by Ryan Meehan
The bio from the best Twitter account you probably aren’t familiar with simply reads “Very unlikable. My mother is dead and my dreams aren’t far behind”. The bio belongs to Taylor De La Ossa, a comic who hails from the Lansing area of Michigan. Taylor’s dark subject matter makes for an excellent juxtaposition to her friendly on-stage persona, and she’s progressed very quickly during her short time doing stand-up. If you’re familiar with her work, you’ll know exactly why some random asshole that lives hundreds of miles away would spend the time to initiate this discussion. If you’re not, you’ll soon find out why I am honored to introduce you to Taylor De La Ossa in today’s artist profile.
RM: Who was the first comedic performer you saw early on in life that made you laugh to the point where your emotions changed instantaneously? At the time, did you fully understand what it was that you were seeing or hearing?
TDLO: Growing up, my older brothers introduced me to comedy. They showed me Monty Python and Mel Brooks movies, which incidentally made me the least relatable 9-year-old. They exposed me to stand-up, too. But it was like, Jeff Foxworthy and Andrew Dice Clay. For a long time I thought those were the only two comedians in existence. I think the first comedian that made an impact on my brain was George Carlin. He’s, obviously, brilliant and hilarious, but it was less him making me laugh and more him making me realize that there were more schools of thought other than my parents’. A few years later I discovered Mitch Hedberg and then Louis CK’s brand of comedy changed and that really changed the way I saw comedy. Mitch Hedberg made me want to be a sharp, absurd comic, and Louis CK made me want to be personal and human. And then a few more years later, Doug Stanhope’s special Beer Hall Putsch made me want to tell jokes about my experience with my mom.
RM: How much time elapsed between you first thinking that you might like to do stand-up and your first time actually getting up on stage? How did your first open mic go; and what was so enticing about the response you got from the crowd that made you want to do it again?
TDLO: I’ve talked about writing and performing comedy forever. I’ve wanted to do stand-up since I was a kid, and I didn’t actually follow through on that until I was 22. It always seemed like a “Someday I’ll walk on the moon…” type of wish. It never seemed like a feasible option in the Midwest, until I became aware that there were several open mics in Lansing. And even then it took me 2 years to summon the courage. My first open mic went better than it probably should have, considering how much alcohol I had poured into my body. A lot of my friends came – which is something I’ve since learned can actually be a detriment to new comics, since most crowds aren’t exclusively comprised of your friends – and they were very receptive and other comics were super cool and encouraging. My set had to have been terrible though. I was shit-hammered and reading my set verbatim from a full page of paper. I was a theater kid – so I wasn’t a total stranger to the stage – but something about being up there to perform comedy just felt right. I’m sure I was God awful, but even then I felt at home and like I had found my niche. I don’t remember much about my first set other than that feeling. It felt great.
RM: You’re also very interested in photography, but you’ve said that comedy is your main focus…What does the art of comedy provide for you creatively that photography can’t? Was there any moment where you had a realization of this difference in inspiration one of the reasons that you initially decided to put more of your energy into doing stand-up?
TDLO: Well, writing is my medium of choice. I’m better at articulating myself than expressing myself through photography or drawing or painting. All things I love as hobbies, I just haven’t taken to them like stand-up or writing. Originally I wanted to act. I really look up to my brother JD – who is an amazing actor – so I wanted to follow in his footsteps. But the feeling I get from stand-up is unparalleled, and once I experienced that for the first time, stopping wasn’t an option.
RM: I recently saw a picture you posted on Facebook of you either drawing blood or supplying an individual with some sort of injection, in a medical setting of course…Have you always been drawn to life experiences that are darker in nature, or do you feel that since you started comedy you seek out such experiences which might give you the type of material that may fall under the genre of gallows humor?
TDLO: I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of things, which is something I attribute to my tumultuous childhood. Having a father with 3 jobs and a mother that was an addict, I had to grow up pretty fast, so I didn’t identify with kids my age. I watched horror movies and my favorite holiday was Halloween. I watched Boy Meets World and shit, but my favorite movies included Nightmare on Elm St, The Breakfast Club, The Craft, and The Exorcist. I was home by myself a lot, so there wasn’t a great deal of content-restriction. When you pair that with the Monty Python and Mel Brooks you get a pretty weird kid that blossomed into an equally weird adult. I was obsessed with true crime and for a while I wanted to be a mortician. Bright and light make me uneasy, because that shit’s fleeting. Some people hate my darker material, but it’s the other people that are privy to the darker side of life that appreciate my humor the most. I think going through tough shit gives you a better sense of humor, anyway.
