by Ryan Meehan
Brooke Van Poppelen is a NYC based comic, actress, writer and host of Hack My Life on truTV alongside Kevin Pereira. Brooke has been seen on @Midnight and John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show on Comedy Central, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS, and IFC’s Comedy Drop. She has also appeared as a talking head & panelist on various MTV & VH1 shows and worked as a writer / producer for Girl Code and co-authored the Girl Code Book. This year Brooke released her comedy web series Seeing Other People which she co-wrote and starred in with Giulia Rozzi. The six episode web series has been gathering attention from the likes of IFC.com, Glamour, & Laugh Spin and season two is underway. Brooke’s stand up comedy has been praised by Splitsider, Esquire, and Brightest Young Things. She was recently selected for the Headliners Showcase as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and has also performed at The Bentzen Ball, Riot Fest LA, SXSW, The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival and Bridgetown. In NYC she performs at UCB & UCB East on shows like Whiplash and has headlined Caroline’s on Broadway as part of their “Breakout Artist Series”. In Brooklyn she can be seen at Union Hall on her monthly show Comfort Zone which she hosts with singer/songwriter Julian Velard. Prior to NYC she performed and trained in Chicago at IO, The Second City and The Playground Theater. Brooke hails from the Detroit suburbs, loves Coney dogs, and she’s my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: How would you most accurately summarize your first ten experiences doing stand-up? How much of a variance did you see in the reaction of the crowds over the course of those first few performances; and how much of those variances were you able to attribute to minor adjustments you were making to your set?
BVP: I think it’s sweet you think I can remember things from over a decade ago!! Awwwwww. I’m so flattered! Ha — but honestly, I would say my first ten experiences doing stand up were overwhelming anxiety before getting onstage, then sort of blacking out while I was on stage and going into survival mode to tell some jokes. It’s a really terrifying thing to try out and the first few times can be especially tough for introverted people like myself. I got some laughs but who knows if they were laughing at my jokes or my spazzy, near-puking demeanor.
RM: Which areas of your approach to the art of comedy have benefited the most from your formal training at Second City, TPT and IO? Did you have any sort of “Aha!” or “Eureka!” moment during your time at any of those institutions where you had a significant breakthrough that changed the way you looked at humor in general?
BVP: Learning to spontaneously create comedy with your improv teammates or sketch group is an invaluable skill, and made me realize you can make stuff up while you’re doing stand up even if your act is more written and rehearsed. My favorite long jokes I tell are the ones where I leave myself room to play and find different, interesting ways to eventually get to my punchline. It keeps it fresh and fun for me which comes off to the crowd like I’m brilliant and just coming up with the entire bit on the spot, when the truth is the beginning and end are very structured but the middle could go anyway.
RM: What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made while working on the set of “Hack My Life”? So far, what has the best thing about getting to work with Kevin?
BVP: Every day on Hack My Life is an absolute treasure! The show really keeps us on our toes and you are forced to be flexible so I guess in a way I’ve discovered I’m capable of being a better host than I originally thought. So naturally, working with Kevin is the best because he is a total hosting pro and up for anything. He always brings awesome energy and antics to set and I’ve learned a lot from working with him.
RM: What do you guys have in store for Season Two of that show that is different from what took place during season one? Was there a lot of discussion about how that differentiation was going to be created between yourself, Kevin, and the producers? If so, what ideas did you have about how to make Season Two fresh while still maintaining the key elements of the format of the program?
BVP: Season Two just feels like we are hitting the ground running. We had such a great production team, I really settled into my role this year a lot more and we had way more fun. I think the episodes seem bigger and brighter and there was a lot of fun back and forth with the producers who helped us deliver good material that everyone felt happy with. Season One was awesome by all means, it’s just that feeling of confidence that you can bring to season two because now you are a vet and know what’s expected of you.
RM: Where do you think this ongoing American thirst for DIY projects and life hacks originates? Is it something more than just the desire to save money in a time where a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet financially?
BVP: People always want to save money if possible but I think hacks, for most people, are the most useful when you’re in a jam and you suddenly remember this little hack you learned from our show or the internet or wherever. I really think they are great for situations like that as opposed to someone completely overhauling their life and hacking the shit out of their everyday routine.
RM: Why do you think that you and Giulia Rozzi work so well together? Was that a friendship that took several years to develop, or were you pretty sure within the first five minutes of hanging out with her that you were on the same wavelength and you would soon be collaborating?
