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With her gig writing for the hilarious Parks And Recreation, acting in roles on Louie and The Sarah Silverman Program, and feverish Twitter pace, it’s a wonder Chelsea Peretti finds any time for stand-up. Luckily, she does, and is in the middle of a four-night stint at Zanies in Chicago right now, including five (!) shows tonight and tomorrow. The A.V. Club caught up with Peretti as she browsed the jewelry racks at Macy’s and talked about killing time on tour, Amy Poehler, and, of course, Chet Haze.
Chelsea Peretti: First of all, I’m really into that one photo where he’s smoking and wearing that aqua-and-black-checkered shirt. I heard the music is great, though. I tried to go see him in Austin with some friends at SXSW, but we went to this bar where he said he’d be, and he didn’t end up performing. We ran over there, and we didn’t know he was in the room, and then I looked up and he was five feet away. I panicked.
I don’t know what I’m doing with the obsession, really. I get to see what it’s like to be a creepy fan. I was just standing and staring. I couldn’t work up the nerve to say anything. He started walking out, and I said, “Chet!” and that was it. It’s a constantly evolving fandom, though.
AVC: You’re a prolific Twitterer…
CP: Some would say I’m really overdoing it lately. On tour, it’s either call ex-boyfriends or tweet a lot. You’re just looking for any proof that you’re not completely alone.
AVC: Do you have a formula or method for how you tweet? You’re pretty consistently funny on there; do you try to make sure your tweets are tight before you send them?
CP: I try to be funny, but sometimes a couple slip through the cracks. It’s a desperate need for interaction, but I try and limit that. I try to have it be funny rather than personal or boring. Sometimes, some shitty ones get through, but I will go back and delete tweets. It’s like if someone comes to visit, you want it to be cleaned up later.
AVC: Do you have favorite funny people on Twitter?
Neil Hamburger’s had some funny ones lately. He’s been retweeting corporate tweets. One made me laugh really hard lately. It was a corporate tweet that said, “I just went here and bought this,” and he said, “Oh, you should go to this paint store and dip your head in a can of paint,” and he linked to an actual paint store.
AVC: So you’re on break from Parks And Recreation right now, right?
CP: We’re on hiatus, so I tried to get in some road work. We’re coming back at the end of May, assuming I’m officially rehired. I think I will be. Then it’s a pretty intensive workload.
AVC: How do you keep yourself busy on tour? You were just in Peoria, right?
CP: Peoria was crazy! I did go on a walk.
Well, right now, I’m at Macy’s, and I’m potentially going to buy some jewelry. Only the highest-end stuff for me. I’m thinking about getting a manicure-pedicure.
Chicago’s easier than Peoria, though. There, I literally just stayed in my hotel room. The guy who featured for me had a car, so we went, got food, and went to a thrift store that smelled like homeless people. There was a guy at the hotel, though, who drove me to where Richard Pryor started. It was this community center that gave him a chance to perform. He showed me a street named after him. That was the highlight of my recreational activities, other than finding this restaurant that serves vegetable-based meals.
Then again, where I was staying literally made me want to kill myself. I got a salad, and it was all iceberg and half rotten. It was the worst.
Anyway, on tour, I largely get online and do Internet stuff.
AVC: And watch basic cable?
CP: I barely watch TV. Somehow, I make it work with just the Internet. On TV, there’s always so much crap and you have to flip around. I watched a bunch of infomercials in Peoria, though.
That’s something me and Todd Glass did once. I was wearing a bracelet and we were with some friends, and I was pretending I was selling the bracelet. I love how they say 80,000 things about the simplest item. “This metal is hand-pounded. Notice the terraced material. Each one is unique.” So, I was watching QVC for a dangerously long time in Peoria, tweeting stills in the middle of the night to Todd, which he’ll never respond to.
AVC: Do you like writing or doing stand-up more?
CP: It’s so different, I can’t say. Ever since I started, people always ask that, and I’ve always seen them as interrelated. They’re different parts of my brain. Each one gives me relief from the other when it’s hard. Each one makes me better for the other.
AVC: Who’s your favorite person to write for on Parks And Rec?
CP: When I was little, people would ask what my favorite color was, and I never knew. I find it’s really hard to make decisive “best” answers on what the “best” of something is.
I think the beauty of that show is that it’s such a talented ensemble group of people. It’s a huge cast for how many comedic bits each person gets. I love writing for Amy [Poehler], and I’ve always admired her, back in New York as well. She’s got an incredibly inspiring range. I love Aziz [Ansari], Ron Swanson, April—there are so many. Andy. Everyone’s funny.
AVC: So, if you can’t do bests, can you do worsts? Do you have a worst show or worst city you’ve performed in?
CP: The worst show I ever did was particularly a show called 'New Jack Night' at the Uptown Comedy Club. It was definitely the worst. I’d just started doing stand-up, and I invited my brother and his girlfriend to the show. It’s mind-blowing to me now that I’d ever invite anyone to any open mic, let alone this one. No one was even looking at me. Not one person! Everyone was looking off to the side and not at the stage, like, “We’ll wait this out.” I abandoned my set early, and the emcee, who was this comedian named Smokey, he came out and said, “She wasn’t funny, but I’d fuck her,” and everyone laughed. I had tears in my eyes and my brother and his girlfriend were seated across the room, so they had to be all “excuse me, excuse me,” to get out.
On the subway ride home, I was quietly crying, and they were like, “No, it wasn’t that bad.” I was with this guy Seaton Smith, and he did it, too, so it was just a group of people watching me try to not cry on the way back home.
I’ve had other memorable terrible ones. I performed after 9/11 for relief workers down by Ground Zero. There were these men just coming back, and they were voraciously hungry. They were heroes, pulling rubble, and I was a new comic trying to go blue just so I could get some laughs.
AVC: This is a total Oprah question, but: What’s success for you at this point? 30 years from now, what do you want to have done?
CP: I feel like it’s in flux right now; I don’t know what I want anymore. I used to want to be like Tina Fey or Sarah Silverman or Larry David or Ricky Gervais and have a show built around my own sensibility, like have this ensemble cast you can hand-pick. It’s like Louis C.K., too. I mean, a lot of my idols, like Amy [Poehler], are people who, on some level, were involved with the writing and creation and voice of their own show. Right now, I don’t know what I want, though. I’m trying to figure it out.