your career, and who you are and what you do. Did it come up at all, the fact that your books draw on your own life? Did you talk at all about your lives being subject material in the future?
Yeah, he had read my first book right after we started dating, which is kind of intimidating because I was like, “I don’t get to have that, as much information as you get.” And then he read this one awhile ago, once it was edited and almost ready. He read it, so I think he knows. He comes to see all my shows right now during the offseason, and I’ve written material about him, and how he proposed to me. This is all stuff I’ll be doing in Vegas, I’m sure, because it’s all really new. And he just laughs. Obviously I’m not up there to bash him or anything like that by any means, because it’s all based around a loving relationship. He gets it, and I think that’s the best part. “This is what you do, and I love it.”
Your writing is very unflinching.
Yeah, there are definitely things you go, “Well, this isn’t going to be the prettiest story about myself. I always appreciate, if I’m going through something, when I hear someone who can talk about the similar thing with a sense of humor and I can feel not insane. I can go, “Oh, other people deal with this, or other people have felt humiliated, or other people have had their hearts broken, or other people have broken someone else’s heart.” I actually really appreciate being able to feel normal when I hear stories. I guess to me, the more I reveal someone else can go, “Oh, I’m not alone in that,” because that’s the thing I appreciate most when I read or watch stand-up, or anything from an artistic standpoint that I enjoy. I really enjoy being able to just sort laugh about it and understand that I’ve also been in that situation. I guess my goal is to offer that to other people too.
It’s always interesting to hear comedians’ backstories, how they got to where they are. The amount of room for national comedians is pretty small. In your first book you talk about feeling bad about being a bartender at 25. Now you’re looking back at that and going, “What was I worried about?”
For sure. I was giving myself a hard time at 25. I felt that way for a long time. The thing I got the most feedback from in my first book was people related to the pressure you put on yourself to have this career figured out before you really know who you are. … Turning 40, this is so much better. I don’t think I’d trade it. I don’t want to go backwards. You know how people say they want to be 20 again? I’m like “That sounds awful.”
Are you going to be talking about the book, or reading excerpts from it? How do you address it in your act?
No, I know a lot of people do that and maybe it is something, but for the most part my stand-up is pretty separate from my book. Maybe touch on a story or two that’s in there for my stand up, but obviously in stand-up you need to tell a story much quicker and shorter. So there’s a couple of things I touch on, but for the most part they’re not related. It’s more that I’m doing stand-up in support of my new book, but I’m doing different material and mostly because, especially when you’ve been doing it for a couple of months, I feel like, “Well, OK, people have been reading the book. I don’t know if they want to come see me and hear those stories again. I’m trying to make sure they get to see something else besides what they’re going to read.
What was your favorite passage to write? Or what turned out to be your favorite?
A couple, but I would say something that I didn’t know was going to turn out to be one of my favorites that I wrote a chapter about was going on a road trip with my mom to Tulsa to go see Luke Bryan in concert. I was laying in bed, and there was a chapter I had written that I wanted to replace, and I thought, “Oh, I think I’m going to write about this road trip.” It just kind of flew out of me, and to me it’s so funny because it’s charming, but … looking back I was probably depressed and I thought the worst thing I could do right now is go on a road trip with my mom, but it actually turned out to be the best thing I could do. It was literally just a silly night where we went to a concert and she got to meet Luke Bryan. She’s a huge Luke Bryan fan, so I got to introduce her to him. I got to give her something that made her so happy, and plus have this ridiculous night out with my mom, and it really did turn out to be one of my favorite things to write about.
I accidentally went on vacation with my parents as an adult. I highly recommend it.
It kind of reminds you what’s important when things might not be going in the right direction. You’re like, “I have some pretty great parents and that’s kind of awesome, and I should enjoy that.”
I think I saw some reference about you maybe taking another shot at TV development with the new book. How do you feel about that now? Because it’s such a crapshoot getting a TV show made, does it just feel good enough to have it considered?
After my first book didn’t get on TV, and then I sold it again and it didn’t get on TV again. I definitely was disappointed but at the same time I thought—especially by the second time since I knew the process so well— how hard it is just to sell it. Just for them to buy you writing the script, which is how far it got, it’s so difficult and there’s so many factors. It can literally just be, “We have another show with a blonde girl that the networks are excited about.” It can come down to the silliest thing, or it can come down to “We don’t like it.” You have no idea or control over what goes into making these decisions. To me, 110 percent, I want to try it again. I think every year I get to be a better writer, and I think this book will resonate with people more. No problem do I have with trying it. If it doesn’t make it I won’t feel like a failure to me by any means. At least I got there again, but or course the dream is to actually get it on television. That’d be nice. I wouldn’t be mad (laughs).
That’s a really healthy attitude.
Yeah, I didn’t always have it, but I’ve gotten there.
Do you have to get into different zones to write humor for stand-up, television and memoir, or is it the same kind of place?
