Warning: Audio and video contains profanity and coarse humor.
The sordid and the fabulous become one on Natasha Leggero’s debut stand-up album, 2011’s Coke Money. Leggero appears on the cover wearing nothing but a garish drizzle of diamonds and resting on a glittering mound of cocaine. Several of the album’s bits find her reveling in a parody of oblivious venality (“Like it’s my fault those baby factory workers are such excellent sewers!”), or marveling at the hideousness of reality shows and vain media personalities (see her takedown of radio host Tom Leykis’ absolutely grisly dating tips). Leggero always keeps her own dignity intact, though, something she’s strived for since her upbringing in the none-too-glamourous Rockford, Ill. The hilarious stand up recently took some time to explain to the rest of us heathens how to keep it classy—and mask any déclassé regional accents you might have.
During a recent interview with a radio DJ in Billings, Montana, Leggero playfully asked if Billings had a modern-art museum. That’s a valid concern for the touring comedian with several afternoons to kill. “It’s terrible when you get stuck in an industrial park, surrounded by freeways. You’ll see a Starbucks, but you can’t even get there because you have to cross three medians on the freeway. It just depends on how you want to spend your day. Nothing good happens in the courtyard of a Courtyard Marriott.”
Leggero has sometimes called her onstage voice “trans-Atlantic,” a far cry from the twangs and over-stretched vowels of the Midwestern accents she grew up with. “What happened to me is I went to acting conservatory in New York, which taught me to be a working actor in the 1700s, so we learned how to talk to the back of the auditorium. We learned a liquid ‘u,’ like ‘Tyuuuesday, the payment is dyuuue on Tyuuuesday.’ We learned how to fence. Things that you would never use. So then all of a sudden, you’re armed with these tools that are completely useless, so then I get out to L.A. and I’m auditioning for things, and people are basically just laughing at the way that I talk. Because I took it all very seriously. I wanted to be, you know, like this woman of the theater, but I was auditioning for Bud Light commercials. I did it on stage, because it kind of became part of my personality, because I wasn’t proud of where I was from. I’m from Rockford, IL. It actually has the most McDonald’s per capita in the country, and it also was just rated by Forbes as one of the worst places in the country to live.”
Another effective way to blot out your humble beginnings: “Just add the word ‘darling’ after everything you say. Even if you’re broke, and you’re just ordering fast food, you can just say, ‘A number two, animal-style, darling. $2.35 on pump number three, darling,’ and then people start to give you a little bit of respect. Other than that, you just have to, I don’t know, watch some old Patti LuPone interviews. Or Maria Callas, she’s a good one, too. Really, everybody used to talk like that, if you watch old movies. It was kind of before realism. If you watch Rosalind Russell, or even Bette Davis, you kind of see how they talk. But I’m not talking about that right now. That’s just one joke that I wrote nine years ago.”
“When you’ve grown up with breeding, you probably don’t have that other side to you, but a lot of times, when you are from the ghetto, that is always kind of underneath whatever you are trying to put forward. You always kind of have this trashy side. When I started comedy, I lived in a terrible studio apartment right in the ghetto and it was very depressing, so a lot of my jokes were about my reaction to that and trying to remain glamourous no matter what. But as I get older, I also feel like a lot of the problem right now is not the poor people, it’s the rich people, who are rigging the system and stealing from everybody.”
In one bit, Leggero argues that when feminism came along, women lost creature comforts like the fainting couch. That’s not the only obsolete accessory she’d be amused to see around. “People used to carry nosegays. I used to carry one of those around when I had a bad apartment. You know what those are? It’s crushed lavender that you put in a little satchel so that wherever you go, you can just smell the lavender. It’s from the plague, but there are parts of Los Angeles that do require a nosegay.”
“The interesting thing about people like Snooki is, they are just doing what they should be doing, but our problem as a society is we’re exalting them. We live in a very interesting time where someone who should be a manicurist is becoming a TV star. It’s not Snooki’s fault. There’s always been low-class people like that; it’s just society’s fault for elevating her. When you look at George Bush, people who should be plumbers are becoming presidents. Everything is backwards right now. It’s part of the age of disintegration that we’re in. So it is a great time to be a comedian because you get to call a lot of this out.”
“Oftentimes, you meet someone who just has really bad taste in music, or no taste, and you can almost always trace that back to [them not having] any cool friends, or just one cool friend, to kind of show them the way. Especially those bro types, they just kind of get washed up into whatever’s popular. They never had anyone show them something that was outside of the popular culture. Usually, when you get exposed to that, it changes you, and you become cooler, and more intelligent, and you get interested in things and you’re not just watching television and listening to whatever’s on the radio. These guys in flip-flops hanging out in Vegas, that’s kind of their cross to bear. They never had a cool friend. Poor boys.”
Where’s the redemption in a comic persona who’s proclaimed the “diamond shortage” an environmental disaster? Perhaps she’s not as out of touch with common folk as you might think. “I’m not snobby about where you get your diamonds,” Leggero says. “I was at Costco and I actually got some Kirkland diamonds. I’m not afraid to get my diamonds where I get my salsa. Tiffany’s is great, but you can’t eat a churro while you check out.”