Aisha Tyler is a busy woman. It’s amazing that in between a hit adult-oriented animated TV show, a successful podcast, stand-up gigs, numerous TV guest spots and a daytime talk show, she has time to talk to journalists. But she does, and she is utterly grateful about it.
The San Francisco native has since turned into a Los Angeles resident which, as you can see on her IMDb page, has worked very well for her career. She is, however, totally aware that she will be called out for being an Angeleno by a room full of San Francisco Bay Area journalists… So she calls herself out before anyone else can.
“I live in L.A. now—that can’t be helped. Yes, we are drinking all your water. Yes, we do eat meat and yes, most of us don’t drive hybrid cars.” She pauses and then says, “I do, because I’m better than them, but I’m just really happy to be here.”
We had a chance to talk to her about her many, many, many projects, her stand-up comedy, growing up as the only tall black girl in her school, and what made her want to get into acting. (I’ll give you a hint: It involves a crush on a boy.)
How did your time growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area help inspire you to get into the entertainment business?
Aisha Tyler: I was born at the Kaiser on Masonic and Geary (in San Francisco) and I made it out alive. My family moved to Oakland until the seventh grade, then moved back to the city. I went to a McAteer High School in San Francisco—and by the way, if you ask any actor about why they are an actor and they don’t say, “It was a girl” or “It was a boy,” they are lying to you. They’re all liars. It’s always a girl or a boy. The cute boy that I fell in love with then was Sam Rockwell so I have excellent taste in actors. I am still friends with Sam. Margaret Cho was also a classmate. We are still very friendly and have this lovely secret club that we’re in.
How would you think some of your old classmates see you now?
Tyler: It’s funny, I saw a girl who wasn’t a performer years later and she said, “I always knew this was what you were going to do.” I said, “I really didn’t, so if you could predict some stocks for me, that would be helpful.” She said, “No, you were always really funny.”
Were you funny growing up as a child?
Tyler: I never saw myself as funny as a kid. I was just trying to make friends because I’ve been this tall since I was seven years old. I was the only black kid in my school for most of my life. My parents were into meditation and they were vegetarian. I was being funny so that I didn’t get beaten to a smear. For me, it was a defense mechanism. Also I felt like if you are going to tease me, I am going to make fun of myself faster and better than you ever can. It was just a lot of prophylactic comedy I was doing.
So you’re on Archer, you have a podcast, you’ve been on Friends and Modern Family and you are the host of Whose Line is it Anyway. Do you seek out that variation for your career or does it just naturally happen for you?
Tyler: I do. I do seek out that variation. Maybe not as calculatedly as it might seem but, there are two things. The first thing is that, I have always wanted to do things that were frightening to me. I feel like people try to limit you externally a lot—tell you what you can and can’t do and they keep you in a box. I always would rebel against that. I remember when I was in high school, I applied to a lot of colleges. I got into Dartmouth and my high school counselor said it was a very conservative, very masculine, and a very caucasian. He was like, “Don’t go there because you are going to martyr your career.” I literally went home and enrolled that day. I was like, “Don’t you tell me what I can’t do.” I wanted to go a place that was alien and different. I wanted to have an experience that was maybe even a little frightening and I really do pursue those things. I feel like it’s important in your life to be terrified. I think that’s when you tend to find out who you are so I’ve always pursued things that were challenging—just on my own agenda—to try to be a better, more interesting, more complex person.
Do you take the same approach as a stand-up comedian?
Tyler: The entertainment business tries to limit you externally. They constantly tell you, “You are a dramatic actress” or, “You’re a comedic actress” or, “You’re just a TV actress” or “you’re just a film actress.” When I was a young comic, people were like, “You need to be more like Mo’Nique or more like Sommore.” They told me I needed to do Def Comedy Jam-style comedy. I was like, “I just can’t do it. It’s just not who I am.” I would be lying and audience would know I was lying. I’ve just got to wait until my audience finds me. I’ve just got to wait until people out there that are like me, my tribe, discovers me.
You’re also on The Talk, which is entering its fifth season. The comparisons to The View are inevitable. How do you feel about that?
Tyler: We are really excited about season five of the show. We had a banner year this year. We’ve been beating The View in demos and ratings. We’re really excited, because I feel like we’re really on an upward trend—but I don’t want to beat up that show. They are leaders and they’ve been groundbreaking for a long time now. I think what we do at The Talk is we create a network space where people can be authentic and tell the truth. It feels safe and it’s fun. It’s also a place where women are not pulling out each other’s weaves and heaving their prosthetic legs across the room. So much of television is women being unkind and we wanted to create a space where women can be smart and supportive and disagree without it devolving into cruelty or antagonism.
Is there anything off limits for you when you do your comedy or anything else?
Tyler: I feel like everything is fair game, given the right context, you know what I mean? There is stuff that you go through in your relationships that you don’t want to share out of respect for your significant other. Unfortunately again, for my husband, I’m a stand-up comic so a lot of that stuff has already been processed and put out on stage in other ways, but I would try never to say anything that would be hurtful to him. That’s probably what’s off limits to me. Other than that, everybody else is just fresh meat.