Liza Treyger isn’t afraid of silence. In fact, she wants that silence to be punishing. That’s kind of the point.
On the New York comedian’s new special for Netflix’s The Degenerates, Treyger takes a brutally feminist approach to performance and audience engagement. In fact, it starts to leave stand-up behind entirely. It’s just a woman on stage venting the frustrations of an entire gender facing the current world-wide situation. It feels freeing within its context: the whole special is one part sexual liberation celebration and the rest is pointing a spotlight on how often women are murdered for just being women. It’s a comedy special that needs to exist right now in equal measure to how much we absolutely need this kind of show to not be necessary.
Treyger reaches out and implicates her audience, both in the room and at home, in everything from individual actions to national issues, and you can practically hear some of the men realizing they’re in over their head… even from a voyeur position. And the fact they stick around is fantastic. It makes for a special that is uniquely difficult to watch.
We talked to Treyger about her special, which is out on Netflix this week.
Paste: Let’s start with the real hard hitting questions: What’s your favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers song? You have a bit about having an embarrassing Red Hot Chili Peppers tattoo. Let’s see that through to the end.
Liza Treyger: It’s a later album but…. “On Mercury”? And “Otherside.” I was in seventh grade when that came out.
Paste: When that song came out I loved it because I’d just started playing guitar and knew already “Hell yeah, I can play that solo.”
Treyger: You were already better than them. I thought Anthony Kiedis was wild and sexy and when you’re young and reading his autobiography you just get so into him. I went back and listened to the old stuff but Californication onward is the good stuff. The older stuff just isn’t as rhythmically beautiful for my brain. Those slow and dramatic songs connected to me as an emo kid. Also, I love John Frusciante’s solo stuff.
Paste: It’s been three years since your album and special Glittercheese. What has changed or evolved about your sense of comedy and your style since then?
Treyger: The topics are all the same. The topics are still just about how Men Are Trash. But you can’t fake experience. I’m quicker and smarter now. I’m smarter and more myself. I haven’t changed. I’m just myself. I don’t spend a lot of time writing; I like to work stuff out on the stage. I don’t like to work too hard. So nothing has changed except experience. I’m just more controlled on stage and smarter. I, of course, hate this special. Because I focused on everything that I wish I could do better.
Paste: So many people that try to do crowd work in their specials crash and burn. You went above and beyond to demand a different level of investment from your crowd.
Treyger: I wish I did more of that. There were some characters in that crowd that I should have featured. I did two years of the late show at The Cellar. And that makes you better. You’re trying to engage with people while they’re trying to get seated and use the bathroom and get drinks. You’ve got ten minutes to get up there and get the audience on board. It makes you a little bit fearless. I’m very thankful for that time. But the grosser responses I get from my audience, the more honest it is. What I’ve learned from doing my act on the road is that when people are lying, usually by saying over-the-top nice things, or whatever they think I might want to hear… that’s when you know they’re really fucked up. I have crowd requests where the questions that get shouted are out of control. And it’s a pleasure to hear their thoughts. And that’s one of the things I translated from Patrice O’Neal’s Elephant in the Room special. It’s about implicating the audience to prove my point. When the audience is cocky in expecting what I’m going to do, and I get to turn that around, it’s really really good.
Paste: After watching your special, I heard from my wife. She was at brunch with two people that thought they were very woke. The wife in that relationship had this talking point that I don’t know if she’d ever thought through, but here’s what it was: “I don’t know how the Me Too movement and the sex positivity movement can exist in the same time.” It seems like there’s a very obvious answer about consent applying to both but—
Treyger: I think women can want to get fucked and not want to get raped. I’ve never heard that talking point and it doesn’t make sense to me. I can want to dress slutty and go out and find somebody and have great sex tonight. It doesn’t mean I want to get raped and have sex that I don’t enjoy and I do not get this talking point. People believe—women’s issues is so hard right now. You have to convince half of women that there’s a problem. The Patriarchy is so in control and you have so many women that voted for Trump that you have to convince. I can argue with dudes being idiots but it is heartbreaking when women are the problem. I had a female bartender the other night who said “Okay, but what did Kavanaugh lie about?” And that’s what’s appalling. Then you have Ann Coulter saying things like “Yes, I was raped, and women should all get over it.” Fuck your rules. We want new rules. If the predators created the rules then I don’t care about the rules anymore. I demand that we burn it all down. And what saddens me the most right now is seeing young girls whose parents are defending Kavanaugh and then, because of that stance, why would they ever be open or honest with these people about assault they’ve endured? It’s heartbreaking and overwhelming and I’ve been fighting this same fight since seventh grade. People bring me into it constantly, and it’s hard when you’re trying to make someone laugh but also fighting all of this. But that’s the conversation I’m constantly stuck in. I just wish that men would not rape women, and it is wild that this is a progressive stance to take.
Paste: It’s inherent in your special as well, whether dictated or not. Your stories about one night stands overlap with things you’ve learned from murder podcasts, and let’s all agree that’s not normal.
Treyger: Right. And if you are a woman who is murdered during a hook-up, you’ll be blamed for it. It’s your fault.
Paste: I’ve never heard something bleaker than “I just don’t want to be blamed for my own murder.”
Treyger: That’s what it is. If you go home and fuck a stranger and get killed, obviously the question is why were you so stupid.
Paste: You spoke about the constant implication of the audience. I really noticed that in this special, the events that implicate the men is overwhelmingly based on… not clap if you agree, but forcing men to wallow in their own silence until they understand what they’ve done. It’s both an indictment but also a subtraction of male voices from a male problem. It’s just an exceptional series of silences.
Treyger: So much of those jokes are based in the element of surprise. I’ve been having fun the last month as I’m saying good-bye to these challenges.
Paste: What’s coming up next? What are your big things? What is the next step?
Treyger: What I’ve learned is to not talk about anything. Because I’m going to listen to my superstitious mother and not talk about things because if I do they’ll wind up getting cancelled. I want to be doing lots of different things forever and I want to have this job forever. So there’s no real rush to what comes up. I’d rather be natural about it.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.