by Ryan Meehan
Natalie Shure is the very first writer, journalist and comedian ever to settle in Brooklyn. She speaks fluent Russian, and would love to discuss Soviet-Nation building with you. She is an MA student at NYU currently pursuing a joint degree in Journalism and Russian area studies. Brooklyn Magazine named her one of the 50 Funniest People in Brooklyn. Her writing has been featured several places, including the Atlantic, Gawker, Slate, New York Observer, Metro, The Awl, Frisky, Splitsider, Thought Catalog, Washington Post Express, and a Duane Reade memo pad full of half-baked joke ideas. She is currently hacking away at a long-term project on drug-resistant tuberculosis in the Post-Soviet Union. She performs stand-up comedy all over the city, and is sorry that she talks about history too much. But that’s quite alright here at a website that goes by the name of First Order Historians, and that’s why she’s in the right place here today as my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: At what point in your life were you initially attracted to comedy? Was there any one specific performance you can remember seeing that really made you want to discover more of what the art form had to offer?
NS: You know, I think the childhood comedy stuff can be really different for men and women. I hear so many guy comedians tell stories about falling in love with stand-up when they were five, but I can’t remember knowing much about it until way later. I did always love The Naked Gun movies, which are perfect, and other comedies.
RM: What was the first joke you told on stage that resulted in a positive response from the crowd; and what was so special about that moment that made you want to perform again?
NS: This was way before I started comedy, but I remember loving this one fourth grade project. We had a class beanie baby and every kid had a night to take it home, write an open-ended creative writing assignment about it, and read it for the class. I wrote a thing where the beanie baby was a talk show host interviewing Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. The beanie baby was trying to be a serious journalist, and Ted was basically just trying to outsmart him and sabotage the talk show and kill everyone. I did funny voices for both the beanie baby and Ted, and it really crushed. I remember thinking that making a sad, creepy news story that silly was a lot of fun, and it made me want to write other funny stuff. (I now understand that what I wrote was a sketch, and that nothing says 1996 quite like a beanie baby and Unabomber bit.)
RM: How would you best describe the sequence of events in your life which have led to making Russian-oriented studies a priority when it comes to your research and general interests?
NS: I’ve always been crazy about history – it was my favorite subject throughout school, and I majored in it in college. I registered for Russian 101 as an elective just to be weird, I guess. I have no family connection to it, or anything. But then things really came together when I started getting into the history. I love the Cold War era, and studying Soviet and American histories of it is so fascinating. From there, I guess Russia stuff kept kinda working out. I got a grant to do a summer intensive language institute before my senior year, and then I served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine. Then I moved to DC to work for an international education NGO that specializes in the Eastern Europe/Post-Soviet region, and then moved to New York to get my MA in a dual degree program in Journalism and Russian Studies. Even though I’ve been doing Russia stuff for a decade now, it still feels a bit random. But its informed a lot of my writing and perspectives, and has led to some great opportunities.
RM: What is the most fascinating piece of information that you have learned about post-Soviet Union Russia during the time you’ve spent studying their culture?
NS: There’s a lot! But little quirks between cultures can be fun. For my job in DC, we’d host a new professional delegation from a different country every few weeks, and I loved observing the differences between them. Like, if I had a group from Georgia, I’d have to build in extra walking time into the schedule, because they were so slow and paused to ask about and photograph everything. Groups from post-Soviet countries don’t like ice in their drinks, but Serbians do. Groups from Tajikistan would give me photos of their families and invite me to visit their homes. And they ALL absolutely loved squirrels! They have squirrels, but they’re more feral and don’t come near people – so they got a huge kick out of American city squirrels, who come up closer. I have one photo of a bunch of Russian judges on the White House lawn, going totally ape shit over a few squirrels. It was the best!
RM: Back in late March, you appeared on Don Lemon’s show on CNN with a panel that included comedian Artie Lange to discuss a series of tweets by Trevor Noah, the new host of the Daily Show. Why do you think that most people who aren’t well-versed in the world of comedy have such a hard time understanding that participating in the art-form requires a much thicker skin than in other areas of the entertainment industry?
NS: I think a lot of comedy critics – especially from progressive circles – insist on casting comedy as a sort of punditry instead of an art. That denigrates it. It’s unbelievable how many smart, nuanced thinkers reflexively disparage a joke as shitty and awful, when they’d never be that reductive with a poem or movie. That isn’t to say that comedy is immune to criticism, or that these conversations should never be had. But a stand-up bit is a text, and can have multiple interpretations – and so many bloggers seem to think their interpretations are objective. It’s such an embarrassing blind spot, and it makes comedy criticism soooooooo bad.
RM: You also suggested during that segment that comedians use Twitter as more of a “workyard” to develop jokes that aren’t necessarily curated…Do you find yourself using that website for the same reason, at times testing out jokes that may not be fully developed? If a tweet that you created gets a higher number of retweets or favorites, are you more likely to try and convert that into a joke you may use in your act?
NS: Yeah! I think most comedians use Twitter like that. Sometimes I try to re-work them, or they end up as tags in other jokes. I love using Twitter for news as well.
RM: What is the biggest structural difference between journalism and stand-up comedy? Which of the two would you say you feel more comfortable doing; and why do you think that is the case?
NS: I guess the biggest structural difference would be that in journalism, you have to research and report on things. But there are lots of similarities – they both take hustle, they both entail competition to have the earliest, best take on something, and they both require sharp writing and observational skills. Also, watching a taped set and listening to a recorded interview are both insanely painful! I can be a shitty interviewer, so I guess I feel more comfortable doing stand-up than that. But I guess I feel more comfortable writing for print than performing live, simply because I have unlimited time to lord over my work and tweak it until I’m satisfied.
RM: Which room throughout the five boroughs would you say is your home club? Why do you think you feel so comfortable on stage at that location?
NS: I perform wherever anyone will have me, but The Creek and the Cave in Long Island City is great! Very experimentally friendly, artist-centered space.
RM: Are there any particular topics that you generally try to avoid when constructing new bits?
NS: I think any topic is valid, as long as you execute it well. I tend to talk about my interests more than my personal life, though. I don’t talk much about my family, friends, boyfriend, etc. on stage much. I’m not really sure why! Maybe there’s some dark, suppressed reason? Who knows?
RM: Which aspect of the writing process do you tend to struggle with the most and why? Conversely, which aspect of writing jokes would you consider to be your specialty; and why do you think you excel at that particular component of the practice?
NS: Ah, I think it’s all hard! My writing is ahead of my performing, so sometimes I have to recognize my limitations. As in, if I happen to think of a hysterical bit that requires a long act-out or dead-on celebrity impression, I pretty much have to put it to rest.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
NS: I’m flying to Wyoming in a few days to research and report on a really bizarre legend about Sacajawea for a longform piece for BuzzFeed. I’m pretty excited that they’re putting their trust in my weird history obsessions, because the story won’t exactly be timely.
Beyond that, I’m doing as much stand-up as I can, and working on a book proposal about the history of tuberculosis. But, funny, you know?
Official Website: http://www.natalieshure.com/
Natalie on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/natalie.shure
Natalie on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nataliesurely
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.