RM: Speaking of social media, you had a great tweet about a month ago which read “My family crest is a depiction of a family stealing another family’s crest and then helping them look for it”…How do you decide whether or not a funny thought you have is enough to turn into a bit you can use on stage, as opposed to just being Twitterworthy? Do you ever use jokes that you’ve posted on social networking sites as part of your act?
TDLO: You know, I’ve actually been telling that one onstage and it’s my one of new favorites. I test short jokes on social media frequently. Usually it’s like, I’ll be stoned somewhere and a dumb thought that makes me laugh will pop into my head, and I’ll test it out on Twitter to see if anybody else thinks it’s funny (or at least intelligible). Even if it doesn’t get the greatest response, I’ll try it onstage anyway if it made me laugh. I haven’t figured out a foolproof way of deciphering what works best where, but sometimes you can tell just by the way something looks if it’d work onstage. I’ve had some things I’ve thrown in the Twittersphere with no response at all and they become a staple of my act, and I’ve had stuff that’s worked really well online but I can’t get laughs from it onstage. It’s all part of the process. Twitter is the medium of brevity and sometimes you need a quick joke to get a crowd back on your side.
RM: For those of us who aren’t familiar with some of the Lansing venues that have comedy shows, what do we need to know about Mac’s and some of the other rooms in which you hone your craft? Which rooms in Michigan are your favorite to perform in; and what is so special about those locations that allow you to do your thing and still be comfortable on stage?
TDLO: I love Mac’s Monday Comedy Night and Mac’s Bar in general. It’s been a staple in my life since I was a teenager and it’s been my comedy home for the last two years. Mac’s is a dark, dank place and it is near and dear to my heart. The staff is great, the crowd is great, and the guys that run the room are great. Sometimes comedy is hard but at Mac’s it’s just fun, and that’s because of Dan Currie and Mark Roebuck and the room they have cultivated. It’s the first place I performed, and now it’s the place I’m most eager to try new material. Some of my other favorites in Michigan are Comedy Night at the Green Door on Sundays and the relatively new show at Crunchy’s on Tuesdays. There’s also a lot of great stuff happening in the Detroit area, I always have a great time performing at Detroit Comedy Underground and at Standprov at the Go Comedy! Improv Theater in Ferndale. I also love performing at Rupert’s Brew House and Louie’s Trophy House in Kalamazoo and Tip Top in Grand Rapids. I think when a room is fun it’s because of two main factors: one is the venue being cool with and supporting comedy, and the other is the people running the room. If a bar, or wherever, doesn’t get totally on board with comedy being there, then it won’t work and it won’t be fun. And if you’re an asshole or a God awful host then it won’t work and it won’t be fun.
RM: I want to talk about comfort for a second…Psychologists have told us for years that a certain amount of stress is healthy for human development…Do you ever feel that a certain level of discomfort needs to be present in order for you to progress as a comic? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from having a bad set where the overall comfort level was less than desirable?
TDLO: For me, discomfort is not only necessary, it’s inevitable. I get incredibly anxious before every performance. Pacing, hand-wringing, general sense of dread – it’s awful. I’ve only been a performing for less than two years, and I’m prepared for the fact that comedy is a long road with a major learning curve, and bad sets are going to be prevalent for the next few decades, at least. I’ve been pretty lucky so far, so every time I feel uncomfortable onstage I feel a mild sense of relief, like it’s one less stripe to earn. Something I’ve been trying to get better at lately is letting it go when I tell a joke and get no reaction. Silence is the worst, but berating the audience for not thinking your joke was funny is unproductive and it makes you seem entitled. It’s very off-putting. I see a lot of comics my age and younger shitting on the crowd when they don’t laugh at a joke, so I’m trying to let it roll off and just move on to the next one. The worst sets are the ones met with indifference, but if people meet my material with indifference then it’s up to me to either suck it up or write new jokes. It’s another cliche, but the most important thing I’ve learned from a onstage discomfort is to have thicker skin. The caveat is you only develop thicker skin from having bad sets, so maybe the most important thing I’ve learned from a shit set is patience.
