Out writer and performer
Liz Feldman, the four-time Emmy Award–winning former writer-producer for The Ellen DeGeneres Show, got her start
in entertainment when most of us were still figuring out how to get away with
She started doing
stand-up comedy at the age of 15 and soon afterward was hired as both writer and
talent on Nickelodeon’s All That. Spurred
by a lifelong dream of working with Ellen DeGeneres, she moved out to Los Angeles and honed her comedic skills at improv schools
Second City and the Groundlings before writing
and performing on Blue Collar TV. From 2005 to 2007, Feldman realized her dream by writing material for DeGeneres on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Feldman recently returned
to the world of stand-up comedy, and she has also produced an award-winning
short film, My First Time Driving, which
is screening at festivals worldwide. Among the many projects she’s currently working on is her own AfterEllen.com comedy series, This Just Out with Liz Feldman.
I recently talked with Feldman about how she got to where she is today, working with DeGeneres, the power of
visualization, and how blazers have always been part of her formula for dressing for success.
AfterEllen.com: Was anyone in your family in showbiz?
Liz Feldman: I was influenced by my brother and sister, but they weren’t
really in the industry. My sister was a really good actress in high school, the
lead in all the plays, really pretty and popular. And as my mother says — I’m a
big Jew, by the way — during the Purim play at synagogue when I was 6, my
sister was 11 and playing Queen Esther, and after the show was done I dragged
my mother up the stage, pointed at it and said, "That’s what I want to do!"
That’s the crazy story — all
because of the Purim play.
When I was 10 I became
obsessed with the entertainment industry, and I asked my parents for an agent
for my 10th birthday, not knowing that it doesn’t work that way. They said: "That’s
nice. Here’s a 10-speed." I made a deal with my parents at that time — I’m
from Brooklyn — that when I became old enough
to ride the train by myself, then I could start auditioning for things.
So when I was 12, I
became old enough to ride the train, and I started going on auditions and got
involved in theater in Manhattan.
When I was 15, I answered an ad in Backstage
magazine. They were looking for kids who performed stand-up and wrote their own
material. At the time, I didn’t do any of that. But I knew I wanted to and that
I probably could do it. So I answered
I wrote three minutes of
material. It was all about my mom, a little bit about high school and the SATs,
and I auditioned and I got into this show that was about kids doing stand-up. I
got a manager and I just started performing.
One of my early jokes —
OK, I’ll embarrass myself. This is so bad. Hopefully you’ll see how much
funnier I’ve gotten over the years. So 15 years ago, this was one of my first
jokes: "You know how some kids will get embarrassed when their moms will
spit on a napkin to wipe the dirt off their face? My mom just licks my face."
AE: Oh my God, and it’s so gay!
LF: So gay! I was screaming out and I didn’t even know.
AE: So you got funnier and gayer?
LF: Maybe less gay, I don’t even know! Do you want to know what I was
wearing when I first started doing stand-up?
AE: A blazer?
LF: Of course! My original stand-up outfit was light linen pants, a white
button-down shirt, an embroidered vest and a matching linen jacket.
AE: Jesus, Liz! Come on.
LF: At the time [I] had a boyfriend. However, that suit was dating a woman
behind my back.
So I got an agent from
doing that kind of stuff. Believe it or not, not a lot of girls doing stand-up
at age 15.
So I graduated from high
school and I was supposed to go to Vassar, and my mother was thrilled because I
had gotten in off the wait list and it was a minor miracle that I was going to
a school that someone might have heard of. But then I got a job offer. I had
been scouted by Nickelodeon — the show All
That wanted a female writer.
I had never written
anything other than my own jokes and essays from high school. So much to my
mother’s dismay, I withdrew from Vassar and moved to Orlando, Florida.
Three weeks after graduating from high school I got my own car and an
It was amazing, but it
was far too much. I was not really ready for such a thing. And the experience
was … challenging. It was a wake-up call for me, because I really loved being
on the show, and I also really wanted to be a kid. I worked ridiculous hours,
and it was more than I was really capable of at the time. It made me want to go
to college and not worry about having a job. So that’s what I did.
So after that I really
wanted to go to school, but Vassar wouldn’t take me because they wouldn’t
accept students in January. So I started hanging out with my friend Dan Fogler,
who is now a movie star [Balls of Fury].
He went to Boston
University and I met all
his friends, and as a matter of fact my very first girlfriend went to BU as
I was there visiting Dan
at BU and he was about to go to an audition for the campus improv group. I
thought it sounded like fun, but I didn’t go to school there. But I went with
him anyway and they accepted me, telling me if I was a student there I could be
in the group. So that’s why I went to school there, so I could be in their
Not only did I learn a
lot, but I also met my best friend, Jason,
doing that, and he and I eventually moved to Los Angeles together. Anyway, I graduated
with a B.S. in TV writing [laughs], and lo and behold actually used it.
After graduating, Jason
and I got in the car and moved to L.A.
Here, I got involved with the Groundlings, and overall I had a great experience
with them. I met so many amazing people — really talented, really inspiring — and
made a lot of important creative partnerships and definitely found my voice as
a sketch writer.