It’s kind of the same. When I on the road, sometimes you’re in New York or Vegas, somewhere fun, and sometimes you’re in Des Moines and there’s less to do during the day. So you’re in a hotel room, and I get a lot done writing then, and on airplanes. I can’t really sleep on airplanes so I find that that’s a good place to write. And then at home, sometimes you can get more distracted. I guess I’m pretty similar in those veins but I guess more of my stand-up is written onstage as I go. Not meaning that I’m going onstage and winging it by any means, but I mean I developed a certain amount of material, and then when I want to try something new I kind of put it in there in the middle and try it out. I’m testing it sort of in front of audiences seeing how it’s going, because it’s hard to write stand-up on your own because there’s no feedback. So once you get to a place where I know what I have is going to work and I’ve have things for the audience that can be shown, OK, well I have an hour, let me put 10 minutes in there of this thing that I’m trying. And then if it’s not going well you’re like, “OK, forget that (laughs). I will work on that more but not make the audience listen to it.”
When you wrote for Chelsea Lately, it was either going to work or it was not. When you’re writing for stand-up you can change something or drop it.
Yeah, yeah. You definitely get a better opportunity to work stuff out. Back on the show, you would think you had this great joke. Just depending on that night on the show, either someone else would say something too similar, or you’d say it and it had sounded so much better in your head. “OK, that didn’t work, and I’m never going to get to do it again because the show is now over,” like that night. I had 15 minutes and then the next time you come on you’re not doing the same topic. So yeah, stand-up is nice because you get the opportunity to work stuff out more.
Do you see connections between Lipshtick and Chelsea Lately? They both have a bypassing-the-boys-club vibe without letting that overwhelmingly characterize the comedy. Lipshtick is all female comedians, but it’s not about male-bashing.
I haven’t been able to see a Lipshtick show, but I’ve seen many of the comedians. I know Iliza (Shlesinger), who I’m working with this time, and have seen her. She’s hilarious. I know Jen Kirkman and Fortune (Feimster) and Natasha (Leggero) and all of these comedians that I’ve known for a long time. It’s great, and they’re just funny in their own right. It has nothing to do with being female, and I think that’s what’s great about this show, about Lipshitck. It’s just putting strong comedians onstage, and they also happen to be women. But it’s definitely not a theme of “Come out and hear us talk terribly about men.” That’s by no means the goal or the aim. We’re up here, we’re telling our stories, and we’re funny.
I saw Garfunkel and Oates there, and half the fun was watching the audience because it was all ages and totally mixed, male and female. I thought they would skew younger and they totally didn’t. They appealed to 50- and 60-year-olds. It’s seems like it’s transcending any sisterhood connotations. It’s just comedy.
Yeah, it’s really awesome because the first year I was headlining with my book. In 2012 when I was on my first book tour it was definitely, predominantly a female audience. Over the past two years it’s drastically changed—if not 50/50 at least 60/40. There’s a lot more men coming out, coming with other guys. I’ve had bachelor parties coming instead of just bachelorettes. It’s a huge compliment because that’s what you hope. You hope people will just come see you as a comedian, and that it will be a both male and female crowd. I’m not saying it’s not great when a bunch of women come see you because they are awesome audiences and it’s the best. But it’s also nice to see things changing to where it’s just men and women coming to comedy and they’re not as stuck in their heads about who they’re going to see based on gender.
Have you ever performed with Iliza Shlesinger before?
I haven’t, no. We’ve crossed paths but we haven’t been on the same show. I actually ran into her in L.A. two weeks ago and I was like, “Oh my God, we’re hanging out in Vegas.” She was talking about how much fun this is and what a fun show it is, and I was like, “Yeah, I’m just going to hang out at the pool all day during the day. That’s going to be fantastic.” There are worse places to get to perform for sure than Vegas. I mean, it’s all great. It’s also my first time to do it, and there’s been so many awesome women that have been on that show. I’m pretty excited to be a part of it.
Was it hard to readjust without the rhythms and routines of Chelsea Lately, or did new book project and your relationship with Jon Ryan take up the slack?
I actually left as a writer a year before the show ended, which I don’t think anyone noticed because I was on the roundtable just as much as always. I sort of found my footing from touring and not having a 9-to-5 paycheck. I had to just go on the road more, seeing everyone and telling more ridiculous jokes. It was really fun. It was like a little family, so that part I miss, but I was pretty prepared and the book and stuff has kept me really busy, so that’s good.
Have you set a wedding date yet?
We haven’t, no. We’re the worst. We’re trying. It’s going to be next offseason. It’s just whether or not it’s going to be right after this season, say in March or so, or I like the summer, so I’m like, “I want to wait until the summer.” But then that being far away … and then we both just start drinking. We’re like, “Let’s just go to happy hour. We don’t want to talk about it anymore.” It’ll be next offseason, I just don’t know which time of the off-season yet (laughs).
It sounds like you were made for each other.
I’m very lucky. I’ve found the perfect counterpart.