photo by Mandee Johnson / CleftClips
Natasha Leggero has appeared on TV pantsless more than once, but unlike the pop princesses, socialites and starlets who bared their womanhood to the world, she’s done it on purpose, with an intent to make us laugh. And it’s worked every time.
But Leggero isn’t just about going pantsless for a laugh. Her comedy is subversive and skewers pop culture with a wit and charm that makes you want her as best friend to make inappropriate prank phone calls with. Her humor has been seen on Burning Love, Reno 911!, Suburgatory and on the big screen in He’s Just Not That Into You. She’ll be making her way to SF Sketchfest to perform her own brand of classy ratchet-ness in a plethora of shows including the “Realest Real Housewives” as well as “Natasha Legerro in London! Paris! Costco!” We had the opportunity to sit down with Leggero to talk to her about her love for John Waters, what it was like to roast James Franco and the Pearl Harbor joke she cracked on New Year’s Eve that caused the Internet to go crazy.
How did you get your start in comedy?
Natasha Leggero: I was a child actor—not a child star, but like a child actor in plays and stuff. I always wanted to act and then I moved to New York and I got a degree in theatre criticism. Then I started reviewing plays and I decided to move to L.A. I just got on stage one night and I just was really talking about what I thought about Los Angeles. I didn’t really think people would laugh or I didn’t even know what a comedian really was. I thought it was like an old man in a suit talking about his wife. I just talked about my life a little bit and it worked. So I just kept doing it really.
So your comedy career just kind of happened?
Leggero: I didn’t really know any comedians. I didn’t know who Sarah Silverman was. I feel like if I would have known some of these comedians who are so great now, I would have been a little afraid and intimidated, but because I was naïve, I really went for it.
When was your first official stand-up gig and how was it like?
Leggero: My first gig was at the Comedy Store and honestly, I’m not exaggerating — it’s still the best show I’ve ever had.
Leggero: I was so shocked that people were laughing and I had such a visual response to the laughter. It felt like waves coming over my body. Also, I think someone had given [me] some Xanax or something. So maybe that’s why, because I don’t usually take pills. It was like an out of body experience. I was not expecting it and it was just a very supportive room. I think I’m still trying to get that feeling back.
Who are some of your comedy influences?
Leggero: I like John Waters, Paul Simon and Woody Allen.
That’s a nice list…
Leggero: Not Paul Simon, I mean Neil Simon. [laughs]
If Paul Simon was on the there, it still would be a nice list. But John Waters is a good influence to have.
Leggero: I was kind of obsessed with John Waters. I like things that were dark, wrong and I’ve always been into glamor.
What’s your favorite John Waters movie?
Leggero: I mean, there’s so many great ones. Probably Polyester but really I love Serial Mom. I wish I was a cute guy because I’ve seen him a lot and I am sure he would have talked to me. [laughs]
It was great seeing you on the James Franco Roast. How was that experience for you?
Leggero: It was really exciting and very nerve-racking because I was friends with Sarah Silverman, Nick Kroll and Aziz Ansari, but a lot of the people there I never met before. I was really nervous to have to say mean things about them and to not even know who they were. It’s not like they were necessarily punch lines for jokes. They’re just great, funny actors. It wasn’t like I got Gene Simmons all night.
I want to shift gears and talk about what happened on New Year’s Eve with your Pearl Harbor joke. Many people were offended and you handled it with such grace and wit. How do you gauge the impact of a joke?
Leggero: It’s hard to have to figure it out as you go along, and the rules are changing. Things that were fine two years are not fine now. The Internet is becoming more and more of a presence and people are definitely using it as a place to lash out. I think we just all have to navigate it as we go.
There’s a certain audience that will get it but then the majority of the world won’t. Do you think the Internet has become hypersensitive to what a lot of comedians saying?
Leggero: Of course. I think people just latch on to anything whether it be a comedian that used a word in the wrong way or a new dance craze. Like it’s sort of just prevalent on the Internet then it gets to like the Today Show and then it’s over. Nobody wants to twerk anymore just because people are sick of hearing about it. That’s just that the Internet makes me blow up in a crazy way super fast. Everyone gets to chime in.
I wanted to go also back on your Burning Love character because I thought she was simply magical. Did you have any input on that character or was that all written for you already?
Leggero: Erica Oyama, who wrote Burning Love, came up with the character who is just the slut that we’ve all seen on the show. She’s the girl who gets too drunk. I play that kind of character a lot and I have played a variety of pantsless hookers on Reno 911! Those are all inspired when I was watching Cops. There was a girl sitting on the hood of a Trans-Am with no underwear on and just a shirt. She was trying to tell the cop that she wasn’t drunk and she was just humping the top of the car and like she was trying to send herself. I think all the characters in Burning Love are based on the tropes of that show.
So how many times have you been to SF Sketchfest?
Leggero: I don’t know, five maybe.
What do you like most about coming to the festival?
Leggero: One of the great things about comedy is getting to travel to the best cities in America and San Francisco is my favorite city. I like to come every time I can and the crowds are amazing. They’re hip. They get it in a way that I feel like no other crowd in the country does. I love San Francisco. It’s like a sophisticated European city with literary undertone. My kind of place.
Finally, what are you currently working on? Anything you want to plug?
Leggero: You can see me on Suburgatory on ABC and I’m working on a Comedy Central special right now. I’ve also worked on a pilot for Comedy Central that it’s like the Kardashians meets Downton Abbey. A reality show.
Kardashians meets Downton Abbey? Really?!
That sounds great. Who else is in it?
Leggero: It’s me and Riki Lindhome, who created it, but it’s just a pilot so it’s not like people can see it on air yet.
Yeah, but the premise alone sounds amazing.
Leggero: It’s created by me and Riki Lindhome. Jeremy Konner, who did Drunk History is the director and it stars Michael Ian Black, Tom Lennon and a whole bunch of hilarious people.
Click here to purchase tickets to Natasha Leggero’s shows at SF Sketchfest.