RM: Who are some of the other comedians in the Lansing and surrounding areas that you work with frequently? Other than proximity, why do you think you work so well with that group of comics?
TDLO: Lansing people that I have the pleasure of working with a lot are Dan Currie, Mark Roebuck, Jacqui Marpa, Robert Jenkins, Pat Sievert, Brandon Bonebrake, Jason Carlen, and Tom Gannon. I can only speak to my perspective on this, but I think we work well together because we make each other laugh and we enjoy each other’s comedy. At least all of these people make me laugh and I am fans of their comedy, and they’re all awesome people, and I wouldn’t be as far along without their original encouragement. We all have different styles and sensibilities, but they’re all strong comics that I look up to and I’m delighted to be associated with them and work with them as often as I do.
RM: You had the opportunity to open up for Jen Kirkman back on July 15th…What was the most surreal part of that whole experience for you; and do you think you were asked to work that show because your humor is similar to hers?
TDLO: I still don’t believe that happened. The whole thing was surreal – being considered for the gig, getting the gig, meeting her and gushing over the fact that she had RuPaul on her pre-show playlist, hanging out at Stella’s with her in a booth full of people afterwards and talking shop – all of it. I’m fully prepared for the likelihood of that experience being the coolest thing that ever happens to me comedy-wise. The most surreal part of the whole experience was the fact that it happened and people seemed to like it. Unreal.
RM: How do you think your mother would respond to your comedy if she was still alive today? If you had to summarize a fictional exchange between the two of you telling her you were now doing stand-up, how do you think that dialogue would play out?
TDLO: Oh boy. Well, we were mostly estranged at the time of her death (I was 19). I went a year or so without speaking to her and then saw her about a week before she died, so I’m not really sure how an exchange between us would go. I don’t think she’d be surprised by me doing stand-up, she used to talk about me being a writer. I wonder a lot about how she would react to my stand-up. Based on the isolated times we had a real conversations about the effect everything had on me, I think she would be understanding, but probably pretty sad. But I spent a long fucking time being sad, and this is cathartic for me and it’s the only way I’ve been able to own my experience, instead of the other way around. It’s still a source of pain and I don’t know if it’ll ever be totally ‘okay’ but I’ve never felt more ok with it, if that makes any sense.
RM: If had the opportunity to ask the comedy gods one question about the industry and how to become wildly successful, what would that question be? What’s the closest you’ve ever came to actually getting an answer to that inquiry?
TDLO: “What should I do with my 20s?” would be my main question. I’m hung up on what I should get a degree in, if anything, that would help me along my path. I’ve never asked anyone that question, because comedy is tricky and there’s really no way to be wildly successful unless you’re incredibly lucky or painfully determined. The closest I’ve come is talking with Kurt Braunohler, and his advice was mainly to move. I know that’s an inevitable part if you want to be in the industry, but there’s a lot of cool shit happening in Michigan, and I kind of want to see it through.
RM: Which portion of the comedic writing process do you struggle with the most and why? Conversely, which aspect of that procedure do you consider to be your specialty; and why do you think you’re so good at it?
TDLO: I’m not great about setting aside time to sit and write. I’d like to get better with the editing process. I record all of my sets, but I’m really bad about sitting and listening to them. I get lucky with writing sometimes, because a lot of my bits are just those dumb pot resin-laden thoughts that pop into my brain and make me laugh.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
TDLO: Just more of the same, really. Continuing to grind it out on the open mic circuit, showcases here and there, hopefully land a few more weekends at Tripper’s Comedy Club, hopefully be involved in whatever Fusion Shows is cooking up next. I’m in talks with some folks for some sketches and other web-content, so if you’re into that sort of thing keep an eye on my YouTube channel. Until the next big thing, you can catch me bouncing around the Midwest and Canada, leaving crowds perplexed and (hopefully) delighted in my wake.
Taylor on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/taylor.delaossa
Taylor on Twitter: https://twitter.com/taylordelaossa
Taylor performing at Gilda’s LaughFest in March: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mONwtSEmkIs&feature=youtu.be
Taylor on Instagram: https://instagram.com/taylordelaossa/
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