BVP: With every year that goes by, I feel like Giulia and I take on a bigger and better project together. We knew from the get go that we were really like-minded and had so many similar personal life situations that helped us bond. Also, she cracks me up and vice versa so who wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who thinks you’re hilarious? We’re viewed as a duo at times which is really fun and we’ve hosted music festivals together, two dog fashion shows in Brooklyn (which was the best thing ever), several incarnations of our live comedy show, birthdays, dinner parties, karaoke — the list goes on. It’s just a natural progression that we also have pitched TV show ideas, written scripts together and now created a web series.
RM: For people reading this interview who have never had the chance to see a comedy show at Caroline’s, how would you best describe the atmosphere of that room? What are the specifics of the setup itself which makes it a great room for any comedian to perform in?
BVP: I don’t perform there as much as I used to, but when I was brand new to NYC that was mecca for me. I started my comedy in Chicago and while there are some wonderful and notable shows in that great city, something about Caroline’s was so exciting and really made you feel like you were doing something right if you got on that stage. Every club has its upsides and downsides but Caroline’s on an electric night with all the stars aligned has got to be one of my favorite places to perform in NYC.
RM: What can you tell us about your monthly show “Comfort Zone” that you do with Julian? How involved are you with the musical portion of the production; and what are the most important elements of a successful presentation that mixes comedy and music?
BVP: Before I started stand up, I really wanted to put together an indie rock band with all women. This proved to be harder than you would think and also, I was pretty limited on electric guitar so I was a terrible front woman. God bless you, Carrie Brownstein. Anyhow – so much time went by where I only did comedy and it really made me miss doing something musical. I had been a big fan of Julian’s and over the years realized we had friends in common and our paths crossed more often. You could call it light stalking on my part, but I really had a hunch that we could have fun collaborating and I wasn’t wrong. Our show comes back in November and we fully write and conceive a new song for each show. Obviously, he does the heavy musical lifting but I co-write lyrics and brainstorm the theme and style of our song. It’s so fucking fun and was honestly even scarier to sing for a crowd that it was to perform stand up. We are a good team because I hold us to a really high standard comedically and Julian holds us to a really high standard musically so the result is a smart, funny and insanely catchy song.
RM: If you couldn’t answer that it is equal parts both, would you say that comedy is more of an art or a science? Are there any elements of the brainstorming process that could technically be considered more scientific as opposed to artistic, and likewise is there anything about elements such as comedic timing which could be viewed as primarily artistic above all else?
BVP: It’s certainly both but I lean more toward treating comedy artistically. BUT, I do think comics have a breakthrough when they discover their rhythm and their formula for delivering jokes — it’s like you can plug anything artistic and weird into a very mathematical joke format equation. I know it when it’s happening but I can’t quite wrangle all of my stand up into a formula because I like long stories as well as short, nonsensical bits. My formula works really well for medium length jokes and you will see more consistency there.
RM: Which part of the comedic writing process would you consider to be the most pleasurable and why? Conversely, which portion of that journey would you say you dread the most? Why do you think you hate that part so much; and how have the answers to these questions changed since your first couple of years doing comedy?
BVP: I don’t sit down and brainstorm new material as much as I used to. Your first couple years you have to generate a lot. I am currently in the mode of working smarter, not harder. I am going back to great ideas I had from several years ago and expanding on them. It’s amazing how you ditch so much material over the course of a career but when I go back and work on it now, I’m so good at punching them up and knowing how to complete the thought process. It’s literally like finding gold. Thanks, younger, dumber me! And to answer the question about the part I hate and don’t do very often — I do not record my sets and listen to them even though that seems to be really common for a lot of other comics. Yes, you can learn a lot and get rid of bad habits and really tighten a set by recording and analyzing yourself but I loathe it to no end. I love being in the moment and if I have a bad string of shows I can ask a friend what they think I’m doing wrong or usually figure out what’s going on — I definitely do not want to relive it and watch a recording of it.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
BVP: I have a little bundle of television treatments, scripts, and other goodies that are out in the world at different stages of pitching and development. I am making season two of Seeing Other People (my web series) this fall and recording an album in early 2016.
Official Website: http://www.brookevanpoppelen.com/
Brooke on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brooke.vanpoppelen
Brooke on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BVPcomedy
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