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People are idiots. That’s how Natasha Leggero sees it anyway. Her stand-up is long list of such complaints, a derisive tally of everything that’s wrong with the modern world. Among the problems: toilet babies, lazy rappers, and the women’s movement. But, truth be told, she’s more of a charmer than a cynic, and more joy than killjoy. Leggero walks a thin line between curmudgeon and comedian—and she usually does it in heels and evening gloves. She’s a debutante with a dirty mouth and a trashy, self-deprecating snark. “It’s almost like female stand-ups are the smarter, less molested version of strippers,” she jokes about herself.
The L.A.-based actress-comic is definitely very tongue-in-cheek, an attribute that’s helped her survive and thrive onstage and in Hollywood. Leggero is a regular panelist on Chelsea Lately and was a judge on 2010’s Last Comic Standing. Her acting roles have included bit parts on Reno 911! and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, as well as voice work on Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans and HBO’s The Life And Times Of Tim. This fall, she’ll take on a prime-time feature role in the new NBC workplace sitcom Free Agents.
Leggero—who returns this weekend to Comedy Works, where she recorded her latest album Coke Money—talked to The A.V. Club about pants-less acting, as well as how much she really dislikes Justin Bieber (and just about every other pop star).
The A.V. Club: What’s your character on Free Agents?
Natasha Leggero: I play Emma, the sassy secretary who’s a real bitch. I either play a bitch or a slut. [Laughs.]
AVC: But you make it really funny, like your roles on Reno 911! for example.
NL: I was on Reno for those three seasons, and I played various pants-less deviants. I don’t think I ever wore pants on Reno 911! and I was on it about five times. A lot of these parts, you have to understand, are written by men. And [in] the kind of parts that men write, women often don’t have pants. [Laughs.] As a woman, it can be challenging. But women are starting to write their own things—and they have been. If you look at NBC, two of their most successful shows—30 Rock and Parks And Rec—are written by women, produced by women, and I think that’s the future. Women are the new men.
AVC: Do you think you’ll ever want to go for more serious, non-comedic roles?
NL: I find comedy very stimulating. To be on one of those procedural shows—where you just sort of deliver information about the plot, how many pounds of cocaine they found on the floor and the dead body, or God forbid you have to pretend like you’re getting raped or victimized—it just seems like a nightmare to me. Also working with actors can kind of suck. Comic actors are so much more fun to be around. I don’t know if I can spend 12 hours with a bunch of self-absorbed actors. You can always tell an actor by the bored look in their eye whenever someone else is talking.
[With] comedians, something’s probably happened to them in their early years to make them be a comedian. That’s one of the fun things about hanging out with comedians. Inevitably, you start talking to them and you realize the thing that made them a comedian, and it’s usually something really dark. We all kind of have this common bond. There’s a cynicism that is universal.
AVC: You get to spend a lot of time with different comedians on Chelsea Lately, right?
NL: I’ve been doing Chelsea’s show from the beginning. They used to have one comedian, and then someone who was in charge of the hot list on Us Weekly or the Best Dressed page or whatever. They would come on and be like, “J. Lo’s over!” But they would say it so seriously. They phased those people out. It’s so ridiculous, some of this stuff [on entertainment news]. And right now what I think people are responding to is Chelsea’s take on it. The other shows on E! deliver it like it’s pressing news.
If you watch TMZ, that show’s the worst. That show is just Brad Garrett buying dog food in Malibu, and they try to turn it into this scintillating thing. And they were even following me around when Chelsea was dating 50 Cent. They would come to my shows and try to talk to me about it, and it was so sad. I just feel so bad for those people. They would try to get me to do jokes and puns that the cameraman was writing. Like, “Hey, will you say to the camera, ‘If Chelsea Handler has babies with 50 Cent, they’ll be 50 cent pieces?’” And I was like, “I’m not saying that.” I don’t know if they want to be comedy writers, but it’s really sad. And the camera operators are always like 45 years old. You think they’re interns, but they’re not. That aspect of America right now is very ripe for parody, and I think that’s one of the things that makes Chelsea Lately such a breath of fresh air.
AVC: You comment on pop culture a lot in your own stand-up as well.
NL: That’s one of those things that I can’t really control. If I were to choose, I probably wouldn’t write just about pop culture—popular culture—because it changes so much. But every time I turn on a radio or watch TV, I just get so pissed off that I really can’t help it. There are definitely cool things everywhere, and there’s always cool music, but you have to seek it out. But when you walk into a 7-Eleven and there’s Ke$ha blaring, and then you have that in your head for the next 40 hours, it’s really unfair. I don’t even understand what Ke$ha is—it’s like homeless Britney Spears.
The corporations are shoving just the worst music down everybody’s throats, and I think the result of that is that nobody has any taste. They have no bar as to what is good. I think 20 years ago someone like Justin Bieber, that would have been kids’ music. But now he’s on the cover of Vanity Fair. That doesn’t really make sense to me. His music is terrible, and his mom, when you read about his mom, who kind of shoved him into show business, all she listened to when they were growing up is Boyz II Men. So it becomes a matter of taste. I saw Never Say Never twice, so I do know this. [Laughs.]
Then you’ve got someone like Usher who is bragging that he discovered Justin Bieber, but Usher’s music sounds like he’s just reading out loud his drunk texts. His popular song right now is “Your boobies is like wow, wow, wow.” I think his name is Usher because that’s the job he should have. Katy Perry is terrible. I wish there was a way we could auto-tune her personality. Lady Gaga—without, like, the meat dresses—her music is just the most pedestrian, corporate-sounding drivel you’ve ever heard in your life. I don’t know what she’s doing. She’s trying to make everyone feel like just because they’re outcasts they can overcome it? I don’t understand her at all or what the attraction is. Right now if you can play any kind of instrument, people think you’re a super-genius. Because everybody’s an idiot.