Ophira Eisenberg recently had a friend visit her in New York City. The friend, starry-eyed and disillusioned from her time visiting, said, “It’s New York—I can do anything!” Eisenberg’s reply: “Just wait ‘til you live here, you’ll feel the exact opposite.”
Eisenberg cannot have been referring to her own career.
The New York City based stand-up comic, host of NPR’s Ask Me Another, author of Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy and frequent host of The Moth’s storytelling show is doing everything right now—and well.
Screw Everyone, her debut memoir, was optioned for a feature film. Big-time producer Jerry Zucker and screenwriter Harper Dill of The Mindy Project are both attached to the project.
“[Dill] is good. We are exactly the opposite. She has dated like, two people and she gets to live vicariously through my experiences of screwing everyone,” Eisenberg says, blushing.
Eisenberg is happily married, which is no easy feat for a comic. Though she tends to steer away from talking about her husband in her work, she does throw in a few jokes on her latest comedy album, Bangs. “I’m married, so I am not on Tinder…very much,” she jokes.
“My husband will ask if I want to go away for a weekend. But I work on weekends. Comedians really have a different social life than everybody else. I wake up in the mornings sometimes and I am like, ‘What do you think of this idea?’ I need ‘supportive’ but also don’t want ‘supportive’ to the point where I don’t trust his critical opinion,” she explains.
Much of the material on Bangs is confessional, a little bittersweet, like a love letter to New York City. “My favorite kind of comedy is when someone cracks open their head on stage and goes, here is what I am about,” she says. Her album includes a nice mix of sex, robbery, her husband, gypsies and crying in public.
“I always had sex on the first date. How else do you know when it ends?” she jokes.
What does Tinder show? How far a person is from where we are. “When Tinder first started people thought it was really shallow, because it was just based on a photo and it was very fast acting rejection. And people are like, dating is so terrible that it has come to this. It has returned to this! This is what we did at bars. We sat there, threw a couple in us and just looked at the twenty people around us, like how about you? How about you? We didn’t get to pick our picture. We didn’t get to curate our profile. It was just us in real time.”
Eisenberg isn’t the type of comedian who was born knowing she wanted to do stand-up. “Being a young girl growing up, me and my girlfriends did not sit around and listen to comedy albums. We told stories. The only comedy album we had was National Lampoon…As much as I wanted to do it, it took me a long time to see myself in that role.”
The title, Bangs, arose from Eisenberg’s consideration of porn, specifically what type she felt comfortable with her husband watching. “I decided that if he looked at porn with girls in it that looked like me that would be ok. Because we like brand loyalty but he is not downloading Jew-y brunettes with upper thigh issues.”
If Bangs were an actual porn, what would that look like? “All girls with bangs. Different bangs, touching,” she says, laughing.
Eisenberg started doing comedy back in Canada. She came to NYC in 2001 and did her first show. It was a bringer show at what was then the Boston Comedy Club (now The Village Underground, West 3rd Street).
“I had never heard of a bringer show until I came to NYC. So I got totally sucked in. What do they call it in poker when you’re fresh bait? I called up the club with all my Canadian vibrato. I told them I had a comedy special in Canada. Everyone I spoke to said, ‘yeah, okay. Good for you.’”
The manager at Boston Comedy Club begrudgingly gave her a spot. She had five minutes, but she had to bring five friends. Eisenberg knew only one.
“I thought they just assumed that I had just moved here and that would be impossible.”
The day of the show the club called to tell Eisenberg that she had no reservations under her name. She was told she wouldn’t be able to do the show unless she fixed it.
“I was working at a boutique in the East Village. All day long I was freaking out. I asked people in the store if they would come see my comedy show that evening, barking at them to see me.”
Three customers in the store agreed. One of the customers, named Kelly Casey was, fatefully, visiting her cousin Elizabeth Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show.
“So I had three people who showed up that night and I felt amazing. That was an accomplishment. I was waiting to go on and I wasn’t going on and the person said, no, you won’t go on until your five people show up. And I looked at Kelly and her friends and they already had drinks and stuff and I felt terrible and just burned up inside. I sat there and focused so hard at the stand where they were marking people’s names off. Sooner or later that person left and I just marked 15 marks beside by name. Then all of a sudden I heard my name being called and I went on stage. I wasn’t even that good.”
Eisenberg quickly rose above bringer clubs. She was soon featured in Comedy Central’s Premium Blend and then began producing a comedy show at The Village Lantern with Josh Weinstein, John Viener and Seth Herzog called The Industry Room. “So many comics helped me. Yes I did all of the hustling and legwork, but I think 90% came because someone said, ‘Let me put in a good word for you.’” She credits Laurie Kilmartin, Anthony Jeselnik and Jon Fisch for helping her throughout the years. “Sometimes NYC gets a bad rap. I think right now the comedy scene is at a total high. We gained a storytelling scene that is huge. The audience it brings is great, it’s smart.”
While Eisenberg loves her NPR listeners, she still enjoys the raw comedy club scene, too. “It’s a bit of a schizophrenic career that I have put together, that is for sure. Sometimes the NPR crowd are turned off by dirty so you have to be conscious of how you are dirty—and they can be quite politically correct. Then you go to a club and they want fast, furious, strong and punchy. It’s fun. I love playing the NPR crowd but sometimes it’s nice to go to a basement where you can tell a crowd to go fuck themselves!”
Jessica Pilot is a NYC-based writer and producer. She’s contributed to PBS, National Geographic, Penthouse and more. She covers stand-up comedy a lot and is working on a docu-series about it now, This is Stand Up.